by Tyler Rowe
The number 16 holds a lot of significance to us North Americans, for many different reasons:
- It’s the most important birthday for teenage girls—so important in fact that, if mixed with MTV cameras and the correct amount of family wealth, it turns them into vile beasts.
- It’s the most entertaining round of March Madness, since there’s usually at least one Cinderella left for broadcasters and fans to become mad about, and not in the relaxed way that includes Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser.
- It’s when most of us get our driver’s licence, a major benchmark in growing-up. The actual result of getting a driver’s licence is simply having a room with a moving view to listen to really amazing music that we’ll be too embarrassed to admit that we liked by the time we get to college.
- If you put an “F” in front of it, it becomes the name of a really cool jet.
- It’s the average age when kids lose their virginity (MTV is all over this one too, if adequate protection is not employed); that is, unless they write for Smug Nation, in which case the number goes up by a lot…
The number 16 is very important for Canucks fans as well:
- It’s the number of the greatest Canuck of all time, Trevor Linden. Note that there are 19 players in the NHL wearing #16 this season—including some solid players like Derrick Brassard and Andrew Ladd and some solid distractions like Sean Avery and Adam Burish—not one of whom is half the man Trevor Linden is on his worst day.
- It’s the number of playoff wins required to capture the Stanley Cup. The Vancouver Canucks are pretty good at winning 15 games, but not very good at winning 16.
- It’s the number of games remaining in the 2011-2012 season for the Canucks.
With our eyes smugnaciously narrowed, lets turn our gaze to the final 16 games of the season and what it means for the Canucks and their silvery ambitions.
At first glance, the remaining schedule looks pretty sweet for a mature Vancouver team that has been playing much of the time like the regular season is for chumps (read: listlessly). Only five games are on the road, and I can’t in good conscience call a four-game trip to Minny, Chicago, Dallas, and Colorado, plus a one-night-stand in Calgary, a murderous bit of work. The average points accumulated by Vancouver’s opponents in the home stretch is a meager 68, there are no remaining games against teams that could realistically catch Vancouver in the race for pole position in the West, and only five games against teams that currently occupy a playoff spot in the standings. Better yet, three of those five games are against Dallas, a team that Vancouver has owned in the recent (if not the very recent) past.
Great, right? No one wants a team with so many important guys on the wrong side of 30 finishing the season with a grueling road trip or a slate of brutal division games. For the latter, we can all thank the Northwest division for being mediocre to terrible for the past two seasons. For the former, we can thank the NHL schedule-makers. The people at the league head office who write the schedule probably didn’t think they were doing the Canucks a favour with this schedule. How could they have known that, along with no one stepping up in the Northwest, most of the Pacific division would also be kinda gnarly, and not gnarly like some totally corduroy waves, but gnarly like an old skateboarding wound?
One might reasonably conclude that it is exactly the listlessness we briefly touched on before that makes the final 16 games in Vancouver’s 2012 schedule decidedly un-sweet. Certainly the Canucks would be best served firing on all cylinders going into the post-season, and they have not looked like the deadly-efficient squad they were for the 2010-11 regular season. They’ve been taking a lot of breaks. But the Blue and Green have showed all season long (fortunately for the Canucks, their season starts in November) that even if they’ve just coasted on talent for long periods, they’re always ready to step up for the big games. And in case you were wondering, I’m counting “big” games as those against Boston, Manhattan, Detroit, Chicago, San Jose, Nashville, Los Angeles before everyone knew they sucked and St. Louis after everyone knew they were for real (a.k.a. the rivals that were and the rivals to be).
Since October, in “big” games:
Game 15 – @Chicago, Nov 6 W 6-2
Game 16 – @Los Angeles, Nov 10 W 3-2
Game 19 – vs Chicago, Nov 16 L 1-5
Game 23 – @San Jose, Nov 26 W 3-2
Game 25 – vs Nashville, Dec 1 L 5-6
Game 34 – vs Detroit, Dec 21 W 4-2
Game 37 – @ San Jose, Dec 28 W 3-2 OT
Game 39 – @Los Angeles, Dec 31 L 1-4
Game 40 – vs San Jose, Jan 2 L 2-3 SO
Game 42 – @ Boston, Jan 6 W 4-3
Game 45 – @ St Louis, Jan 12 W 3-2 OT
Game 48 – vs San Jose, Jan 21 W 4-3
Game 50 – vs Chicago, Jan 31 W 3-2 OT
Game 51 – vs Detroit, Feb 2 L 3-4 SO
Game 53 – @ Nashville, Feb 7 W 4-3 SO
Game 60 – @ Nashville, Feb 21 L 1-3
Game 61 – @ Detroit, Feb 23 W 4-3 SO
Game 65 – vs. St Louis, Mar 1 W 2-0
That makes the Canucks 12-4-2 in the past 4 months against the best teams in the league, no matter how lackluster they’ve looked in the games in-between. To my mind, it doesn’t really matter if they’re not tested down the stretch—they’ve shown all season long that they know exactly how to play when the games matter, and they’re about to matter a lot. 16 games to go, Vancouver, and then no more breaks allowed.
Tyler’s Note: For your big, fat information, Vancouver’s remaining opponents are Calgary (x2), Edmonton, Anaheim, Dallas (x3), Colorado (x2), LA, Chicago, Minnesota, Columbus, Phoenix, Montreal and Winnipeg.