Every NHL season is partially soundtracked by a surprising amount of static and bellowing from British Columbia. Perhaps no team in the four major sports has more outsized and disproportionate noise surrounding it from its media and fans than the Vancouver Canucks. Leafs Nations may make more noise overall, but being the largest captive market in the league explains that. Detroit may make more noise, but their history (mostly) justifies that.
And yet the time from October until April, when the Canucks season almost always ends, is accompanied by a dull roar from a team that does not have anything of the history or anything of the importance to be such an irritant. Which is why most Canucks-based noise is whining. Whining about the attention they don’t get. Whining about the attention they do get. They have a goddamn statue outside their arena that is a testament to their bed-wetting, for god’s sake. The refs are out for them, the league is out to get them or they don’t help them enough or some such garbage, which they then throw on the ice. And every other hockey fan has to listen to this even though the Canucks, the team, are relevant about once a decade.
However, so far this year, the Canucks are making the right kind of noise. After Wednesday’s comeback victory over the Islanders in OT (and the Islanders are a whole other rigamarole unto themselves) followed by a loss in Calgary on Thursday, the Nucks are 12-4-1 for 25 points, good for tied for the third-best record in the league behind the Knights and Bruins (who apparently just won’t leave the top spot in the NHL. How Bostonian). Vancouver is scoring the most goals per game at 4.38, and the distance between them and second place in goals per game is the same as the gap between second place and ninth. The Canucks are making pinball noises and lights every game, which is a whole lot better than the fanbase getting in a bunch about where Quinn Hughes finished in the Calder race a few years back (and, boy did they).
It’s always a good idea to start in net, where Thatcher Demko is the clubhouse leader for the Vezina so far this season. Demko has a .932 save percentage overall and has saved 12 goals over expected, the best mark in the league (according to MoneyPuck.com). That’s three better than the next on the list, Jordan Binnington (hockey is weird). When Demko has needed a night off, backup and charm-school graduate Casey DeSmith has been nearly as good, with a .922.
Demko had been projected for this kind of excellence for a while now, especially after his last year at Boston College where he put up a .935 for one of the leading hockey programs in the land. Demko spent two seasons in the AHL after that, and has yo-yo-ed out of the starter’s crease and out of it for five seasons in Vancouver. He’d flashed, he’d flattened, but he seems to have put it all together so far this season. Which is proof that either it takes goalies a while to develop into NHL stars or no one has any idea how to develop a goalie or both.
But the Canucks, so far, are much more than a goalie and a badge. Their power play is a doomsday device at the moment. JT Miller, Elias Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes are the NHL’s three leading scorers at the moment, and have all combined for 40 points with the man-advantage. The Vancouver power play is clicking a third of the time, good for second in the league behind the Devils, and they’ve scored the most goals while up a man in the league. Hughes in particular has been a dervish quarterbacking the thing and doing silliness like this:
Another surprise sprung this season is that Brock Boeser seems to have rediscovered his top-tier scoring touch. Boeser broke onto the scene as a rookie with 29 goals in 62 games six years ago and looked like he would become one of the defining power forwards around. And it never really got better than that. This was the season they had been waiting for. Yes, he’s riding the shooting-percentage wave, at 28 percent so far and that won’t continue. But he’s getting better chances than he has in a few seasons, so he shouldn’t completely deflate either from the 13 goals in 17 games he’s got so far.
Miller is another one who is shooting the lights out at 27 percent and his two-way game seems to have sunk, as all of his metrics are underwater. Overall, the Canucks are a middling team at even-strength, not really good and not really bad, but good enough to let their power play get them this record.
How long can it last? Not for 82, that much we can say. The Canucks have the league’s highest PDO, the combination of their even-strength save percentage and shooting percentage. Demko could be this good, but they’re not going to shoot nearly 12 percent for a whole season. They’re not going to shoot over 20 percent on the power play all season either.
And no, Rick Tocchet is not some hockey svengali. You’ve heard him on TNT, and you know this guy has broken a laptop or remote or two when he couldn’t figure out how it worked. And no team with Tyler Myers on it can ever be that good.
Still, the Pacific Division is pretty much garbage, especially if the Oilers continue to keep falling into open sewer holes all season. The Knights are a Cup favorite, the Kings are probably pretty good and the rest of the division so far is complete cheeks. There’s a playoff spot for anyone who wants it and can maintain a good percentage of their oxygen intake. Could be the Canucks, if only be default.
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