Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Defying All Odds

The puck drops tomorrow at the Pengrowth Saddeldome in Calgary when the Vancouver Canucks open the season on the road to the hometown Flames. Even prior to the offseason, doubts surrounded the teams chances in 2008-9. No one was quite sure how the team would fare if impending free agents and stalwarts, Trevor Linden, Brendan Morrison and Markus Naslund did not resign. When all three walked, the team entered the Victor Hedman/John Tavares sweepstakes in the eyes of many popular media outlets. ESPN, TSN and many others all claimed that Canucks would miss the playoffs by a mile. ESPN also figured No.8 defenseman Lawrence Nycholat to be good for 70 points and +37, so obviously this should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Nonetheless, hardly anyone outside the Canucks faithful gave the team a chance, chastising rookie GM Mike Gillis for being seduced by the ongoing availiability of Hall of Fame lock, Mats Sundin. Three months had passed and the 6ft 5 Swede hadn't signed in Vancouver. How on earth were the Canucks headed for the playoffs?
Then the exhibition season happened. The intricacies aren't important but basically the boys in blue and green set a searing 6-1 pace over teams such as San Jose, Calgary, Edmonton and Anaheim - all seen as playoff teams. Despite no superstar forward signing, the Canucks recorded 25 goals, almost 4 goals per game. That would put them comfortably in the upper third of the league, not bad for a team with "no scoring prowess." All this and they did it with a slapdash lineup against teams who largely used their opening night rosters.
How are they doing it?
Well, the new triplet, Steve Bernier is fitting in well with the Sedins, Mason Raymond and Pavol Demitra are made together. Jannick Hansen was seperated at birth from Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler. Oh yeah, and the presence of a fourth line that makes no bones about dropping the gloves offers a refreshing change.
The defensive core looks as solid as ever. No one player has stuck out - all have been exemplary. The same can be said for Roberto Luongo, who has recovered spectacularly after an awful playoff run last year when his mind was so clearly distant from the rink. Curtis Sanford also enjoyed an unbeaten preseason. However, the capping point is that, unlike last season when Brendan Morrison and Sami Salo - among others- started the season injured in the press box, only depth defenceman Lawrence Nycholat is suffering from any form of malady.
This year's Vancouver Canucks are yin to last year's yang and in the opinions of many, that is a wonderful thing.

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