The Vancouver Canucks clinched their playoff berth on Tuesday, getting it done under first-year coach Willie Desjardins. The 2013-2014 season, where they missed the post-season, was seen as an opportunity to blow things up and try again. Now they’re seeing the fruits of their labours.
One of the biggest differences is in goal. Roberto Luongo is out and Ryan Miller is in. Miller possesses a 28-15-1 record, with a 2.47 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. He has six shutouts, good for fourth among NHL goalies. For the most part, however, Miller’s statistics place him in the middle-to-lower end of the pack.
While Miller’s been average at best, it’s been the play of backup netminder Eddie Lack that’s swung the tide. The 27-year-old Swede has a record of 17-13-4, a .919 save percentage and a 2.52 goals against average. He has one shutout and looks to be the one to shoulder the load in the post-season if Miller can’t return from his late-February knee injury.
So while the Miller/Lack combination won’t put up the same numbers and won’t offer the same chances to win as their former netminder, it’s something. And something is better than nothing.
Looking at the big picture, one finds that Vancouver is actually allowing more goals per game than last season. The difference is that they’re scoring more to offset the difference. They generate 2.81 goals per game this season, up from the 2.33 they were cable of last year. That’s the biggest improvement in the category among any NHL team from season to season.
The offence has come from the usual sources, like Daniel and Henrik Sedin. They’re first and second on the team in scoring, with Daniel leading the way with 72 points. They take the most shot attempts, they hold possession like nobody’s business and they log major minutes. All of this drives the Canucks’ attack, which really is a puck possession game with opportunities to slip into scoring areas. With the Sedins in the fold, they’ll always have the opportunity to find the net.
Throw Radim Vrbata in the mix and you’ve got something unique. The right winger has been voted as the best Canuck of the season by local press and for good reason. He’s been the right fit with the Sedins and he’s been able to capitalize on the aforementioned puck possession game. He’s even endured a move down to the second line with Chris Bonino and Chris Higgins. Vrbata has 31 goals in 77 games.
So sure, Vancouver’s without Luongo and Ryan Kesler. They’re a different team in a lot of respects. But what drives this franchise still drives it, with the Sedins playing keep-away and the rest of the team able to rally for a physical, hard-working game. They may not be poised for the deepest of post-season runs, but they should be able to make a go of it when the dust settles.