Cory Schneider gets his fifth consecutive start, Alex Edler is back from a two-game suspension, and defenceman Keith Ballard will play his third game as a forward: this is the Vancouver Canucks as the team remains in the unfamiliar position of chasing a team in the Northwest Division.
The Canucks host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night in Vancouver. And it’s a new breed of Blue Jackets, a markedly different version of the long-time Western Conference cellar dweller. Columbus rides the hot goaltending of Sergei Bobrovsky and is 7-1-2 in their last 10, tied for the hottest team in the West with Northwest-leading Minnesota.
Vancouver, which was usurped in the Northwest last week by Minnesota, fell to seventh in the West, before climbing step by step to sixth, fifth, fourth and then, briefly, third, before being displaced again by the Wild and pushed to fourth, where the Canucks currently sit. The team has been buoyed by a four-game winning streak, a run underpinned by Schneider’s best work of the season and the instant gelling in the same period of a new second line, rookie Jordan Schroeder centring Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen, the trio combining for four goals and 11 points during the stretch.
“This isn't about one particular player,” said Schneider after the team skated at Rogers Arena on Tuesday morning. “The whole team is playing well."
The wins have eased the tension around the team, a cacophony that a week ago had people calling for long-time head coach Alain Vigneault to be fired. Instead, the team returns home from a tough road trip – three games in four days – to a schedule that finally eases somewhat, with three games a week, for the next three weeks. Of those nine games, only one is against a team that would be playoff bound if the postseason started today.
So the Canucks are lucky that they can convalesce against weak opponents. Zack Kassian, who is on injured reserve, remains “day-to-day,” and skated before practice on Tuesday morning. David Booth probably won’t be seen again at all this year. Ryan Kesler‘s foot is healing and Wednesday marks four weeks since the injury was disclosed, with its four-to-six week return timeline. Dale Weise is out with a hurt shoulder. It is a reflection of how dire the situation is that the team is keen for the return of Steve Pinizzotto, he of four games played in the NHL before he was waylaid by illness/dehydration.
And, finally, the power play remains comatose and is now 3 for 51 since the tailspin began in late February in Dallas. That’s 17 games, and three power play goals, and includes the stretch of 11 games of total drought. For the year, the Canucks have scored on 13.4 per cent of their power plays, second-worst in the NHL and better than only Buffalo. Thing is, this hasn’t been a permanent state of being, even if it feels that way, and even if the problems started emerging last winter and persisted into the playoffs against Los Angeles. But at the start of this year, for the first 15 games, the Canucks were actually connecting at a rate of 19.1 per cent, 13 for 58.