The Vancouver Canucks aren’t dominating the standings as they did last season, when they were the runaway winners of the Presidents’ Trophy, but they’re still among the league’s best clubs, currently jockeying with the Detroit Red Wings for first in the Western Conference and the overall standings.
Of late, the Canucks have been on a roll, heading into Tuesday’s tilt with the Nashville Predators unbeaten in their last 12 games (10-0-2), with lopsided victories this weekend over the Toronto Maple Leafs (6-2) and Edmonton Oilers (5-2).
They’re currently first in the league in road wins (20) and power play percentage (22.3); third in goals per game (3.19); fourth in faceoff percentage (51.8); sixth in goals-against average (2.34) and penalty killing (86.5); and possess the fifth-best home record (18-6-4).
Center Henrik Sedin leads the league in assists, a feat he’s accomplished the past two seasons. He and brother Daniel are once again among the league’s top 10 scorers, currently fifth and seventh, respectively.
Second-line center and 2011 Selke Trophy winner Ryan Kesler won’t reach the 70-point mark this season as he’s done the past two years, since he was slowed by recovery earlier in the season from summer hip surgery.
Of late, however, Kesler seems to have regained his form, with 10 points in 12 games. He’s on pace for 57 points.
Agitating right winger Alex Burrows is on pace for 30 goals, defenseman Alexander Edler is third among defenseman in points (39), while blueliner Kevin Bieksa is on pace for a career-high 45 points.
Center Cody Hodgson is currently among rookie scoring leaders with 32 points, while right winger Jannik Hansen is on pace for his first 20-goal, 40-point season.
Starting goalie Roberto Luongo isn’t seeing as much playing time as he used to, splitting the duties more frequently with backup Cory Schneider, but since early December he’s had the bulk of the starts, playing in all but seven games over that period.
While Luongo’s numbers (25-10-6, 2.30 GAA, .922 SP, two SO) aren’t as stratospheric as they once were, he and Schneider (13-5-0, 2.25 GAA, .928 SP, two SO) have been a strong tandem this season.
Despite the Canucks’ impressive performance, Vancouver fans and pundits don’t appear to be treating their team with the same enthusiastic support as they did a year ago.
This was true earlier in the season, when the Canucks – feeling the after-effects of the dreaded “Stanley Cup final hangover” – got off to a slow start, spurring calls for the roster to be shaken up, including one hysterical editorial suggesting Luongo be peddled to Tampa Bay for Vincent Lecavalier.
Even during their current unbeaten streak, the Canucks were accused of “sleepwalking” against some opponents, of “winning ugly” by narrowly defeating teams critics felt they should have more easily dispatched.
Rumors persist they’ll trade Schneider for more scoring punch, prompting frequent denials from the front office. When it was reported last week the Columbus Blue Jackets were entertaining offers for star right winger Rick Nash, the Canucks were among those assumed to be suitors for Nash’s services, with Schneider the centerpiece of a possible offer.
The local criticism and trade rumors dogging the Canucks are rooted in their supporters’ impatience for a Stanley Cup, especially after coming tantalizingly close last year.
It’s possible GM Mike Gillis could make a move or two by next Monday’s trade deadline, but he doesn’t the fans’ impatience and won’t squander assets on a blockbuster move to shake up a roster that doesn’t need to be shaken.
Gillis already made one significant deal, sending banged-up, aging wingers Marco Sturm and Mikael Samuelsson to the Florida Panthers in October for 27-year-old left winger David Booth, center Steve Reinprecht and a third-rounder.
If Gillis does make a move by Monday, it’ll likely be to add depth, perhaps more toughness, to his checking lines and defense.
It’s a long season, even longer for the Canucks coming off the grind of last spring’s playoff march. That they’re once again among the league’s elite is not only impressive, but bodes well for another run at the Cup this spring.
Rumor Focus appears Tuesdays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla’s Korner.