[I Watched This Game is a recurring feature at Pass it to Bulis, the hockey blog that knows who needs the puck. It chronicles the insights and observations of two guys who watched a hockey game. To view all the other wonderful stuff PITB does, visit Pass It To Bulis.]
This was one of those games the Canucks had to win. No, it wasn’t a must-win (I hardly believe in them), but it was a road game against a beleaguered and bruised Blues team, for whom three of their top three offensive weapons weren’t playing. And, sadly for St. Louis fans, the injuries to David Perron, TJ Oshie, and Andy Macdonald have made the St. Louis offense about as threatening as the Disney Channel. It was apparent early in tonight’s game that the only Blues to watch out for were Alex Steen and Blu Cantrell (who is totally due for a comeback).
Even motivation wasn’t a factor, as the same basic Blues team had come to GM Place two weeks ago and handed the Canucks their only regulation loss in December–a game Vancouver probably had no business losing. These are the games you should win, and thankfully, the Canucks did win. And, just like the time my friend was getting picked on by bullies, and I probably should have stepped in except that I’m a coward, I watched:
- Congratulations to Aaron Volpatti on his first NHL goal (above). You know he’s stoked about it, primarily because of the high-pitched squeal he emits after potting it. Listen for it at the 0:07 mark–Whitney Houston wishes she could still hit that note.
- The Canucks are now 6-1-1 since the blessing of Head Poke Kid. This is an unprecedented display of supernatural power. Despite being blessed by a superior deity, even Adam and Eve couldn’t stay good for this long.
- I thought the fourth line played a solid game tonight. Tanner Glass is always solid (except in Scrabble, where he will soon be soundly trounced), but Alex Bolduc and Aaron Volpatti were on their game as well. The line generated a goal, a couple other scoring chances, and played defensively solid enough that Alain Vigneault was comfortable giving them icetime while protecting a one-goal lead in the third period. In fact, no member of the trio had less than eight minutes. I’ve been especially impressed with Volpatti’s restraint in his two games. You know he’s licking his chops for his first big NHL hit and/or fight, but the Canucks have been playing with leads since he got here. Good on him for knowing when isn’t the right time. I have a theory that it’s a constant message from the bench, but you still need mature players to buy into a message of composure, and the Canucks appear to have a roomful of such players.
- While you would be correct for attributing much of the opening goal to the thunderous hit of Tanner Glass, let’s be sure to give full credit to Alex Pietrangelo for confusing himself with the Venus De Milo. Had he remembered that, unlike the Venus De Milo, he is neither protected by a velvet rope, nor without arms, I imagine he would have moved the puck a little faster. Unfortunately for him he didn’t, and like the Gummi Venus De Milo, he was an irresistible target.
- Blues fans might be forgiven for being a bit upset with the referees. The fans were on the zebras all night for missed calls, especially after St. Louis was hit with a steady stream of penalties in the first. Then, on two separate occasions, referees ran beautiful pick plays for Vancouver–one leading to a scoring chance for the Canucks, and other negating one for the Blues. I predict lingering animosity towards anybody in refereeing stripes. If I lived in Missouri and worked at a Foot Locker, I’d call in sick tomorrow.
- Ryan Kesler, whose wife gave birth to a baby boy just the other night, claimed he’d be playing on adrenaline and Red Bull. Well, nuts to any theory of exhaustion: he scored the game-winner on a wrist shot so quick Jaro Halak didn’t even have time to fan on it, and he had a game-high seven shots on net. Kes, how many Red Bulls did you drink? Don’t be surprise if his post-game interview is reminiscent of a Corky Romano press conference.
- I love Jannik Hansen. He can play on any line, and his forechecking is more Crazy/Beautiful than the Kirsten Dunst movie of the same name. I’m always amazed at the way he fools opposing puckhandlers into thinking he’s coming in the wrong side. He’s constantly knocking pucks off sticks. On one penalty-kill, he ate up valuable time poking the puck away from multiple Blues, then when they finally got away from him, he turned on the jets and was there to break up their entry into the offensive zone. Hansen is so hot right now.
- If you’re wondering why Henrik and Daniel Sedin went pointless tonight, I’d take a look at the faceoff numbers. Henrik had a mediocre 6-for-13 night, but he went 2-for-8 in the offensive zone. On the plus side, Manny Malhotra had another strong night, winning 13-of-20. Alternate Captain Mal is now the NHL’s top faceoff guy, one-tenth of a percentage point better than Washington’s David Steckel. By the by, Alexandre Bolduc went 3-for-3 in the faceoff circle for the second game in a row. He may have found a way to earn more icetime.
- It’s time we gave some credit to the second power play unit. The Canucks have scored 10 power play goals in the month of December, and four of them have come from the second five. Considering how heavily the Canucks lean on the first unit, those are pretty decent numbers. Their goal tonight was a nice piece of insurance, as Jeff Tambellini broke his minor slump on a nice feed from Mikael Samuelsson. Also a nice piece of insurance? J-Lo’s 27 million dollar policy on her own butt.
- Speaking of the second power play unit, Keith Ballard is no longer on it. In fact, the return of Christian Ehrhoff has spelled a major reduction in minutes for Hips. He played only 14:47 tonight, but don’t feel bad for him: considering what he gets paid for under fifteen minutes of work, his hourly salary should make you feel bad about yourself.
- Shifting our focus to the enemy, let’s give some credit to Eric Brewer, who had seven blocked shots tonight. Those are Dennis Rodman numbers. The way he was amassing blocks, you’d have thought he was going for a Tetris.
- And finally, did anyone else catch the furious lasagna eater right behind Alain Vigneault at the beginning of the second? Obviously, nobody looks particularly classy when they’re eating, especially as captured by Sportsnet’s HD camera, but this guy was going to town on his stadium meal. Clearly, he was confused about which Italian staple food he was eating, because he was devouring his lasagna like a slice of deep-dish pizza. I’ve seen less voracious eating from the extras in zombie movies.
- Kesler didn’t just have 7 shots tonight; he had an additional 5 shots blocked and 1 missed shot. That’s a whopping 13 attempted shots, dwarfing the next closest Canuck, Mikael Samuelsson, who had 9 attempted shots, 4 of which missed the net. Additionally, Kesler has now tied Daniel Sedin for the team lead in goals with 16 and he has more goals this season than Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla, Ryan Getzlaf, and, of course, Ilya Kovalchuk. That $5 million dollar contract doesn’t look so bad right now.
- The Blues had over twice as many hits as the Canucks, but it never seemed like the Canucks were losing the physical battle. It helps when the hits the Canucks did make were super-effective, like Tanner’s emasculation of Pietrangelo that led to Peppermint Volpatti’s first ever NHL goal.
- Speaking of, Volpatti needs some lotion immediately to soften up those hands. He had the entire right half of the net to shoot at and was extremely lucky to slide his shot under Halak’s pads. He had another golden opportunity in the third period off a slick pass from Alexandre Bolduc, but the puck clanked off his stick like it belonged to Curt Blefary.
- Raffi Torres continues his slide. He may have logged a point on Kesler’s goal, but let’s face it, that goal was all Kesler. He played a mere 10:55, barely more than the fourth line, and didn’t see any time on the powerplay. It appears that Burrows has taken his spot on the second powerplay unit while continuing to kill penalties. If it wasn’t for Raymond being out with a broken thumb, Torres would be on his way to the press-box.
- I love Jannik Hansen. If I had lady-parts, I would want to have his babies.