Nov 242010
 

It’s probably not a surprise that the Canucks made a couple of roster moves yesterday and shuffled their lineup in advance of tonight’s game against the Colorado Avalanche.

After attending training camp on a tryout basis and then beating the odds and making the team’s opening night lineup, Peter Schaefer was placed on waivers yesterday. This morning, the Canucks assigned him to the Manitoba Moose though CKNW is reporting that he may simply retire rather than go to Winnipeg.

In the meantime, Jeff Tambellini, who was starting to hit his stride with the Sedins before the numbers game and waiver rules forced the Canucks to send him to Manitoba, has been recalled. In 7 games with the Moose, he has 7 points (5 goals – 2 assists).

The Canucks are also shuffling their forward lines to hopefully inject some life into what has been a brutal stretch of listless games. Burrows will re-join the Sedins, Tambellini will join Kesler and Raymond, Samuelsson has been demoted to the third line with Malhotra and Torres, and Hansen has been placed on the fourth line with Perrault and Glass.

Perhaps more disappointing than the Canucks’ 4-game losing streak itself is how, overall, they’ve played for two weeks now. When the Canucks had their 6-game winning streak, they were tough to play against. In the last two weeks, they’ve played softer than Kyle Wellwood on a pizza diet.

I think it’s safe to say that, a quarter of the way into the season, we’ve seen the best and the worst of the Canucks.

Is it time to panic?

Maybe not. As Tony Gallagher pointed out this morning, we’ve seen this story before.

Maybe these latest moves up front, along with Vigneault’s (long due) decision to stick with the same defensive pairings for a while and let them build chemistry, will serve as a wake-up call.

Nov 242010
 

The Canucks’ season has been a deceptive one so far. A 6-game winning streak and an extra hot third line swept under the rug some of the biggest problems the Canucks have been having this season. One of the biggest problems the Canucks have faced this season has been injury, a problem that has also plagued the defense in previous seasons. With the injury to Sami Salo, more responsibility was placed on the rest of the Canucks defense, newcomers and returning vets alike. The problem however doesn’t lie in their acceptance of responsibility and response as a result. The defense as a single unit has looked fragmented all season and it’s clear a lack of chemistry is frustrating them.

Newcomers Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard were coming into a new system, one that’s chewed up and spit out defensemen before. Alain Vigneault has a defensive system that is based on trust and team play. The defensemen in it have to rely on their partner and the players have to buy into the system working. The Canucks have brought in defensemen before that have attempted to learn the system. Shane O’Brien comes to mind, and more recently, Andrew Alberts struggled to fit into the Alain Vigneault model. The system takes time to learn and to adapt to. We’ve seen that in his tenure as coach and it’s no surprise Hamhuis and Ballard are taking a little longer to get comfortable. It doesn’t help that Hamhuis’ foot injury set him back and looks like it still is effecting his play and that Ballard can’t catch a break between hip surgery, a concussion and now the flu.

The Canucks’ defense has been offensively powered almost singlehandedly by Alex Edler and Christian Ehrhoff. Alberts has a couple points and Kevin Bieksa has been nearly invisible. That said, offense isn’t the primary concern of the defense right now. As a unit they’ve seen so many different defensive pairings this year that it’s hard for them to have built any chemistry. The Canucks have dressed nine defensemen this year and with injuries to Ballard, Hamhuis and Parent the combination of defensive pairings has switched nightly, and perhaps not surprisingly, they’ve sometimes looked awkward and out of place when they step on the ice. The most consistent pair we’ve seen this season has been the Ehrhoff-Edler combination but even they got separated at times during this recent losing skid.

It’s time for Vigneault to start coaching and creating that cohesion and chemistry in his blueliners. It’s probably a positive sign that he’s now willing to let the group play together a bit.

“It’s not just him (Ballard), but I’d like our whole team to get together a little bit here,” Vigneault said. “I’m hoping to put a couple of strings together of games where guys start to feel a little bit more comfortable with themselves.”

Let’s hope they do.

Nov 222010
 

[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 (@canucksgirl44)]

After three losses in a row, Canucks fans are frustrated and embarrassed, wondering what’s going on with their favourite team and it’s a fair question. After Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Coyotes, the Canucks slipped from top spot in the Northwest Division to be replaced by the Avalanche. Vancouver’s last 10 games sits at a dismal 5-4-1 and the Sedins are pointless for two games in a row for the first time this season.

Some are wondering when the team is going to get back from their eastern road trip.

Perhaps the lowlight of the week was the 7-1 thrashing by Vancouver’s rival, the Chicago Blackhawks. The entire team played atrociously, hanging both goaltenders out to dry with no offensive or defensive assistance. Even Samuelsson’s goal didn’t do much except for deny the Hawks the satisfaction of a shutout.

Donna (@DonnatheGreat) asks: “WHAT THE EFF WAS THAT??!!”

Valid question, Donna. What the eff was that indeed. Despite UFC blaring on all speakers and all surrounding TVs, bloggers at Saturday’s Tweetup were stunned into a drunken stupour, unable to look away from the trainwreck that was this game. No amount of sweaty naked men could distract Canucks fans from watching the disaster unfold. It was atrocious. Our $22 million blueline might as well sat down and tweeted from their blackberries – they were invisible anyway. If they weren’t invisible, they were assisting the other team’s goals (like Kevin Bieksa, who if I recall correctly, assisted in three, possibly four, of the seven Blackhawks goals). And offense? What offense? Where were the Sedins when we needed them? Donna, I think the answer to your question is: an epic fail.

So what to do? Where do Canucks fans turn to and release their wrath? (They always need one of these). Is it Luongo, who makes $10 million a year right now, or is he off the hook because despite four goals against Friday night, he wasn’t at fault for any of those goals and was the only one trying? Is it the Sedins who’ve decided to take an extended mental stay in Ottawa?

We could always blame Bieksa, but he’s always been a detriment, so this isn’t news, nor is it surprising. (He’s slipped from +5 to +2, by the way.)

Justine (@aviewfromabroad) speaks for many fans when she asks: “When does management tighten the leash on Alain Vigneault’s neck, or will they, and should they?”

If management is ever going to give Vigneault crap for his team’s performance, it seems that now would be a good time to do so. His team is undisciplined, their play is inconsistent and considering the ridiculous amount of talent on Vancouver’s roster, this shouldn’t be the outcome. As Henrik Sedin told The Province, what separates a good team from a great team is that a great team rarely ever loses two games in a row.

The Canucks have lost two games in a row twice in 10 games.

Will management call out Vigneault? Probably not, but the Aquilinis might.

Should they? Yes. Remember – AV has never taken a hockey team past the second round of the playoffs. When does management stop blaming individual players or lines and start criticizing the puppetmaster behind the bench? When’s enough enough? I find it very, very hard to believe that a team with this much talent could be struggling; that a team projected to win the Stanley Cup can look like a second-rate hockey club.

Something needs to be shaken up. And it’s not the roster. There’s nothing wrong with the roster. It’s something else, and thus it’s a simple process of elimination. If the team isn’t the problem, what is?

Here’s a hint – chewing gum with your arms crossed is not coaching.

Nov 122010
 

Whether or not you agree with Alain Vigneault’s coaching style and methods, you can’t deny that he’s had success in the NHL. With his 300th career win last night, he became only the 39th coach in NHL history to reach this mark.

In his time with the Canucks, there have been numerous times that I’ve questioned his decisions. (Heck, I questioned the Ballard/Rome decision just yesterday.) But I can’t question that, somehow, some way, he’s been able to get the most out of the players that he’s had.

How many of us saw Ryan Kesler as more than a checking line center? How many of us expected Alex Burrows to magically turn into a 35-goal scorer? Or, how many coaches can turn Kyle Wellwood into a relatively reliable, even if not prototypical, third-line center?

When the 2006/2007 Canucks lacked scoring depth, they won with Luongo and Vigneault’s defense-first approach. When GM Mike Gillis started adding offensive pieces in 2008, Vigneault loosened the reins and the Canucks’ 23rd ranked offense from four years ago improved to 11th in 2008/2009 to 2nd in 2009/2010.

Say what you will about Vigneault, but at least in the regular season, he’s been able to get things done. He ranks 2nd only to Marc Crawford in regular season wins as Canucks coach.

About the only blemish on Vigneault’s resume is his playoff record where he’s never been to the third round of the playoffs, both in the NHL and AHL. Despite this, he ranks 2nd only to Pat Quinn in playoff wins as Canucks coach. But, if I may dare say it, Vigneault could pass Quinn this year if the Canucks make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Nov 112010
 

Great piece by Iain MacIntyre (Vancouver Sun) on the Canucks’ decision to cancel practice and attend Remembrance Day ceremonies at the National War Memorial instead.

Believing there are things more important than hockey – yes, even Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens – Canuck general manager Mike Gillis and coach Alain Vigneault have cancelled the usual morning skate in Ottawa and instead will walk with staff and players to the War Memorial to observe Remembrance Day.

For once, these National Hockey League millionaires have no special privileges. They’ll merely gather in the hotel lobby, and walk solemnly with their poppies and thoughts to the cenotaph, joining the crowd of thousands who gather annually at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

They’ll watch and listen, see wreaths laid near the tomb of the unknown soldier, see the faces of war’s survivors and ponder the millions of lives sacrificed for freedom.

Perspective, Gillis believes, is a powerful thing.

“When you participate in the NHL, it’s easy to lose sight of other things that are very important,” he explained Wednesday. “It’s good for everyone to have some perspective about life. If these guys can go and see the emotions and the interaction of veterans, it will be a healthy and lasting memory.”

More here.

[update: 11/11/2010, 12:20 PM]

From Ben Kuzma (Vancouver Province), Canucks players share their memories of loved ones who served.

Sami Salo lost one grandfather to conflict in the First World War and another in the Second World War. Growing up, he was too young to understand what they endured, but a mandatory one-year stint in the Finnish army gave the Canucks defenceman needed perspective. That’s why he was excited to experience the national ceremony in Ottawa, where he previously played but never saw the event live. And going through basic training helped Salo understand what his grandfathers sacrificed.

Christian Ehrhoff had a grandfather who served in the German air force in the Second World War. He was captured on the Russian front and the Canucks defenceman was thinking of him Thursday.

More here.

Nov 082010
 

[Every Monday, Katie Maximick takes your questions and answers them in her own cantankerous style. If you have any questions about the Canucks, send it to her via Twitter (@canucksgirl44)]

Vancouver Canucks beat Los Angeles Kings, 2010 Playoffs


In this week’s edition of “Ask Katie about the Canucks”, Katie Maximick responds to your questions on player surprises and lineup changes, and looks ahead to the playoffs. (We know it’s only November, but hey, we’re allowed to get overexcited sometimes.)

Kayli (@KayliDiebel93) asks: Who is your favourite current Canucks player?

Katie: I would have to say, like 90% of Canucks fans right now, Manny Malhotra. He’s a beast. Amazing faceoff statistics, great SHG chances, scoring ability, and veteran leadership. Who wouldn’t love Manny? But I’d still get a new Kesler jersey over a Malhotra – loyalties, after all, lol. Kesler was here first.

Calvin asks: From the opponents we played so far, who would be the toughest first round opponent?

Katie: I think the LA Kings. They’re getting a lot of hype, and for good reason, with Kopitar, Brown, Smyth, Doughty and even our former D-man Willie Mitchell and a pretty good goalie. They’re going to be really dangerous this year, and if Vancouver can avoid them in the playoffs at all cost, the better. Let’s hope that someone else can take them out first before the Canucks have to face them because it’s not going to be easy.

Thomas asks: Do you think Torres can be the Burrows from last year and put up 35-40 goals?

Katie: If he keeps his recent play up, I think so, yes. He plays with a lot of heart, grit and drive, and a lot of Canucks fans are hoping that this will be his consistent style rather than a streak that will burn out or fade away. But wouldn’t it be better to have both Burrows and Torres scoring 30+ goals each this season? Talk about offensive depth. I gotta say, I’m liking Torres killing other teams for once. Nice to have him on our side!

Todd (@Toddske) asks: When Hamhuis returns, who will be bumped? Rome or Alberts?

Katie: Rome, hands down. He seems really slow out there on the ice and has been pretty much invisible. Alberts, on the other hand, has been using his size out there, finishing checks, making big hits and is at least TRYING to stay out of the penalty box so far.

Andrew asks: The West Conference is looking extremely competitive as always with 9 teams within 5 points of each other after approx. 13 games played. What are your thoughts on the Canucks success, and what will be the key factor(s) that will take them into the playoffs?

Katie: Not since the West Coast Express era has the Canucks had this much depth, which is why Vancouver is practically trembling in anticipation to see what this season brings (hopefully a Cup, obviously). I think the potential is there, but it’s been there before and we still don’t have a Cup in this city (aside from the Millionaires). First of all we need to stay healthy, although that’s hard to guarantee. We’re already having issues. Last year our injuries killed us in the playoffs, in addition to Burrows and Kesler playing injured. Second, we need solid goaltending. We’re still waiting to see Luongo at his best, but at least we have consistent and stellar backup goaltending with Cory Schneider. Third, offensive consistency.  Vancouver has a few players that tend to disappear during the playoffs (the Sedins are the worst at this, but not quite so bad last playoffs) and others who get taken out by our first issue, injuries.

Steve asks: Taking off from Andrew’s question, I am wondering what strategies during the regular season will help them when they are in the playoffs. Last season they seem to fade as the playoffs progressed, as they did the year before.

Katie: Maybe look to the coach? Don’t sit on leads then have to fight back in the third period as result (typical of AV’s defensive style of play) and use timeouts and your backup goalie when the team is struggling. Don’t keep players out there just to punish them and prove your point. Get them off the ice and give someone else the opportunity to help the team.  I hope that if Luongo does blow a tired during the playoffs again, that both Lu and Vigneault will be comfortable and confident enough to put in Schneider to help the team get to that next step. I’m not saying count Lu out, I’m just implying that having Schneider in for a game or two during the playoffs would boost the team’s confidence a bit if Luongo is struggling.

We could always just fire Vigneault and solve most of these problems. Just a suggestion for MG to mull over…

Oct 182010
 

[Every Monday, Katie Maximick takes your questions and answers them in her own cantakerous style. If you have any questions about the Canucks, send it to her via Twitter (@canucksgirl44)]

Harold Snepsts, Vancouver Canucks

In this week’s edition of “Ask Katie about the Canucks”, Katie talks about the shootout, shrugs off the Leafs, and picks the better ‘stache between Harold Snepsts and Dave Babych.

Ed asks: Is his change in technique making Luongo better in the game but worse during shootouts?

Katie: Honestly I think Luongo’s never been really strong in the shootout. His new goalie coach Roland Melanson has pushed Lu to adopt “t-pushes” to move side-to-side quicker, as well as getting Luongo to play deeper in the net. According to Melanson he’s trying to “put time into [Lu’s] hands — more time to read plays, more time to see the holes and be able to track the puck because he’s waiting for the play instead of chasing it.” Does that apply to what happened in the shootout against the Kings? Didn’t look like it. I think the problem here is that Vigneault refuses to practice the shootout and so Luongo doesn’t get the opportunity to practice the new techniques in one-on-one situations. Also there’s only been one shootout so far, so it’s hard to dissect Luongo’s technique.

Stephen asks: My roommate Ryan wants to know the following: “Why do they suck so bad for a team that’s supposed to be so good?” and “Do you think they’ll ever be as good as the Leafs?” He isn’t a great person.

Katie: First of all Stephen, you’re right. Your roommate isn’t a great person. You should probably kick him out and find a new roommate immediately. I’d suggest someone with a sense of reality.

Secondly, to answer Ryan’s questions — k wait. I can’t even finish this. I’m laughing too hard. Next!

Scott asks: How long do you think Mason Raymond will be on the team before they trade him?

Katie: I don’t think there’s any talk of Raymond getting traded, or management being unhappy with him. He had two goals last night against Carolina grabbing his 100th career point, and he has his wheels early. Now if you said Kevin Bieksa, that’d be a totally different story! Despite CHB’s new slogan, I just can’t be nice to Bieksa.

Adam asks: Movember. Dave Babych or Harold Snepsts?

Katie: Amazingly both still have facial hair. I’d say Snepsts though, because he still has the ‘stache, wheras Babych has a full goatee now.

Jay asks: Are the Canucks trying to get “Coach V” fired?

Katie: I don’t think so. I wish they’d try harder if they were. Ha. Surprisingly Vigneault’s line juggling worked well last night against Carolina and the team played an all-around great game. If you’re referring to their not-so-excellent play for the first few games, I don’t think that was on purpose, although it’d be easier to have some sort of excuse like that.

@andz205 asks: Why is Kevin Bieksa still being rewarded with top line pairings with the way he’s been playing?

Katie: Because when Vigneault picks favourites, that’s just how it works and we all have to suffer for it (remember Pyatt on shootouts?). For some bizarre reason he thinks Bieksa is playing well enough for the top line right now, even if he’s not. Keep in mind that if Bieksa continues to play like garbage, he’ll probably be gone by Christmas. That seemed to be the deal when MG decided to keep him on this summer. Imagine: that’s $3.5 million the Canucks can have back in their pockets.

Oct 152010
 

Against the Florida Panthers on Monday, the Canucks won a game in which they were outworked. Against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday, they lost a game they dominated.

C’est la vie, I guess.

The fact is, the team is playing better as the new players get acclimated with each other – an observation not lost on the coach.

For me, I thought it was our best game of the year. Except for the two 5-on-3s and two turnovers that led to goals [third period], we didn’t give them much. We created quite a few chances and couldn’t get the goal to really break them down. We missed a couple of open nets. They came back and made us pay for it.

Loss aside, it was encouraging to see the Canucks control the puck as much as they did against the Ducks, and perhaps the only criticism of the team’s play on Wednesday was their inability to convert on their chances. Perhaps not surprisingly, they’re expected to dress the same lineup for tonight’s rematch against the Los Angeles Kings.

I’m sure the results will come soon enough. In the meantime, if it ain’t broke, why fix it, eh?

Some pregame reading:

Oct 082010
 

[As we approach the start of the NHL regular season, members of the Canucks blogosphere give their two cents about your Vancouver Canucks and address the issues, questions and expectations of the team in their 40th year anniversary.]

Alain Vigneault, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

Alain Vigneault enters this season as the fifth-longest tenured coach in the NHL. His 328 games with the Canucks ranks just behind Lindy Ruff (984 games coached with Buffalo), Barry Trotz (902 games with Nashville), Randy Carlyle (410 games with Anaheim) and Mike Babcock (410 games with Detroit).

In his first 4 seasons as Canucks coach, Vigneault has coached the team to a 182-114-32 record – a 0.604 points percentage – and three Northwest Division titles. He took them to the playoffs three times, and each time, they made it to the second round.

In 2006/2007, Vigneault’s first season with the Canucks, the team won games primarily by preventing goals than scoring them. They ranked in the bottom-third in the league in goals scored and powerplay percentage, and ranked in the top-10 in goals against and the penalty-kill. Their commitment to defense – and Roberto Luongo’s goaltending – got them to the second round of the playoffs before they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Anaheim Ducks.

In 2007/2008, the Canucks once again struggled to score goals. In fact, they finished with less goals than they did in the previous season, and in the process failed to make the postseason.

Vigneault faced a lot of questions during the summer that followed. There were rumblings among the fanbase – us included – that he couldn’t coach Brad Pitt and George Clooney to score. When the Canucks fired GM Dave Nonis and replaced him with Mike Gillis, most of us assumed that Vigneault was as good as gone as well.

As we know, Gillis kept Vigneault – he’s even extended his contract twice since – and the Canucks, built with players with speed and skill, are now one of the highest-scoring teams and most exciting teams in the NHL.

But for all of Vigneault’s success, he still has to take a team past the second round of the playoffs. In 3+ seasons as Habs coach, his team made the playoffs once and was eliminated from the second round. In his only season as coach of the AHL Manitoba Moose, they were eliminated in the second round. And now, in 4 seasons with the Canucks, he has yet to take them to the Conference Finals.

On paper, the Canucks will be icing, arguably, their best, most well-rounded roster in years. Perhaps ever. There’s little doubt they have the personnel to contend for the Stanley Cup; the question remains if the coach can maximize their potential and take them there.

J.J.: A couple of years ago, I wondered if AV had what it took to coach a more offensive system; I think it’s obvious now that he can. One thing I noticed last season is that the Canucks played great when they were able to dictate the game’s tempo. (Well, most teams are/should be.) For whatever reason, they weren’t able to do that against Chicago. If they want to get deeper into the playoffs, Vigneault – and his entire coaching staff – have to be able to make better adjustments during and in between games.

Katie: I’m the first to admit that I’m not the biggest AV fan, mostly because I’m not fond of his defensive-style coaching. I also believe it was Luongo that won him the Jack Adams (a few years ago); if Luongo hadn’t had the season he did, no way would AV won. Yes his team has made it to the playoffs almost every season AV has coached, but I still think it was the team that got themselves there, and will continue to do so. So does AV have what it takes to get the team past the second round? No, but our team does.

Cam from Canucks Army: There seemed to be some serious tactical errors in defense in their second round loss to Chicago. And their PK just killed them. So if AV can fix those problems, then he should succeed this year. Whoever controlled the PK and defense coaching last season (BOWNESS!) should have been fired. That’s the bigger problem.

Apr 192010
 

The Canucks take their show on the road with the series tied at 1-1. Can they play better than their 19-20-2 regular season road record indicates? Without the benefit of last change, how can the Canucks contain Drew Doughty? Can Demitra prove that he’s no Justin Williams? Can the Canucks stop taking stupid penalties?

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