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What We Learned: Fun while it lasted, but here come the Canucks

By Ryan Lambert

Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

As of right now, the Minnesota Wild still lead their division. But it seems like the clock is just a tick or two from midnight.

That's because the Canucks are at long last recovering from their excruciatingly slow start, at the exact time the Wild's incredible run of early-season success is fading from memory.

Through Nov. 4 the Canucks were 6-7-1 and Roberto Luongo was being pelted with garbage on the streets of Vancouver (and all of it was getting by him). His start was really, really bad and that was reflected in the standings. On that day, the Canucks were 10th in the Western Conference and fourth in the Northwest behind division-leading Edmonton (remember those days?!), Minnesota and Colorado. But since that day, the reigning Western Conference champions have played like it.

In a turnaround that's near-Bruinslike in its impressiveness, the Canucks have rattled off a 15-5-1 record in their last 21, and more or less erased all doubts as to who will be winning that division — and probably that conference — come April.

The Wild, meanwhile, can blame injuries and whatever else they like on their current run, in which they've won none of their last six, but really, it's time for them and their fans to start being honest with themselves.

Even with the very nice offseason acquisitions of Dany Heatley and half the other Sharks, this never seemed like a team that should be the best in the Northwest, let alone leading the West and indeed the entire NHL as it did.

The Wild seemed to luck into an awful lot of wins despite a dreadful power play (as is their wont, historically) and their tendency to get outshot by wide margins nearly every time they've gone out this season.

(Coming Up: Ron Wilson is a pain in the ass; Jason Chimera leads the Caps in scoring; Steve Yzmerman wont blow up Lightning; Stan Bowman wants to shuffle a good deck; Karlsson's simple tastes; Darryl Sutter's ill-suited debut; Kim Jong-Un could coach the Habs; using the holidays to feel better about Columbus; the Ducks lead the league in self-pity; Ruutu's tip; the Bruins are unstoppable; Kari Lehtonen hearts Steve Ott; Dubinsky seeks resurgence; and some World Juniors trash talk.)

There was a stretch earlier this season where they won seven games in a row while being outshot by about 10 SOG per night, on average. It's unsustainable and insane that they were able to keep things going that long. Not that being short Mikko Koivu, Devin Setoguchi and Guillaume Latendresse for an extended period of time isn't a huge blow to a low-offense team, obviously.

The team was also extremely fortunate to get the schedule it did so far this year. The Wild played 14 of their first 24 games at home, and have seen that even out considerably in the last few weeks, as nine of their last 12 have been on the road. That will wear on any team, especially one with injuries. Which goes a long way toward explaining this current four-game road losing streak in which they've looked downright awful. Only having 42 goals for in 19 road games (good for 19th in the league), though, is no way to win over the course of a season. Neither is having 40 in 17 home games.

This was a team playing well above its head for the first two or three months of the season, and as nice as it was to see, things are returning to their natural order. The Sedins are once again scoring like madmen with 38 combined points in December, and consequently the power play is once again tops in the league at 25.7 percent (3.2 points better than second-best Nashville). Ryan Kesler continues to be a dominant all-around forward that's among the best at his job in the National Hockey League. And, perhaps most importantly, Roberto Luongo hasn't turned in a bad performance in nearly a month.

Minnesota, much like Colorado did a few years ago, has probably built enough of a case for itself as a playoff team that, even if they were to collapse back to earth in the fashion most have come to expect, they're probably safe enough to make the playoffs. Based on last year's threshold, they'll only need 42 more points from their remaining 46 games. That's doable for even a mediocre team, which is something the Wild decidedly are. The good news for the Wild is that the Northwest Division is probably big enough for the both of them.

The good news for the rest of us is that, just in time for the New Year, the NHL is starting to make sense again.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks lead the league in feeling sorry for yourself. "If you're not winning, it's tough to feel good about yourself," sulked Jonas Hiller. "You need that experience of having success to start feeling good about yourself. On the other hand, when we had a couple of good games, we always were never able to keep that good feeling and we kind of found a way to lose again." They have five wins since Oct. 17.

Boston Bruins: The Bruins started the season 3-7-0, and since then have gone 20-2-1. Remarkable. And the two regulation losses were consecutive. During this 23-game stretch, they've outscored opponents 95-38. What?

Buffalo Sabres: Thomas Vanek might play later today against Washington but he's day-to-day with an upper body injury that held him out of Thursday's game with Toronto.

Calgary Flames: Nobody make any sudden movements to scare them off, but the Flames have won their last two games. Against Detroit and Vancouver. They're 9-3-3 in their last 15 if you can believe it.

Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes turned in a strong performance in Friday's game with Ottawa but still needed overtime to pull out a W. Tuomo Ruutu with a nice tip-in for the game-winner though.

Chicago Blackhawks: Stan Bowman is already looking to work a bunch of trades to make his team better. Because teams that are 8-1-1 in their last 10 and have the most points in the league need to get aggressive.

Colorado Avalanche: Would you have guessed that the Avalanche are an awesome home team all of a sudden? They've won eight in a row at Pepsi Center after starting the season 4-9-0 there.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Talk about a bummer holiday message -- "If you can't get pucks out of your mind for two whole days, strip away the record, the results ... the reality of this season. Instead, think about how cool it is that Columbus has an NHL franchise, that the best players in the world play here." Well…

Dallas Stars: There's a heartwarming story about how Steve Ott and Kari Lehtonen first met at the World Juniors tournament. "I played against him two years," Lehtonen said. I don't remember which game it was, but he was shooting at me while I was trying to stretch during the warmups. He kept shooting pucks at me." Which just goes to show how low-rent the Canadian junior team is.

Detroit Red Wings Presented by Amway: The only thing Mike Babcock liked about the team's swing through Western Canada was the play of Darren Helm, Danny Cleary and Drew Miller. That's a really bad sign.

Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers snapped a four-game losing streak against Minnesota on Thursday and now face a colossal seven-game road trip. The fact that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle have just 30 points on the road this season (compared with 62 at home) won't help matters.

Related Links

Florida Panthers: Will Jason Garrison be selected as an all-star? I sure hope so. He leads defensemen in goals this season with 10. That number would put him tied for 75th among forwards, beside the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Anze Kopitar and Rick Nash.

Los Angeles Kings: Darryl Sutter is 1-0 as Kings coach and was even almost affable. "I told them, you guys have to pay attention, I'll get Mike Richards and Brad Richardson mixed up," he said. Of course, he also wore an ugly suit for the game, so some things never change.

Minnesota Wild: Jason Zucker, a Wild prospect, has been named captain of the US World Junior team, making him the world's greatest U20 player. He is wonderful and cool and we should all love him and support him.

Montreal Canadiens: Great article about how ridiculous the Canadiens coaching situation is. It posits that Mitt Romney, who once lived in France, and Kim Jong-Un, who claims to be able to speak many languages, could be candidates at season's end.

Nashville Predators: Beautiful pass from Colin Wilson to set up this David Legwand goal on Friday night.

New Jersey Devils: On Friday, Anton Volchenkov took a shot off the face. Or would have, except he was wearing a visor. What a novel concept. Wearing a plastic thing over your face keeps things from hitting your face. "Weird," says Chris Pronger and Marty St. Louis.

New York Islanders: Isles prospect Ryan Strome wants to make a difference at World Juniors, which start today. Too bad he is Canadian and therefore the worst.

New York Rangers: Brandon Dubinsky has just two goals and 16 points in 33 games this season but might be ready to break out. He says it's because he wasn't moving his legs enough. Hockey players are adorable.

Ottawa Senators: Erik Karlsson has gotten some nice Christmas gifts since moving to North America to play in the NHL, but his favorite came from Dany Alfredsson's family. "A T-shirt my first year. I wear it all the time." A man of extremely simple tastes.

Philadelphia Flyers: It's not gonna snow in Philly for the Winter Classic. Best part of the article is this though: "For the NHL, the challenge is to figure out which market receives the event." It's true. The event has to be both In the Eastern Conference (since Chicago already got one), more specifically, in the Northeast or Atlantic, in a city with a large outdoor stadium, not in New York City, and in America. There are as many as FOUR cities that can host this thing!

Phoenix Coyotes: Keith Tkachuk was honored by the Coyotes on Friday, and says he's enjoying retirement immensely. "That low center of gravity's not little anymore," Tkachuk said.

Pittsburgh Penguins: How about the Crosby-less play of Evgeni Malkin, huh? Since Sid went back on the shelf after Dec. 5, Malkin has 6-10-16 in seven games. Real strong.

San Jose Sharks: The Sharks have won four straight and are tied for the division lead, but I feel like we haven't heard much about them this year. It's not like they've even been especially bad for long stretches. Very strange.

St. Louis Blues: Andy McDonald skated on Friday, which was his first time on the ice since suffering a concussion on Oct. 13. He's missed 31 games after taking the knock, which was his second concussion in 10 months.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Steve Yzerman says that just because the team stinks this year doesn't mean he's going to blow it up. If anything, he thinks the Bolts can still compete for the playoffs and will try to improve them.

Toronto Maple Leafs: No one on earth is a bigger or better pain in the ass to his team's fans than Ron Wilson, who tweeted on Christmas morning, "'He came! He came!' Remember saying that as a little kid? Well he did: I got a new Red Ryder BB gun and a contract extension!" Genius.

Vancouver Canucks: Henrik Sedin is now tied with Brendan Morrison for the Canucks' all-time iron man with 534 straight games played. The last time he missed a game was before the lockout.

Washington Capitals: People still can't believe that Jason Chimera is the Caps' leading goalscorer, and rightly so I guess. He's two ahead of Alex Ovechkin.

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets are two points out of a playoff spot but it seems even the cheerleader Winnipeg media is finally getting an understanding of what this team actually is.

Gold Star Award


Know who gets this ahead of World Juniors? America does. Go America. Crush your foreign enemies.

Minus of the Weekend

Canada. I mean just look at them. Gross and awful, the lot of them.

Play of the Weekend

Benoit Pouliot is starting to look like a $1.1 million bargain for the Bruins.

He has goals in his last three games and is playing spectacular all-around hockey.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User "Hulk Hogan" has a great idea.

To Tampa:

Derek Roy
Ville Leino

To Buffalo:
Vincent Lecavalier

I love it, brother!

Signoff
Why are you acting insane and threatening to cut my throat?!

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness rather infrequently over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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