With Jannik Hansen and Luca Sbisa coming off injured reserve, and Brandon Sutter about to join the team on this, their last long road trip of the season, the original vision and makeup of the team is finally coming together after months of roster moves to accommodate the various players they’ve missed due to injury. (Editor's note: this was written prior to the Henrik Sedin injury suffered against the New York Islanders)
When looking around the Pacific Division before this season began, and the moves that those teams made in the off-season to augment their roster, the Canucks are the one team that has lost the use of their targeted summer acquisition for the longest period of time, as Brandon Sutter continues to rehab but is to join Vancouver’s line-up again soon. The Kings have had a productive Milan Lucic help them to the top spot in the Pacific, San Jose and Edmonton have relied on their new starters in goal in Martin Jones and Cam Talbot respectively, Calgary has had the services of Dougie Hamilton for every one of their games, and former Canucks/new Anaheim Ducks defenceman Kevin Bieksa continues to be one of the leading minute munchers for his team on the blueline.
In going back to the start of this season, keep in mind that because of the strong play of rookie center Jared McCann during pre-season games, the Canucks decided to have him start the year in the NHL and consequently put Brandon Sutter on the right wing on the top line to play with Henrik and Daniel Sedin for the season opener in Calgary. That move proved to be successful as the Canucks won 5-1, Sutter had the game-winning goal, and the Sedins chipped in with two more. In total, Sutter stayed on the wing for the first five games of the season, and registered five points while there. He eventually did move back to his traditional center position, and for a while the Canucks had the previously envisioned 1, 2, 3 grouping of Henrik Sedin, Brandon Sutter, and Bo Horvat down the middle. Before being lost to injury November 10th in Columbus, a game in which Sutter had his second game-winning goal of the season, the Canucks were one of the best face-off teams in the league, had a top five penalty kill, and had registered points in 12 of 17 games.
Times have sure changed for the team since that point in the season. The Canucks penalty kill has fallen to middle of the pack, their face-off percentage is the worst in the NHL, and they have had a .500 record since Sutter has been out, going 13-13-5 at the time of this writing over his 31-game absence. Will everything magically fall back into place when Sutter returns to the line-up? Well, his return will take the pressure off Henrik Sedin, who had been battling health but has continued to persevere, in that Sutter can take face-offs on his strong right side defensively in tight game situations, allowing for Bo Horvat to take them on the left side in his own zone, which in turn rests Henrik for offensive zone duty. Sutter will also chip away at Bo Horvat’s penalty-killing time so that Bo can be freed up a bit more to continue his offensive assault, and just as important, the Canucks will have added size, speed and two-way play as Sutter brings all three to the table.
The biggest concern that the players in the line-up have to be aware of though is that of a let-down, as typically when a team returns to full health, there is a collective sigh of relief and a loss of desperation in team play, as the thinking is that the returning players can now carry the load themselves. A quick look at the standings should hammer home the point that the Canucks cannot afford to let their guard down in any instance, and in fact need to string together more wins, as they have yet to win more than three in a row all season, healthy or not.