Okay, I admit it. It’s not exactly a secret.
But the reason The Vancouver Canucks have been so successful in the pre-season can be distilled to a couple of things that they did not have last year.
Speed and face offs.
This year’s squad is undeniably faster. Nazzy and Mo used to be amongst our fastest skaters. But Mo has fought off injuries for two years running and anyone watching the game realizes that Nazzy lost a step after the Moore incident.
Certainly the addition of Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen have improved overall speed. Raymond, of course did play last year, but he was hardly ever used in a top six role. And Hansen was injured before he could complete a successful transition to the NHL.
When the Sedins were first drafted, the knock against them was their foot speed. Typical of their character that they worked so hard to overcome it. They aren’t the fastest, but their improvement is marked and I’ve seen both of them beat defenders to he outside this pre-season.
Pavol Demitra is faster (and certainly quicker) than Nazzy. And Burrows and Kesler were already just about the fastest on the team. Our defense is certainly solid again this year…most could be placed in the mobile category, I suppose, but last year with the injuries decimating the back end, we know for sure that the subs were not quicker of foot than the men they replaced.
This year’s team is an order of magnitude faster, therefore, and I submit (barring catastrophic injuries) that we are playoff bound. Predictions beyond that are too mystical to offer up.
And of course the other area that the Canucks improved is in the face off department. Last year, Byron Ritchie was sent out for the “special draws” in our own end. Hank Sedin and Ryan Kessler made steady improvements throughout the year, but this year they really have arrived. Both are reliably effective. And the addition of Ryan Johnson will pay dividends all through the regular season. This guy will not get noticed by a lot by fans, but he will by the coaching staff and opposing centermen.
So yeah, speed and face offs.
It’s how a remarkably un-physical (okay, you come up with a better word) Detroit team won the Cup…with speed and puck possession. And puck possession starts with winning face-offs. And the little battles, whether it’s Mason Raymond speeding on the back check to strip Getzlaf of the puck or simply Burrows beating the opposition for the puck over and over on the PK, it’s the main ingredients to winning.
And yes, I know the Canucks lost to the Ducks. I’m sure I’m not the only one who realizes that that just takes the pressure off trying to maintain an undefeated record heading into the regular season.