‘Nucks trying to swim without sinking
By Davie Wong, Sports Reporter
American Thanksgiving marks a very important date for Canadians. Even though we’ve already had our fill of turkey and pumpkin pie, the day still remains relevant. It marks the end of the first quarter of hockey season. For sports reporters across the country it means one thing: time to crunch stats and make broad predictions!
When I look at Vancouver’s season at a glance, the term “mediocrity” comes to mind. As of Friday, the Canucks have a record of 9-8-6, with a win percentage slightly over 50 percent. Surprisingly, that is amongst the best in their division.
Much to the benefit of the Canucks, the Pacific division has been a cesspool of lacklustre teams that have failed to perform. Out of the seven teams in the division, five of them, including the Canucks, are among the bottom half of the league in terms of points.
The Edmonton Oilers, having lost their prized rookie Connor McDavid to long-term injury, have seemingly resigned themselves to another first-pick-in-the-draft season. The Calgary Flames, who defied statistics last season, have had their luck catch up with them; the hockey gods giveth and the hockey gods taketh. The Anaheim Ducks can’t seem to score and the Phoenix Coyotes are just too average.
The Canucks are not without their own flaws, however. The new overtime format has taken its toll on the floundering fish. They’ve lost six crucial points in the overtime. Those six points would put them at the top of the Pacific Division with a nice two-game lead and put them on par with the rest of the top teams in the league.
But alas their problems, as many problems in hockey do, overlap. The poor show of goaltending from the Miller-Markstrom duo has resulted in the need for much more scoring from the aging offensive core. The Canucks, who have averaged three goals a game for the last five years, have seemed to make it work in years past. The difference was the quality of goaltending.
In 12 games in November, the goaltenders have given up 3 or more goals 10 times. Miller, who had an excellent opening month in October, struggled to keep with the heavy workload in November. It hasn’t helped that his backup, Markstrom, suffered an injury into the season. While his play time has been limited, it hasn’t been without good reason; he has a record of 1-1-1 with a GAA of 3.31.
This has been a huge transition for both goaltenders, as Miller, who was injured long term last year, split games with Eddie Lack. Lack, who was traded during the summer to the Carolina Hurricanes, left behind a gaping void for Markstrom to fill. The youngster who was originally part of the Luongo trade, has had flashes of brilliance. Unfortunately, this year is not looking like one of them, as the new backup has looked solid at times but shaky at others. It is not surprising that head coach Willie Desjardins has had a hard time starting him over Miller.
Another thing that has plagued the first quarter of the 2015-16 campaign is injuries. Chris Higgins and new arrival Brandon Prust have been hounded by injuries since the start of the season. Their veteran scoring presence has been missed by the Canucks, whose young roster has lacked leadership. While the Sedins have had great scoring success and are on track to come back to great success, their presence in the locker room has not always been the type of leadership that has been needed. Previously, the responsibility has fallen to assistant captains, such as Ryan Kesler, and Kevin Bieska. Now with both of them gone, I’d imagine the locker room is feeling a little empty.