What a turnaround it has been for the Vancouver Canucks. A team that missed the playoffs last season and severely underperformed went through an offseason overhaul, bringing in new head coach Willie Desjardins, trading Ryan Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks and signing veteran Ryan Miller to be their new starting goaltender. So far in 2014-15, the results have been overwhelmingly positive.
The Canucks begin a seven-game, 12-day road trip on Friday night in Columbus and are a whopping 8-3-0 away from Rogers Arena. They've won five of their last six road games and are 15-6-1 on the year, proving to be legitimate contenders in a stacked Pacific Division that features - among many very good teams - the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Columbus and Vancouver split their two meetings last season with each team winning on home ice, but the Canucks took the most recent match-up on Nov. 22, 2013 at Rogers Arena by a 6-2 final. The Blue Jackets, finishing their Western Canada swing with their third game in four nights, didn't have much going and the Canucks were far and away the better team that night. Henrik and Daniel Sedin combined for five points and Roberto Luongo needed just 14 saves to pick up the victory in goal.
The Canucks made quite the splash at the 2013 NHL Draft in Newark, trading a young star goaltender named Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for the ninth overall pick. With that pick, Vancouver selected Horvat, a smart two-way center from the OHL's London Knights and he just recently earned a full-time spot in the NHL. Horvat can play all situations, was a face-off monster in junior hockey and has scored a few clutch goals along the way, as well. Horvat, only 19 years old, will be a staple of Canucks hockey for years to come.
For over a decade, Henrik and Daniel Sedin have been the engine to the Canucks' operation and they're showing little sign of slowing down anytime soon. Henrik is currently Vancouver's scoring leader with 21 points (five goals, 16 assists) in 22 games and right behind him is his twin brother with 20 points. Henrik has four points in the last four games (all assists) and with new line mate Radim Vrbata, the Canucks' top line looks as lethal as ever. The trio of Henrik-Daniel-Vrbata are 1-2-3 in scoring for Vancouver with a combined 19 goals and 58 points, making it imperative to constantly be aware of them when they're on the ice. And watch for that patented Sedin cycle game, too.
Shutting down the Sedin line
The Canucks went into the offseason seeking a new weapon on right wing of the Sedin line, and they found veteran sniper Radim Vrbata on the free agent market. The fit, so far, appears to be a good one; Vrbata leads the Canucks with 10 goals on the year and has been the recipient of many great feeds from the Sedins, which makes them the primary focus for the Blue Jackets in the defensive end. If Columbus can shut down the cycle and avoid spending long stretches in its own zone, they'll have greater odds for success against a very good Vancouver team.