Heading into the All-Star break, the Vancouver Canucks are first in the Pacific Division
Sure, if they had lost this game, they would be fifth in the Pacific Division and 19th in the NHL, because the Pacific is a hot mess and the NHL has taken parity to a dangerous extreme that threatens us all, but let’s focus on the positive.
Since mid-December, the Canucks have been on a tear, interrupted only briefly by the fiasco in Florida. They’ve now won 11 of their last 14 games and sit atop the Pacific with games in hand on three of the four Pacific teams that are a point behind them. Yes, four Pacific Division teams are one point behind the Canucks. Like I said, it’s a hot mess.
The Canucks are now on-pace for 97 points, which is well beyond even the most optimistic preseason projections. Tanner Pearson is a point-per-game in his last 31 games, Jake Virtanen looks like a legitimate first-line forward, and Loui Eriksson, of all people, is suddenly a fan favourite.
It’s a wonderful and enjoyable hot streak and the great thing about hot streaks is that they keep going forever and they never end and everyone stays happy and there are rainbows and puppies all the time. It’s pretty great.
There’s definitely a little part of me that is saying something like the following: “Yes, everything is going well right now, but that’s because everything is going well, and the Canucks are still just inches away from being out of the playoffs. What happens when things stop going so well? What happens when the regression kicks in? What happens when someone important gets injured? Do you really believe the Canucks can keep this rolling through the second half of the season?”
I’m trying to ignore that little part of me, because winning is fun and life’s too short to always be worried about regression. You should only worry about regression 33% of the time. I got out all my regression-sweats in the afternoon, so I didn’t even think about regression one time while I watched this game.
- Team Chaos would have appreciated an overtime loss, actually, as that would have led to a five-way tie for first place in the Pacific.
- I joked around in the intro, because that’s what I do, but this run has honestly been great and there are a lot of really positive signs for the future. It’s way more fun to write about a team that’s playing well and it’s also a lot more fun to be in the room talking to the players when they’re on a roll. When hockey players are in a bad mood, they tend to be less-inclined to answer some of the sillier questions I like to ask.
- Speaking of bad moods, everyone on the Sharks seemed to be in one in this game, probably because the Sharks are third-last in the Western Conference. They’re more sour than Sarah Michelle-Gellar when she had to hang out with a shirtless Scott Weiland for a day.
- Alex Edler didn’t help Kevin Labanc’s mood when he rocked him with a big bodycheck in the first period. Labanc went nuts, chasing Edler down the ice and crosschecking him in the back for an obvious penalty. Then, on his way to the bench, Brandon Sutter chirped Labanc, so Labanc sucker-punched him in the face. As the French say, that’s la bad.
- That should have been a four-minute power play for the Canucks, but Sutter chased down Labanc in the scrum that ensued and put him in a headlock, so the refs nabbed him for the coincidental minor. Personally, I think Labanc should have been tossed for the blatant sucker punch, but what do I know?
- The Loui Revolution — The RevoLoution, if you will — has begun in earnest. There’s a lot of Loui love in the Canucks fanbase right now, as he’s stepped up ably on Bo Horvat’s wing, even if most of his points seem to be on empty net goals. It’s quite the face turn for Eriksson, as it wasn’t that long ago that fans booed when his name was announced in the opening lineup; now they’re unironically Lou-ing.
- Seriously, the Rogers Arena crowd seemed fit to explode when Eriksson got a shorthanded chance midway through the second period. And when he did actually score a few minutes later, the crowd went wild. Tanner Pearson fanned on his shot and Eriksson smartly lifted Erik Karlsson’s stick at just the right time to allow the puck to slide through. With his stick in the air, Eriksson had to stop the puck with his skate — an impressive feet/feat of coordination — then backhanded the puck into the open net.
- The goal from number 21 came on the Canucks’ 21st shot of the game, so it seemed like destiny. The Sharks challenged the goal for offside, but you can’t fight destiny, man. And also, Bo Horvat totally dragged his back skate to stay onside, because he’s the captain, and that’s what captains do.
- The Canucks were dummying the Sharks through the first two periods, even if they only managed the one goal. They out-shot the Sharks 27-to-7 through 40 minutes. The Sharks didn’t start the third any better: on one of their most dangerous-looking rushes of the game, Timo Meier negated it by skating straight into Thatcher Demko for the most hilariously obvious goaltender interference call of all time.
- The Canucks made Meier pay, as the second power play unit delivered a goal with a simple, but well-executed play. Adam Gaudette gained the line, dropped the puck to Jake Virtanen, and he delivered a great pass to Tanner Pearson, who had made a beeline for the front of the net. Pearson made like Harlan Thrombey losing at Go and tipped it upstairs.
- Demko didn’t have much action in the Canucks crease, but stopped all but one shot he faced. That shot came on a scrum in front of the net that was a complete mess. Virtanen somehow ended up boxing out Chris Tanev from the rebound with his stick pointing straight up in the air, so he was no help. Quinn Hughes tried to play the puck when he should have played the man and vice versa. And Demko just couldn’t find the puck to cover it up.
- Hughes quickly made up for the 2-1 goal by restoring the two-goal lead 37 seconds later. Antoine Roussel raced to a puck on the end boards and swatted it around to Hughes at the point. His shot navigated its way through traffic like a motorcycle in Hanoi and beat Dell past a Roussel screen.
- The Canucks made it 4-1 on another fantastic pass by Virtanen. He made a great play in the neutral zone to chip the puck past Mario Ferraro and broke in 2-on-1 with J.T. Miller. With Brent Burns sliding to prevent the pass, Virtanen calmly saucered the puck over Burns right onto the tape of Miller, who sent the puck back against the grain on Dell.
- That gives Virtanen three points in his last two games and he’s already set a career high with 28 points. My one concern about Virtanen is that there comes a point every season where we ask, “Has Virtanen finally figured it out?” and as soon as someone writes that article, Virtanen immediately regresses and starts playing worse. So, as long as no one writes a “Has Virtanen finally figured it out?” article, we should be fine. Which means I need to ignore that article burning a hole in my Drafts folder.
- In the third period, Joe Thornton got downright ornery, as old men often do. He hit Jay Beagle with a late, blindside check at one point, but the truly egregious hit came on Brandon Sutter, as Thornton bodied him to the ice when he never even touched the puck. That sparked a melee, a brouhaha, a donnybrook, a fracas, and a yard sale.
- Sutter went after Thornton, who dropped the gloves anticipating a fight, but Burns tackled Sutter to the ice, perhaps out of beard solidarity or because he’s worried that Thornton’s old-man knuckles would crumble to dust if he tried to punch someone.
- Here’s how you can tell this game got out of hand: Chris Tanev got kicked out of the game. The refs handed out 10-minute misconducts to five different players to try to calm things down — though somehow they all evened out despite the egregious interference by Thornton that kicked things off. One of the players kicked out was Tanev, because if anyone was going to run around and cause problems, it’s the mild-mannered defensive defenceman.