The impressive reputation earned by the Vancouver Canucks (7-2-1) over their last 10 games is about to be put to the ultimate test. They are travelling through the NHL’s version of Death Valley, where few teams survive. Over the next six days Vancouver will embark on a road trip that sees them play the Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, and Anaheim Ducks.
Canucks head coach John Tortorella’s old team, the New York Rangers, suffered embarrassing defeats in early October while on the same trip. The Rangers struggled against the Coyotes, falling by a score of 4-1. Then they squeaked out a win against the Kings. After that, things got ugly – they lost 9-2 to the Sharks, and 6-0 to the Ducks.
The Canucks are not the Rangers, so what happened to New York doesn’t mean anything. But, it’s not just the Blueshirts who are taking regular beatings through the California/Arizona trip of death. The southwestern American teams that comprise more than half of the newly formed Pacific Division have a combined home record of 21-3-2 so far this season. All three of the losses belong to the Los Angeles Kings, who are notorious slow starters.
The Canucks have had trouble with the Sharks this season, losing both October meetings by a score of 4-1. The Sharks also swept the Canucks in the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, providing them with a second straight 1st round playoff exit.
The Kings eliminated the Canucks from the playoffs in 2012, needing only 5 games to dispose of Pavel Bure’s old team.
The Canucks true test is how they perform in Cali/Arizona
The Canucks strong start is not a huge surprise. They’ve qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs in five straight seasons. The core of talent that got them there is still in tact. There is no question that Tortorella’s club is a good NHL team that will probably make the playoffs for the sixth straight time this season. However, if they are the Cup contender they were back 2010-11, the Sharks, Ducks, Kings and Coyotes are teams they will need to beat at some point along the way. And, to have success in the playoffs, Vancouver will need to be able to win games in the California/Phoenix buildings. But the playoffs are months away.
The season is young. Regardless of how the Canucks do over the next four games, it doesn’t actually mean anything more than perhaps to provide us with extra material to use while predicting future Pacific Division battles.
The tour begins tomorrow night in Phoenix against the Coyotes, and comes to a close Sunday, November 10, in Anaheim.