Popular opinion in Vancouver right now is that for the Canucks to be in the same boat they were in precisely 365 days ago – packing their bags after being ousted in the Western Conference Semi-Final in six games by the Chicago Blackhawks – a lot had to go wrong this season.
That isn’t in fact the case with the Canucks coming off one of their most exciting years in franchise history, although it’s easy to understand why many are having a difficult time keeping that in perspective.
Big things were expected of Vancouver coming into the season and the team didn’t disappoint. A third Northwest Division championship in four seasons was achieved thanks to a franchise best and Western Conference-high 30-8-3 home record and surviving life on the road, which included an NHL-record 14 game, 20,737-kilometer voyage to accommodate the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The team was known as the ‘comeback Canucks’ for pulling out a franchise best and league-high 11 wins when trailing after two periods; they were within one victory of tying the league record of 12 set by the 2005-06 Dallas Stars.
Individually, a plethora of Canucks had career years they’ll look back on with beaming pride, lead by Art Ross Trophy winner Henrik Sedin. The first Canucks forward to lead the league in scoring edged out Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby for the accolade and is now up for the Hart Memorial Trophy.
Henrik’s 112 points broke Pavel Bure’s previous franchise best points in a season of 110, as he became the fourth player ever to join the team’s century club.
Daniel Sedin played a career-low 63 games, yet amassed a career-high 85 points; he was one of six 20-goal scorers on the roster for the first time since the 1992-93 season, one of six hat trick goal-scorers and one of eight regulars to establish a new benchmark in points.
Vancouver was the second highest scoring team in the NHL (268), with the 12th lowest goals against (218) thanks to the play of team captain Roberto Luongo, who not only picked up 40 wins for just the second time in his career, he also backed Team Canada to Olympic gold.
Under the umbrella of a stellar regular season in almost every facet, the Canucks rode into their 23rd playoff appearance with visions of a Stanley Cup Final birth for the first time since 1993-94.
Twenty-six days after opening the post-season with a 3-2 overtime win over the Los Angeles Kings, the Canucks were shaking hands with the Blackhawks, heads lowered in defeat to Chicago – again.
“I thought we had a good game plan coming into the series and I thought we started off the series really well, we just didn’t get the job done at home, which is really surprising considering we were one of the best home teams throughout the year,” said Luongo, following a 5-1 loss to the Blackhawks in Game 6.
The agony of defeat was apparent throughout the Canucks clubhouse after the defeat and piecing together exactly what went wrong after opening the Western Conference Semi-Final with a convincing 5-1 win over Chicago is a tall task.
It comes back to the disappointing play on home ice for most Canucks and the numbers support that. Vancouver was 0-3 at General Motors Place against Chicago and despite being the highest scoring team in the playoffs, the Canucks were outscored 17-7 and 6-2 in the third period on home ice.
“Obviously we shoot ourselves in the foot a little bit,” added Luongo, “I don’t know why that happened this year learning from last year’s experiences, games 3 and 4 at home here really were not the type of hockey we want to play, they came in here and won both games. That should never happen.
“That’s the part that’s going to be tough to understand. We were so dominant at home all year, we go into Chicago, could have easily won all three games and come home and we’re not even close in any of the games, I don’t really have an answer for why that happened at home.”
Special teams were also a menace for the Canucks all post-season, so much so that in the first round power play goals against became the norm. The Blackhawks also took advantage of a soft Vancouver penalty kill that ranks last in the league at 68.5 per cent.
Vancouver’s power play converted on 11 of 50 attempts to sit fifth overall at 22.0 per cent, yet as demonstrated with Dave Bolland’s shorthanded goal to sink the Canucks in Game 6, the unit struggled to produce timely scores when needed most.
“We’re still in it and then they score with us on the power play late in the second and that’s a tough one for sure, it’s the turning point of the game,” said Henrik Sedin. “That’s the way it is, we played an extremely good team with great special teams and it cost us this series. Against LA we were able to get through but they’ve really got a lot of talent over there.
“It’s extremely competitive and it’s going to be minor things that decide the outcome and this year our special teams couldn’t compete with other teams.”
When looking at the bigger picture, a lot went right for the Canucks in 2009-10.
Unfortunately the year didn't end as we all had hoped.