Vancouver Canucks climb to 1st in Pacific with decisive win over the Sharks
Saturday January 18 - Vancouver Canucks 4 - San Jose Sharks 1
First place, baby!
The Vancouver Canucks players and coaches will head off to their respective holidays with a record of 10-3-0 over the last month after dispatching the listless San Jose Sharks by a score of 4-1 on Saturday at Rogers Arena.
Here are your highlights:
With all the Canucks' key Pacific Division competition in action over the course of the day on Saturday, I thoroughly enjoyed keeping tabs on the games as they rolled along.
First, Edmonton trounced Arizona, keeping things close. Then, Calgary ran into hot goaltender Marcus Hogberg and lost 5-2 to Ottawa despite outshooting the Senators 42-21. Next, Vegas scored twice with their goalie pulled to pick up a point against Montreal before falling in the shootout.
By the time the puck dropped at Rogers Arena, the Oilers, Flames, Coyotes and Golden Knights were all tied with 57 points, leaving the Canucks with a crack at first place in the division if they could pull off a win.
In yesterday's blog, I talked about Martin Jones' great record against the Canucks. I forgot that Aaron Dell's career numbers have been just as good — 6-1-0 with two shutouts and 15 goals total allowed against Vancouver heading into Saturday night.
And give Dell credit — he kept his team close until well into the third period, despite not getting much help from the team in front of him.
It was interesting to hear Thatcher Demko mention in his postgame interview that he'd been expecting to get the start against the Sharks — to get him some game action before the break, after not having played for more than a week, and because he'd been 2-0-0 in his career to date against the Sharks.
That's now 3-0-0, with five goals allowed in those three games.
Demko's biggest challenge was keeping his head in the game as the Canucks outshot the Sharks 8-3 in the first period, then 18-4 in the second. But Vancouver went to the dressing room with just a 1-0 lead, off a Loui Eriksson goal that was right on the cusp of being called back for being offside.
The goal was Loui's fifth of the year, and his eighth point. For a guy who's on pace for 16 points this season, it's fascinating to see what a prominent spot he has taken in the team's narrative lately — and I say that with respect. He has taken full advantage of his opportunity back into the top six after Josh Leivo was injured, and has been an asset on the ice.
The other oft-maligned player who looks like he's playing with increased urgency is Brandon Sutter. Back in the lineup for his second game, Sutter showed more intensity and physicality that I can remember having seen from him since he joined the Canucks when he got into it with Joe Thornton in the third period.
That set off a fracas that resulted in a total of 58 minutes in penalties with 2:42 left to play in the third period.
Vancouver's other goal-scorers were Tanner Pearson, Quinn Hughes, and J.T. Miller.
Pearson's goal was the official game winner, but Hughes' marker was crucial, coming just 37 seconds after the Sharks scored their only goal, narrowing the score to 2-1 with 13 minutes left in the third. With the exception of their meltdown in Tampa on the last road trip, the Canucks have impressed me over the last month with their ability to squash any momentum their opponents might be able to build by responding quickly when needed with a goal of their own.
Also impressive —Jake Virtanen's newfound passing skills. He collected two assists on Saturday. Was his dish to Miller the best of his career?
Bottom line: the Canucks got a decisive win, and leapt over the Oilers, Flames, Coyotes and Golden Knights to assume first place in the Pacific as they head into their All-Star break.
One item to note — Vegas does still have the chance to play spoiler. As I mentioned in Saturday's blog, they've got one more game on their schedule before All-Star weekend, so they could jump the Canucks and take over first place if they beat Boston on the road on Tuesday.
While a bunch of teams are now on their bye weeks, there are a handful from the Western Conference who will be in action right up till Wednesday. Right now, it's Arizona and Vegas in the wild-card spots but Winnipeg's right behind with 54 points and Chicago is now breathing down their neck with 52.
The Jets and Blackhawks go head-to-head on Sunday, then Winnipeg also plays Tuesday and Wednesday while Chicago visits Florida on Tuesday.
As of Sunday morning...
...the Canucks' 58 points ties them for eighth overall with Dallas, Columbus and Philadelphia. What a motley mix of teams! They're tied with Dallas for third in the Western Conference behind St. Louis (68) and Colorado (60).
With 49 games played, they're now on the higher end on that category, so their .592 points percentage ties them with Philly and Columbus for 11th overall, fourth in the West behind the Blues, Avs and Stars and tops in the Pacific.
With 3.24 goals scored per game, they rank 10th — tops in the Pacific and right between the Predators and the Blues. And their 3.02 goals against per game rank 14th overall. Arizona is the best in the Pacific in that category, at 2.65, and Calgary's 12th at 2.94.
After going 1-for-5 on the power play on Saturday, the Canucks go into their break ranked seventh overall at 23.8 percent — with Edmonton leading the league at 29.7. Vancouver remains first in the league in total power-play opportunities (181) and power-play opportunities per game (3.69). They're now one behind Edmonton in total power-play goals scored — 44 vs. 43 — but because the Oilers have given up seven shorthanded goals this year compared to just four for the Canucks, Vancouver still has the best power-play goal differential at 39 — one ahead of Boston and two ahead of Edmonton.
The Canucks' penalty kill has now slipped to 16th overall, at 80.2 percent. The Sharks are actually the best in the Pacific — and the league — in that category, at 87.7 percent, and the Flames, Oilers and Coyotes are the other Pacific Division teams that are now better than Vancouver when shorthanded.
The Canucks have now been shorthanded 160 times this year — seventh-most in the league and more than any team in the Pacific except San Jose and Vegas. That translates to 31 power-play goals against this season — tied for 11th-worst with Winnipeg, Montreal and Colorado, and 0.63 power-play goals against per game, which ties them with Ottawa for 13th worst.
The Canucks have five shorthanded goals this season, which is middle-of-the-pack, so their shorthanded differential is minus-26. That's 12th-worst in the league and third-worst in the Pacific behind L.A. (-34) and Vegas (-27), so that's an area that could use some tightening up in the second half.
In terms of personal stats...
Elias Pettersson's 51 points rank him 14th overall, tied with Aleksander Barkov of Florida, while his 1.04 points per game bumps him down slightly, to 22nd.
J.T. Miller sits 24th with 46 points, Brock Boeser's tied for 27th with 43, and Bo Hovat's tied for 36th with 42.
With 34 points, Quinn Hughes is just one point behind rookie leaders Victor Olofsson and Cale Makar, so the Calder Trophy race is still as tight as ever.
Hughes is also 10th in overall scoring by defensemen, just ahead of a couple of guys named Ryan Suter and Shea Weber.
I thought both Hughes and Tanner Pearson were terrific as Scott Oake's guests on After Hours on Saturday night.
And I'll give the last word for now to Bo + Holly Horvat, with my hearty congratulations!