On home ice, the Canucks have given their fans many reasons to cheer.
Their 14-5-3 record on home ice is one of the ten best in the NHL. They’ve scored the fifth-most goals on home ice, with 81 goals in 22 home games. Their goaltenders have been fantastic on home ice, with a .917 save percentage that is good for 8th in the NHL.
Just using the Canucks’ home record alone, the Canucks would be on-pace for 116 points over the course of an 82-game season, which would come just one point short of matching the 2010-11 Canucks, the best team in franchise history. Their 302 goal pace would be the fourth-most in franchise history.
If we just looked at their home record, the Canucks wouldn’t just be a competitive team just battling to make the playoffs, but a contender for the Presidents’ Trophy. There’s just the little issue of their record on the road.
While the Canucks have a top-ten record at home, they have a bottom-ten record on the road. They’re 9-12-1 away from the comfy confines of Rogers Arena and have scored just 61 goals in those 22 games, while giving up 78, with their goaltenders posting an .894 save percentage.
Looking at just their road record, the Canucks would be on-pace for 71 points over an 82-game season. While that wouldn’t even be the worst Canucks record this decade, which is depressing to think about, it’s not particularly good and would have landed them in 30th-place in the NHL last season.
That’s quite the swing from home to the road: from Presidents’ Trophy contenders to contenders to pick first overall. It’s not the widest gap in home/road performance in the NHL — that goes to the Philadelphia Flyers, who have lost 2 games at home this season and 13 on the road — but it’s among the widest.
We’ve seen very recently the wide gap between the Canucks at home versus the Canucks on the road. All but one of the games on the Canucks’ 7-game winning streak was on home ice, the lone exception being a game in Calgary. Just before that home stand, the Canucks suffered two big losses on the road, losing 4-2 to the hapless San Jose Sharks, then giving up 46 shots on goal in a 6-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights that wasn’t even as close as that score would suggest.
Then, heading out on the road looking to extend their 7-game winning streak, the Canucks were struck by Lightning and then eaten by Panthers. It wasn’t just that they lost their two games in Florida, but that they were so completely outplayed by both teams.
What can explain this wide gap in performance?
Perhaps it’s just luck or something else outside the Canucks’ control. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that when you split the team’s record by home and away you get such a distinct difference. It could be entirely random.
It could be the Canucks’ fanbase cheering them on. It’s hard to assess the psychological impact of hearing the home crowd cheer you on, but from a subjective standpoint, the fans at Rogers Arena have been a little bit louder and more boisterous than last season, when the Canucks had the 23rd-ranked home record in the NHL, and the in-arena experience has seen some big steps forward this season, perhaps spurring that on.
Of course, that’s a chicken-and-the-egg situation. Which is the cause and which is the effect? Is the crowd cheering louder lifting up the Canucks and helping them perform better or is the crowd louder because the Canucks are playing better and there’s more good things for which to cheer?
There are other factors that can make a team perform better on home ice. The players get to sleep at home in their own beds, with no arduous travel between games. The familiarity of the rink itself can help, whether its the off-ice facilities or the quirks of the boards and glass and how the puck bounces off them. Perhaps even the refs are slightly biased towards the home team, unconsciously wanting to avoid the ire of thousands of fans.
Beyond those factors, however, hockey is one of the few sports that has a home advantage baked into the rules. The home team gets last change before a faceoff, which allows the home team to control their matchups more easily. For a team that likes to hard match lines like the Canucks, perhaps this explains the gap.
More likely, it is a combination of some or all of these factors. Whatever the case, the Canucks can’t afford to perform like a basement-dwelling team on the road, no matter how good they are at home. Bouncing back from their embarrassing losses to the Lightning and Panthers would be a start: the Canucks have three games left to turn around their current road trip, starting on Saturday in Buffalo.