Assuredly, it is too early to write off the Vancouver Canucks.
They did, after all, win the Northwest Division last season, and in the congested Western Conference standings, a couple wins in a row could easily vault them right back up the playoff ladder. And they do have that one ingredient any successful team needs, an elite goaltender by the name of Roberto Luongo.
That being said, this is a tenuous time for the Canucks.
Their offensive depth is suspect. The backbone of the team coming into the season was Luongo and an extremely deep corps of defensemen. But the defense has been battered by injuries, and the depth is nothing more than a fond memory at this point.
Most recently, Willie Mitchell has been sidelined by a broken vertebra in his back, and it’s uncertain when he will be able to play again. Sami Salo has been bothered by a groin strain. Kevin Bieksa hasn’t played since October, when he suffered a lacerated calf muscle from an opponent’s skate. Lukas Krajicek has been sidelined with a shoulder injury.
The guys left standing are Mattias Ohlund, Aaron Miller and Alex Edler, the last of these considered a depth player at the start of the season. And the first two of these guys were barely standing. Ohlund had left the team briefly to tend to a personal matter. Miller is bothered by a sore foot and did not play Tuesday against the Stars. At least Salo was able to return against Dallas.
The Canucks have had to turn to youngsters (Luc Bourdon, Nathan McIver) and a journeyman (Mike Weaver) to put a lineup on the ice. They have been mentioned recently among the teams interested in Buffalo defenseman Brian Campbell if the Sabres decide to trade the potential unrestricted free agent.
After Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss at Dallas, the Canucks had only one win in their last nine games, and that was in a shootout. They haven’t won in regulation in more than a month, a span of 14 games dating to Jan. 3, when they beat the Rangers 3-0.
“Injuries are part of a season and, really, you can’t let it affect you, you can’t let it bother you, you just have to deal with it and come up with game plans that give yourself a chance to win,” coach Alain Vigneault told the Canwest News Service.
“We’re no different than any other team in the League. We have to deal with it, we have some good players here and they have to play and play hard.”
Still, the Canucks have fallen out of playoff position, at least for the moment. A year ago at this time, they were one of the hottest teams in the League.
Right now, however, they’re battered, and they aren’t alone. The Oilers have lost leading scorer Shawn Horcoff for the season to a shoulder injury. And the Avalanche continue to play without Joe Sakic, Ryan Smyth and Paul Stastny.
But unlike the Canucks, Colorado is hanging in there, and has moved into second place in the division.
Who’s hot -- After scoring only one goal in his first 21 NHL games, Avalanche rookie center T.J. Hensick had consecutive two-goal performances against the Blues and Coyotes, the latter of which came Feb. 4. … Pavol Demitra and Marian Gaborik both were plus-3 as the Wild routed the Ducks, 5-1, on Jan. 30. Niklas Backstrom made 20 saves. … The Avalanche are hanging in there even though Sakic, Smyth and Stastny are sidelined. Tyler Arnason and Marek Svatos had three points apiece in a 6-3 defeat of the Blackhawks on Jan. 30. … Owen Nolan had a hat trick as the Flames beat his former team, the San Jose Sharks, by a 5-4 margin on Jan. 30. It was his first hat trick since Oct. 4, 1999 and the 11th of his career. … The Oilers had two points from three different players, and a 24-save effort from Mathieu Garon in a 5-0 rout of the Flames on Feb. 4. … Markus Naslund scored both Canucks goals in a 3-2 shootout loss to Dallas on Feb. 5. … Brian Rolston scored his 20th goal, but the Wild suffered a 3-2 overtime loss to the Red Wings on Feb. 5. … Dion Phaneuf scored his eighth and ninth goals, and Jarome Iginla scored with nine seconds left as the Flames overcame a 3-0 third-period deficit en route to a 4-3 shootout win over the Coyotes on Feb. 5.
Shootout summary -- The Canucks have been busy in the shootout lately. Their 4-3 shootout loss at Florida on Feb. 1 was their fourth shootout in a nine-game span. Interestingly, they had a chance to win a shootout of sorts in the final minute of overtime when Naslund was pulled down on a breakaway and awarded a penalty shot. But he was unable to get the puck past Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun. In actual shootouts this season, Naslund is one of the worst in the NHL, failing on all three of his attempts.
In the actual shootout, Taylor Pyatt, Edler and Daniel Sedin all were unsuccessful against Vokoun. Pyatt is 1-for-7 this season. Nathan Horton beat Luongo, the only shootout goal the Panthers needed for the victory.
The Canucks lost in the shootout again on Feb. 5, 3-2 at Dallas. That same night, the Flames were 4-3 shootout winners against the Coyotes.
Northwest goaltender shootout rankings:
| || W || L ||ShotsAg ||GA ||% |
|Mathieu Garon, Oilers ||8 ||0 ||26 ||2 ||.923 |
|Dwayne Roloson, Oilers ||4 ||3 ||30 ||6 ||.800 |
|Roberto Luongo, Canucks ||4 ||6 ||42 ||11 ||.738 |
|Jose Theodore, Avalanche ||2 ||1 ||10 ||3 ||.700 |
|Miikka Kiprusoff, Flames ||3 ||3 ||17 ||6 ||.645 |
Top 5 Northwest division shootout artists (min. 3 attempts):
| ||Goals ||Attempts ||% |
|Shawn Horcoff, Oilers ||5 ||7 ||71.4 |
|Ales Hemsky, Oilers ||5 ||13 ||38.5 |
|Sam Gagner, Oilers ||5 ||14 ||35.7 |
|Kristian Huselius, Flames ||4 ||5 ||80.0 |
|Trevor Linden, Canucks ||4 ||6 ||66.7 |
Top 5 Northwest division shootout-challenged (min. 3 attempts):
| ||Goals ||Attempts ||% |
|Brendan Morrison, Canucks ||0 ||3 ||0 |
|Marty Reasoner, Oilers ||0 ||3 ||0 |
|Ryan Kesler, Canucks ||1 ||9 ||11.1 |
|Taylor Pyatt, Canucks ||1 ||8 ||12.5 |
|Daniel Sedin, Canucks ||1 ||5 ||20.0 |
Ninth weekly Northwest shootout standings:
| || W || L || PTS |
|Oilers ||12 ||3 ||24 |
|Canucks ||4 ||6 ||8 |
|Avalanche ||3 ||2 ||6 |
|Flames ||3 ||3 ||6 |
|Wild ||1 ||3 ||2 |
Rumor mill --
|Peter Forsberg |
The Canucks and Avalanche continue to be mentioned in the Peter Forsberg sweepstakes. … The Oilers’ 2008 first-round pick that they gave up to Anaheim as compensation in the signing of restricted free agent Dustin Penner could prove to be very valuable, conceivably the first overall selection. … Might the Oilers’ Geoff Sanderson and Steve Staios be valuable chips at trade-deadline time less than three weeks from now? … Two Web sites reported that Wild defenseman Petteri Nummelin has signed to play in Switzerland starting next season. … Veteran free-agent-to-be Craig Conroy told the Calgary Sun
he wants to remain with the Flames. … Rob Blake’s broken ankle could derail his return from the Kings to the Avalanche, or his trade elsewhere in the NHL.
The week ahead -- It's a busy week for the Wild, one that will definitely test their stamina. They play three games in four nights, four games in six nights. It starts Thursday at home against Dallas and Saturday against the visiting Islanders. The Wild then travel to St. Louis on Sunday, followed by a Tuesday trip to Edmonton.
The Flames host the Blackhawks Thursday and the Oilers Saturday, bringing to an end a three-game homestand. They then hit the road for five straight, against every Pacific Division team, beginning Tuesday at San Jose.
The Oilers have a fairly light week. In addition to the visit to Calgary to face their provincial rivals, the Oilers are home Tuesday against the Wild.
The Canucks complete a road trip Thursday at Atlanta, then are home for four straight, beginning with weekend back-to-back games against Colorado and Chicago.
In addition to visiting Vancouver, the Avalanche only have one other game, albeit a tough one against the defending-champion Ducks on Tuesday night.
Author: Roger Phillips | NHL.com correspondent