Back in October, Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock explained that the Vancouver Canucks should not have a Stanley Cup hangover. In his opinion, that only comes after winning something — a task the Canucks failed to do last June. Yet the defending Western Conference Champions found themselves in a hole during the first two months of the season before finally getting back on track.
The funny thing about the Canucks is that they really haven’t been all that bad. They limped through a mostly Kesler-less October with a 6-4-1 record before dominating November by winning nine of 13 starts. Their hot streak continued through the month of December where they have won eight of their first 12 games with three more tilts at hand.
Ryan Kesler returned to the lineup on October 18th when the team was off to a mediocre 2-2-1 record. Despite most of the League feeling he was rushed back by the team, his mere presence in the lineup has attributed to most of their success. Not only has the Livonia, Michigan native dispelled notions of his premature return by scoring nine goals and 26 points through 31 games, he has also helped offset injuries throughout the team.
With Kesler out, the Canucks became a one-trick pony with Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin shadowed until ineffective. Good clubs like the Boston Bruins have quality lines that can play against both top lines but only a handful of clubs can do that with confidence. Kesler’s mere attendance during a game has helped offset injuries to Christopher Higgins, David Booth and Alex Burrows over the last three months since he can both carry the offense on the second line and divert defensive assignments away from the Sedin unit.
Furthermore, their success this season can be hinged on the same thing that made them Stanley Cup favorites last season. The blue line has been solid with a tough and mobile top four. They deploy perhaps the best, and certainly most ostracized, goaltending tandem in Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider. Moreover, their star players have played exactly like stars should with both Sedin Twins in the top five in point scoring and Kesler strengthening their core down the middle.
Statistically, you can take it a step further. Their 119 goals make them the League leader which makes most of their supporting cast — players like Jannik Hansen, Higgins, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis and Mason Raymond — look that much more attractive on the waiver wire. Furthermore, the team has a Fenwick percentage of 53.96 (ranked 4th in the NHL) which is a fancy way of saying they control the puck about 54 percent of the time.
After defeating the Edmonton Oilers by a 5-3 margin on Monday night, the Canucks once again move into a familiar place in the standings: first. The struggles of the Oilers and Minnesota Wild opened the door for the Canucks to sneak in while the surging Colorado Avalanche and Calgary Flames clearly do not have enough skill to compete with the Western Canadian powerhouse. If you see some Canucks on your waiver wire, it might be smart to grab them now before the rest of your league catches onto the trend.