How Do You Survive the Western Conference? Just Win, Baby.

Everything is going right for the Vancouver Canucks.

They’re 10-5-1. Roberto Luongo is playing his way into another starting role with Team Canada in time for next February’s Olympics, the Sedin Twins are among the league leaders in scoring, and Ryan Kesler has looked every bit acceptably energetic now that he doesn’t have to carry eight other forwards on his shoulders. The defence has been unbelievable, perhaps the best top six(that’s what call it in the biz, man) in the NHL.

They Canucks have been wallpapering every team East of the Mississippi for the past month. So what’s the problem? Why are they no further up the Western Conference standings than, I dunno, ten other teams?

Because they’re all doing the same thing. And one of them, the Phoenix Coyotes, will host Vancouver on Tuesday night in a pivotal Pacific Division clash, one where both teams needs Double-You’s just to stay afloat in a sea where everyone has a speedboat.

The Coyotes are 10-3-2 on the season – one point ahead of Vancouver in the Pacific – and are 7-1-2 in their last 10, entering Tuesday’s game with four straight wins.

“We’re not focused on their stats or records,” Canucks head coach John Tortorella said on Tuesday (according to the Vancouver Canucks Twitter page). “We’re worried about ourselves.”

The men termed ‘ourselves‘ include strong surprises like d-man Ryan Stanton and forward Mike Santorelli.

“I thought his last game against Toronto was his best game,” said Tortorella on Burnaby’s Santorelli. “His line was our best line.”

And then, there are the not-so-surprising, not-so-strong ‘surprises’… like forward David Booth.

He’s been unhealthy for essentially his entire three-years-going-on-10-years tenure in Vancouver. And when he’sbeen healthy… well, there hasn’t been much of a reason to prop him up.

Booth was sent down to Vancouver’s AHL affiliate in Utica on Monday for conditioning, currently recovering from an injury supposed to keep him out (of NHL action) for at least another week.

“We want him to play,” Tortorella said. “We want him to see as much game action as possible.”

Booth’s real-life status as a Canuck has been too similar to, say, Pau Gasol’s fantasy-life status as a basketball player.

Sure, you want to hold on to him when he’s out and tell your friends you’ve got this guy just waiting to get back in and – once he’s ready – you’ll be set. But, then you pull the hat away and realize the magic bunny’s just a damn rabbit and he’s eating those carrots real slowly. He’s not even doing anything… this is boring.

And that, really, has been the problem the Vancouver Canucks as a team have had too many times, even when their best players have been their best players and the rest have been exactly what’s needed.

Too often, they fall flat right at showtime – right when the curtain goes up and the audience is waiting for a trick.

There are negatives parcelled with every stat, because we’re just so used to seeing it go the wrong way. Even defenceman Jason Garrison, who’s fifth on the Canucks with nine points in 16 games, is a red flag… not for his own play, but because of how much he’s stood out, on the ice and on the stat sheet.

Sure, that seems like a stretch to whine about, but impending doom has always followed closely behind the Canucks’ seeming success. Their wins are like dolphins, all happy and jumping along with a care in the world… even as there could be a school of sharks right behind them, tracking every adorable movement.

If Garrison has been this offensively highlight-able, what does that say about wingers like Chris Higgins or Zack Kassian? What does it say about injuries to Jannik Hansen and, I guess, Booth?

It says the Canucks needs to have the kind of performance they had against Toronto every night for 82 nights, or else the playoffs will come with a caution sign.

Tonight is one of those nights, and Phoenix is – perhaps shockingly – once again one of those teams.

The lay of the land, from

The Coyotes, who knocked off the Sharks 3-2 in a shootout on Saturday, have been particularly dominant on home ice. They are 6-0-1 this season at the Arena with their lone blemish being a 4-3 overtime loss to Ottawa back on October 15. The Canucks won two of the three head-to-head meetings between the clubs last season. Roberto Luongo, who did not face the Coyotes at all last season, is expected to get the start for Vancouver while Mike Smith will likely go for Phoenix.