What a difference a week makes. With an undefeated record in nine pre-season games, the Vancouver Canucks were giving anyone who picked them as early-season Cup favourites reason to feel confident.
Now, three games into the real season and the Canucks are winless. What exactly has changed?
Firstly, exhibition games are practice and shouldn’t be looked to as a barometer for how the season will likely play out. Neither you, nor the team you’re facing is icing its full arsenal and as a result some players look better than they otherwise would in the NHL world.
Sergei Shirokov, the Russian gem who led the Canucks in scoring with seven points in four pre-season games, has hit a hard, cold reality in the early-going and all of a sudden doesn’t look like the steal many poolies were counting on him to be. Sure, it’s still very, very early and the five-foot-10 winger has plenty of time to acclimate himself and turn it around, but how much time will he be allotted by Canucks brass?
The Canucks are a hard-nosed team that scores hard-nosed goals. Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows had breakout seasons last year and it wasn’t because of tic-tac-toe tallies, but instead a result of tough cycling and rough net-crashing.
Heck, even the two go-to scorers on the team get their fair share of down-low goals.
Which is why Shirokov has looked small and out of place on the second even-strength unit — his peripheral style just doesn’t seem to fit. In fact, midway through Monday’s 5-3 loss to Columbus, Alain Vigneault moved Shirokov off the line and the Russian barely saw the ice after that. In his place, speedy and fearless Mason Raymond joined Kesler and Samuelsson and the trio immediately applied pressure and looked much improved.
An important part of any Stanley Cup team is having a secondary scoring presence to take pressure off the big guns and score a timely goal. It eluded Vancouver in their second round loss to Chicago last year and has so far been off the radar this year.
Once they get back to their game and crash the zone with speed and ferocity, all will be fine in Canuckville once again.