Someone give the fan who threw their jersey on the ice free tickets to Rogers Arena for the rest of the season! While we’re at it, Vancouver should throw an appreciation night for the fans who started ‘those chants’ in the 4-1 defeat to Pittsburgh. At that point, Vancouver’s record was 8-15-2 and this team looked destined for the draft lottery rather than playoffs, and there were even rumour’s of players such as J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, and even captain Bo Horvat possibly being traded away! Fast forward to just over a week later, The Canucks have just won their fourth game in a row, and hockey in Vancouver is fun again.
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If ever a team needed a fresh start, it was Vancouver, and as much as it arguably should’ve happened earlier, owner Francesco Aquilini cleaned house. Jim Benning, Canucks general manager since 2014 was fired, he would soon be joined by head coach Travis Green as the two most notable departures amongst a hefty turnover of personnel. Green was replaced swiftly by veteran coach Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau has wasted no time turning things around in Vancouver, just one day into the roll his side took on and thrashed the LA Kings 4-0, a Kings team that had just dispatched a high flying Edmonton team 5-1. They followed it up with a 2-1 shoot-out win over Boston, a 4-3 shoot-out win over Winnipeg, before finally ending the week with a 2-1 win over a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in the Carolina Hurricanes.
A key component to this run has been goaltender Thatcher Demko. Demko has been far from the problem in Vancouver this season, in fact, he’s often been the reason they have won eight games up to this point. Heavy defeats such as 7-1 to Colorado (he was in net for six of the goals), 7-4 to Vegas and two 4-1 defeats to Pittsburgh was taking their toll on his save percentage and he looked visibly frustrated at times with some of the goals that were being put passed him. But to put it simply, without Demko, there is no four-game win streak.
Facing 31 shots, Demko got his first shutout of the season against LA and rode that high. Demko had a .972 SV% against Boston and saved all the penalty shots he faced in the shootout to secure win number two. The Winnipeg Jets scored three goals but in overtime, it was the Demko show. Multiple times Demko denied the Jets a game-winning goal to force the game into a shootout, where he again lived up to his nickname, “Bubble” Demko (in homage to his form in the 2020 bubble playoffs). Three shootout shots from the Jets, three saves, and two more points secured. Demko had another solid performance against Carolina at .966 SV%, and who knows, perhaps there’s a plane ticket to Beijing for him in the near future?
A key reason as to why Vancouver has been conceding fewer goals is their penalty kill. Under Travis Green, Vancouver had the worst penalty kill in the league slumping at just 60% in the middle of November. But under Boudreau, the Canucks have cleaned things up. In their four-game win streak, Vancouver has faced 10 power plays and killed eight of them. A far cry from the team that looked like would concede every time they went a man down, the sense of dread around this team’s PK is hopefully a thing of the past. Add with that, they’ve scored three power-play goals in that time, don’t be surprised to see the Canucks special teams numbers only get better from this point on.
Another big factor in this win streak is the return to form of key players. Before the game against LA, Canucks winger Brock Boeser had just three goals in 21 games this season and was had put up no goals and just one assist since November 11th. Trade rumours were circling all around as it didn’t look like it would get better for the American anytime soon. But whatever Bruce Boudreau has told him, it’s obviously been working. The forward has doubled his goal tally for the season in these four games with goals against the Kings, Bruins and Hurricanes.
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Alongside Boeser, we have slowly but surely seen star centre Elias Pettersson show more encouraging signs. The run didn’t start great for him goalscoring-wise, he missed a penalty shot against LA before being the only Canuck to miss in the shootout against Boston, but Boudreau kept faith in the Swede and it was rewarded against Winnipeg.
Again, called up for the shootout, Pettersson showed great puck and stick coordination to put the puck past Jets goalie Eric Comrie which proved to be the game-winning goal. Pettersson then got the game-winning goal against Carolina with a quickfire shot past Antti Raanta. Pettersson has been playing better these last four games than he has for most of the season. If he and Boeser can continue to grow in form and confidence then they will be dangerous offensively going forward.
This Canucks team has talent, a team with Pettersson, Boeser, Horvat, Miller and Quinn Hughes shouldn’t be second to last in the Pacific Division. But things are at least looking up. Jim Rutherford has been appointed president of hockey operations and is the current Interim General Manager, we’ll need to wait to see if the three-time Stanley Cup-winning GM will make any significant moves. In the meantime, at least it’s fun to watch this team again. The playoffs may be a big ask as a result of their start to the season, but to paraphrase the Rogers Arena tannoy when the Canucks win a game, ”they’re still standing”.