This isn’t where anyone expected the Canucks to be. Eight games into the 2018-19 season, the Canucks are tied for second in the Pacific Division with a 5-3-0 record. Perhaps that’s more of an indictment on the quality of the Pacific as a whole, but the Canucks have dealt with a tough schedule to start the season and come out with a winning record.
A win against the Washington Capitals on Monday night would move the Canucks into first place in the Pacific Division. Far more importantly, a win would mean evading the dreaded Crap Mantle.
If you’re a new reader to PITB, you might not be familiar with the Crap Mantle, but long-time Bulies will recall the antithesis to a championship belt that sprung out of an early PITB Podcast.
The Crap Mantle is a way of determining who the worst team in the NHL is at any given moment. Normally, taking a mantle is a positive thing. If you take up the mantle of leadership, it means you’re assuming a role of leadership once held by someone else. But the Crap Mantle isn’t a noble honourific like the mantle of leadership; instead, it’s a mantle of crap.
The team that loses the first game of the NHL season is obviously the worst team in the NHL at that point in time: who else could it possibly be?
If you lose to the worst team in the NHL, you must obviously be worse than the worst team and are therefore the new bearer of the Crap Mantle. It passes from losing team to losing team until only one team is left at the end of the season with the Crap Mantle, which will haunt them for the rest of their days.
The worst part about the Crap Mantle is that there’s no reward for finishing with it. There’s just the knowledge that you are just the worst. If you finish in last place in the NHL, you get something: the best odds in the draft lottery. If you finish with the Crap Mantle, you only get a sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach. Also, dogs will bark at you and flee from any attempt to pet them.
Last season, an unusual situation occurred: the team that finished with the Crap Mantle was the Tampa Bay Lightning, by virtue of losing in overtime to the Carolina Hurricanes in their final game of the season. Despite winning the Atlantic Division and being generally considered one of the best teams in the NHL, they were, in fact, the worst team in the NHL.
Should we have been surprised, then, when the Lightning failed to make the Stanley Cup Final, losing instead to a team with a reputation for choking in the playoffs, the Washington Capitals? No. We should have listened to the Crap Mantle.
Speaking of the Capitals, the reigning Stanley Cup Champions are also, oddly enough, the current bearers of the Crap Mantle. This is their first game with the Crap Mantle and they’ll surely want to get rid of it as soon as possible. The Canucks, then, need to be prepared.
No team wanted to hang onto the Crap Mantle for long and, thus far, no team has. As tracked by loyal Bulie Crystal240, who is the greatest, no team has held onto the Crap Mantle for longer than one game this season.
The Montreal Canadiens started off with the Crap Mantle, losing the first game of the season to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but they quickly passed it off to the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s made its way through six teams so far: the Canucks have to make sure they’re not the seventh.
Last season, for all its woes, the Canucks managed to completely avoid the Crap Mantle, never once bearing its ignominy. That’s two straight years that the Canucks have managed to, at the very least, never be the absolute worst team in the NHL.
There are some warning signs for the Canucks this season, however, that their good times could be grinding to a halt before too long. At even strength, the Canucks have struggled in puck possession and have been badly out-chanced by their opponents.
Using Natural Stat Trick’s scoring chance metric, the Canucks have been out-chanced 206-to-133 so far this season, the second-worst ratio in the NHL. Oddly enough, the only team worst than them is the Anaheim Ducks, who are currently sitting in first place in the Pacific Division.
The Ducks have been dependent on some stellar goaltending from John Gibson, who leads the NHL with a .949 save percentage despite facing the most shots of any goaltender in the NHL. The Canucks, on the other hand, are mainly grinding out one-goal games, which is generally not a strategy for long-term success.
Excluding empty-net goals, just one of the Canucks’ five wins was by more than one goal: their season opener against the Calgary Flames.
Can the Canucks grind out another win against the Washington Capitals to avoid the Crap Mantle or will they be unable to walk that tightrope to victory? Or, secret option C, will they blow the Capitals out of the building with an unexpected offensive flurry?
The Capitals haven’t exactly been defensive stalwarts so far this season. They’ve allowed the fourth-most goals per game in the NHL so far this season, allowing 3.86 goals per game. Goaltender Braden Holtby has an ugly .881 save percentage in his six starts this season and was pulled from his last start after allowing four goals on 11 shots in the first period against the Florida Panthers.
Those are all good signs that the Canucks can evade the Crap Mantle, but that also means the Capitals are a team looking to right the ship and will be a tough opponent.