Sep 162013
 
Photo Credit: NHLPA.com

Photo Credit: NHLPA.com

Arsenio Hall is back on TV with his talk show, so I guess it’s appropriate that we bring back this Arsenio-inspired feature on CHB.  This past weekend, I was at two of the three Vancouver Canucks “Open Scrimmages”.  I’ve put a few thoughts together from my observations in this Training Camp edition of Things That Make You Go Hmmm.

Who Will Be Our 6th D-Man?

First off, I realize that you can only glean so much from a few low-impact training camp scrimmages.  And as coach John Tortorella has pointed out already, the proof in the pre-season pudding will be in the exhibition games rather than the scrimmages and practices.  Having said that, an interesting battle is shaping up for the 6th d-man spot behind Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, Jason Garrison and Chris Tanev.

Conventional wisdom suggests it’s between Frank Corrado, Andrew Alberts, and Yannick Weber.  Based on the scrimmages I saw, it was actually Andrew Alberts who was the most noticeable.  On Sunday alone, he showed decent speed going end-to-end before losing the puck in the offensive zone corner.  On his very next shift, he roughed up Ryan Kesler in the defensive end – even without one of his gloves.  Alberts is making $600,000 this season (compared to $1.2-$1.3 million the past three seasons) so he’s obviously hoping on a big year to help him return to bigger money.

However, when the smoke clears, I think it will be Corrado with the spot on opening night.  He played with Hamhuis over the weekend (with the other big pairings being Edler-Tanev and Bieksa-Garrison).  Also, he got into all 4 Canucks playoff games last spring and the club is counting on him to continue his rapid improvement.

How Many Games Will Ryan Kesler Play This Season?

For all the talk of how injury-prone Kesler has been, when you look at the pre-2013 numbers he’s actually been quite reliable.  Prior to last year, Kesler’s regular season games played over the previous 7 seasons were 82, 48, 80, 82, 82, 82, and 77.  Take out the 2006-2007 season that saw him miss 34 games with torn cartilage in his hip, and you’ll see that the centre had only missed 5 regular season games in those 6 seasons.

We now know that Kesler tore his shoulder in February 2012 but played through it (undergoing surgery in May).  Just a month later in June, he had surgery to repair his injured wrist.  He finally made his debut in the lockout-shortened season in February 2013 but he broke his foot in that game and went onto injured reserve just 7 games into the season.  He ended up playing only 17 games the entire season.

So what can we expect this year?  It’s hard to tell…yet there are some intriguing factors.  What will his role be under new coach John Tortorella?  Will the Olympics make Kesler more vulnerable to injury post-February?  And is everything (hip, shoulder, wrist, and foot) fully healed?

I would love nothing more for Kesler to stay healthy and have a good Olympic tourney (but not TOO good haha).  He showed a lot of flash and dash during the scrimmages including one beautiful dangle on Sunday.  However, it’s this same flash and dash that has Canucks fans nervous.

A Future “Triple H” Line?

Sunday’s scrimmage saw 2013 first-round draft pick Bo Horvat centering wingers Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen.   Perhaps we were looking at a glimpse of the not-so-distant future.

Horvat seems a longshot to make this year’s squad.  And Higgins and Hansen will likely end up playing with newly-acquired Brad Richardson on opening night.  But depending on Horvat’s development, he could be our 3rd line-centre sooner as opposed to later.  At least that’s what many Canucks fans are hoping for.

There you have it.  An entire Canucks article without a mention of Roberto Luongo.

Whoops.

May 062013
 

Photo credit: Christian Petersen via NHL.com

So the Vancouver Canucks have lost the pivotal game two and the must-win game three.  Looking ahead to a pivotal must-win game four, there are a few Things That Make Me Go Hmmm.

The Goalie Conundrum

Well, wouldn’t you know it?  We’re possibly one game away from the end of the season and the story that became a story at this time last year is still a story.  Whether you agree with management’s (GM and coach) handling of the situation or not, you can’t deny that it’s been the number one story with the team this year.  So much so that people are talking more about the goaltending then they are about the team’s primary reason for being pushed to the brink of elimination: their inability to create enough good scoring chances.

Facing elimination, the Canucks need to start the goaltender that gives the skaters the most confidence that they can win the game.  And without a shadow of a doubt, that goaltender is Roberto Luongo.  He was solid in the first two games of the season before Schneider’s shaky return to the line-up.  Go back to Luongo and hope that the team plays lights-out in front of them.  And who knows, a strong playoff showing (even in defeat) wouldn’t hurt his trade value.  That is, if the Canucks are still trying to trade him.

Flipping the Switch

Many people have asked me over the last week, “What’s wrong with the Canucks?”  After lamenting the team’s scoring woes and my desire to see Keith Ballard in the line-up, I always say that it’s not as simple as just looking at the Vancouver Canucks.  You need to look at the San Jose Sharks as well.

It was ludicrous to think that the Canucks would simply “flip a switch” in the three days between the end of the regular season and the first playoff game and be back to a dominating team that would steamroll the competition.  This logic is mostly flawed because it doesn’t account for the team lining up across from the Canucks.

San Jose is a good team.  They have strong depth at forward, a solid (if non-descript) defense, and a strong goalie.  Also, they are well-coached and have strong special teams.  So Canucks fans can talk about flipping a switch all they want.  Just remember that San Jose has a switch too – and it seems to be working very well.

Staving Off Elimination

Get ready to hear the word “stave” dozens of times over the next couple of days.  While the Canucks look to stave off elimination, I wonder why more people don’t use the word more in every day conversation.  I think it’s a cool word…and it shouldn’t be reserved just for sports playoffs.  After all, there are so many other ways you might use it:

  • I wonder how many ladies I will have to stave off this week.  After all, I’m happily married
  • Will Christy Clark be able to stave off Adrian Dix in this month’s election?
  • How does Keith Ballard manage to stave off thinking of ways to hurt Alain Vigneault?

 

Looking ahead to game four on Tuesday night in San Jose, I simply wasn’t interested in any of the post-game quotes from AV and the players – especially the clichéd ones.  All I care about is the Canucks laying it all out on the ice as they try to stave off elimination.  Then perhaps they’ll have a chance to play in another pivotal must-win game on Thursday night.

May 022013
 

Photo credit: Jeff Vinnick via NHL.com

After an abbreviated season, the Vancouver Canucks opened up the postseason with a 3-1 loss to the visiting San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night. Looking back at the game and looking ahead to the next one, there are a few Things That Make Me Go Hmmm:

Searching for the Right Line Combinations

The Canucks forwards simply did not create enough shots or scoring opportunities. This continues a trend of low-scoring games as the Canucks have not scored more than 3 goals in a game since their 4-2 win over Nashville on April 15. I must admit that I was a tad befuddled when I learned the line combinations on Monday for last night’s game.

We know that Burrows with the Sedins is pretty much a given (for now) and that the fourth line will consist of any combo of Ebbett, Weise, Sestito, Pinizzotto, and sometimes Lapierre. The Canucks started game one with a second line of Kesler between Higgins and Kassian, and a third line of Roy between Raymond and Hansen. While Roy and Kesler were likely separated to spread the Canucks’ centres over three lines to counter Thornton, Couture, and Pavelski, I was surprised that Higgins was placed on Kesler’s wing and not Roy’s. In the few games that they played together, Higgins and Roy looked like a dangerous combo. Instead, they found themselves on different lines to start the series.

We all know that coach Alain Vigneault has no problem with juggling his lines. I’d like to see Roy between Hansen and Higgins leaving Kesler to centre Raymond and Kassian. Who knows – if AV is confident in Lapierre, we might see Kesler and Roy reunited on a second line to give the Canucks more scoring potential. Moving Lapierre up would likely mean Kassian moving down to the fourth line… a position he found himself in by the end of game one.

Home Ice Disadvantage

With the Canucks loss, they have now lost 5 straight playoff games at home – a stretch dating back to game 7 on June 15, 2011 against the Boston Bruins. Obviously, a lot has to do with the quality of opposition, but for whatever reason Rogers Arena is not a difficult place for opposing teams to win in during the playoffs.

The Canucks’ regular season home record was decent at 15-6-3 while San Jose’s road record was a pathetic 8-14-2. By contrast, San Jose’s regular season home record was a sparkling 17-2-5. Thus, you can see just how important it will be for the Canucks to triumph in game two and tie the series up. If they lose, they won’t be able to beat this strong San Jose team 4 times out of 5 (with 3 of the games in San Jose).

Canucks fans need to get a lot louder and a little more rowdy (much to the chagrin of Rogers Arena employees). After all, isn’t this what we live for?

Every Game is a Pivotal Game

Get ready to hear about how much game two is a “pivotal” game. Captain Obvious here would like to point out that going to San Jose tied one game apiece is a lot better than going in down two games.

Then, game three will become pivotal as it will either create an almost insurmountable deficit at 3 games to 0, or one team will at least take a stronghold in the series. Game one was intuitively pivotal as both teams wanted to get off to a good start.

The point being that every single game in the playoffs is a pivotal game. Now the Canucks need to start playing like it.

Apr 252013
 

Carolina Hurricanes

Rudy Staal

Jared Staal is set to make his NHL debut for the Carolina Hurricanes tonight. The Canes, whose Captain is Eric Staal and who acquired Jordan Staal from the Pens last summer, are playing the New York Rangers. Marc Staal plays for NYR. So much Staal! Unfortunately, Marc Staal is injured and will not play. Although Eric Staal joked to media that maybe Marc would take the warm-up so they could all skate around together. Don’t toy with my emotions, Eric.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I am a Staal fanatic. They are my favorite players in the NHL. As excited as I am to see the youngest Staal make the NHL, I can’t help but think it’s not actually a  debut so much as a swan-song. Jared Staal is 22 and he peaked before his NHL draft. He has struggled so much on the Charlotte Checkers, his first year he spent some time in the ECHL  and then spent most of last year as a healthy scratch. Although he’s done better this year he was only brought up because the Canes thought it made more sense to send Riley Nash down to help the Checkers in the AHL playoffs. Also, Jared’s in the third year of his AHL contract and there are serious doubts it will be renewed. So is this his Rudy moment? I think it might me, sadly.

Duncan “Sexist” Keith: Is he jealous of Sedin’s Choppers?

Was it sexist to tell Karen Thomson, the female sports reporter, that ‘she probably can’t play either.’ Yes. Why? Because he wouldn’t have said it to a male reporter. End of story. Then Duncan later told reporters that “I respect everybody. I respect everybody’s job,” …except, well, you didn’t, Dunc. Can someone just teach this self-proclaimed sore loser how to say I’m sorry? What’s more sexist than Keith’s infantile attack on the female reporter, in my opinion, is the males on twitter who declare it’s not sexism. You can’t make that call, boys because you are BOYS. It’s like me telling a gay person what they can find homophobic. I can’t. One guy even snarkily told me that I should just let it go and blamed political correctness for people’s anger at the comment. Guess what? The only thing more sexist than assuming a girl can’t play hockey is a guy blaming political correctness and telling a woman to get over it.

But let’s get back to the real issue here – Keith’s inability to control his anger towards Daniel Sedin. This time he kept his elbows down but took a two-handed whack at Daniel’s back with his stick after Sedin scored. What’s causing Duncan to act like a trantruming toddler every time he plays Daniel Sedin? Is he frustrated that Sedin’s raw talent clearly outweighs his own and that Sedin can score goals without needing to injure people first? Or is he angry at that Sedin managed to get all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals and didn’t lose one tooth, where Duncan had to lose seven? Hmm…

Bryzgalov: Journalism For Dummies

Ilya Brygalov’s quirky personality has become a problem for him. I saw it coming. Sure, it’s all fun and games when he’s talking about tigers and the universe, but the media has crossed Bryz’s proverbial line and he’s not happy about it. Recently a rumor surfaced, and the media ran with it, that Brygalov was benched for a game because he fell asleep in a team meeting. Sounds hysterical, but not to Bryz. He chastised the media, called the claim ridiculous, said they needed better sources and told them they needed to do their job better. Bryz needs to understand he created this monster. He’s never once tried to be anything other than outrageous since being traded to the Flyers. His erratic performance and high salary already make him a target, add to that his outrageous personality, and you can’t blame the media for believing he’d catch some Zzzs

Apr 012013
 

With the season finale of the Walking Dead, one of my favorite shows on TV, I started to think about which Canucks I would want on my team if there was a Zombie apocalypse… and which ones I wouldn’t want. Hmm…

David Booth Hunting Zombies

David Booth

The funny thing about this is I don’t want him on the actual Canucks. I feel that he’s been a huge disappointment and a waste of money, but in a Zombie apocalypse, I want him on my team. Finally, all that gnarly hunting he does in his spare time will come in handy. Let’s face it, he’s the closest thing the Canucks have to a Darryl… if you take away the hillbilly badassness and add a blonde surfer flo and a bible.  Like it or not, the fact that Booth’s shot is way better off the ice than on, makes him essential in a Zombie apocalypse.

Kevin Bieksa

Shots! Shots! Shots! He will punch right through a zombie’s head like it’s made of paper. Plus, his witty banter will keep things light back at camp. If you’re going to be stuck in a zombie apocalypse you might as well be stuck with a tough guy with a great sense of humor.

Chris Higgins

There are a few reasons why Chris Higgins should be on my team in a Zombie apocalypse. He’s fit. He can definitely out run a Zombie, or 16 of them. Food is scarce and not necessarily healthy in the zombie apocalypse, and the one time I met Chris Higgins, he was coming out of a Subway. Clearly the dude can eat ANYTHING and stay fit. Last but not least, if he gets caught, the Zombies probably won’t eat him – there’s not a lot of fat on that body to gnaw on. (Yes this was just an excuse to show his abs again. Female Canucks fans, you’re welcome).

Higgins Flashes Abs to Fight Zombies

Who wouldn’t I want with me in a Zombie apocalypse? I’ve been thinking about that too.

Max Lapierre

If you know me, you know admitting this pains me more than I can say but Lappy would not be a good person to be with in a Zombie apocalypse. He’s too antagonistic. He’d taunt the zombies. If Max waves his fingers in front of a zombie and tells them to take a bite like he did with Boston, they will. End of Lappy.

Max Teases Zombies

Mason Raymond

I know he’s been playing better but I’d still be worried about his ability to stay upright. Dude spent a lot of time falling down last year in crucial moments. If he does that even once in a zombie attack, he’s an instant appetizer.

The Sedin twins

Sorry Hank and Dank. These guys aren’t big fighters. I don’t mind them taking the high road on the ice, but in a zombie apocalypse, there is no high road. Just ask Dale how taking the high road worked out for him.

So who would you want in your corner in a zombie apocalypse? Who wouldn’t you want with you? Give us your picks in the comments!

Feb 072013
 

You Wanna Go?

This season has had more than it’s fair share of fights. As of February 5, the Vancouver Canucks have had 7 fights. Same with the Habs, but I preface the date because as I’m writing this, they’re about to play the Boston Bruins. Their fight count could be 20 by the end of that game.

A fight gets a crowd going, gets a team going, and fuels a good rivalry, but no one wants a player to sustain serious injury.  Two fights in the last couple of weeks have me going hmmm… because they involve the same team and show the right and wrong sides of fighting in the NHL.

First, we have the right: During a fight between the Philadelphia Flyers’ Max Talbot and the New York Rangers’ Ryan Callahan, all the shirt-tugging, pushing and pulling injured Callahan’s shoulder. Sensing that something was wrong, Talbot stopped and waved over a training, calling for medical help.

Now, the wrong: On Tuesday, the Flyers’ Zack Rinaldo fought the Tampa Bay Lightning’s BJ Crombeen. After Crombeen slipped to the ice, Rinaldo continued to pound him.

Rinaldo is a notorious fighter in the league, but that doesn’t mean he has to be a jerkoff. Would Kevin Bieksa keep throwing punches once a guy is down? I don’t think so.

To me, fighting is part of the game, but what makes it tolerable is the code – the etiquette – and Rinaldo broke it just days after his teammate, Talbot, was a poster child for it. Hmmm… I never thought I would say this but Rinaldo needs to take a lesson from Talbot.

Freaky Friday

Disney came out with a movie in the 1970s called Freaky Friday in a mom and daughter switch bodies. Every time I watch a Vancouver Canucks game this season, I can’t help but wonder if this has happened to Henrik Sedin and Zach Kassian.

First, Zack started scoring goals, and at one point, he was among the league leaders in goals scored. Then, Zack’s leading the Canucks in scoring, and as of today, he’s still tied for 3rd with Henrik in team scoring.

As if that wasn’t weird enough, our demure Swedish Captain is turning into a goon taking roughing penalties and throwing checks like he’s… well, Zack Kassian. The Edmonton Oilers’ Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is actually sidelined – missing the Oilers’ game last night against the Dallas Stars – due to an injury resulting from a Henrik Sedin hit. It’s a total head scratcher. If Henrik drops his gloves next, I may just lose my mind.

The Mysterious Coin

The Canucks announced that Cory Schneider will get the start against the Minnesota Wild. Sure, Roberto Luongo is on a hot streak, but this isn’t about what makes sense. This is about what the coin says. Coach Alain Vigneault once again flipped his coin, and this time it came up Cory.

I am honestly starting to believe that AV soaks his chewing gum in vodka. He’s enjoying this too much, especially considering the media, the fans, and Schneider’s agent are all taking the goalie controversy very seriously.

I want to see this coin. Is it a loonie? A twoonie? A quarter? Does it have pictures of Cory and Bobby Lu on either side? Where does AV keep this coin? Is it always in his pocket? Does he lock it away somewhere with his crystal ball, voodoo dolls and a pack of vodka-infused chewing gun? If the media doesn’t insist on filming a coin toss before the end of the season, they’re not doing their job.

Jan 232013
 

Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: National Post

With less than a week of games under the NHL’s belt in this shortened 2013 season, I’m shocked at how many things made me go hmmm…

Here are a few of the biggest head scratchers:

Goalie Drama. Again. Sigh.

The Vancouver Canucks have not traded Roberto Luongo. Despite claiming Cory Schneider is their number one, they pulled Schneider in game 1 and didn’t give him a chance in game 2. Alain Vigneault’s talk doesn’t match his walk. If Schneider is the Canucks’ number 1, he would get the start, even after being pulled. In the last few seasons, Luongo would get the start even after being pulled or a poor showing. Between Vigneault’s refusal to stick with his supposed number 1, and his further refusal to even announce his starter until minutes before a game, the goalie controversy is gaining life instead of losing it. It doesn’t matter how professional an organization is, that kind of extended drama is going to make an impact in a bad way. It has with the fan base. Luongo homers are openly tweeting hopefully for Cory’s failure.

Reality check: Schneider isn’t the only number one to struggle. The New York Rangers pulled Henrik Lundqvist in the second period against the Pittsburgh Penguins after he stopped just 14 of 18 shots. Why aren’t Rangers fans screaming for Marty Biron to take over the number 1 spot? Because Rangers management isn’t wishy-washy on their faith in Lundqvist.

Does a Short Season Mean it’s a Free-For-All?

If you look at the results throughout the league over the first few days of the season, it’s glaringly obvious the favourites aren’t doing so well. A lot of sportscasters tagged the Rangers to be the team most likely to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup this year; they’ve yet to win a game. Same with the Philadelphia Flyers, who the pundits always predict some noise in the playoffs. And as we all know, same with the Canucks.

In fact the only favourite doing really well are the Penguins. The Chicago Blackhawks, much to my personal chagrin, are also starting strong. In a shortened season, getting a fast start out of the gate and winning from the get-go is important. Sure the Canucks (and Rangers and Flyers) have only lost 2 or 3 games, but with less time to catch up, it’s worrisome. I have a feeling we may be even more surprised by this year’s Cup winner than last year’s.

Jersey Off Our Backs Make Me Go Hmmm… and Mmmm

After watching the Jersey Off Our Backs presentation on Saturday, I’m left with a few questions. Bear with me as I have never played hockey.

How come the Canucks don’t all wear the same pads? I assumed they would all wear similar, if not the same pads, but Lapierre is wearing red ones that make him look like he’s still a Hab. Yes I actually looked at his pads, not just his pretty face. It was hard but I did it. Mostly everyone else on the team had white pads, or in David Booth’s case, a really bad checkered shirt. 

And does Higgins not wear anything under his pads just so he can hear the squeals of delight as he pulls his shirt off?  This is the second Jersey off Our Backs that I’ve witnessed live and in-person and once again Higgy wasn’t wearing Under Armour – he’s the only hockey player I’ve seen that goes bare under the pads. Why does he do it? Why doesn’t anyone else? Not that I’m complaining; it does make me go Hmmm… and Mmmm.

 

Apr 102012
 

[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.]

Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: Yahoo! Sports

I’m excited, you’re excited, we’re all excited.  So let’s not waste any time…here are a few Things That Make Me Go Hmmm:

1.  What a difference one game makes. As the Canucks look to open their postseason against the Los Angeles Kings tomorrow night, most of the non-Daniel attention is on whether or not this year’s team is better equipped than last year’s for a long playoff run.  Those arguing for this year’s squad point out a much deeper and better-balanced set of forwards, healthy defencemen, both goaltenders playing well, and overall a bigger, stronger and mentally-tougher team.

What I find interesting however is the fact that everyone (myself included) seems to want to compare this year’s team to last year’s.  That’s all fine and dandy, but all bets are off once they playoffs start.  Every run to the Stanley Cup includes so many intriguing factors:  hot and cold streaks, goaltending, special teams, injuries, and luck to name a few.  While I certainly agree that Canucks are better off from last year’s experience, there are 15 other teams that are just as hungry.  So don’t be surprised if the Canucks stumble a bit; after all it was a bit of a strange season.  After all, it would be foolish to suggest that just because one thinks that this year’s team is stronger that they should automatically make it to the Finals.

Just imagine how different this entire season would have been if the Canucks won on June 15, 2011.  I think the fans would have been quite lenient during the regular season thinking that the team would “turn it on” again in the playoffs.  Instead, this whole season was about doing everything it takes to win one more game than last year.  And it all starts tomorrow.

2.  Don’t get upset. With the way the NHL seeds its teams for the playoffs, it’s created two very intriguing match-ups both involving the “weak sister” of the division winners.  In the West, we have the Coyotes (97 points) as the #3 seed hosting the Blackhawks (101 points).  And in the East, it’s the Panthers (94 points) hosting the Devils (102 points).  Which begs the question in each series:  Who is the favourite?

Does one go by higher seed and therefore home-ice advantage?  Or do you look at it as I see it and go with the higher point totals?  I expect both Chicago and New Jersey to win their respective series sending the two division winners packing.  And I’m not too sure anyone would consider these actual upsets.

If both the Canucks and Blackhawks win (and the Blues beat the Sharks), then we’ll have a Vancouver-Chicago match-up for the second round.  How good would that be?

3.  Spacing out the schedule. Ever since the NHL released the playoff schedule on Sunday, there has been a lot of talk about how “spread out” the first round is.  Partly due to how busy the Staples Centre (and Rogers Arena for that matter) is, there is a two-day break between games #3 and #4 and a three-day break between games #4 and #5.

While the three-day break in particular seems a tad excessive, the total potential series length of 16 days (April 11-26 inclusive) is only two days longer than last year’s opening round (April 13-26) and only one day longer than last year’s Stanley Cup Finals (June 1-15).

Factor in the same time zone and the end result should be some good hockey (or at least some rested players).  Plus an extra day to visit Disneyland.

Apr 032012
 

[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.]

As the Vancouver Canucks embark on the last week of the regular season, it’s quite remarkable that they are in the running for the Presidents’ Trophy after their rocky start to March.  While they stare down the New York Rangers, I look at a few Things That Make Me Go Hmmm:

1.  The Canucks could possibly play the Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks in the playoffs again. Even with only five days left in the NHL regular season, the final placing of all eight Western Conference playoff teams is still uncertain.  The Canucks and St. Louis Blues are still battling for the top spot in the conference; the Detroit Red Wings, Predators and Blackhawks are sorting out fourth through sixth; and there are still four teams, the Los Angeles Kings, Dallas Stars, Phoenix Coyotes and San Jose Sharks, trying to win the Pacific Division (and hence the attractive third seed) and final two playoff spots. 

Depending on how things shake out, there’s a chance (albeit small) that the Canucks could face the same three teams in the playoffs that they did in 2011 – the Blackhawks, Predators and Sharks – but in reverse order!  Obviously, the stars have to align just right for this to happen, but it’s not inconceivable.  The Canucks could meet the Sharks in the first round.  Then, a match-up with the Predators is plausible (especially if the Canucks finish first and the Preds win their first-round series as the fourth or fifth seed).  Given this scenario, however, if the Blackhawks (likely to finish sixth) beat the third-seed Pacific Division winner, then the Canucks would face them in the second round (if the Canucks finish first).  There are so many possible permutations and combinations that it’s almost fruitless to try and predict the first-round match-ups right now.  But it sure would be something if the Canucks had to face the same three teams they eliminated last year on the way to the Finals.  And then there’s the possibility of a Stanley Cup rematch.  But let’s get out of the first round to start.

2.  Chris Higgins has played himself onto the third line in a good way. Despite showing some great chemistry with fellow Americans Ryan Kesler and David Booth back in November, Chris Higgins seems destined to start the playoffs on the third line with Samme Pahlsson and Jannik Hansen.  This so-called “checking line” has been playing very well and has Alain Vigneault’s utmost confidence right now.   As one of the Canucks hardest-working and most effective forwards, Higgins usually moves up and down the line-up as AV sees fit.  With Daniel Sedin out with a concussion, Max Lapierre has played the last couple of games with Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows, with Mason Raymond playing with the two Americans on the second line.  With all signs pointing to Daniel returning for the playoffs, don’t expect Higgins anywhere else but the third line.  With Higgins there, the line has potential to score – something the third line of last year’s playoff run did a bit but not too much of.

3.  A new way to enjoy the national anthems. As of today, I’ve launched a new Twitter initiative with respect to the national anthems at Canucks games.  I enjoy music and I enjoy hockey (as evidenced in my Clay’s Canucks Commentaries), so I’m going to be rating the national anthems at games that I witness live.  My latest Clay’s Canucks Commentary explains it well so check it out:

Thanks again for reading. It’s going to be an interesting week to say the least. Where will the Canucks finish?  Who will their first-round opponent be?  And will Daniel Sedin and Keith Ballard be ready for the playoffs?  So many Things That Make You Go Hmmm!

Mar 152012
 

[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.]

I’m back from a week in Ottawa; a week that saw the Canucks lose games to Dallas and Montreal but win against Winnipeg.   It was tough to stomach two out of three losses, especially when staying up until 12:30am or so just to finish the games.  Unfortunately, me being back in Vancouver didn’t change anything as the Canucks continued their slumping ways with a 5-4 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes…and there were a couple of Things That Make Me Go Hmmm:

1.  Outfought and Out-willed. Shane Doan’s goal with just under four minutes left in the first period concerned me.  I tweeted at the time “That 2nd goal was disturbing to me: it wasn’t so much about patience as it was Doan out-willing and outfighting the #Canucks to score.”  The scoring chance started as the Sedins and Zack Kassian (who was hit by an undetected high stick) were caught behind the Coyotes net leaving Phoenix to break out three-on-one.  Antoine Vermette passed the puck to Doan who proceeded to cut across the slot past a sliding Kevin Bieksa.  Doan then deked out Roberto Luongo but couldn’t shoot it because Vermette was blocking his shot path.  So Doan charged towards the side of the net and tried to jam in it while Bieksa, Henrik and Luongo tried to stop him.  As this was going on, Hamhuis tried to join the fray but was accidently clipped with a high stick courtesy of Vermette.  After almost a full four seconds of chaos, Doan was able to muscle it in.

This play concerned me because it was indicative of the Canucks’ half-hearted play of late.  Much like the Canucks are cruising towards a second-place finish (the Blues are six points ahead and Dallas is nine points behind), they certainly “cruised” toward the end of that play and didn’t show enough will, determination or strength to keep the puck out of their net.  Granted, it was only one goal, but it was one that shouldn’t have gone in.  Let’s hope the Canucks regain some of their will and determination before the playoffs begin; they have exactly a month to figure it out.

2.  Mayday for MayRay. There are enough jokes going around regarding Mason Raymond’s inability to stay on his skates during a game.  I think an even more disturbing trend is how many times I hear John Shorthouse say something like “Raymond is checked off the puck” or “Raymond turns the puck over”.  Raymond simply isn’t effective right now as he’s pointless in his last seven games and has just three points in his last 22 games.  Whether it’s giving the puck away or having the puck stolen, Raymond won’t get any points without the puck.  He seems mismatched with the Sedins who are puck-possession type players.  Case in point: Raymond did not factor in either of the goals that the Sedins got points on (one was a powerplay goal).

3.  Jason Spezza owes me a burger. As mentioned up above, I was in Ottawa last week.  While there I was able to watch the Ottawa Senators defeat the New York Rangers 4-1.  I detailed my experience in my blog here, including the male helmet-wearing ice cleaners and one of the most confusing mascots I’ve ever seen.  Most importantly, I detailed just how Jason Spezza deprived me and 18,000 fans out of a hamburger.

With just a few minutes left to play, the PA announcer told us that if the Senators scored in the final minute of regulation, then every one of the 18,854 people in attendance would receive a free Wendy’s Baconator.  With the score at 3-1 for Ottawa at the time of the announcements, we began licking our chops literally and figuratively.

Then, it happened.  On an icing call against the Senators, Rangers coach John Tortorella pulled goalie Martin Biron out of the net with a full 2:37 left on the clock.  Our anticipation turned into fear as we realized that our only hope of winning the burger would be if New York scored to pull within one or if Ottawa somehow missed the empty net for a minute and a half.

Alas, our fears were confirmed with Jason Spezza put the puck in the empty net with 1:27 remaining making the score 4-1 Senators.  Biron came out to finish off the game and the rest was history, despite our desperate chants of “Burger! Burger!”

We were only 27 seconds away from a free burger.  At an annual salary of $8,000,000, Jason Spezza can have a Baconator whenever he pleases.  In fact, he could have bought everyone in the arena the burger and it would have cost him only 0.943% of his annual salary.  That’s right: not even 1%!  But no.  He chose to do the selfish thing and score too early, depriving his faithful fans of a delicious and unexpected meal.

Thanks again for reading.  I’ll be away on vacation for next week, so my next Things That Make You Go Hmmm column will be on March 29.  The Canucks play seven times during the next two weeks so I’m sure I’ll have plenty to talk about.  In the meantime… I’m going to Disneyland!

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