Not much was expected from the Vancouver Canucks this season. That’s what happens when you have two consecutive campaigns of finishing second to last in the Western Conference, with the third-fewest points in the NHL.
Last season was particularly dire for the Canucks, as they managed just 69 points. This represented their lowest total in an 82-game season since 1998-99, when they finished with 58. Another marker from the last campaign was how truly awful the Canucks were on their travels. Their record of 12-26-3 produced just 27 points, the second lowest in the NHL.
Canucks Defying Expectations on Their Travels
It’s been a pleasant surprise to see the Canucks holding their own through the first quarter of this season. New coach Travis Green has worked wonders and his team is in the thick of the playoff chase.
No one knows if this will continue, but Canucks fans have to be enjoying it, especially after making the playoffs just once in the previous four campaigns. Interestingly though, a lot of these same fans aren’t getting to enjoy the winning in person. That’s because, one thing that’s stood out in 2017-18, is the Canucks’ road form. Entering Saturday’s slate of games, their record away from Rogers Arena is 8-4-0.
Taking into account that every team has played a varying degree of games on the road, only the St. Louis Blues have amassed more points on their travels. Undoubtedly this is as impressive as it is unexpected.
How Are the Canucks Doing It?
So what gives? It’s been interesting to listen to hockey analysts attempt to explain why the Canucks have been so much better on the road, compared to home ice.
One explanation is that the Canucks are falling behind in more games at Rogers Arena, where they have a 3-5-3 record as of Saturday morning; meaning that they are spending more time chasing games and being unable to recover from deficits.
While this may explain what’s happening it still doesn’t answer why. So again we ask, what gives? How have the Canucks been able to put together such an impressive set of road results, including Wednesday’s 5-2 win against the two-time defending Stanley Cup Pittsburgh Penguins:
In truth, we can’t give a definitive, although we can provide an educated guess, which breaks down into two factors. The first relates to the low expectations surrounding the Canucks. The team is playing with less pressure. As a result, they are able to relax more, going out on the ice and just having fun.
At the same time, the lack of expectations likely acted as the genesis for an ‘us against the world’ mentality. This mindset is only likely to be strengthened while spending time together on road trips, leading to the results we’ve seen this season; and no one spends more time travelling than the Canucks, who are currently in the midst of a stretch of 10 road games in 12 contests.
Calder Trophy-Level Play from Boeser
The second factor relates Brock Boeser. No matter how talented the kid is, no one expected this kind of production from him. Green admitted this himself on Thursday, while appearing with Bob McCown on Prime Time Sports:
Did we sit here over the summer and think he was going to be leading our team in scoring at this point in the year? No we didn’t, but we knew that we had a good player on our hands. We just didn’t know how long it would take for him to become the player that we thought.
In fairness to Green, no one really predicted this kind of success at this stage. Regardless, Boeser has shown he is the real deal, leading the Canucks in goals, assists and total points. And don’t forget he’s played less games than the majority of his teammates.
As a result, the 2015 first round draft pick is tied for the rookie lead in scoring with Mathew Barzal (again, in less games). In addition, he’s on course to break Pavel Bure’s franchise record for points by a rookie.
We still (stubbornly) maintain that Boeser will not keep up his current form for the entirety of the season. Similarly, we don’t see the Canucks being able to continue producing points so consistently on the road, despite the fantastic work ethic installed by Green.
And if we’re wrong in one or both cases? Well, we can live with this, especially if it means the Canucks qualify for the playoffs.