For all the momentary stumbles, for the times that the coaches and players have expressed frustration about one misstep or another, there is just no getting around the reality that the Vancouver Canucks have been incredibly consistent this season.
This truth is best summed up by the number three — as in, the Canucks haven’t lost three games in a row this season.
The last time the Canucks lost two in a row was two months ago, when they dropped a 5-2 score to the Calgary Flames and then two days later struggled at home against the Seattle Kraken, losing 4-3.
With the Florida Panthers losing their third game in a row on Wednesday, the Canucks now stand alone. Until their loss Wednesday at home to the Detroit Red Wings, the Cats were in the same club as the Canucks.
Like Winnipeg’s impressive 33-game streak of giving up only three goals or fewer, being able to find your feet after a couple losses is a sign a team really is doing the right things.
Yes, the Canucks have found some scoring luck along the way, but they have so rarely lost because of how they are playing at the defensive end.
Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet pointed Thursday morning to the character of not just his leadership group but of all his players.
“It all starts in practice the next day. Sometimes when you lose, the next day guys are moping around or whatever. There’s no moping around. You know my mantra is earn your day. It seems as though we come the next day, ‘Let’s a have a good practice: Earn your day,” Tocchet remarked.
“I think that helps, instead of riding the roller coaster, we’re even-keeled.”
The players themselves are pushing the message of moving forward, of sticking to the “staples” that Tocchet wants from their game, of working hard in the defensive zone, being ready to transition to attack when they gain possession of the puck, of pushing hard through the neutral zone, not rushing to shoot in the offensive zone, finding ways to link passes together, driving hard to the net to create chaos for the other team’s defence and their goalie, of attacking the other team’s puck carrier so they don’t have any space to manoeuvre, and to forecheck hard along the boards, cutting off exit points for the opposition.
“They’re preaching it too. Half the time I don’t even have to say it. They’re saying it themselves,” Tocchet said.
Conor Garland said the team’s ability to reset itself, lead by the leadership group, even shows up in-game, let alone game to game. He didn’t realize the Canucks hadn’t lost two in a row in two months, he admitted.
“You see our response from period to period. It shows we’re focused. We understand when we’re playing well and how to maintain it, and when we’re not, how to get going,” he said.
The Canucks’ rolling 10-game shot attempts-for average has surged since just before Christmas, a sign of how much better they are controlling the puck. It’s no wonder they are winning more than they’re losing.
Your eyes have probably told you that this is happening — the numbers agree.
Over their past 10 games, the Canucks have taken 53.2 per cent of the shot attempts, according to MoneyPuck.com.
That’s a very nice upward trend. In general, teams that take more shots than their opponents tend to win more.
Now, this truth has shifted somewhat over the past few seasons, as all teams have come to understand that shots taken from the middle of the ice, near the net, have a much better chance of scoring, and that if you can get the goalie to move before the shot and even cause trouble for his sight, you further improve the odds of that shot going in.
But that also means that shot attempts for and against are in many ways even more relevant that ever, since teams understand the value of shots so much better than they used to.
Another big reason for the Canucks consistency has been the outstanding play of starting goalie Thatcher Demko and his backup Casey DeSmith.
Demko’s save percentage so far this season is 91.9 per cent, which would be a career high.
His career high is 91.5, which he recorded two seasons in a row — during the Canucks’ otherwise terrible 2020-21 campaign, and then the next season, when he nearly drove the Canucks to the playoffs under Bruce Boudreau.
Vasily Podkolzin has been quietly punching his way through his time in the AHL.
He’s averaging nearly four shots on goal per game.
Whatever the future is for the young Russian winger — could he play a factor as a depth winger for the Canucks down the stretch, or perhaps be a trade chip? — he does seem to have righted his game this year with the Abbotsford Canucks.
He has 10 goals and 10 assists in 28 games with Abbotsford this season.
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