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Midway Point Review

Friday, 24.02.2006 / 12:00 AM / News
Vancouver Canucks


By: Kevin Kinghorn
02/24/06

In elementary school, when the geometry teacher asked the class to measure a triangle, everyone pulled out a ruler ­- most often a yellow plastic thing with centimeters marked out in glossy black paint.

Even then it was plainly obvious that if you want to measure something, you had to use numbers. So why do so many hockey fans completely abandon hard, cold math when it comes to judging their team?

Far too many wade into heated arguments armed with little more than wild opinion and ugly bias.

Take the alarmists who so willingly gobble down afternoon sports-radio rhetoric; they're certain the Canucks are five losses away from relegation to the American Hockey League.

Those types are one rung above litigation lawyers on the credibility ladder, yet you can almost hear the heads nodding along through the car speakers.

In the name of objectivity, here are a few numbers to digest while the city awaits the return of NHL hockey.

After 59 games the Canucks have 71 points, which is one-point back of their 2003-04 total at the same point in the season.
As everyone remembers, in 2004 the Canucks won their first Northwest Division title in 11 years, and were an overtime goal away from downing the eventual Stanley Cup finalists in game seven - and that was without Todd Bertuzzi.

So, before anyone stuffs the team down the trash chute, remember that the Canucks are on pace for a 99-point year.

SCORING

Do a little surfing, or tune into a talk show, and you could be excused for thinking the Canucks were squirting blood from the femoral artery.

One reason for the spike in hysteria can be traced straight back to pre-season expectations.

Everyone figured the new NHL rules would instantly transform the run-and-gun Canucks into the '93 Penguins.

Clearly that hasn't happened, but it doesn't mean Vancouver isn't scoring.

The Canucks have amassed 26 more goals this season than they had after 59 games in 2003-04. In fact, 14 different Canucks are on pace to improve upon last season's point totals.

Sure, scoring is up across the league, but the Canucks are nearly a goal-a-game better than they were two years ago.

The problem ­- and it's the one that gets the most attention - is that leading-scorer and super-captain Markus Naslund isn't among the Canucks setting new highs.

He's battled a groin injury for months, and though he's only four goals shy of where he was at the same point in 2003-04, Naslund would be the first to admit he needs to score more often.

Winger Todd Bertuzzi is actually one point up on the last season's total, while pivot Brendan Morrison is dead-even with 42 points through 59 games.

That's hardly alarm-worthy stuff.

For all the slagging the Twins have endured every year since being picked by the Canucks second and third overall in the 1999 draft, it's time to give them their due.

Henrik's already set a new career mark with 43 assists and 57 points. Daniel isn't far behind with 51 points, while line mate Anson Carter is the team's second leading goal-scorer with 21.

If they can keep it up -­ and the Twins traditionally get stronger as the season wears on -­ the Canucks have enough goal production stowed under the backseat to carry them plenty far enough.

It should be pointed out that Patrik Stefan, the first-overall pick in '99, has 20 points this season. The fourth pick, Pavel Brendl, has a combined 31 points with the Lowell Lock Monsters and the San Antonio Rampage.

Is it possible that the Twins weren't such bad picks after all?

It would be criminal to drag Canuck scoring totals out into the sunshine without mentioning fourth-liner Jarkko Ruutu. He's already set new career highs this season for everything but penalty minutes. His 10 goals and 16 points have been a welcome boost in the absence of Matt Cooke.

On the down side, Trevor Linden is well off last season's pace with 12 points, but scoring while logging the defensive minutes he's played, is like sun tanning underwater.

DEFENSE

Missing Ed Jovanovski for all but 37 games, the Canucks still boast the third-highest scoring defense in the NHL. Only Edmonton (46) and Colorado (40) have scored more goals from the blue line this season than the Canucks (39).

Sami Salo has already surpassed his previous career mark for goals and assists with ten goals and 33 points.

Nolan Baumgartner has logged more games this season than he had in his previous ten years combined, and is a plus-11 with 27 points.

Bryan Allen is having a career year in his second full NHL season and is a plus-11 while averaging more than 20 minutes a game.

In fact, Mattias Ohlund (minus-one) and Jovanovski (minus-six) are the only Vancouver rear guards who aren't on the positive side of the plus/minus ledger.

This doesn't mean the Canucks have locked down the crease. They're currently giving up an average of three goals per game. In 2003-04, they gave up 2.37 per game. A lot of it has to do with the number of power plays, which have skyrocketed across the league.

SPECIAL TEAMS

At this point in 2004, the Canucks boasted the league's second-best penalty kill having surrendered 34 goals on 230 opposition power plays. This season they've given up 70 goals on 366 chances. Even the tragically dim can see the problem here: the Canucks are ranked 20th in the league on the penalty kill and are losing points because of it.

The floundering PK wouldn't sting nearly as bad if the power play was taking up the slack. It's run hot and cold for most of the year, but has been flirting with a top ten ranking of late.

The Canucks have scored 73 goals on the man advantage. The difference between the power play and the penalty kill is a paltry three goals.
In 2004, the Canucks had scored 13 more goals with the man advantage than they had given up on the penalty kill. Of course the total number of power plays and penalty kills should be taken into consideration, but as a rough overall measure, it says the Canucks' special teams should be better.

INJURIES

The Canucks have lost a total of 197 man-games to injury this year, most notably Matt Cooke (28), Ed Jovanovski (20), and Dan Cloutier (41). It's forced eight different rookies into the line-up this season six of whom made their NHL debut.
Considering how the furious little injury bug has infested the Canuck locker room, it's a credit that Vancouver is just two points back of the third overall seed in the Western Conference.

GOALTENDING

Alex Auld had a grand total of 14 regular-season starts on his resume prior to training camp. He played his 46th game of the season against the Minnesota Wild on the final Sunday before to the Olympic break. He's managed 25 wins, a 2.89 goals against average, and a .907 save percentage.

Auld is tied for seventh in wins, right behind Dominik Hasek, Tomas Vokoun, and Martin Brodeur. Only five net minders have faces more shots (1349), and only four goalies have made more saves than Auld's 1223. He still doesn't have a shutout to his name, but he's given up two goals or less in 23 games.

At his present pace, Auld would finish the season with 35 wins ­- give or take. Cloutier ended the last regular season with 33 wins to his name.
Brodeur topped all goalies with 38.

So, what does it all mean? That's open to interpretation. But a cursory look at the math tells the casual observer that while there's plenty of work to be done, the Canucks aren't cutting bait just yet.