Feb 142011
 

[Every Monday, Katie Maximick takes your questions and gives her take on the Canucks in her own cantankerous style. If you have any questions about the Canucks, send it to her via Twitter (@KMaximick)]

Aaron Volpatti, Vancouver Canucks

After a successful weekend working with Five Hole for Food’s hockey event on Granville in the pouring rain, my cold is worse than ever, and as result, perhaps I’m even a bit more cantankerous than usual.  However, I’ll try not to let this affect my answers to your Canucks-related questions.

Andrew asks: What do you think of the rookies that have been called up and put on our 4th line? Is it a good idea to keep changing them up? Is MG or AV giving them enough opportunity? Who has stood out the most for you?

Katie: Holy four questions at once! Remember I’ve taken quite a few cold meds today, Andrew. I’ll try to tackle some of these.

So far Guillaume Desbiens, Raffi Torres, Cody Hodgson, Aaron Volpatti, Jannik Hansen, Tanner Glass, Mason Raymond, Jeff Tambellini, Mario Bliznak, Alex Bolduc, Victor Oreskovich and Rick Rypien have all played on the Canucks’ fourth line this season. That’s quite a lot of juggling, even for AV’s standards.

The part the Canucks are struggling with is finding a centre for this line, which Ben Kuzma said this morning may be filled with Zenon Konopka from the Islanders by the trade deadline. Hodgson, despite a decent showing, was sent back to the Moose last week, supposedly because he was only showcased on the roster for some NHL experience.

Out of the fourth-line callups, I like Volpatti the most because he’s tough and hits hard. I also enjoyed seeing him play on the Moose before he was called up. I’d like to say CoHo but I didn’t see enough of him to get a solid opinion.

Jared (@JThompsondesign) asks: Is there any news on Rypien? Would he get in the line-up right now if he was available?

Katie: Still no update released on Rypien, and yes I think he would be played because the fourth line needs a centre (as mentioned above) which Vancouver hasn’t been able to fill since Rypien took his leave of absence in the first place. In my opinion the Canucks could also use his fighting skills, seeing as no one took on Getzlaf after his hit on Hamhuis. No doubt Rypien would have stepped up.

Ollie asks: Hey Katie, I always enjoy your column and I’ve been meaning to ask you. What do you think Alain Vigneault’s favourite word is?

Katie: Does the sound of gum being chewed make a word? What about a smirk? Damnit. Okay, then I’d say “Pyatt.”

Trent asks: With the Canucks leading the league and starting to look like Cup favourites, what would be the impact to the team’s fans if in fact they don’t win the Cup? Worse yet, how would the city react to the team if they were upset in the first round to say, the Flames? Similarly, are the Canucks going to be a powerhouse for years to come or is the window closing and this their chance?

Katie: Another multi-part question! You guys really want to take advantage of this head cold, don’t you?

A lot of long-time fans have recently admitted to me that they’re not getting their hopes up for exactly this reason: they’re used to disappointment, and don’t want to risk feeling the same emotional blow many experienced in ’94, or even in the past 10 years. The hype pelting the loyal fan base from the media seems to be blocked by an invisible force field to keep feet grounded, heads clear and hearts protected. Needless to say Vancouver would be a quiet, sullen city for a month afterward, and the bandwagon would be quite empty for a while.

If Vancouver lost in the first round with THIS roster? I think there could possibly be a riot on Granville if the Canucks got ousted to rivals like the Flames or even the Backhawks that early – joking, but not impossible. But Vigneault would be fired 100 per cent. No way would the Aquilinis keep AV around if Vancouver were ejected from the playoffs in the first round. Not this year. The media would also have a ball with this, as speculation of purging would be high. Personally I’d be very upset and disappointed, but I’d still be cheering for Vancouver next October.

The Canucks will be a good team for a while because they’ve locked in their best players for many years and have a pretty decent roster of call ups available in Manitoba. Gillis has done well for Vancouver and I believe he’ll continue to do so.

Fiann asks: Other than your blatant open lusting for Bertuzzi, what’s YOUR most embarrassing moment specific to reporting/blogging on the Canucks.

Katie: Hey, I don’t find my love for Bertuzzi embarrassing at all. I find it awesome (he scored twice on Sunday, by the way). Shockingly, I haven’t had an embarrassing moment. I’ve had more pleasant surprises than awkward ones. The worst is probably just publishing a typo and getting flamed for it because I didn’t edit before posting. Note to writers: always re-read before you submit, especially when you’re a girl writing about hockey and people assume you don’t know anything about the sport anyway. LOL.

This was a long post, and I can’t believe I sat upright long enough to finish it. Enjoy your week, Canucks fans, while I enjoy more extra-strength Benylin.

Feb 102011
 

From CDC:

Vancouver Canucks President and General Manager Mike Gillis announced today that right wing Victor Oreskovich has been recalled from the Manitoba Moose of the AHL. Aaron Volpatti has been re-assigned to Manitoba.

Oreskovich, 24, has appeared in 31 games for the Moose this season, recording 11 points (4-7-11) and 27 penalty minutes. The Whitby, Ontario native has played in 50 career NHL games, collecting six points (2-4-6) and 26 penalty minutes.

Volpatti, 25, has split the season between the Moose and Canucks. He has registered six points (0-6-6) in 26 games in Manitoba and two points (1-1-2) in 15 games with Vancouver, including his first NHL goal.

Jan 252011
 

[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 that watched a hockey game.]

Friends, Romans, countrymen, I ask you, humbly, what is the cure for an offensive slump? Don’t answer; this is a rhetorical question. The solution, as everybody knows, is an opponent with porous goaltending and crap defense. It’s a fairly simple remedy, but the real trick is finding a major league team willing to provide it. Short of scheduling a shinny with the Washington Generals or the South Park Peewee Team, you can only hope that some NHL club is going to fly into town and generously lay an egg. Lucky for Canucks fans, that’s about what happened in tonight’s game which, by the way, I watched:

  • What a welcome return to form for the home team. The Canucks played with the energy and pace they’d hinted at during the Calgary game and then some. We also saw a recommitment to limiting shots against (only 26 for a high-scoring Dallas team), and a renewed offensive potency (7 goals, y’all). They played much better than they have in quite awhile, more in keeping with the level we know they’re capable. Still, before we get ahead of ourselves, it wasn’t only a return to form that caused tonight’s result; Dallas also played sloppier than a loose meat sandwich. What we saw was the Canucks’ get better and the Stars come apart at the same time, and this beautiful coincidence resulted in a nasty shellacking.
  • A number of slumps were bumped tonight, but none more important than the goals scored by both of Ryan Kesler’s wingers. Mikael Samuelsson’s was an especially nice wrist shot. Word is he broke his goal-scoring slump by imagining a logo in the top corner of the net, then hitting it dead center. Perhaps more impressive than the goal, however, were his game-high five shots, equal to how the number of shots he attempted. None were blocked, and none missed.
  • I’m not sure if Mason Raymond’s goal will stay his. The scorekeepers seemed so eager to declare another slump busted that they seemed to give it to him just because he was near it. Looks like Edler blasted it clean through to me; Raymond might be more deserving of a takeaway for stealing credit. But I won’t quibble over whether or not it’s his; I’m not Maury Povich. Let’s just hope it’s the first of many.
  • Speaking of blasting pucks, let’s take a moment to celebrate the long-awaited emergence of Alex Edler’s deadly slapper. He had two assists tonight, both on redirected slapshots (the aforementioned, from Raymond, and one from Kesler to take a 2-1 lead). Christian Ehrhoff also had a goal on one that got clean through. Ehrhoff’s been the member of this pairing most willing to shoot this season, which has always seemed silly to me. Edler’s got the hardest shot on the team. Now, they’re both shooting regularly, and it’s made them a lethal tandem on the blue line, with 12 points in the last six games. Letting them fire away seems like a wise move, especially after they broke the power play’s two-game mini slump by these very means.
  • Aaron Volpatti had a strong game tonight, and it’s possible that you hardly noticed. First there was a solid hit on Tom Wandell behind the Stars’ net. Then, Krys Barch tried to respond by drawing Volpatti into a fight, but Volpatti was smart enough to realize it wasn’t the right time. Instead, he responded by shouting, “F*** you, Barch!” loud enough for the cameras to clearly pick it up.
  • Later, Volpatti assisted on the Henrik Sedin 5-1 backbreaker halfway into the 2nd, skating well and centering a puck that would go in off Steve Ott’s boot after a touch from Henrik. If the assist wasn’t enough, Volpatti then “accidentally” tripped over Ott as he circled the net to celebrate the goal. It was a smart, sneaky play, and don’t be surprised that Volpatti’s a sneak; everybody knows Ivy Leaguers are shifty. I mean, they steal entire social networks from one another.
  • If you’re wondering why Henrik Sedin already has a mind-boggling 50 assists on the season, look no further than his puck movement on the power play. Watch him on either power play goal. On Kesler’s goal, he draws three defenders to him with a simply head fake before making a brilliant saucer pass to Edler for a one-timer. On Ehrhoff’s goal, it’s much a simpler feed, but this time Henrik uses a head fake to back his defender off. Opponents are so terrified he’s going to pass, you’d think they were auditioning for American Idol.
  • The perennially out for blood Daniel Sedin is now 4 points back of the NHL scoring lead. Earlier today, Elliotte Friedman suggested he might get picked last in the NHL All-Star draft. If that happens, I suspect he’ll coolly walk to the podium and shoot his captain in the chest, like Boomer on Battlestar Galactica.
  • Andrew Raycroft’s mask is as sparkly as a preteen girl’s binder. Or a preteen girl’s idea of a vampire.
  • How to make a player lose his mind: eye gouge him in a scrum. Just like the Rypien incident, you can clearly see Burish raging, “he was eye gouging me,” after the referees finally pull Burrows and him apart. Not to go all “Ron Maclean” on you guys, but, considering Burr’s reputation, he’s probably guilty here. That’s a finger to the peeper and a stick to the peepee in the last two weeks. He needs to be careful he doesn’t get a reputation as a dirty(er) player.
  • If he’s not careful, he’ll undo all the goodwill the Zen Canucks have built up towards officials this season. Seriously, the Canucks successfully argued for a call to be overturned tonight. When the last time that’s ever happened? I think we’re more used to the “On second thought, the Canucks lose” type of calls. Especially recently.
  • Dan Hamhuis dropped his gloves tonight. Dan. Hamhuis. What could Mike Ribiero have possibly said or done to make Hammy drop the mitts? Ribieiro: Frankly, I don’t think Haiti deserves our relief. And the children can read to themselves. Hamhuis: I’ll kill you!
  • Congratulations to Chris Tanev, who picked up his first career point, an assist on Hamhuis’s goal, the seventh and final goal of the evening. Tanev showed impressive poise tonight, finishing a plus-one with two blocked shots in just over sixteen minutes of icetime. Granted, everyone (in blue) looked good tonight, but Tanev is beginning to look like he might belong in the NHL, which is more than I can say for tonight’s opponent.
  • All credit to Tanner Glass, who spent some time tonight as the fourth-line center, and some time as the third-line winger. When he earned third line icetime last season, it was more an indictment of the Canucks’ lack of forward depth. This season, however, he’s been so defensively responsible and so smart with the puck that he’s earned every extra minute he’s been given, and I’m happy to eat crow when it comes to his stints in the top nine. I’m still not sold on his scoring ability, but I think, when your third line hasn’t scored in ten games or more, Tanner Glass certainly can’t make you offensively less potent.
  • Kevin Bieksa’s eye doesn’t look too bad… if he’s planning a trip to McDonaldland. His face is so purple he could pass for The Grimace. Speaking of passing, Bieksa did take advantage of the distinguishable mark for some brilliant duplicity. Rather than serve a second period penalty, he traded places with a wax #statueofbieksa (hashtag credit: @RE4713), and nobody noticed because, like the real Bieksa, the replica had a black eye.
  • The Canucks dominated the faceoff circle tonight, winning 40 of 65 draws. All four centres finished over 50%, with even Glass winning 4-of-7. He’s won 17 of 31 on the season now, which is pretty impressive, considering he was 3-for-18 last season. He’s developing this skill really quickly.
  • This is the second consecutive game versus the Canucks where the Stars have lost their composure, and you have to consider their sources of leadership. First, Marc Crawford’s teams have never been known for being particularly mentally tough (and Crow’s never been good at knowing when to pull his goalie, either). Second, Brendan Morrow’s captaincy might be a good cautionary tale for those who think Kesler should have gotten the “C” in Vancouver. Like Kesler, Morrow plays an intense, gritty game that’s a nice example when he’s focused, but he has a tendency to get overemotional and lose focus. When he does, the team follows him. He’s simply not a calming force.
  • Henrik Sedin, on the other hand, knows how to channel his emotions. He digs so deep, you might say he chunnels his emotions. He was solely to blame on Dallas’s only goal, but rather than beat himself up about it, he simply upped his resolve. He looked downright determined to atone for the remainder of the period. Then he did. Not since the award-winning film based on the novel Atonement have I seen such atonement.
Jan 112011
 

(Contributions from J.J. Guerrero and Katie Maximick.)

Now that the Canucks have reached the official halfway point of the 2010/2011 season, we take a look back and give the players their midseason marks.

Manny Malhotra and Jannik Hansen, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

Manny Malhotra: Malhotra has fewer points than Raffi Torres, which is odd for a lot of people. But he’s the king of the faceoff circle, ranked second in the NHL at 63.4%. With 17 points, he’s on pace to match last season’s 33-point output in San Jose. So has he exceeded expectations? Not really, but he hasn’t exactly underperformed either.

Grade: B

Raffi Torres: Torres started the season red-hot with 5 goals in 3 games at the beginning of November, but the fiery left wing has cooled off with only 9 points since the end of November. However, he’s still third on the team for goals at 11 and has 8 assists. For a one year, $1 million contract, have the Canucks got what they paid for? I say yes – he has 19 points, throws hard hits and freight-trains his way to the net. I think Vancouver fans have been pleasantly surprised by their Baby Beluga.

Grade: C+

Mikael Samuelsson: Mikael “go eff yourself” Samuelsson is perhaps receiving the most flack of any player on the roster right now. He has the lowest shot percentage of all the Canucks forwards at 7.1%, even lower than Kevin Bieksa. Is it bad luck or are they bad shots? His point production isn’t horrible, with 8 goals and 16 assists, but he is currently pointless in his last 7 games. So, does the media have reason to pick on Samuelsson? Hard to say. Maybe he just needs someone to hurt his feelings and he’ll start putting up points again.

Grade: C+

Alex Bolduc: Bolduc’s been good at times and unnoticeable at others. Against the Sharks last Monday, he won 4 of 6 faceoffs; he followed that up by losing all 8 of his draws against the Flames last Wednesday. The revolving door on the team’s fourth line center position is due in large part to his inconsistency.

Grade: C-

Tanner Glass: No less than 11 Canucks have played on the fourth line all season; of those 11, Tanner Glass has been the most consistent. Coach AV trusts him enough to play a regular shift on even-strength and on the penalty-kill. Halfway through the season, he’s only 1 goal, 2 assists and 3 points short of his career-highs in those categories.

Grade: C

Jannik Hansen: His stat line (41 GP, 5 G – 8 A – 13 P) doesn’t reflect it, but Hansen’s play has improved from previous seasons. He’s a fast skater, excellent forechecker and versatile winger who’s proven through the first half of the season to be able to move up and down the lineup with relative ease.

Grade: B-

Aaron Volpatti: Volpatti was called up a month ago and quickly made his mark. He scored his first goal in his second game and got into his first fights a week after that. For what it’s worth, he’s better suited for the fourth line than Jonas Andersson and the since-departed Peter Schaefer, and has played better than the likes of Joel Perrault, Guillaume Desbiens and Mario Bliznak.

Grade: C-

Dec 292010
 

[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 Flyers and Canucks were a good matchup on paper. Both teams have excellent strength down the middle and strong forward lines overall, a solid defensive corps, and comparable records. Some said, prior to tonight’s contest, that we might be looking at a potential Stanley Cup Finals matchup. Roberto Luongo said it was a big measuring stick game. The Flyers hadn’t lost in Vancouver since 1989. That is to say, nobody expected a retread of the Columbus Blue Jackets game. Mitigating factors: the flyers were playing without Chris Pronger, as well as, seemingly, motivation and heart. This may come as a surprise, but Chris Pronger is a good hockey player, and a team without him is lesser. How much lesser is now a valid question.

But who cares about the Flyers? The Vancouver Canucks dominated this game in every aspect, and, somewhat giddy, we watched:

  • First things first: just today, I sat down and compiled a sweet list of the best 50 goals the Canucks had scored in 2010. Then Alex Burrows went and made a fool of Kimmo Timonen (above). Next time, I would appreciate some notice, Alex. Sour grapes aside, this was one of the prettiest goals we’ve seen this season, and shows why Alex Burrows is not just a glorified tap-in artist. It also shows that he is a legitimate complement to the Sedins. Proof: his unwillingness to shoot the puck.
  • The Canucks riddled the Philadelphia net with shots like it was the last duck in Duck Hunt and they were afraid they’d get mocked by that stupid dog. 49 shots in total, including 22 in the first period alone, and we should note that they weren’t just winging the puck, willy-nilly. They were putting up points like they were holding the NES gun up to the screen like a cheaty cheater who cheats. Brian “The Mighty Boosh” Boucher got pulled after four goals and a stinkeye (check out his glare, post-whiff, on this goal), and he didn’t play too badly. The Flyers simply defense gave up more chances than a Monopoly board.
  • John Buccigross tweeted this evening that Ryan Kesler is currently the best player in the Western Conference. He’s wrong, but the sentiment is touching. Kes is on fire. He scored twice tonight, and was a crossbar away from the second hat trick of his career (and this year). And, as well as he’s playing, you could argue that he hit the crossbar on purpose to set up Jeff Tambellini. You’d be completely full of rubbish, but you could argue it. It’d be a bit of a Chewbacca Defense, but you could argue it. Kesler put up another three points tonight to extend his point streak to eight games, he had seven shots, and he showcased breakaway speed that would make Gob Bluth look like he was never a member of the Hot Cops. These days, Kesler is playing like the Canucks are the United States of America. You could say everything he touches turns to gold right now, except his silver medal.
  • Jeff Tambellini is similarly aflame. No longer aflame? Darryl Sutter.
  • But seriously, Tambellini is quietly riding a six-game point streak of his own, and he’s been a solid linewife for Kesler in the absence of Mason Raymond. Do you think, when Raymond gets back, things will be awkward? I’ve been raising your kids, Mason!
  • Tambellini had a game-high nine shots, by the way. Toss in Jannik Hansen’s 1 shot (which scored, despite clearly being a pass), and the second line combined for 18 shots on goal, 4 of which rippled the mesh. While we’re on the subject, let’s establish that I find “rippled the mesh” kind of a gross thing to say, because I wear nothing under my swim trunks.
  • Forgotten stat: Jannik Hansen continues to lead Canucks forwards in hits. He had 6 tonight, for a total of 70 on the season, just 5 short of Andrew Alberts for the team lead.
  • Speaking of Alberts, word is he left Rogers Arena with a bit of a shiner after Jody Shelley sucker-punched him. We at PITB do not endorse the sucker punch, but we do endorse classic ska band Five Iron Frenzy’s catchy ditty, Sucker Punch. We also endorse punching suckas. The jury is still out on Zack Snyder’s upcoming film, Sucker Punch.
  • The Canucks won the faceoff circle yet again, coming out of 66% of draws with the puck. The big three won their draws with typical regularity, but it’s worth noting that Alex Bolduc also won 6 of 11, and wingers Samuelsson, Torres, and Tambellini all won a draw as well. I have a theory that the Canucks are grooming Tanner Glass for the 4th-line center job (evidenced, perhaps, by footage of Manny Malhotra showing him faceoff techniques), but Alex Bolduc is quietly winning his coach’s trust in the circle, and giving the top faceoff team in the NHL (by a wide margin) yet another option. Bolduc had 3 defensive zone faceoffs, and you can expect that number to increase if he gets a reputation for winning them.
  • We haven’t talked about the Sedins yet at all, but they were fantastic tonight. They put up 5 points between them–1 goal and 1 assist for Daniel, and 3 assists for Henrik–and they buzzed around the offensive zone like twin bees. (Sidenote: holy crap do you remember TWIN BEE?!) Henrik now leads the NHL with 39 assists, and he’s on pace for 91. We all know he’s gunning for 100 assists. He hates when he scores, because it’s not an assist. Goals are secondary to him. They’re even more secondary than secondary assists.
  • The Sedins have put together a string of fabulous games, and I can’t help but think that the improvement in Alex Burrows’ play has given their line a cohesion they had previously been playing without. Until recently, they’d been putting up points, but they hadn’t been dictating pace with their typical cycle game and strong possession. They’re doing that now, and when people are claiming a teammate of theirs is the best player in their Conference, you know the Canucks are strong.
  • The Sedins are so good that fans cheer like it’s an odd-man rush when they come across the blue line 2-on-2. Have you noticed? We noticed. It’s funny. Laugh at it.
  • Aaron Volpatti finally had his first NHL fight, and we found it adorable. It was nice of Sean O’Donnell to indulge him, as well as re-engage him after their first attempt ended in minor penalties. He held his own. Whatever.
  • The Canucks’ defense was so good we didn’t notice them whatsoever. Like Abed delivering a baby in the background of Community, they quietly made a major impact on tonight’s episode. We often question the way Alain Vigneault metes out minutes, but when your top four defenders are playing exactly the way you want them to, you don’t keep them from the ice.
  • And finally, a word about Ryan Kesler’s second goal, which looked a little like he and Henrik were playing skee-ball, not hockey. Unfortunately, Brian Boucher did not dispense tickets. Instead, he was dispensed from the game.
Dec 272010
 

[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.]

A couple days ago on Puck Daddy, Justin Bourne wrote about the dreaded post-Christmas game, and suggested that hockey fans “be sure to set [the] DVR for ‘anything but NHL hockey’ on Dec. 26 and 27″ as players work off their Christmas hams and turkeys with lethargic play. Instead, both the Canucks and Oilers came out flying in a fairly wide-open hockey game. The Canucks carried the bulk of the play, out-shooting the Oilers 33-21, but Khabibulin put up a wall, the Oilers were opportunistic with their chances, and the Canucks had to come from behind to win this one.

I wasn’t worried for an instant: as everyone knows, the two-goal lead is the worst lead in hockey. As soon as the Oilers went up 2-0, I knew the Canucks had this game in the bag. Despite such foreknowledge, I watched this entire game:

  • Last Boxing Day, Jeff Tambellini sat in the press box at Madison Square Garden, a healthy scratch while his New York Islanders eked out an overtime victory against the Rangers. Three nights later, he would get 12:27 of icetime in his first game in three weeks before heading right back in the press box for the next game. In the new year, he would play one game in January, two more in February, and finish the season in and out of the press box, without a goal since November 23rd in Toronto. That offseason, the worst team in the NHL let him walk without much consideration, and they’re probably the only ones who are even remotely sore about it. Tamby got picked up by his hometown team, and his luck changed dramatically. Tonight, he scored a vital goal on his patented high wrister, had another waved off, and buzzed around the offensive and defensive zones making big plays (including a huge backcheck on a 2-on-1). Give the kid credit for an incredible turnaround.
  • The Biggest Idiot Ever award goes to the two fans sitting behind the Oilers’ net in the 1st and 3rd period who couldn’t seem to refrain from banging their hands on the glass ALL. NIGHT. LONG. Pro Tip: when you do that, your team does not get a brief turbo boost.
  • The First Law of Sedinery: if a game is tied late in the third period, and the Sedins have not yet factored into a goal, they’ll soon factor into the game-winner. Both Sedins had strong games, creating multiple scoring chances, including a perfect setup for Andrew Alberts in the slot. Unfortunately, it was a perfect setup for Andrew Alberts in the slot.
  • The fourth line had only one shift after the complete collapse that led to the Oilers’ first goal, leaving both Aaron Volpatti and Alexandre Bolduc with under 5 minutes in total time-on-ice. The only reason Tanner Glass had more is because he was used once in a penalty killing role in the third period. Most, if not all, of the blame has to be given to Volpatti, who completely mishandled a pass from Glass, giving it away to O’Marra at the blueline, then failing to follow O’Marra to the net to prevent him from putting the puck in the open net. We’re only a few games removed from Volpatti scoring his first NHL goal and the fourth line being praised for finally existing, but that is the kind of play that could see Volpatti on a plane to Manitoba.
  • Cory Schneider only made 19 saves tonight, but made several tough stops off of odd-man rushes. It’s dangerous to give a young, hungry team like the Oilers so many odd-man rushes. It’s also dangerous to give slightly older, well-fed players like Ryan Whitney an odd-man rush: Schneider had less of a chance on his goal than Brian Herzlinger with Drew Barrymore.
  • Manny Malhotra had his usual strong defensive game, going an astonishing 83% in the faceoff circle and logging almost 2 minutes of time on the penalty kill, but he also showed some offensive flourish, with 3 shots and an assist. His most impressive moment came towards the end of the second period, just before Tambellini scored, as he split the defense and forced Khabibulin to make a solid save. He just needs a browncoat, pistol, and a more accurate shot to upgrade from Alternate Captain Mal to Captain Mal.
  • With an assist on Tambellini’s goal, Kesler extended his point streak to 7 games. He has 11 points in that span. Only 17 more games and 35 more points to catch Crosby!
  • That said, did Kesler forget how to turn right on the Tambellini goal? After cutting across the blue line to drop the puck, he does a full spin to get back into position for a return feed. A simple right turn would have sufficed. Does he think he’s Derek Zoolander? Perhaps.
  • Speaking of Kesler, both he and Henrik were terrible on faceoffs tonight at 33% and 32% respectively. Against a better team, that could have been disastrous. Meanwhile, Alexandre Bolduc was 100% on draws; too bad he only took 3 of them. Still, Ducer (pronounced “dük-er” and yes, that’s apparently what his teammates call him) is a solid 55.9% for the season.
  • Remember when it was safe to go to the outside on a Canucks defenseman? Remember that? It’s no longer the case. I am happy about that.
  • I’m often hard on Raffi Torres for his poor puck decisions and bizarre pass attempts, but his assist on Samuelsson’s goal was pretty fantastic. Also pretty fantastic? Dr. Doom riding a unicorn. Missing from that replay is Keith Ballard’s excellent work at gaining the blue line and going hard to the net. After getting the puck to the corner, he rotates back to the point, where Mikael Samuelsson was covering him. Samuelsson stealthily glides into the slot and no one thinks to pick him up because of the rotation between he and Ballard. Shorty even yells “There’s Samuelsson!” as if he had no idea where he was either. He was probably hiding under an invisibility cloak.
  • Speaking of Ballard, it’s tempting to yet again question AV’s decisions with time-on-ice as Ballard yet again played under 14 minutes. But when Edler, Ehrhoff, Hamhuis, and Bieksa are playing so well ahead of him and eating up big minutes…well, there’s only so much time to go around. Bieksa-haters may want to argue that Ballard should get his minutes; this wasn’t the game to make that argument.
  • Bieksa’s game-winning goal, seen above, comes unsurprisingly off some fantastic work below the goal-line by Henrik Sedin. Despite being “hauled down” by Taylor Hall, he manages to hook the puck behind the net to Alex Burrows from his back. Burrows smartly waits for Daniel to crash the net before feeding the puck to Bieksa at the point. Bieksa does not have the heavy shot of Edler or Ehrhoff, but he consistently gets his shots on net and manages to thread the needle through the haystack of bodies in front of Khabibulin. It’s a perfect shot: about a foot and a half above the ice, just off the inside post.
Dec 232010
 

[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.
Dec 212010
 

[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.]

This was one of those games the Canucks had to win. No, it wasn’t a must-win (I hardly believe in them), but it was a road game against a beleaguered and bruised Blues team, for whom three of their top three offensive weapons weren’t playing. And, sadly for St. Louis fans, the injuries to David Perron, TJ Oshie, and Andy Macdonald have made the St. Louis offense about as threatening as the Disney Channel. It was apparent early in tonight’s game that the only Blues to watch out for were Alex Steen and Blu Cantrell (who is totally due for a comeback).

Even motivation wasn’t a factor, as the same basic Blues team had come to GM Place two weeks ago and handed the Canucks their only regulation loss in December–a game Vancouver probably had no business losing. These are the games you should win, and thankfully, the Canucks did win. And, just like the time my friend was getting picked on by bullies, and I probably should have stepped in except that I’m a coward, I watched:

  • Congratulations to Aaron Volpatti on his first NHL goal (above). You know he’s stoked about it, primarily because of the high-pitched squeal he emits after potting it. Listen for it at the 0:07 mark–Whitney Houston wishes she could still hit that note.
  • The Canucks are now 6-1-1 since the blessing of Head Poke Kid. This is an unprecedented display of supernatural power. Despite being blessed by a superior deity, even Adam and Eve couldn’t stay good for this long.
  • I thought the fourth line played a solid game tonight. Tanner Glass is always solid (except in Scrabble, where he will soon be soundly trounced), but Alex Bolduc and Aaron Volpatti were on their game as well. The line generated a goal, a couple other scoring chances, and played defensively solid enough that Alain Vigneault was comfortable giving them icetime while protecting a one-goal lead in the third period. In fact, no member of the trio had less than eight minutes. I’ve been especially impressed with Volpatti’s restraint in his two games. You know he’s licking his chops for his first big NHL hit and/or fight, but the Canucks have been playing with leads since he got here. Good on him for knowing when isn’t the right time. I have a theory that it’s a constant message from the bench, but you still need mature players to buy into a message of composure, and the Canucks appear to have a roomful of such players.
  • While you would be correct for attributing much of the opening goal to the thunderous hit of Tanner Glass, let’s be sure to give full credit to Alex Pietrangelo for confusing himself with the Venus De Milo. Had he remembered that, unlike the Venus De Milo, he is neither protected by a velvet rope, nor without arms, I imagine he would have moved the puck a little faster. Unfortunately for him he didn’t, and like the Gummi Venus De Milo, he was an irresistible target.
  • Blues fans might be forgiven for being a bit upset with the referees. The fans were on the zebras all night for missed calls, especially after St. Louis was hit with a steady stream of penalties in the first. Then, on two separate occasions, referees ran beautiful pick plays for Vancouver–one leading to a scoring chance for the Canucks, and other negating one for the Blues. I predict lingering animosity towards anybody in refereeing stripes. If I lived in Missouri and worked at a Foot Locker, I’d call in sick tomorrow.
  • Ryan Kesler, whose wife gave birth to a baby boy just the other night, claimed he’d be playing on adrenaline and Red Bull. Well, nuts to any theory of exhaustion: he scored the game-winner on a wrist shot so quick Jaro Halak didn’t even have time to fan on it, and he had a game-high seven shots on net. Kes, how many Red Bulls did you drink? Don’t be surprise if his post-game interview is reminiscent of a Corky Romano press conference.
  • I love Jannik Hansen. He can play on any line, and his forechecking is more Crazy/Beautiful than the Kirsten Dunst movie of the same name. I’m always amazed at the way he fools opposing puckhandlers into thinking he’s coming in the wrong side. He’s constantly knocking pucks off sticks. On one penalty-kill, he ate up valuable time poking the puck away from multiple Blues, then when they finally got away from him, he turned on the jets and was there to break up their entry into the offensive zone. Hansen is so hot right now.
  • If you’re wondering why Henrik and Daniel Sedin went pointless tonight, I’d take a look at the faceoff numbers. Henrik had a mediocre 6-for-13 night, but he went 2-for-8 in the offensive zone. On the plus side, Manny Malhotra had another strong night, winning 13-of-20. Alternate Captain Mal is now the NHL’s top faceoff guy, one-tenth of a percentage point better than Washington’s David Steckel. By the by, Alexandre Bolduc went 3-for-3 in the faceoff circle for the second game in a row. He may have found a way to earn more icetime.
  • It’s time we gave some credit to the second power play unit. The Canucks have scored 10 power play goals in the month of December, and four of them have come from the second five. Considering how heavily the Canucks lean on the first unit, those are pretty decent numbers. Their goal tonight was a nice piece of insurance, as Jeff Tambellini broke his minor slump on a nice feed from Mikael Samuelsson. Also a nice piece of insurance? J-Lo’s 27 million dollar policy on her own butt.
  • Speaking of the second power play unit, Keith Ballard is no longer on it. In fact, the return of Christian Ehrhoff has spelled a major reduction in minutes for Hips. He played only 14:47 tonight, but don’t feel bad for him: considering what he gets paid for under fifteen minutes of work, his hourly salary should make you feel bad about yourself.
  • Shifting our focus to the enemy, let’s give some credit to Eric Brewer, who had seven blocked shots tonight. Those are Dennis Rodman numbers. The way he was amassing blocks, you’d have thought he was going for a Tetris.
  • And finally, did anyone else catch the furious lasagna eater right behind Alain Vigneault at the beginning of the second? Obviously, nobody looks particularly classy when they’re eating, especially as captured by Sportsnet’s HD camera, but this guy was going to town on his stadium meal. Clearly, he was confused about which Italian staple food he was eating, because he was devouring his lasagna like a slice of deep-dish pizza. I’ve seen less voracious eating from the extras in zombie movies.

Skeeter’s thoughts:

  • Kesler didn’t just have 7 shots tonight; he had an additional 5 shots blocked and 1 missed shot. That’s a whopping 13 attempted shots, dwarfing the next closest Canuck, Mikael Samuelsson, who had 9 attempted shots, 4 of which missed the net. Additionally, Kesler has now tied Daniel Sedin for the team lead in goals with 16 and he has more goals this season than Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla, Ryan Getzlaf, and, of course, Ilya Kovalchuk. That $5 million dollar contract doesn’t look so bad right now.
  • The Blues had over twice as many hits as the Canucks, but it never seemed like the Canucks were losing the physical battle. It helps when the hits the Canucks did make were super-effective, like Tanner’s emasculation of Pietrangelo that led to Peppermint Volpatti’s first ever NHL goal.
  • Speaking of, Volpatti needs some lotion immediately to soften up those hands. He had the entire right half of the net to shoot at and was extremely lucky to slide his shot under Halak’s pads. He had another golden opportunity in the third period off a slick pass from Alexandre Bolduc, but the puck clanked off his stick like it belonged to Curt Blefary.
  • Raffi Torres continues his slide. He may have logged a point on Kesler’s goal, but let’s face it, that goal was all Kesler. He played a mere 10:55, barely more than the fourth line, and didn’t see any time on the powerplay. It appears that Burrows has taken his spot on the second powerplay unit while continuing to kill penalties. If it wasn’t for Raymond being out with a broken thumb, Torres would be on his way to the press-box.
  • I love Jannik Hansen. If I had lady-parts, I would want to have his babies.
Dec 182010
 

When the Moose came to town to play the Heat there were a few players who stood out to me. There were Eddie Lack, who was solid in net, and Cody Hodgson, who had the quietest two goal night anyone could have. I noticed Jonas Anderson for his positional play, Billy Sweat for his speed and Lee Sweat for being so tiny. I also noticed Aaron Volpatti because the 6’0, 215lb forward was putting on a hit parade where he was conductor, marching band and the procession of floats to follow up.

The Canucks have done a good job of testing their depth this season. They’ve gone through a whole range of fourth line forwards and while no one person has really stolen that spot – except Bolduc who seems to have stolen Vigneault’s heart – that may be to the Canucks’ advantage.

With a fourth line that has wingers playing as few as four minutes a night (see Jonas Andersson) I don’t prescribe by the theory that our fourth line needs skill. On a team with three top lines that aren’t overly physical at the best of times, the Canucks’ fourth line has the opportunity to make the most of their 4 minutes a night with a bit of bumping and bruising after they clear the puck.

Against the Heat, Volpatti, a native of Revelstoke, was a physical force. He was crumpling players and leaving bodies in his wake at both ends of the ice. The fourth line could use the energy of a guy like Volpatti who’s eager to make an impact on the ice with the big club.

After he leveled Mitch Wahl of the Heat, he went on to absolutely obliterate Piskanen in a fight. Tanner Glass can chuck knuckles, but with Rick Rypien out of the lineup, the Canucks are missing that fearless fighter. Bieksa show’s flashes of anger but Volpatti has the potential to have a big impact.

The Canucks fourth line needs to be more aggressive. While their ice time is a large drop off from the players on the third line, their role is not insignificant. In their own way, they can be game changers by playing physical and throwing big hits that can serve as turning points in the game.

Dec 162010
 

[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 this post and other foolishness insightful takes on the Canucks and the NHL, visit Pass It To Bulis.]

That was fun, huh? Incredibly, last night was already Ryan Kesler’s fourth multi-goal game of the season, the 13th of his career. However, despite his propensity for scoring in bunches (like a blaxploitation hero), Kesler had yet to net three goals in sixty minutes.

Inspired by the Twitterverse’s suspiciously familiar #PassItToKesler hashtag, Kesler finally rose to the occasion, and he might stay standing. Other players–lesser players–have scored hat-tricks and it hasn’t meant much for their careers in the grand scheme. But in Kesler’s case, considering the way he ruled the ice last night, I suspect we may be looking at a milestone that signifies his emergence as a bonafide NHL superstar. I would be okay with that. I watched this game:

  • Kesler was the only Canuck to score last night (oh noes! without him we got shutout!). His three goals are most definitely the story. Here’s the thing, though: he could have had five. Kesler directed a game-high 11 shots at the Columbus net: 3 went in, 1 was saved, 3 were blocked, and 4 more missed. He finished with a crazy 75% shooting percentage, and it could have been higher. The save was a highlight reel one, after Kesler got in behind the Columbus defense and roofed the puck, only to have Mathieu Garon come across brilliantly to stop it with his chest. Considering that all the talk about this game, pre-game, was about how Columbus hoped to shut down the Sedins, it must have been infuriating when Kesler decided to compound their concerns by going Wolvey Berserk on them himself.
  • To the uninformed, Jan Hejda, who took a boarding penalty and put the Jackets down a man in overtime, will be the goat. But if you want to place some well-informed blame, your man is Antoine Vermette: it’s his lazy defensive work and his single-minded Sedin-watching that allows Kesler to get in close and bury the game-winner. Look at him, meandering about like a spectator, with his stick lazily outstretched. That’s not taking away the passing lane; that’s beach combing. In fact, Vermette’s backchecking is so lazy, Kesler literally glides past him. Tip for the young’uns: when the best player on the ice is streaking to the net, you take him.
  • Rusty Klesla’s going to take some flack for his boner on the second goal as well, but cut him some slack. You never know when the spirit of Christmas is going to rest upon your shoulders and inspire hardcore giving. More giving: Klesla was also the guy who backed in a bit too far and found himself lying down while Ryan Kesler scored the first goal. Some might say he gave too much.
  • I watched the game at a pub with Daniel and his wife. They handed out pucks with Canucks numbers on them–if that guy scored a goal, you won a free beer. We drew Ballard, Bieksa, and Rome, respectively, so we knew up front we’d be paying. Meanwhile, three of the four guys at the table next to us, in some sort of karmic orgasm (which probably looked something like this), drew Kesler. Thankfully, they weren’t loud drunks.
  • The Canuck powerplay went 1-for-5, only scoring on the 4-on-3 overtime frame, a goal that came on the rush. When they got that powerplay, I remarked that they would probably score, because the 4-man unit doesn’t include Mikael Samuelsson. He wasn’t terrible in Christian Ehrhoff’s place on the point, but the powerplay is now 0-for-10 when he’s back there. And if you’re still uncertain about Christian Ehrhoff’s contributions, consider: the Canucks’ powerplay is 3-for-17 in three games without him, with only one of the three goals scored by our star five-man unit.
  • Tony Gallagher keeps giving it to the Canucks for not blowing out teams he feels they should, but he needs to consider the Western Conference logjam: yes, the Blue Jackets are in 11th, but they came into the game only two points behind Vancouver. Parity mitigates blowouts, Tony. That said, Columbus took some dumb penalties. You should probably bury a team when they do that. Seriously, it felt like Columbus was on the penalty-kill all night. When you’re playing with fewer men that often, it’s time to ask your doctor if Cialis is right for you.
  • Kevin Bieksa looked dangerous all evening, but his production has really dried up; I can’t help but shrug at his scoring chances. In a month or so, it will probably be Sami Salo–he of the much better shot–on the receiving end of Sedin set plays. I look forward to this development.
  • Can we get some consensus on whether or not the Sedins are predictable? Scott Arniel says they aren’t, but they seem sort of predictable to me. You know they’re good for an assist each game. Heck, when we went into overtime, I knew we were going to win because they had yet to get their points. I say predictable.
  • Jeff Tambellini is suffering through some manic raymondlessness, but just because his scoring has slowed down doesn’t mean he’s not contributing. He still hits impressively for a little guy, and his speed on the backcheck is second to none. Last night was the second time he covered an insane amount of ground to take the puck off the stick of an opposing forward.
  • The Canucks continue to only find pleasure in one-third of their fourth line. Tanner Glass had four more minutes of icetime than his linemates, leading the team in hits with 4, and Jonas Andersson was sent back to Manitoba after the game in place of the hitty Aaron Volpatti. Let’s hope Volpatti doesn’t crap the bed in his first trip to the NHL, or we’ll have to call him Aaron Volpotty. I’d hate to have to do that.
  • Alex Edler had a game-high 27:45 of ice time, and I’ll tell you why: in the absence of Christian Ehrhoff, the Iceman is the only truly offensive defenseman. It’s always interesting to note who Vigneault double-shifts when he’s looking for a goal. Last night, Edler was the guy. He was on the ice for all three goals and no goals against, and he finished the night plus-2.
  • The only other guy to finish plus-2? Keith Ballard, who again had over 20 minutes of icetime. He appears to have earned his coach’s trust, which is more than I can say for my wife. You promised me tortellini and then you made sandwiches. The trust is broken.
  • And finally, a word about the Sportsnet intermission segment in which newspaper journalists who are not comfortable being on television are put on television: stop. It’s a visibly cheap segment. Get these guys a studio, a desk, a dress code, a makeup crew, and some lapel mics. I’d be uncomfortable too if I knew the camera was too high and the lighting made me look like Skeletor.
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