[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.]
You’d have thought, from the tone of the media coverage leading up to this game, that Ottawa was coming in with a bag over their collective heads, while the Canucks had been spotted a guillotine, a French audience, and a death warrant personally signed by Maximilien Robespierre. From the outset, this one looked like a routine execution, the league’s best team up against, arguably, the league’s worst team. Of course, that’s not how it went. Rather than crush the Senators like the Crushinator might have crushed them, the Canucks jumped out to an early lead, indicating a crushing, then nearly lost it with some sloppy play in the second. As a result, this one was a lot closer than anybody had expected, myself included. My official prediction was a Canuck victory by the score of 50 million billion to 1. I wound up being off by one goal. I watched this game:
- The big story was the play of the Canucks’ second line of Raymond, Kesler, and Samuelsson, which appears to be coming to life like the denizens of Stephen King’s Pet Sematery. They led the way last night, with 3 goals and 8 points between them. Kesler played the way he usually played, capable of giving straight men pause, and Raymond and Samuelsson finally looked like suitable linemates, using their respective speed and shootiness to great effect. The game-winning goal (above) was an excellent display of their reignited chemistry. Kesler fought the puck through the neutral zone before Raymond gained some room in the offensive zone with his speed. MayRay then fed it back to Kesler, who found Samuelsson in front. It was very cute, like Animaniac sister Dot.
- Also worth mentioning is that Kesler made that pass with Jannik Hansen’s stick, given to him after his own lumber snapped in the neutral zone. I wondered what Hansen was thinking while Kesler was using it to dazzle. I suspect the following: 1) Why doesn’t it do that when I’m holding it? and 2) Maybe now they’ll finally let me join their study group.
- Not featured in this clip of the Kesler goal is the post he hit seconds prior. His shot really is something else. Not literally, of course–it’s remains a shot. Kesler has become a remarkable player. I’m downright salivating at the thought of what he could fetch us in a trade. I’m thinking a top-line, two-way, power forward center and a late draft pick.
- On the heels of being named one of the NHL’s three stars for the week, Mikael Samuelsson potted another two goals tonight. His empty-netter to seal the win was a reassertion that yes, he will shoot from anywhere (joke credit: @MFitz24). Thanks for reminding us, buddy, but next time, gain the red line. Samuelsson is like that member of the sniper team that picks off the bank robber right at the moment the cop on the inside is beginning to get through to the guy, and the audience is beginning to sympathize with him. Then bam! He’s dead. Not in Mikael’s bank!
- If you’re not sure whether or not you’re the squeamish sort, have a look at Keith Ballard’s knee. Are you vomiting? You’re squeamish. I’ve eaten licorice that wouldn’t bend like that. Anyway, Ballard left the game with an undisclosed injury (early bet: knee) early in the first. The good news: this hardly disrupted Alain Vigneault’s perma-gameplan of giving all Ballard’s minutes to Aaron Rome.
- Rome then exacerbated the Canucks’ lack of playable defencemen when he took 1140 seconds in penalties for fighting with Chris Neil, and I have to give a ton of credit to Neil on this one. When the Senators went down by two, Neil tried to start something with Rome, and Rome smartly declined. But here’s the thing: the Canucks have been playing with the lead so much this season, they almost always decline, and Neil was the first one to force the issue. The first chance he got, he took a run at Henrik Sedin. For those complaining it was in any way dirty (I’m looking at you, Garry “I only own paisley ties” Valk), it looked nearly identical to every Raffi Torres hit. It was fine. And, it necessitated a response, which was the point. Then, Neil smartly looked off Daniel Sedin, who was first on the scene for some reason (and took a Burrows-esque stab at Neil’s genitals) before pummeling Aaron Rome. That is how you get what you want. The fact that it put the Canucks down to 4 defenseman for much of the entire second period (during which Ottawa scored twice) was a bonus. You may hate Chris Neil, but his was an absolutely perfect piece of agitation.
- It’s a small beef, but let’s talk about Aaron Rome’s delay of game penalty: really? Rome was lying on his belly when he swept the puck away. Can he really be blamed for the fact that it took off like a hornuss? I say no. If the Bible’s creation story has taught us anything, it’s that, once on its belly, a creature goes from treacherous to harmless pretty quickly. How can the referees not read this situation? In the third period, Roberto Luongo briefly lost his stick. Had it met the puck in the corner, would he have received a delay of game penalty too? The order to call this penalty by the letter of the law has only made the referees look like fools. In a parallel universe, they’re the guys ticketing motorists for turning right at a red light.
- Andrew Alberts probably wasn’t expecting to play 17:10 (that’s Aaron Rome icetime) tonight, but he was pretty great in his first game back in the lineup. Alberts used his body to great effect (like Willa Ford), finishing with a game-high seven hits, two blocked shots, and a plus-2.
- When Alex Burrows is playing with confidence, he becomes more than a Sedin linemate–he’s his own weapon. On his goal, he looks off Daniel Sedin to take the puck to the net himself. The power move completely surprises Chris Phillips, who cuts behind the goal, thinking he’s going to shrewdly take the puck away. Instead, Burrows finds himself alone in front, and shows a great bit of patience to put it past Elliott. There was an article in the Province only yesterday about Burrows working with Glenn Carnegie to take that extra second with the puck after missing four open chances versus Chicago. The extra work appears to have paid off instantly.
- How about that 3-on-0 rush the Senators got? Granted, it doesn’t happen if the puck doesn’t jump over Daniel Sedin’s stick, but the rest of the team picked a poor time to have a tea party at the bench. I was surprised Luongo was even in the net.
- Dan “Community Man” Hamhuis was the big-minute guy tonight, logging over 30 minutes in the absence of Ballard and Rome. He’s such a good guy he didn’t mind the extra work. He had plenty of energy left over, too. During the intermission, he freed Tibet.
- I always wonder about the player that serves the bench minors. Is he aware he’s in there because he’s the least important? Coach says I’m the best at breakaways, that’s why I’m in here.
- And finally, you had to feel bad for the snake-bitten Senators, who hit three posts in about a two-minute span when a goal would have tied the game. Not since the cast of Canada’s Worst Driver has a group hit so many consecutive posts.