Dec 292011
 

[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 know it’s been three weeks since my last “Things That Make You Go Hmmm”, but I was a bit pre-occupied with Christmas and creating this year’s Canucks Christmas Carol called “Under the Minneso”. Unfortunately (or fortunately), it was rendered irrelevant on Boxing Day when the Canucks passed the Wild to take over top spot in the Northwest Division. So check it out now if you haven’t seen it yet, before it fades into YouTube oblivion.

For my last “Things That Make You Go Hmmm” column of 2011, I am going to focus solely on Andrew Ebbett’s overtime goal that lifted the Canucks to a thrilling 3-2 win over the Sharks in San Jose last night. I have three things that made me go hmmm:

  1. Kevin Bieksa left wide-open… three times on one play. Do you want to know why Kevin Bieksa was so wide open on the game-winning play? First, Bieksa and Jannik Hansen took off on a two-on-one when Brent Burns was caught pinching. Shortly after Bieksa’s shot was saved by Antti Niemi, the four Sharks skaters did their best impression of a Timbit hockey team: they were all within six feet of each other and they had no semblance of positioning because they were all dead tired. The two worst offenders, Dan Boyle and Patrick Marleau, were both on the ice for a whole minute before the goal went in. We’re not talking about a first-period shift here; this is after playing 63 minutes of frenetic hockey. Boyle came onto the ice with 2:45 left in OT, Marleau with 2:37 left (which was coincidentally the same time that Bieksa came onto the ice). Add Brent Burns and Ryan Clowe, who both came onto the ice with 2:25 left, and you had four tired Sharks out there. By contrast, Andrew Ebbett and Hansen came over the boards with 2:20 left and Alex Edler barely got into the play, jumping on the ice for Dan Hamhuis at the 1:53 mark and not touching the puck before Ebbett tipped home Bieksa’s shot with 1:37 left on the clock. On Bieksa’s slap shot with 1:46 left, Boyle was too slow to get out to him. And when Bieksa let go the final wrister, it was Clowe slow to mark him. All this time, Marleau stayed in front of Edler at the other point, likely hoping that the puck wouldn’t come in his direction. Whether it was superior conditioning or a bit of puck luck, the Canucks looked absolutely dominant for the last 20 seconds of the game.
  2. San Jose fans must hate Kevin Bieksa. After all, the Canuck defenceman scored one of the most memorable (and fluky) goals in Canucks history when he alertly pounced on a loose puck that had deflected off a stanchion at Rogers Arena, finishing off the Sharks in 5 games in last year’s Western Conference Finals. Not to mention, he was a plus-3 in that double overtime game. Bieksa notched one assist in the Canucks 3-2 win over the Sharks back in November, and then Bieksa has two assists in last night’s win. Simply put, he’s been a beast against San Jose. Except on last night’s game-winning goal, he didn’t need a stanchion… he only needed an Ebbett.
  3. Ebbett celebrates by himself. Fellow CHB writer Ed Lau pointed this out as well: the Canucks jumped off the bench and swarmed Bieksa after the overtime goal, while Ebbett raced into the corner to celebrate with himself apparently. A few seconds after you see Bieksa jump into the waiting arms of Daniel Sedin and Manny Malhotra, you see Ebbett leap into the pile, ramming his own face into Max Lapierre’s glove. It’s understandable: the Canucks were elated to win the game, and they had no idea that Ebbett deflected Bieksa’s point shot. Ebbett trying to get included in the celebration brought back memories of Victor Oreskovich doing the same thing after Alex Burrows’ goal in game 7 vs. Chicago last April.

Dec 092011
 

[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.]

Cody Hodgson, Vancouver Canucks

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…

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Dec 012011
 

[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.]

Mason Raymond, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: thescore.com

It’s been two weeks since my last post here at Canucks Hockey Blog.  In that time I found out that I wasn’t chosen to Replace the KB for The Province (read my thank you blog here), I channeled my inner-Shawn Stockman for last week’s CHB TV video podcast, and I attended the Grey Cup (and was interviewed for the CBC National News by Ian Hanomansingh).  More importantly, the Canucks have seemingly turned their season around by rattling off five straight wins.  And as always, there are a few Things That Make Me Go Hmmm…

  1. Mason Raymond’s Return. There is much anticipation for the return of forward Mason Raymond tonight.  He’s expected to play on a line with Cody Hodgson and Jannik Hansen, effectively bumping Manny Malhotra down to the fourth line and Aaron Volpatti into the press box.  I would suggest that expecting any type of significant contribution from Raymond right away is expecting too much.  He hasn’t had a pre-season or training camp and he hasn’t played in a game since June 13.  And even if he does return to his pre-injury form, what type of form are we talking about?   Is it the 2009-2010 Raymond who scored 25 goals and 53 points and looked like he was ready to truly break out?  Or will it be the 2010-2011 Raymond who struggled to 15 goals in the regular season and only 2 goals in 24 playoff games?  Now don’t get me wrong: I’m absolutely thrilled that he’s been able to come back after suffering tissue damage and fractured vertebrae after being checked into the boards by Bruin Johnny Boychuk in last season’s Stanley Cup Finals.  All I’m saying is that we shouldn’t expect too much too soon.

    Perhaps looking over his shoulder at Raymond’s return, David Booth has quietly improved his play over the past two weeks, including a couple of points in his last three games.  Booth is looking more and more dangerous, and his 6 shots in the last game vs. the Blue Jackets matched a season high. Let’s hope it continues.

  2. An Unlikely Catalyst. After a middling start, the Canucks have risen to 6th place in the competitive Western Conference are only 4 points behind conference leaders Minnesota Wild with a game in hand.  Judging by the team’s play over the past two weeks, it’s obvious that the Canucks are a confident group and the vibe I get watching them is similar to the vibe I got last year when the team 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 have won all four of games 21 through 24 with Cory Schneider in net for all of them.  Since returning from an injury he suffered against the Islanders back on November 13, Luongo has been relegated to back-up status setting off yet another firestorm of speculation and pre-emptive claims of another goalie controversy brewing on the West Coast.  To be fair, there have been a few other factors contributing to the recent winning streak including better even-strength play and more balanced scoring from the forwards.  However, the primary reason is indeed the stellar play of Schneider.  It’s quite remarkable to think that at the end of the season we may look back and point to Luongo’s injury as the catalyst to the Canucks turning their season around.
  3. You Win One, You Lose One. It’s not the best sample size, but it’s still interesting that this is the second time that the BC Lions have won the Grey Cup in the same calendar year that the Vancouver Canucks lost in the Stanley Cup Finals.  Before this year, it last happened in 1994 when the Canucks lost to the Rangers and the Lions beat the Baltimore Stallions 26-23 on Lui Passaglia’s dramatic winning field goal.  Coincidentally, that was also the last time that the host city had its football team with the championship.  As I mentioned earlier, I was blessed to attend this year’s Grey Cup and I was thankful that the result was a lot better than the last championship game I went to (game 7 Canucks-Bruins).  What a stark difference in post-game celebrations too…but I’m not sure what would have happened if the Lions had lost.  Thankfully we’ll never know.

With the Canucks’ next games against Nashville, Calgary, Colorado, Montreal, Ottawa, Columbus and Carolina, the team has a huge opportunity to continue their surge towards the top of the Western Conference standings.  Just how much of an impact will Raymond have?  And when will Luongo next shed his baseball cap for his goalie mask?   These are a couple of things that make me go hmmm.

Nov 052011
 

[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.  Clay is also a finalist in the "Replace the KB" blogging competition for the Province and you can see all of his submissions for the contest here.]

With back-to-back victories over the Washington Capitals and Calgary Flames last week, it looked as if the Vancouver Canucks were going to put a mediocre October safely in their rear-view mirror.  Well, the Canucks didn’t get too far before returning to their middling October ways with losses to the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues.  Let’s call a spade a spade and look at 5 things that make me go hmmm…

  1. Who are you?  Booth Booth, Booth Booth. (If you didn’t figure it out, you were supposed to sing that to the tune of The Who’s “Who are You”).  David Booth has 2 points in his first 6 games with the Canucks.  Extrapolated over a full-season, that would amount to about 27 points.  Except that he already had played 6 games with Florida before being traded here, and he only had 1 point in those 6 games.  So extrapolate those three points in 12 games over 82 games (though the maximum he’ll be able to play is 80 games) and you get 20 points.  That’s an unacceptable number for a second-line forward making $4.5 million (cap hit of $4.25 million).  I know it’s still early in his Canucks career, but I’m already wondering who David Booth is.  Is he the dynamic player who scored 60 points and was plus 10 just three seasons ago?  Or is he more like the player who struggled to get to 40 points last year while amassing a dreadful minus 31?  I hope it’s the former, despite early returns indicating the latter.  Case in point:  he’s tied with Dale Weise in team scoring.
  2. You’ve Got the Minus Touch.  Speaking of plus/minus, have you seen some of the alarming numbers just 14 games into the season?  Manny Malhotra is a minus-10, David Booth is a minus-9 and Jannik Hansen is a minus-8.  With the Canucks at only a minus-3 in overall goal differential, it means that they are being badly out-played at even strength.  Add in Chris Higgins’ minus-1 and things don’t look good for the Canucks’ third line.  Especially when the third line isn’t supposed to be scored on.  It’s not much better on defense, with Keith Ballard at minus-9 and Kevin Bieksa at minus-8.  The term “Replace the KB” seems appropriate here for the two struggling defencemen. 
  3. Gaudy Goalie Numbers.  When you look at the top 5 goalies in terms of goals against average, the Canucks have already played against 3 of them:  Nikolai Khabibulin of the Oilers (twice), Josh Harding of the Wild, and Brian Elliott of the Blues (twice).  These same 3 goalies are among the top-5 in save percentage as well.  That means that 5 of the Canucks’ first 14 games have been against 3 of the top goalies in the league (stats-wise).  Looking at the Canucks’ offensive woes, this is a classic chicken and egg example.  Have the Canucks struggled to score because the opposing goalies are so hot right now?  Or has the Canucks’ inability to score helped contribute to the gaudy numbers?  The answer is probably a bit of both.  But one thing’s for certain: the Canucks better find their scoring touch soon before they slip further in the standings.  Remember, this is the same team that led the league in scoring last year.
  4. O Canada.  Who would have thought that one month into the season that the Canucks would be only the 5th-best team in Canada?  Looking at win percentage (as opposed to total points as all the teams have played anywhere from 12 to 14 games), the Canucks are behind the red-hot Oilers and Maple Leafs, and Canadiens and Senators.  Vancouver is ahead of only the Flames and Jets and it’s by less than a percentage point.  So it’s conceivable that after the game against Chicago on Sunday that the Canucks will be the worst team in Canada.  Unfathomable at the start of the season.
  5. 5.  National Anthems.  Lastly, and staying on the Canada theme, just a small thing I noticed last year that bugs the heck out of me.  Why is that all 3 networks (CBC, TSN and SN) only show Canucks during the Canadian national anthem and never during the American national anthem?  Let me explain.  I get the fact that when playing at Rogers Arena against a team from a US city, that the Canucks are obviously the “home team”.  And vice-versa when then Canucks are playing in the States.  And I get the fact that when playing in the States, they are only playing O Canada because it’s the Canucks. But I still find it funny that we as viewers are to presume that all Canucks are Canadians and other opposing players are American.  I first noticed it in the Chicago Blackhawks playoff series last spring.  During the Star Spangled Banner, the camera would focus on crowd shots and the Blackhawks, including Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook (before he got knocked out) – all 3 stalwarts on the Canada’s 2010 Winter Olympic Team.  And then, during O Canada, we got shots of not only Luongo (Canadian) but shots of the Sedins (Sweden) and Kesler and Higgins (American) as well.  Although admittedly unrealistic, I would love it if the cameras focused on American-born players from both teams during the American anthem and Canadian-born players for the Canadian anthem.  Look for this during the next few games on TV.

The Canucks barely have any time to lick their wounds as they face their nemesis Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday.  This will likely go one of two ways:  either the Canucks pick their game up for one of their biggest rivals or they come out with even less confidence and more discombobulated than they already are.  What will happen?  Hmmm….

Oct 192011
 

[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 was at Rogers Arena last night as the Vancouver Canucks hosted the New York Rangers.  With the tribute to Rick Rypien, the return of Ryan Kesler, and the newest Canuck Dale Weise facing his former team, it promised to be a memorable night.  Unfortunately, with respect to the actual game, people will be remembering defensive breakdowns and seeing the Rangers win their first game of the young season.

As always, here are a few things that make me go hmmm…

  1. Roberto Luongo – or more accurately – his supporters and detractors.  The netminder is easily the most polarizing sports figure on the Canucks let alone in the entire province.  After the game, likely 75% – 80% of the Canucks-related tweets had to do with Luongo.  When he’s not playing well, his supporters preach patience while his detractors call him a waste of money and bust.  When he is playing well, his supporters remind us that he’s the best netminder we’ve ever had while his detractors say that he hasn’t proven anything until he leads the team to a Stanley Cup.  I’m not afraid to proclaim that I’m a Luongo supporter.  But I don’t flippantly point to him being a traditionally slow starter as an excuse for only one win in four starts.  Luongo must bear some of the blame, but he can certainly share it with his forwards who aren’t scoring enough and his defencemen who are breaking down at the most inopportune times.  One thing’s for certain however:  for the Canucks to win he can’t be the second-best goalie on the ice.
  2. Problems on the point.  Why is Coach Vigneault so insistent on keeping Mikael Samuelsson on the point on the first powerplay unit?  I’ve already written about this before, but Samuelsson’s ineffectiveness was on display once again Tuesday night.  He had trouble generating decent scoring chances and he struggled with keeping the puck in the zone.  While I would love to see Sami Salo on the first powerplay unit, I’m presuming that the coach wants to balance things out with a booming shot on each unit (with Alex Edler playing marksman on the first unit).   However, when the home team goes 0 for 8 on the powerplay in a game where we desperately need goals, something has to give.

    Also, as an aside, I would love to see Hamhuis and Ballard play together.  They are both good skaters and the steady Hamhuis would help offset the riskier play of Ballard.  And can you imagine the hip checks they could dish out?  Ever since the Canucks acquired them last summer within 6 days of each other, I’ve been hoping to see them on the ice together.  But it hasn’t happened yet.  Then again, Ballard didn’t spend much time on the ice with anyone last season.

  3. Speaking of polarizing players…the love/hate Luongo phenomena reminds me of the feelings towards Todd Bertuzzi after his hit on Steve Moore.  I happened to be in GM Place on that fateful March 8, 2004 evening.  The game itself was a blowout, with Canucks fans looking for something to cheer for.  We were wrought with anticipation as Bertuzzi chased Moore around the ice and we cheered like mad upon Bertuzzi’s first punch.  The cheers quickly subsided as players and fans alike realized that Moore was seriously injured.  There was an eerie silence in the stands followed by a reserved buzz as fans compared notes as to what they had just witnessed.  The radio shows and internet were abuzz with chatter for weeks afterwards, with equal percentages of people applauding and condemning Bertuzzi.

    Can you imagine if Twitter had been invented back then?  Whereas last night’s Luongo Twitter chatter kept the social networking platform busy, Bertuzzi’s hit might have shut the whole thing down.

   

PS:  Kudos to the Vancouver Canucks for an emotional and classy tribute to the late Rick Rypien.  The most touching moment for me was seeing Kevin Bieksa embracing Rick’s mother Shelley.  It brought a tear to this writer’s eye…and I’m sure I’m not alone.  Rest in peace Rick…you are already missed.

Oct 132011
 

[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.]

The Vancouver Canucks have gotten off to their typically slow October start earning three out of a possible six points in their first three games.  I was out all evening on Wednesday so I was left to follow the game on Twitter.  Some of the tweets I was reading made it sound like was had lost game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals or something.  Whoops…too soon?

Anyway, I was able to watch the entire game against the Flyers on the PVR and here are a few things that made me go hmmm…

  1. Sloppy play.  The Canucks were not very sharp for the majority of the game.  They didn’t seem ready from the start, and after their litany of first period penalties they were already down a pair of goals.  Their passing wasn’t crisp (except for the Sedins) and they had trouble gaining the offensive zone on numerous occasions (including back to back offside calls caused by Burrows’ indecisiveness).  Two of the Flyers’ three even-strength goals were directly caused by poor line changes and the Canucks’ scrambly defensive play often reminded me of my tier 9 roller hockey team.  Throw in a powerplay that wasn’t particularly aggressive nor urgent (especially in the later stages of the third period) and it all added up to a very uneven performance.
  2. Post-goal let downs.  The Canucks gave up goals immediately following three of their four tallies.  After Mikael Samuelsson’s first period goal, James Van Riemsdyk scored 73 seconds later.  Following Henrik Sedin’s goal in the second period, Jakob Voracek scored less than two minutes later.  And after Daniel Sedin’s important game-tying goal in the third period, Andrej Meszaros scored the game-winner for the Flyers almost exactly a minute afterwards.  Thus, every time the Canucks seemed to gain a bit of momentum, they handed it back to the Flyers.  It was an uphill battle all evening.  The Canucks have not started strong in any of their first three games.  Part of last season’s success was the team’s ability to get a lead and then protect it.  The Canucks will need to work harder to earn some early leads.
  3. Stanley Cup hangover?  Are you allowed to call it a Stanley Cup hangover if you didn’t actually win the Stanley Cup?  Nevertheless, the Canucks aren’t the only Stanley Cup finalist struggling out of the gate.  The Boston Bruins have just one win in four games and it’s against inferior competition (two of the losses came against Colorado and Carolina).  Horton, Krejci, Lucic and Chara have combined for a total of only 3 points.  Contrast that to the 15 combined points of the Sedins, Burrows and Edler (in only 3 games).  Of course, it’s extremely early and many things will change as the season progresses.  However, Canucks fans can take solace in the fact that our Stanley Cup nemesis has started off slowly as well.
  4. Top-ranked anthemist?  Firstly, is anthemist even a word?  And secondly, who on earth ranks them?  And thirdly, shouldn’t a “#1 ranked anthemist” be able to keep time with the organist?

The Canucks will hardly have any time to lick their wounds or feel sorry for themselves as they take on another perennial powerhouse in the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night.  Let’s hope that Vancouver plays a tighter game and avoids the post-goal let downs on their way back to the win column.

Oct 072011
 

[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.]

The Vancouver Canucks took their first steps on the long road back to the Stanley Cup Finals with a 4-3 shoot-out loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Rogers Arena on Thursday night.  I was in the arena for the home opener and I noticed a few Things That Make You Go Hmmm…

  1. The sluggish crowd.  Just like the team, the crowd seemed very tentative for the first half of the game.  It was a classic chicken and egg example:  it’s hard to tell if the crowd was relatively quiet because the team started slowly or if the team had trouble drawing energy from the quiet crowd.  Regardless, once the Canucks figured out how to stay out of the penalty box, both their play and the energy in the arena improved dramatically.
  2. Keith Ballard is exciting.  There are many Canucks fans, this writer included, who want to see Keith Ballard have a bounceback season this year.  With the departure of Christian Ehrhoff, the door is wide open for Ballard to stroll on through.  Last night, we saw both the risk and reward of Keith Ballard.  On the second Penguin goal, Ballard had trouble retrieving and clearing the puck from behind the Canucks net, leading to Matt Cooke’s power-play goal.  And there were a couple of shifts where Ballard and defence partner Chris Tanev were scrambling around in their own zone.  But also, there was Ballard streaking down the left side and scoring the game’s nicest goal late in the second period.  Add this to a couple of end-to-end rushes and it made for a very eventful night for the Canuck blue-liner.
  3. Dan Hamhuis is solid.  Hamhuis had a very solid game in his first full-game back since game 1 of last spring’s Stanley Cup Finals.  He made numerous poke checks on Penguin forwards and played with enough physicality to keep Pittsburgh at bay for most of the evening.  I’m convinced that he was the missing ingredient in the Canucks’ series against Boston:  if we have a healthy Hamhuis, we have a Stanley Cup.
  4. Where was Cody Hodgson?  The prized rookie was unnoticeable all evening until the final 6 minutes or so.  It doesn’t help that he is flanked by aging forwards who are both coming off of serious injuries.  The entire second line struggled and was clearly the weakest of the four lines.  Granted, it’s early, and they will likely need a few games together to develop some chemistry.  Hodgson had a chance to score a game-winning goal, but his nice scoring chance was barely foiled by Marc-Andre Fleury when the puck squirted though his legs but a couple of inches wide left.
  5. Wishful thinking.  Buoyed by the inflated 50/50 pot (it included unclaimed money from last season), my friend Mike and I bought a few tickets.  Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, as the huge $65,000 prize went to someone else.  And with the new ticketing system and numbers, we were only 300,000,000 (yes…that’s 300 million) numbers away from winning.  The computerized 50/50 tickets is just one of many changes in Rogers Arena for this season…check out my latest Clay’s Canucks Commentary for a look at some of these changes.

All in all, it was an entertaining game between two teams predicted to do well this season.  And don’t fret Canucks fans – the team lost their first game of last season via shoot-out too.  The regular season turned out all right.

Oct 032011
 

[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.]

After a remarkably short hockey summer, we’re already just a few sleeps away from the start of the 2011-12 NHL season and the Vancouver Canucks’ home opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins sans Sidney Crosby.  As the pre-season comes to an end, here are some Things That Make You Go Hmmm:

  1. The first power play unit.  I was at the Canucks’ final exhibition game, a 4-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers this past Saturday night.  While I was impressed with many things, I was very unimpressed with our first power play unit.  Granted, the full unit only played a couple of games together but on Saturday night their execution was quite sloppy.  Alex Edler and Mikael Samuelsson had trouble at the point: they were both unable to get shots off and had trouble keeping the puck inside the zone on numerous occasions.  With Samuelsson’s defensive shortcomings (mostly because he’s not a defenceman), I think it’s quite risky that he’s manning the point.  I would much rather see Sami Salo and his wicked slap shot at the point, although I’m not sure who would want to stand in front of the net to screen the goalie and look for deflections.  Speaking of which, it’s obvious that the Canucks are going to miss Ryan Kesler’s effective net presence on the power play… it’s simply not a strength of Alex Burrows’ game.
  2. Getting off to a good start.  October has traditionally been quite unfriendly to the Canucks.  Over the past five seasons, the Canucks have a 29-27-3 record in October, amassing only 61 of a possible 118 points.  Part and parcel to the club’s performance is the play of goaltender Roberto Luongo, who is traditionally a slow-starter.  Luongo, like all of the veterans, only played in a few pre-season games but he looked extremely sharp on Saturday night.  As mentioned above, the Canucks employed a strategy of playing the veterans in only a couple pre-season games after last year’s long playoff run.  The purpose was two-fold:  to give the players a bit more rest and to make them hungrier coming out of the gate.  We’ll see if it translates into a strong October performance.  And we’ll see if other teams follow suit if the Canucks do well right off the bat.
  3. Lamenting my hockey pool choice.  On Sunday, I hosted an annual hockey pool for my buddies and wound up picking 4th overall.  Not surprisingly, Steve Stamkos went first, Daniel Sedin went second, and Alex Ovechkin went third.  I spent my 90 seconds agonizing between picking Henrik Sedin (and his guaranteed 90-100 points) and the ultimate wild-card Sidney Crosby.  You’d think it would be an easy choice for an avid Canucks blogger, a no-brainer.  But, for whatever reason, I decided to take a chance on the guy who will NOT be playing at Rogers Arena this Thursday night.  As the rest of the guys in the room started to murmur, I immediately regretted my decision, especially after the next poolster took Hank within 0.7 seconds of me taking Crosby.  Oh well… I hope the winner of the pool will do something nice with my 35 bucks!

Will the Canucks be able to leave their slow October starts in their rear-view mirror?  We’ll get our first indication this Thursday night. 

Jun 202011
 

[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.]

It’s been a few days since the Vancouver Canucks lost 4-0 to the Boston Bruins in game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, bringing a sudden and disappointing end to a very memorable and entertaining season.  From Markus Naslund’s jersey retirement in December to the unforgettable game 7 against the Blackhawks, the season had drama, excitement, and emotion.  But when you end the postseason with a loss, it means you didn’t get the job done.  And it also means questions… things that make you go hmmm:

  1. What will the team look like next year? The Canucks have 8 unrestricted free agents to make decisions on this off-season, the most notable being defencemen Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff, and Sami Salo.  Together, they made a combined $10.35 million (or 1/6 of the total team payroll) this past season.  Even with the salary cap expected to increase to $64 million (an increase of over $4 million), it is the common belief that they will need to take hometown discounts for the Canucks to keep all 3 of them.  Up front, both Raffi Torres and Chris Higgins are among the UFAs.  Throw in the aging Mikael Samuelsson (who the Canucks might consider trading), and the top 9 could have a much different look next year.  Only the goaltending will be constant with Cory Schneider under contract for one more season (unless he’s traded) and Roberto Luongo locked in until the 22nd century (or so it seems).  Given that free agency starts in less than 2 weeks from now, things are going to get very interesting very quickly.
  2. What will be the lasting legacy of the riot and the aftermath? After game 7, I actually stayed at Rogers Arena for a full hour after the game.  My reasoning was two-fold:  I wanted to see the Bruins celebrate with their families, and I wanted to avoid going out on to the dangerous Vancouver streets.  Once I finally left the arena, I was amazed at the number of people heading TOWARDS the dangerous areas as opposed to heading AWAY from them.  I remember that evening chastising those who were going just to take pictures and video as I felt that they were only adding fuel to the fire (so-to-speak) instead of helping the police out.  As it turns out, these same people are helping the police capture those who participated.  I prefer to think of the brave few who tried to stand up to the rioters and the thousands of people who voluntarily cleaned up the downtown streets the next day in an effort to preserve the reputation of our beautiful city.  We’ll get a couple of chances in the near future to see if we’ve collectively smartened up:  the Celebration of Light fireworks displays this summer and the Grey Cup festivities in late November.
  3. Can the team return to the Stanley Cup Finals next year? A common sentiment among Canucks fans after Wednesday night’s loss was that the team will be back next year.  It’s certainly not unprecedented:  the Penguins and Red Wings played in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 and 2009, with each team winning once.  But it’s not common:  prior to the Wings and Penguins, the last team to appear in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals was the New Jersey Devils in 2000 and again in 2001.  They too won in one of those two years.  But before we talk about what’s going to happen in the Finals, we first need to look at whether or not the Canucks will get there.  Given that their core is in place for next season (Sedins, Kesler, Burrows, Raymond, Malhotra, Hansen, Hamhuis, Edler, Luongo, and maybe Schneider) the Canucks are undoubtedly a playoff team, and likely to challenge for the Western Conference title and possibly the Presidents’ Trophy once again.  They will return hungry and determined to do what they couldn’t do this year – go all the way.   And if the Canucks can indeed make it back to the Finals, odds are that they’ll follow the example of New Jersey, Pittsburgh, and Detroit (all 3 teams when 1-1 in consecutive Finals appearances) and win the Cup.  But how ‘bout we worry about that in about 11 months from now?

It’s hard to believe that the NHL Entry Draft is less than a week away, with free agency a week after that.   But just before the draft will be the NHL Awards in Las Vegas on June 22.  The Canucks will be well represented, with candidates in 7 award categories (Hart, Lindsay, Vezina, Selke, Jack Adams, GM, and NHL Foundation).  Just how many will the Canucks take home to add to their Art Ross, Jennings, Campbell, and Presidents’ Trophies?  That’s something that makes me go hmmm…

Jun 132011
 

[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.]

With a win tonight in Boston, the Vancouver Canucks can win the Stanley Cup for the first-time in their 40-year history.  But it won’t be easy – the Bruins hammered the Canucks by a combined score of 12-1 in games 3 and 4.  As we look forward to what could be the most memorable night in Canucks’ history, here are some Things That Make You Go Hmmm:

  1. The parallels between this game and game 6 of the NBA Finals.  Congrats to the Dallas Mavericks for winning the 2011 NBA Championship by disposing of the Miami Heat in 6 games.  That’s the first parallel.  Secondly, the Mavs won game 6 on the road in Miami, as the Canucks are hoping to do in Boston’s TD Garden.  And thirdly, it was the Mavericks’ first-ever NBA title.  And we all know that the Canucks are tantalizingly close to their first-ever Stanley Cup.  If Vancouver does indeed win however, I hope that their post-game celebration is a bit better than that of Dallas:  that was one of the strangest and most subdued championship celebrations I have ever seen.  It was touched off by MVP Dirk Nowitzki leaving the court for the locker room with seconds still on the clock.  I know he was emotional and likely still feeling the effects of his sinus infection, but can you picture Luongo or the Sedins leaving the ice and/or bench for the locker room instead of celebrating with their teammates?  I think not.
  2. The Conn Smythe candidates.  There has been a lot of talk about Tim Thomas winning the Conn Smythe Trophy, which is given to the most valuable player for his team in the playoffs.  Note that unlike the MVP awards of other leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB), the Conn Smythe is supposed to take into account the entire playoffs, and not just the Finals.  It’s only natural though that voters would be biased towards the finals, given that it’s the culmination of the playoffs.  So having said all of that, is Thomas the favourite right now even if the Canucks win the Stanley Cup?  If so, he would be the first player of the Stanley Cup runner-up to win it since Jean-Sebastien Giguere did it in 2003 backstopping the Anaheim Ducks.  With the Sedins and Kesler having a quiet series, the Canucks’ best hope for the trophy is likely Roberto Luongo.  Sure he’s had a few bad games but he also has 4 shutouts, including 2 in the finals.  It’s just too bad that 2 of his poorer games came in this series.
  3. Some rest for the weary.  The extra day between games 5 and 6 will benefit players from both teams, but hopefully even more-so for Canucks centres Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler.  Both seem to be nursing injuries that have hampered their effectiveness in this series; Henrik has no points in the series while Kesler has only one assist.  While it’s not imperative that the two of them score points for the Canucks to win, it certainly would help.  The Canucks third line has come up big in both 1-0 victories (game 1 and game 5):  Torres scored in the opener and Lapierre had the GWG on Friday night.  Maybe it’s Jannik Hansen’s turn to play hero?

After watching game 4 at Rogers Arena, I’ll be hosting a viewing party at work so I can be downtown for the post-game festivities.  Will we be celebrating the franchise’s first Stanley Cup?  Or will we be lamenting another lost opportunity in advance of a game 7?  Hmmm…

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