TAKEAWAYS

 

1) The National Hockey League is the best league on the planet. It's hard to get leads and it's even harder to chase games when you don't have them. For all the good the Vancouver Canucks have done in their first 20 games of the 2019-20 National Hockey League season -- and they've done plenty -- they have had to play catch up far too often. Thursday against Dallas was the 13th time the Canucks have surrendered the opening goal of the hockey game. To make matters worse, they also coughed up the second goal of the game. Now to their credit, the Canucks rallied and tied the game 2-2 midway through the second period. But the Stars went in front again with 91 seconds remaining in the second period putting the Canucks in position to have to play catch-up yet again in the third. On the night, the Canucks never had a lead. It was that way in a 2-1 loss to New Jersey on Sunday, in a 5-2 loss in Chicago last week, and in recent 2-1 overtime losses to St. Louis and before that Anaheim. Add it all up, and that's five of the team's last eight games in which the Canucks have not held a lead for a second. Eventually, playing catch-up will catch-up to you and as a result, the Canucks have one win in their last six games (1-4-1) and just two wins in their last eight (2-4-2).

 

2) In all 10 of their wins this season, the Canucks have had a goal from at least one of Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, JT Miller or Bo Horvat. In nine of their wins, they've received two goals or more from that group of four. Hardly earth-shattering, I know, but when the team's best players are productive the Canucks stand a pretty good chance of winning. On nights when those four players are held at bay, though, it's likely going to be a struggle. Even though the Canucks have better secondary scoring this season than in recent years, the top players have to lead and the others will follow. That wasn't the case on Thursday against the Stars. Jake Virtanen and Troy Stecher were the Vancouver goal scorers and the team's top players were relatively quiet.For just the third time this season -- and the first since October 12th -- JT Miller didn't register a shot on goal and managed only one attempt on the night as he shuttled between a number of forward lines. As the team reaches the 20-game mark, Horvat's lone even-strength goal was scored into an empty net in Detroit. That has to change and the storyline won't go away until Horvat, himself, makes it disappear. The captain has gone eight games without a goal and has just one in his last 11.

 

3) There was a lesson to be taken from Thursday's loss to Dallas and the Canucks won't have to wait long to test themselves to see if they're quick learners. They open their longest road trip of the season -- a six-game odyssey -- on Tuesday in the Lone Star State with a rematch against the Stars. Dallas was exactly as advertised at Rogers Arena. They rolled into town on an 8-1-1 run giving up just 16 goals in those 10 games. They are the second-stingiest team in the NHL and it was easy to see why. They were structured, they were disciplined, they were physical on the forecheck and they did a nice job of protecting the front of their net. These are the traits of good hockey teams and difficult ones to play against as the Canucks discovered the hard way. As the Canucks try to climb the ladder in the Western Conference and compete for the team's first playoff berth in five seasons, they are going to encounter more teams that play the way Dallas does. The Stars deserved the victory on Thursday. The Canucks weren't badly outplayed, but they weren't good enough either. There is a price to pay to have success against a team like the Stars. The Canucks weren't at their best on Thursday, but they'll get another shot at Dallas next week to see if can they get it right.

 

4) The Canucks reached the 20-game mark with a record of 10-7-3 good for 23 points in the standings and a share of third place in the Pacific Division. At the conclusion of Thursday's play, the Canucks held down a position above the playoff bar in the West. Prorate the Canucks record over 82-games and they're on a pace that will see them finish with 94 points in 82 games. That would likely get them into the post-season, but there's no guarantee. And that's the point here. The team has done a lot of good in its first 20 contests. They've scored goals and engaged the fan base and returned the fun to watching their games most nights. But 23 points in 20 games is simply a reminder of how much work lies ahead for this hockey club to reach its goal of making the playoffs. Almost universally, the 10-7-3 record has been lauded as a success both in the market and around the league. But it also underscores that the Canucks will have to play that well -- and perhaps better -- in each of the three 20-game segments that remain on the schedule just to stay the course. Can they maintain the pace they've set? Can they play better than they have in the first six weeks of the season? Can they avoid further injuries and injuries to any of their key players? All of these are questions that will be answered over the next five months. The team has shown flashes in the early going this season, but is there enough fire there to burn all season long?

 

5) What can/will/should the Canucks do with Loui Eriksson? It may not be a pressing issue at the moment, but it's a situation that still requires a resolution. The 34-year-old played a season-low 5:58 on Thursday which included only 3:53 at even strength and just two shifts in the third period -- none in the final 12 minutes. Eriksson has suited up in 10 of the Canucks 20 games this season and has not registered a single point. His ledger this season reads nine shots, 4 blocks and no hits. He also has a hefty price tag and, more importantly, a roster spot. This dance surely can't continue much longer especially with injured forwards Micheal Ferland, Antoine Roussel and Tyler Motte set to return in the not too distant future. Zack MacEwen is up from Utica now and deserves a look. It's impossible to believe he couldn't have more of an impact than Eriksson these days. With Brandon Sutter out, Eriksson seems to be surviving on limited penalty killing contributions (he logged 2:05 of short-handed ice time on Thursday) -- but that alone isn't reason enough to have him in the line-up. His highlight to this point was outracing an icing call. That's what it comes to. Surely the hope was that after a summer spent soul-searching, a motivated Eriksson would return to the club and prove he is still an NHL player and one that can help the hockey club. The reality is that he's had 10 games now and nothing has changed. It just feels like the end of the line. At some point, the Canucks have to move on -- and it feels like that time is now.