Things That Make You Go Hmmm: Third Period Prowess and Ballard vs. the World
[Inspired by Arsenio Hall's "Things That Make You Go Hmmm…", Clayton Imoo talks about Canucks-related things that make him go hmmm… You can follow Clay on Twitter at (@canuckclay) or on his website, Clay's Canucks Commentary.]
Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com
With their 4-3 shootout over the Montreal Canadiens last night, the Vancouver Canucks have won 3 straight games and 8 out of their last 9 contests. With their make-shift forward lines and Luongo’s hyped return to Montreal, the table was set for an entertaining game. We certainly weren’t disappointed, as always there are a few Things That Make Me Go Hmmm…
- Third Period Prowess. As the Canucks rack up wins, it’s hard not to compare them to last year’s team at this point in the season. As I detailed in last week’s post, the Canucks went on a torrid 17-1-2 run (in games 21 through 40) from November 24, 2010 to January 7, 2011. This season the Canucks are 7 and 1 in games 21 through 28. Where the Canucks really seem to be distinguishing themselves is in the third period of games. In their last 5 games, Vancouver has out-scored their opponents 11-2 in the final frame, compared to 8-3 in the second period. Conversely, in the first period, the Canucks have been outscored 6-4. The team has started off games slowly more often than not, but they’re proving once again that they have outstanding conditioning and poise. In last night’s game, I never felt that a comeback was impossible, even with the Canucks down 3-0 early in the second. They don’t seem to panic; rather they pick up their play as the game nears its conclusion and are relentless on the attack. The numbers bear that out as well: in the last 5 games, the Canucks have out-shot their opponents 54-47 in the third period. Take out the Columbus game (game #24) and the Canucks have out-shot their opponents 42-25 in the last four. That’s pretty dominant.
- Lack of Forward Depth. The sudden injuries to second-line wingers Chris Higgins and David Booth exposed a lack of depth at the forward position. With a healthy Higgins and Booth, the Canucks have balanced scoring throughout their top 9 forwards, especially with the return of Mason Raymond. However, without them the Canucks had Billy Sweatt make his pro debut and defenceman Andrew Alberts playing as a forward on the fourth line. Sweatt barely broke one, as he logged only 6:18 of ice time and Alberts had even less, playing a measly 5:36. The defenceman-turned-forward-likely-turning-back-to-defenceman had a rough first period as he was caught down low on both of Montreal’s first-period goals. I guess habits are indeed hard to break, as both times Alberts was below the faceoff dots chasing around Canadiens forwards leaving the point unmanned (his linemates Malhotra and Weise didn’t fare much better). With Sweatt and Alberts combining for only 12 minutes, if left the other forwards to pick up the slack. Due also in part to coach AV shortening the bench in a bid to catch up, Kesler (24:35), Henrik (23:17), Daniel (22:37) and Burrows (22:15) saw significantly higher ice time – 3 to 5 minutes higher than their season averages. Even Mason Raymond, in only his third game back from his back injury, logged over 19 minutes of ice time. Strangely, Cody Hodgson played only 10 minutes despite having a decent outing and scoring a goal. Good to see that the limited ice time didn’t affect him, as Hodgson was the only player to score in the shootout. It will be interesting to see who plays on Saturday against Ottawa.
- Ballard vs. The World. Did you happen to catch Keith Ballard’s mesmerizing end-to-end rush half-way through the overtime period? After picking the puck up in his own zone between the faceoff circles, he held the puck for a total of 11 straight seconds covering 160 feet: he rushed out of the defensive zone (avoiding Eric Cole), dashed past the Canucks bench (evading Lars Eller), cut across the middle (making Frederic St-Denis miss his check), bat the puck down with his glove (with Cole draped all over him), gained the blue line and skated into the corner (while fighting off Hal Gill), and then threw it behind the net to Daniel who centered it to Henrik. Only a great pad save by Carey Price robbed Ballard of what would have been one of the most memorable second assists in recent memory. It was somewhat appropriate that the Superman theme song was played during the next stoppage in play as Ballard’s effort was indeed super.
- Movin’ On Up…Not Really. Despite the Canucks’ strong play of late, they can’t make up any ground on division leader the Minnesota Wild. The Wild have rattled off 6 straight wins (all on the road) and have won 11 of their last 13 games. Thus, Vancouver sits 6 points back of Minnesota with one game in hand. The Canucks can’t even break free from the pack to take sole possession of fourth place in the Western Conference, as both Detroit and St. Louis are also playing extremely well. All three teams are deadlocked with 35 points, ahead of the Sharks who have 3 games in hand. I just can’t get used to seeing Minnesota on top of the entire league.
The Canucks have a great opportunity to continue racking up the points as their next games are against Ottawa, Columbus and Carolina. While the defense and the goaltending seem to have solidified, all the questions are up front. Will Higgins return soon? Will Billy Sweatt make like Victor Oreskovich and return to the farm after just one game? And will Andrew Alberts ever play on the fourth line again? There are a few things that make me go hmmm.