Originally written January 27, 2013 on NorthWest Sports Beat:
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Shortened Season Tips We have all been so excited that Canucks hockey is back (unless you are still bitter and ‘boycotting’ the NHL) that we haven’t really had time to analyze the season the way we usually do. This shortened season will prove interesting regarding playoff races, which will essentially begin next month. The Canucks still haven’t set up any deal to trade Roberto Luongo, nor have they really made any significant changes to last year’s roster. The team is certainly in good shape for talent, as per usual, but there are some things that need to change this year in order for Vancouver to remain near the top of the West. Here are some early signs to watch for. Consistent Goaltending This is a touchy issue still in B.C. The fans that treat their goalies like unwanted stepchildren are still undecided on Cory Schneider. It’s safe to say Bobby Lu’s departure will be welcomed with applause by Canucks fans, but then what? With Schneider as the number one goalie what can we expect? He’s proven he can play, but he hasn’t blown anyone away by any means. Since Vancouver is nowhere near the goal scoring machine it once was, solid goaltending is very important for the team to be successful. More Physical play please!!! Kevin Bieksa is never one to stand down… Defense was also shaky last season which only adds more pressure to whomever is between the pipes. There really isn’t such thing as a ‘brick wall’ shut down goalie anymore, but teams with consistency in their nets are usually the most competitive down the stretch. Effective Powerplay Last season the Canucks finished in the top 10 in both power play percentage and penalty kill percentage. Those are great numbers to have on your side, and if the blue and white can keep it up this season it will be a big boost. I’ll admit I’m always disappointed in the team’s lack of urgency on power plays, and this season they’re not off to the best start. But if they can ramp things up on man advantages like last season they will definitely help their own cause, being that they don’t quite have the offensive firepower to outplay some teams on even strength. Physical Play This has been lacking from Vancouver hockey for years. There are always glimpses of a physical resurgence, but it’s never sustained for any length of time. The addition of Zack Kassian last season was a great step in the right direction. Last year I was skeptical of the young bruiser, but this year he seems to be coming into his own. We sometimes forget that he is only 22 and has many great years ahead of him. Of course Kevin Bieksa is never one to stand down from a confrontation, but they really did need someone to step in and protect the twins. Kassian is a great piece to this puzzle, but one or two more aggressive, physical players would be nice. Alex Edler, fresh off his huge contract extension, has seemed to get the message and is putting his body into more opponents than in years past. Let’s hope Kassian and Boom-Boom can fire up the rest of the locker room and the C’s can start intimidating some teams. There are obviously other keys to success, like minimizing penalties, getting off to quick starts, and staying healthy, but those are very generic and every team wishes to achieve them. Let’s hope the Canucks can brush off their first few losses and get things rolling. The past few games have been an indication that they’re back and ready to play Canucks hockey and regain their top spot in the league. Go Nucks! CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE CANUCKS CLUBHOUSE TODAY AT NWSPORTSBEAT!
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