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Overachieving Canucks set to fall back to earth with Horvat out
Flip Livingstone Dec 8, 2017 9:22 AM
Just when it looked like the Vancouver Canucks were starting to round into form as a potential playoff threat, the injury bug sunk its teeth into perhaps the team's most important player.
Vancouver is facing the harsh reality of playing the next four-to-six weeks without its top forward - Bo Horvat - as he'll miss at least the next month with a fractured foot.
Let's get one thing straight: Losing one player to injury should never determine whether a club is a playoff contender or not.
But, in the case of Horvat and the overachieving Canucks, there just isn't enough talent on the roster to replace a guy who does a lot more than fill the scoresheet.
Case in point, Alex Burmistrov slotted into Horvat's spot alongside Brock Boeser against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, and while his one shot and even rating weren't the reasons for the 4-1 loss, he simply isn't good enough to fill the void in Horvat's absence.
That goes for the rest of the group tasked with filling in for Horvat up the middle, as Sam Gagner, Markus Granlund, and Brendan Gaunce all leave something to be desired. That trio, who will be leaned on heavily by head coach Travis Green over the next few weeks, has only seven combined goals to go along with a crooked minus-13 rating, and were all nonfactors Thursday.
Killing penalties, scoring on the man advantage, winning faceoffs - Horvat really does it all for a Vancouver club lacking in depth at almost every position.
(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
That lack of depth is especially felt on the back end, where the Canucks employ a ragtag group of rearguards that includes Ben Hutton (minus-39 since the start of the 2015-16 campaign) and Michael Del Zotto (minus-10 with a Corsi For percentage of 45).
Now, the Canucks are far from being in the sweepstakes for the No. 1 overall pick and potential future Norris winner in Rasmus Dahlin. But, if the team starts to slide like expected, Green's men could find themselves in prime draft position for one of the three or four D-men projected to be in the top 10.
Realistically, the Canucks are too good to secure the top pick. But, Horvat was the straw that stirred the drink, and without him, Vancouver's weaknesses - such as a poor penalty kill that sits 19th in the NHL - will be magnified, especially with Brandon Sutter still on the shelf.
No disrespect to guys like Derrick Pouliot and Chris Tanev, who have performed admirably on the back end this season, and Boeser and Sven Baertschi up front, but without Horvat, the Canucks just aren't good enough to compete in the Western Conference.
With Horvat on the shelf for the foreseeable future, and the supporting cast unable to pick up the slack, an overachieving Vancouver squad is set to struggle.
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