By Jeff Paterson
I've seen the scores, I know the results, but I have to be perfectly honest - I still find it a little difficult to believe that the Canucks are on a seven game win streak.
And it's not because this team doesn't have the necessary elements to be successful. It's just that for the past two weeks I've been sitting by the pool in Mexico and didn't see any of the first six games on this seven game run. The Canucks team I left behind had stumbled into the short Christmas break on a three game losing streak and I have to admit I thought more than once that I might return to a team that had undergone a complete makeover.
Hosting the Team 1040 post-game show on December 22nd after the Canucks 3-2 loss in Columbus, I can tell you there was some serious anger in the voices of hockey fans who were demanding so much more from their team. It certainly looks like Santa was listening because a seven game win streak is probably more than even the Canuck players and coaches could have asked for.
But again, as one who hasn't seen the bulk of the games on this run, it's hard to believe that the same group of players who couldn't win before Christmas are better players now. Having read all the game stories and seen the box scores but not seeing anything more than a few highlights of the games I missed, a couple of things jump out as reasons for the recent turnaround:
- The Canucks have scored first in all seven of the games on their win streak. Leading into Christmas, this team had a terrible habit of running into penalty problems early, giving up power plays and often power plays goals. They were seemingly always playing come from behind hockey and just weren't able to recover. That hasn't been the case since Christmas and appears to be one of the big reasons for the resurgence.
- Obviously, Roberto Luongo has been outstanding particularly when games have been on the line. After his five save performance in the six-round shootout over Florida on Sunday, the Canucks are now 10-1 in games that go beyond regulation time. Luongo's been in goal for all 11 of those games and he continues to exhibit that remarkable ability of simply refusing to give up the goal that can end a hockey game.
- Certainly getting offence from the likes of Matt Cooke, Alex Burrows and even Josh Green (with the shootout winner on Sunday) can only help the hockey club. Now those guys can stop worrying about whether they'll ever score again and can get back to doing the things that make them effective. Burrows, for example, used his speed to drive wide on the defenseman and drew the penalty that led to Trevor Linden's power play goal that opened the scoring against the Panthers on Sunday.
- While the road wins in Calgary and Edmonton late last month were huge for the Canucks, their play at home is becoming a real story with this hockey club. The Canucks have now won eight straight at GM Place and have victories in 12 of their past 14 on home ice. Good teams are dominant at home and find ways to pick up points on the road. The Canucks have to continue their winning ways at the Garage and learn to gut out some victories away from home.
Most observers felt the stretch of the schedule from late November through early January was going to be the Canucks' toughest run of games of the season. If that's the case, then good for them, they've found a way to get the job done and not only get their season back on track, but put themselves atop the tight Northwest Division. However, for all their efforts, the seven straight wins still only leaves them a few points ahead of the rest of the division, so if nothing else, it shows the Canucks just how hard they're going to have to work in the second half of the season simply to make the playoffs.
And now as my less-than-impressive tans starts to fade and I return to the reality of Vancouver rain, I look forward to being around to see what the Canucks can do with their new-found sense of confidence. So far it looks pretty good.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org