Offensive firepower is the Vancouver Canucks' best asset
Whether in war or in hockey, the thinking goes that the side with more weapons is likely to win. And for the Vancouver Canucks, that’s been the case on most nights throughout this National Hockey League season. The Canucks have simply had too much firepower for most of their opponents.
This is hardly a revelation to anyone who has followed the hockey club during the past 18 months. A year ago, the Canucks led the NHL in scoring and on many nights seemed to have an endless supply of offence. However, the scoring last season was considerably more concentrated.
Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler both produced career-best 41-goal campaigns, while Alex Burrows was the only other player to crack the 20-goal mark (26). With Kesler notching the first three hat tricks of his NHL career and Sedin leading the team with six two-goal games, it seemed from night to night that the hockey club relied on one guy to do much of the heavy lifting.
But that hasn’t been the case this time around, and one area where the Canucks appear to have improved upon the best season in franchise history is their ability to spread the offence and come at opponents in waves.
Thirteen times in a 23-game span between November 25 and January 10, the Canucks scored at least four times in a game. And 17 times in the club’s first 46 games this season—better than once in every three outings—at least four different Canucks found the back of the net.
Four is an almost foolproof goal total for wins in today’s NHL, and the Canucks came out on the right side of the result 18 of the first 20 times they scored four goals this season.
Although Daniel Sedin’s goal totals are off slightly from a year ago, and Kesler’s are down rather dramatically, the Canucks have received significant contributions from the likes of Burrows, Jannik Hansen, Cody Hodgson, Henrik Sedin, and Chris Higgins—all of whom are already into double digits in the goals department this season. The hope is that Mason Raymond, once a 25-goal scorer, and newcomer David Booth, who returned to the lineup January 15 after missing 18 games with a sprained knee, will find their touch in the second half of the season, giving the Canucks nine legitimate scoring threats among their forwards.
“We’ve had scoring from just about anywhere this year, from all four lines and even from the eight defencemen we’ve got, so that’s definitely been a huge part of our success, and it has to be going forward,” Hansen—who eclipsed his career high of nine goals before Christmas and has a strong shot at reaching 20 this season—told the Georgia Straight after a recent practice at Rogers Arena. “If we become a one- or two-line team, we become a much easier team to play against. When we have three and four lines going, it’s way harder for opposing teams to match up against us.”
Last season, Hansen was part of a third line, with Raffi Torres and Manny Malhotra, that contributed physically and matched up well against other teams’ top players but didn’t do much on the score sheet. This year, with the addition of Booth in an early-season trade from Florida, the Canucks have added speed to an already quick hockey club and boosted their attack.
Part of the game plan is that even if the Canucks aren’t using that speed to score goals, they’re hoping it puts opponents back on their heels and forces them to take penalties. And much of the Canucks’ offence comes on the power play, which for a second straight season is the best in the NHL. But where last year it was Daniel Sedin leading the way with 18 power-play goals and Kesler contributing 15 with the man advantage, it’s not out of the question that four players could hit double digits in PP goals this season.
It’s a luxury that most teams just don’t have, and an ability to attack teams in waves is one of the reasons the Canucks find themselves in the mix for top spot in the brutally tough Western Conference and making a push for a second straight President’s Trophy as the top team in the regular-season standings.
“Our offence is a lot like it has been in the past—we get our offence from our defence jumping up into the rush and making it a four-man attack and from grinding it out in the offensive zone and cycling the puck,” head coach Alain Vigneault explained. “All four of our lines can do that, and when they use the defencemen, we’re that much more effective. Our other offence comes from the power play. So I think we’re spread out. Offence has to come from the whole group if you want to be consistent at it.”
One of the biggest reasons the Canucks came up short in the Stanley Cup final was that the team’s offence ran dry. Certainly, the Boston Bruins deserve some credit for that, but when it counted most, the Canucks’ depth became an issue. When the top players stopped producing the way they had through the regular season, and even in earlier playoff rounds, there was no one behind them to fill the void—or at least not enough to get the team over the hump.
The Canucks are banking on things being different if they’re able to get back to the final for a second straight season. And one of the main reasons they feel confident about another deep run in the postseason is that they believe they are a deeper hockey club.
On many nights so far this season, it’s certainly looked that way. But the proof will come in the playoffs.
Jeff Paterson is a talk-show host on Vancouver’s all-sports radio Team 1040. Follow him on Twitter.