[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.]
The Canucks and Red Wings have met twice this season, and both games have been among the most entertaining of the year. We at PITB often talk about the way Canucks fans view their team’s games through a vaccuum; we disregard the play of the other team and blame everything, positive and negative, on Vancouver. But that’s impossible to do when the Canucks play the Red Wings because it’s so unmistakably clear you’re watching an elite team. No hockey club in the NHL moves the puck like the Red Wings and few forecheck like they do. Each moment a red jersey isn’t within two feet of the puck, it’s a minor miracle. When they play the way they did last night, frankly, it’s a wonder they ever lose.
That said, the Canucks had a chance to take this one. They led by a goal going into the third period, but unfortunately, a couple bad goals by Roberto Luongo took victory from their hands. It was frustrating. I watched this game:
- Roberto Luongo is being ripped apart by the fans and media, especially by his diehard haters, but let’s try to remember something else: Detroit had 45 shots. Luongo was actually excellent most of the game; unfortunately, Henrik Zetterberg beat him on two goals that looked like should never have gone in. And, when one was the game-tying goal and the other the game-winner, it’s probably fair to pile on the flack (even if the second doesn’t happen if Ehrhoff just gets the freaking puck out). Still, realize that the Red Wings’ shots were typically of a higher quality than Vancouver’s (including the game-winner, which was, contrary to popular opinion, a laser), and Luongo should be credited for keeping his team in it. So, while Luongo’s gaffes cost us the two points, his overall play earned us one.
- The Canucks’ power play broke out of its slump in a big way, going 2-for-3 and drastically changing momentum each time it hit the ice. For the first two periods, the Red Wings were controlling the run of the play the majority of the time, but when they took a penalty, Vancouver made them pay, got back into the game, and slowed their dominance for a stretch. The puck movement on the power play was brilliant, as was the down low-work by Ryan Kesler, who got two power play assists on nearly identical plays. Kesler also had a game-high 6 hits to go with his 3 assists.
- Jeff Tambellini’s goal came on a seeing-eye wrist shot (above) that, upon review, defies physical laws. What a laser. Tamby had a game-high six shots to go with three hits and two blocked shots, and his defensive prowess continues to impress. He’s become a very complete player in a very short period of time. Not since we discovered my younger brother’s prodigous Ikea-building ability have I seen someone put it all together so quickly.
- I thought Brian Rafalski, Todd Bertuzzi, and Dan Cleary were phenomenal. Unfortunately, they play for the Red Wings.
- In the faceoff circle, Kesler and Malhotra continued their dominance, with 14-for-21 and 12-for-20 showings, respectively. Henrik Sedin had a rough night, however, going 8-for-21, including a brutal 3-for-10 in the offensive zone. Personally, I thought the Sedins only had an iffy game, and I’ll tell you that a couple more offensive zone possessions wouldn’t have hurt. Alex Burrows was lifted from their line from Mikael Samuelsson for a handful of shifts in the third period, but he wasn’t the problem; it was that the line was consistently starting without the puck on offensive zone starts.
- Pavel Datsyuk was looking dangerous in this game until he broke his hand.
- It was nice to see Mikael Samuelsson score, if for no other reason that it will remind fans that he can. His seventh goal of the season was a big-time go-ahead goal on one of his patented wrist shots while Raffi Torres streaked to the net as a screen. While it broke a 9-game goalless drought, Samuelsson’s stats haven’t actually been too bad this season. He’s fourth on the team in scoring with 22 points. I keep hearing about Sammy’s disappointing season, but the numbers indicate something else. And numbers don’t lie.
- Sometimes, when Samuelsson plays against the Red Wings, you can see how he used to be a part of this remarkable puck moving machine. Like Seven of Nine in Star Trek: Voyager, he retains many traits of the Borg.
- As frustrated as you are, keep in mind that the Canucks really elevated their level of play to stay in this game. Detroit allows an average of 29 shots per game, and the Canucks put 39 on Jimmy Howard. That’s a lot of shots. Add that to the Red Wings’ 45 shots and both goaltenders must have known exactly how Sonny Corleone felt in the Godfather.
- I’m wondering if Aaron Volpatti’s quiet play is the result of the game being too fast for him. He’s supposedly a big hitter, but we haven’t seen it, and while I’m fairly certain the Canucks have asked him to pick his spots, you think he’d have picked one by now.
- And finally, Dan Hamhuis was the big minute guy tonight, finishing with a game-high 25:23. I thought he played a fabulous game, keeping forwards to the outside, moving the puck out of the zone quickly, and making big hits along the boards. Clearly, Vigneault thought similarly, as Hammy had a whole three minutes more ice time than Alex Edler. The guy who really saw his minutes reduced, however, was Keith Ballard. He’s been knocked back down to 14 and a half minutes.