By Jeff Paterson
This started out as yet another one of the millions of things that has been written about the Canucks' (lack of ) goal scoring in the first quarter of the season. But as so often happens, the focus shifted as the exhaustive research began. Sitting in the press box on Sunday night watching the Canucks and Blackhawks, a nagging question started to rattle around in the space between my ears.
I knew I'd seen some low scoring games this season - by now I think we all realize that's how this group is going to win, so we'd better get used to it - but I wanted to see just how many. So the number crunching began.
Sunday's game with Chicago was the sixth time in the first 21 games that the Canucks have been involved in a game that ended 2-1. That's fine. Sunday's game was hardly a classic, but that doesn't mean that all low-scoring games are bad hockey games. The Canucks and Oilers showed their usual dislike for each other splitting a pair of 2-1 games with the home team coming out on top on each occasion last month. And the Canucks and Dallas have met twice and both times the game has resulted in a 2-1 win for the home team. (The other 2-1 game this season was actually a 1-1 game in Minnesota with the Wild winning in a shootout).
The whole premise of the column was that with six of the first 21 games this season ending 2-1, I wanted to see how far back you'd have to go to find the six previous 2-1 games the Canucks had been involved in. I figured with the firepower the Canucks had boasted the past few years it would probably have been a couple of seasons to count up six 2-1 hockey games prior to this year. So I've got to tell you that I was a little surprised to discover that there were actually six of them between Christmas and the end of last season - and a total of eight on the year as a whole. That's when the focus of this column took a (dare I say) dramatic turn.
For all the hand-wringing, teeth-gnashing and widespread dismay over the lack of goal-production from this year's Canucks, I hope at least some other stat-geek will find it even the least bit interesting that if you take the final 21 games of last season and the first 21 games of this year, the two teams with different coaches and a much different make-up scored - wait for it - exactly the same number of goals.
Yes, there's a symmetry here that can not be denied.
The '05-'06 Canucks lauded for their firepower and offensive flair scored 50 goals over the final 21 games of last season when offence was never an issue. The new-look, built-from-the-goalie-on-out Canucks of this season have scored 50 goals in their first 21 games and people seem ready to write this bunch off because they can't put the puck in the net. You tell me which team had the real problems.
Consider this. Last year's team surrendered 67 goals and won just seven of those final 21 games. This year's group has given up 53 goals and has won 10 of its first 21.
What does all of this mean? The numbers would seem to suggest that the goal-scoring woes of this season aren't as bad as perhaps they're being made out to be. And the renewed commitment to defence likely has the Canucks headed in the right direction.
Do hockey fans want to see 2-1 games every night? Probably not.
Will Canuck fans tolerate 2-1 games if the right team comes out on top? More than likely.
The bottom line is that Canucks fans - like the team itself - want to see playoff hockey back in Vancouver. And slow and steady, while it may not earn a lot of style points, gives this version of the Canucks the best chance to pick up far more valuable points - the ones in the standings that will give them that chance to dance come springtime.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org