Their 2018 may have ended with a whimper – but December as a whole provided a nice bounce back for the Vancouver Canucks.
After a dismal, injury-riddled 3-8-3 November had some fans turning their thoughts toward June’s NHL entry draft (in Vancouver), the Canucks went 8-5-1 in December, finishing 2018 with a level 19-19-4 record – and find themselves just two points out of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference.
By the numbers
Team record: 19-19-4 (9-9-1 home, 10-10-3 away) 42 points (5th, Pacific Division, 18th overall); GF: 124 (14th overall); GA: 133 (26th overall); PP: 17.8% (20th overall); PK: 77.8% (21st overall)
On Dec. 1: 11-14-3 (5-5-1 home, 6-9-2 away) 25 points (6th, Pacific Division; 24th overall); GF: 81 (13th overall); GA: 100 (30th overall); PP: 18.9% (19th overall); PK: 76.2% (25th overall)
On Nov. 1: 8-6-0 (4-2-0 home, 4-4-0 away) 16 points (1st, Pacific Division; 7th overall); GF: 40 (9th overall); GA: 44 (27th overall); PP: 17.0% (20th overall); PK:83.3% (9th overall).
Leading scorers (as of Jan. 1):
Elias Pettersson (36 GP, 19-20-39), Bo Horvat (42 GP, 17-18-35), Brock Boeser (29 GP, 14-12-26), Nikolay Goldobin (41 GP, 5-18-23), Jake Virtanen (42 GP, 11-7-18). Goalies: Jacob Markstrom (29 GP, 16-10-3, 2.80 GAA, .910 save percentage), Anders Nilsson (12 GP, 3-8-1, 3.09 GAA, .895 save percentage).
NOTE: Nilsson was traded on Wednesday to the Ottawa Senators. Let the Thatcher Demko watch begin.
On Dec. 1
Horvat (28 GP, 11-13-24), Pettersson (22 GP, 13-9-22), Goldobin (28 GP, 4-12-16), Boeser (15 GP; 6-7-13), Virtanen (28 GP, 8-4-12). Goalies: Markstrom (20 GP, 8-9-3, 3.31 GAA, .897 save percentage), Nilsson (7 GP, 3-4-0, 2.86 GAA, .902 save percentage).
On Nov. 1: Pettersson (8 GP, 7-3-10), Horvat (14 GP, 7-3-10), Virtanen (14 GP, 5-2-7), Boeser (12 GP, 2-5-7). Goalies: Markstrom (8 GP, 5-3-0, 2.96 GAA, .911 save percentage), Nilsson (6 GP, 3-3-0, 2.67 GAA, .912 save percentage).
(Repeat winner!) Forward Tim Schaller has now played 29 games and has yet to record his first goal as a Canuck.
⭐️⭐️⭐️ @_EPettersson ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Elias Pettersson will represent Team Pacific in the 2019 @NHL All-Star Game! Petey becomes the youngest #Canucks player and just the third Vancouver rookie named to the honour. https://t.co/vEROWIwjIr
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) January 2, 2019
Player of the month
You could probably pencil in the nifty Pettersson (17 points in 14 games) for this award each month for years to come. He was named the league’s rookie of the month for December and will appear in the league’s all-star game. But the nod for a December to remember this time goes to Markstrom. The lanky Swedish backstop was a stellar 8-1-0 in December, with a microscopic 1.66 GAA and a tidy .943 save percentage. From splitting the crease with Nilsson early, Markstrom now has a firm grip on the No. 1 goaltending spot.
Who else but Pettersson? He turned Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne inside out on a slick penalty-shot goal on Dec. 6.
Doubling up on his monthly awards, Markstrom’s stellar December earns the honours here. If he continues to play at or near that level, the playoffs aren’t a pipe dream for Vancouver.
With a nod to the departing Nilsson, Schaller is another repeat winner here. He wasn’t signed to be a 50-goal man, but not producing at all isn’t acceptable.
The Canucks pounded lowly St. Louis twice, but the 5-3 Dec. 6 win over the Predators was a highlight.
Finishing your year in New Jersey probably wasn’t high on any Canuck’s wish list. Falling 4-0 to the Devils on Dec. 31 made it even worse.
Ben Hutton jumping in for Boeser against Cedric Paquette during a brouhaha against Tampa Bay was the best of the (two) Canuck fights in December.
The Canucks are slowly getting healthy. Veteran centre Jay Beagle (fractured forearm) and winger Sven Baertschi (upper-body injury) have returned after lengthy stays on injured reserve. Centre Brandon Sutter (upper-body injury) is nearing a return.
On the farm
Vancouver signed an extension deal with its AHL club, the Utica Comets, ending speculation the Comets might end up in Abbotsford. On the ice, the Comets sport a 17-16-2-1 record and sit fourth in the league’s North Division. Veteran minor leaguer Reid Boucher (24 GP, 16-13-29) leads the Comets in scoring. Zack MacEwen (35 GP, 13-14-27) may well earn a callup to the big club this season. Top defence prospect Olli Juolevi was lost for the season after knee surgery. Demko (15 GP, 7-5-1, 2.63 GAA, .909 save percentage) has played well since returning from concussion issues.
Coming this month
The Canucks play nine times in January, opening on the road with games in Ottawa (Jan. 2), Montreal (Jan. 3) and Toronto (Jan. 5) before returning home for an extended homestand. Arizona (Jan. 10), Florida (Jan. 13), Edmonton (Jan. 16), Buffalo (Jan. 18), Detroit (Jan. 20) and Carolina (Jan. 23) all visit Vancouver this month – a month that will go a long way to determining if the Canucks are playoff-bound or again dreaming of draft lottery luck.
RELATED: Canucks November report
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Vancouver Island Free Daily editor Philip Wolf can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @philipwolf13