Oct 172013
 
http://i1.wp.com/vansunsportsblogs.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Kassian-grinning.jpg?resize=600%2C300

Zack Kassian may be a creep, but would it hurt him to be a physical, goal-scoring creep too? (Vancouver Sun)

As bad as the Philadelphia Flyers are in the standings, the Buffalo Sabres are just as inept. The two are toiling away in the bottom of the Eastern Conference and if their early performances have been any indication, they’ll be there for quite some time.

On the second leg of a seven-game roadie, the Canucks have a chance to pick up consecutive road wins with what should be an easy opponent in Buffalo. After coming from behind to defeat the Flyers late on Tuesday, Vancouver can build some momentum with another two points.

What to watch

Too often lately have the Canucks entered the third period trailing. Vancouver’s been behind going into the final 20 minutes the last three occasions (San Jose, Montreal, Philadelphia) and would be best served with a strong start. I mean, they say it isn’t about how you start and it’s about how you finish, but would it kill anyone to come out of the gate with a little fire and perhaps a one- or two-goal lead?

Who to watch

After being largely invisible for the early part of the season, the Canucks finally got some goal support from Ryan Kesler, who chipped in with a pair of goals. He’s minus-four on the year which is worst on the team and also very uncharacteristic of him, but perhaps RK17 has turned the corner at just the right time.

Ditto goes for Chris Higgins, who finally bumped a goal-scoring slump dating all the way back to a regular season game against Edmonton — a span of 16 regular games — to pot the eventual game-winning marker in Philadelphia. Now, if only John Tortorella can find a way to get the likes of David Booth and Zack Kassian going, a lot of those questions about scoring support will be answered.

Speaking of Kassian, he returns to Buffalo for the first time since being traded at the 2012 trade deadline for Cody Hodgson. Kassian’s been largely subpar since the trade, and so far since returning from suspension has yet to show any of the fire and spark that management expected from him when the deal was consummated. It’ll still be a long time before anyone can judge who won the trade, but the fact that Hodgson is leading the Sabres in scoring early (despite his defensive deficiencies) surely isn’t currying Kassian any favour among the Canuck faithful.

Sticking with the Sabres, they’re getting a nice bounceback campaign from Ryan Miller, who despite just one win in five outings has a .939 save percentage. Miller was Team USA’s goaltender in the 2010 Olympics and while most pundits have pegged the likes of Jonathan Quick, Craig Anderson, and Jimmy Howard for the 2014 roster, Miller is showing early he’s ready to put up a fight.

Who’s out

This game marks the last we’ll see of Alex Edler on the sidelines as he sits out the final contest of a three-game suspension, meaning we’ll likely see Yannick Weber as a healthy scratch from here on, barring injuries.

Alex Burrows is still out with a foot injury.

For the Sabres, one-time free agent superstar Ville Leino is on injured reserve, so we won’t be able to watch him do nothing on the ice for $4-million a season. Patrick Kaleta is serving his umpteenth suspension for a dangerous hit — this one a ten-gamer — and centre Zemgus Girgensons is questionable after suffering a cut to the face last game.

May 012010
 

The clock’s ticking down to game one on the 2010 battle between the Blackhawks and Canucks and while Canucks nation seems a little collectively quiet, this year it’s more anxiety than nervousness present in the air. Everyone knows things are different, it’s just a matter of proving it on the ice. If the result is the same as last year, one could argue that while the Canucks had a record year, they’ve made no progress. With that in mind there are five keys to the Canucks coming out of this series on top.

Luongo vs. Kane
The big story within this series is no doubt the Luongo vs. Kane battle. Kane victimized Luongo last year in that crucial game six for three goals and Luongo faltered in the biggest game of his career. Then came the Olympics and Luongo prevailed. Luongo 1, Kane 1. This is the rubber match. There’s no doubt that Kane is in Luongo’s head. After the Olympics though, there’s no doubt that Luongo is in Kane’s head. However, if you look at the single impact either player can have on the outcome of a game, Luongo is the one with the uphill battle. If Luongo can play like he did in the last two games of the first round, the Canucks will have nothing to worry about with their last line of defense.

Keeping Emotions in Check
It’s simple. The team that can take a punch and walk away is the one that’s going to win this series. The tensions between Kesler and Ladd are no secret. The Canucks haven’t been on particularly friendly terms with Dustin Byfuglien in a while, and Bieksa and Eager haven’t had any sleep overs since their big dance. Bottom line is, these two teams don’t like each other and while we know both teams are going to have no problem getting under each others’ skin, it’s going to be the team that can “be the bigger man” that’s going to walk away the winner, and likely with the man advantage.

Clearing the crease of Byfuglien and that guy named Alberts
Speaking of Byfuglien, it’s no surprise that his name is being brought up. He was a big reason the Blackhawks got to Luongo early and often last year and while he only had one goal against him, his presence in front of the net was his biggest asset to the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks moved Byfuglien up to forward not even a week ago so it’s no surprise that they plan to use that tactic again and if the Canucks have learned anything the four years they’ve had Luongo, it’s that if you clear his crease, he’ll do the rest. Cue Alberts. He was in the doghouse the first two games, rode pine for the next few, but since returning has got his discipline in check. Alberts is a big guy. He’s built like a train and he needs to use that. The Canucks don’t have a Willie Mitchell to patrol the crease and Alberts has to use his size in a disciplined manner to clear the ‘Hawks out of the paint. If he’s going to take a penalty doing it though, he might as well sit on the bench.

Alex Burrows and the X Factors
Burrows was the Canucks leading goal scorer during the regular season with 35 goals and he lead all Canucks in regular season series between the Blackhawks and Canucks with one goal and four assists for five points. He only had one goal in the first round (an empty netter) and he’s going to be a huge part of the Canucks getting through the Blackhawks. The Canucks received surprise help from playoff attendees Demitra and Bernier and if they can continue to contribute key goals to the offense, with the addition of Burrows this team’s depth will finally pay off.

Special Teams
It’s cliche, but special teams wins series. The Canucks would know, it almost lost them the first round. The Blackhawks have a potent offense and their special teams aren’t half bad either. With the return of Campbell to the Blackhawks blue line the Canucks can’t give Chicago’s power play as much time as they did LA’s and they certainly can’t respect the blue line in a similar fashion to last round. The Canucks power play looks to be okay so as long as they can maintain that they should be fine. The biggest loss to the Canucks PK in the first round was Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler. Two of the Canucks best regular season penalty killers were seemingly absent when down a man and they’re going to have to get back to form and shot blocking soon if they want to see this penalty kill remain successful and continue it’s improvement since game four of the first round.

Apr 272010
 

[EDIT: Mike Gillis told Team 1040 radio this afternoon that Game 1 against the Chicago Blackhawks will take place Saturday, with Game 2 scheduled for Monday.

Game one's HNIC on Saturday is scheduled for a 5PM PST start as per CBC.]

I realize we may have posted the Canucks vs. Blackhawks second round schedule posted a bit prematurely. As it turns out, the league is still in talks to finalize the schedule:

The unexpected survival of the Montreal Canadiens, who have forced the Washington Capitals to a Game 7 on Wednesday, has the CBC and the National Hockey League waffling on initial plans to start the Canucks and Blackhawks on Friday.

“I gave you some bad information yesterday about the series starting Friday,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault told reporters this morning. “We’re not quite sure anymore, so the league will let us know here in the next little while. I think it’s Friday or Saturday. Or Thursday.”

It won’t be Thursday. The Chicago Bulls, on the verge of elimination in the NBA playoffs, have the United Center booked that night. And the Canucks can’t start a series a four-hour flight away on one day’s notice.

It’s possible the Canucks and Blackhawks will play back to back, Saturday and Sunday, to satisfy American television.

We’ll keep you posted, of course, and update this page with the correct schedule as soon as it becomes official.

Apr 252010
 

It’s not always easy being a Canucks fan.

Sometimes it take a little something more to provide guidance when the going gets rough. While some choose to turn to liquid cheer, I simply crack open the good book – the dictionary – and remind myself of:

faith /f’eɪθ/
noun: loyalty or allegiance to a cause or a person (“Keep the faith”)

It is faith that gives me the strength to accept…

… that Andrew Alberts will not be the downfall to the Canucks.
… the Canucks penalty kill will be measured in actual kills and not seconds.
… Gary Bettman doesn’t have it out for the Canucks.
… I actually believe the last point I made.
… that a distinct kicking motion isn’t always distinct.
… the Stanley Cup won’t be stolen from the Canucks because a puck hit a skate before heading into the net.
… the Canucks don’t need to lead the first two periods as long as they win the game.
… the end is not near when the Canucks are down two games to one.
… that I probably lied about the 3rd point after all.
… all the losses that may happen each round, so long as they only number 3.
… that I’m really not wrong about the 1st point.
… that Game 6 will be the end of round one.

Although it may seem that I don’t always agree with what I see from the team, I remain focused and continue to Believe in Blue. I cheer just as loud and continue to hope until the final whistle that the Canucks will overcome adversity. I remember that We Are All Canucks.

And trust me, that takes a whole lot of faith.

Apr 212010
 

Before this series started a lot of people expected a flaky Luongo and a Jonathan Quick who caved under the pressure of his first playoffs. If that’s what you expected you were like surprised to find Jonathan Quick lead the Kings to a 2-1 series lead heading into game four, and Luongo throw some respectable numbers up on the board. Throw away the debate that Don Cherry stirred about about whether or not Luongo is fit to be captain because there’s definitely no change happening any time this season.

Luongo had us all worried with his play after the Olympics and his play down the stretch but while Canucks look to find excuses for entering game four down 2-1 to the LA Kings, Luongo shouldn’t be one of them. They say statistics can prove anything and that’s certainly the case because if you look at Luongo’s line through three games his .880 SV% and 3.20 GAA average are not flattering in the least. What’s worse is those numbers don’t truly reflect the way he’s been playing. I don’t blame him for any of the goals save the soft one he allowed before getting pulled last game.

Take a step back to game two where coming out of the game Luongo had a .915 SV%. Luongo’s been on his game and he’s playing better than any of us expected, but certainly like we hoped. His save in game one on the goal line was the Roberto Luongo we wanted to see in this series and it’s the Luongo we got. Unfortunately, his stats have been a victim of poor penalty killing. While they say your best penalty killer has to be your goalie, there’s no doubt that he is not at fault for any of the goals allowed when down a man. He’s paid to be that guy but he needs the team in front of him to do their job too. Luongo’s only fault was the fourth goal he gave up to LA in game three before being pulled and even that isn’t a bad sign. The pull in my mind was a mercy pull, something to let him take a rest so that he can come back and win game four.

Looking at Luongo’s opposition, Quick in game three looked the most beatable he has of the three games so far. He’s not invincible, and he showed signs that his heroics from games one and two are fading. The Canucks can beat him and they have to use a combination of screens, an abundance of shots, and their power play to do so. The Canucks need to win this game, make it a three game series, and go back to Vancouver with home ice advantage. If they’re going to do it, they’re going to have to tighten up in other areas because Luongo (for the first time in a while) isn’t the issue. Luongo’s stepped up to bat for his team, now it’s time for the team to step up to bat for him. The Canucks are going to come out flying tonight and he’s going to be standing tall.

Apr 202010
 

For the second year in a row Ryan Kesler’s been nominated for the Selke. This year he’s up against Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings and Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Last year Kesler’s nomination was a bit of a surprise but as the two way forward has developed his play and become so instrumental on the Canucks penalty kill (LA Kings series notwithstanding) it was almost expected he’d be included again this year.

While some may have Datsyuk as a shoe in for this year’s award, don’t be so sure. As much as we may not like it, players play at the Olympics is likely to play some factor in the final decision (no matter how big or small it may be) and Kesler’s career numbers and excellent vision and play on the ice when down a man is a huge testament to his two way game. Not to downplay the likes of Jordan Staal in this nomination at all as he’s been big for the Penguins, but I see this as being a two man race between Kesler and Datsyuk. At the end of the day Kesler’s role’s impact to the team is that much more than Staal’s to the Penguins or Datsyuk’s to the Red Wings.

It’d certainly be a nice piece of hardware to add to this year’s Canucks gold, silver, bronze, NW Division banner, and Art Ross trophy. The Canucks have never had a player win a Frank J. Selke award and even if they don’t this year, there’s really only one piece of hardware Canucks fans really want.

Apr 192010
 

With Alberts throwing the Canucks under the bus multiple times Saturday night at GM Place in the Kings and Canucks second game of the series it’s no surprise that he’s getting benched tonight in favour of either Rome or Baumgartner (Baumer if Rome isn’t ready to play). Now there’s no excuse for his penalties, they’ve been stupid, undisciplined, and untimely. They’ve been a result of laziness and hopefully the benching gives him the reality check that he needs to fix things should he see ice time again in this series, let alone the playoff run. Alberts is a big guy and he can be a monster physically, unfortunately his lack of discipline hurts the team much more than anything else.

Now I’m not condoning Alberts’ play, but one thing concerned me just as much as his penalty taking on Saturday. While the Canucks have dominated the play through games one and two, they’ve run into Jonathan Quick who’s surprising everyone. The Canucks quality of chances has been high, but Quick has stood on his head to keep the Kings in this series when they should have been blown out in game one and heading back to LA down 2-0 in the series. What’s worrying is that in game two the Canucks had four shots in the first period and five shots in the third period of the Western Conference Quarterfinal game. The Canucks were lucky to come out of the first with a two goal lead on only four shots, but in a first period where you need to set the tone, and in a third period where you’re gunning to break a tie game, you’re not doing yourself any favours by missing shots and coming away with shot totals you can count on the fingers of one hand.

Quick’s proven that he’s brought his A-game to the series and it’s in cases like this that you’re going to have to go with quantity over quality. Cliche’s are around for a reason and when they say “throw things on net, good things happen” it’s because it’s worked. Now the Canucks have had some outstanding chances, they should have walked away with a game one victory, but instead they won a close affair in OT. They key to tonight’s game is going to be more than Alberts being benched and staying out of the penalty box. The Canucks need to get more pucks on net. They have an explosive offense that seems to be in the right place at the right time most of the night, it’s just a matter of tiring Quick out and trying to force a large rebound to capitalize upon.

Apr 192010
 

It’s no surprise that Canucks fans were up in arms Saturday after the Canucks were beaten by the referrees that night to send the series down to SoCal with the Kings and Canucks tied at one. TSN had a great piece analyzing the call and after there was similar poor refereeing in the Phoenix/Detroit Game-3 there’s certainly some frustration from a lot of people with the zebras.

NHL Rule 74.1 states that if a player is within 5 feet of the bench and they do not play the puck then it shall not be called a penalty. It’s pretty clear that Bieksa is trying to get out of the way and it’s hard to argue that. You don’t see Vigneault criticize the referees in his post game presser too often, certainly not with such specificity to one call. He had due cause and it cost Vancouver the game

All that said, it was a blown call and at this point there’s no much we can do to go back and fix it. You can be sure that the Canucks will get more than a few calls going their way all night, but at the end of the day that does nothing to make up for a call that cost Vancouver a 2-0 series lead. The change in the psychological effect it has on the players alone is enough to feel robbed. The Kings feel they’re in it still and it’s Vancouver’s job to put that to rest in the next two games at the Staples Center.

The referees cost Vancouver the 2-0 series lead, but in the long run it could end up being a good thing. with all eight series seeing the first two games of their respective duels split 1-1, it’s not improbable that several of these series are going to go long. The Canucks have struggled on extra days rest all season so if they had swept the series that could have worked against them for the start of the second round. That being said, there’s a positive side to all of this (end even a YouTube Video worth watching). While the loss in game two means the Canucks will not get their second ever series sweep, it allows Vancouver to potentially win the series at home in game five. Not a terrible trade off I suppose.

Apr 172010
 

It’s well known that to get through the Western Conference is a test of endurance. It’s a physical affair and you don’t only have to beat your opponent on the score sheet but you have to physically out play them in order to win a series. For this reason we see the importance of blue-liners and the bottom six alike as the grit factor becomes (in some series, or on some nights) the deciding factor of a game.

The Canucks in game one not only dominated the play of the game but they out hit the Kings en route to an OT victory. The physical part of the game plays such an important role which a lot of people sometimes don’t realize. It affects the pace of the game, it has an impact on the smaller battles within the game and it has a big influence on the psyche of the team not only doing the hitting but the team being hit. In the case of the Canucks in game one, Edler was a derailed train that was hitting anything on skates wearing a crown. Edler’s play not only acts as something that amps up the team but it wears down a Kings team that in the case of game one, had no business being in such a close game. In what was Edler’s best game of the season his impact in the game due to his physical game was more than just his defensive play. When other players see how he’s playing the effect is contagious. The Canucks did a great job of feeding off of each other’s energy and they’re going to need it in game two tonight as well.

One of the Canucks goals as they advance through this playoffs should be to get into each series as fresh as possible. Sweeping ever series is not realistic and sometimes the extra days off aren’t ideal. The Canucks however need to come out of each game as the team that did the hitting, not the team that received the beat down. Later in the playoffs should they face a Chicago, a San Jose, or a Phoenix, they’re going to realize even more so than now that the grit game is a game within the game. If the Canucks can win the physical match-up most nights it’s going to have a long term benefit to them as the playoffs wind on. The loss of Mitchell to the grit game was huge, but should the Canucks go deep and Mitchell return his presence is not only going to fortify our blue line, it’s going to bring in a fresh pair of legs that’s going to play the way Edler did in game one, night in and night out.

Feb 182010
 

So as I get ready to take in Canada vs. Switzerland at GM… err.. Canada Hockey Place later today, I’m fortunately not posed with a problem of who to cheer for. I’m a big fan of Canada – so much so that I’ve pledged to wear a red or Canadian themed shirt (my white Canada Hockey jersey for instance) throughout the Winter Olympics. So what is that problem I speak of?

You see, I’m also a diehard Canucks fan. So it’s awesome to see the following players represent six different nations:

  • Roberto Luongo (Canada)
  • Daniel Sedin (Sweden)
  • Henrik Sedin (Sweden)
  • Ryan Kesler (U.S.)
  • Sami Salo (Finland)
  • Pavol Demitra (Slovakia)
  • Christian Ehrhoff (Germany)

But when it comes to choosing local team over the national team, how do I not go with those who have maple syrup running through their veins?

It’s great that Demo has finally found his game on the national stage, but I find myself wanting him to choke. I love the Sedins, but I hope they both get the flu and have to sit out for a couple of weeks. Kesler may be a God among men when playing at home, but here’s to hope that by wearing the US jersey means he plays like he’s been playing on the road this season.

Is this sacrilegious for a diehard Canucks fan? Maybe, but I don’t wish them any harm and hope all seven come back strong for a run to the post-season. I’m just hoping that one of them (and lets be clear, it’s the guy with the maple leaf on his chest) comes back with a gold medal, while the others simply come back with a gold medal experience.

So as I watch Canada play tonight, I’m thankful for one thing – that the Canucks didn’t sign a Swiss player this season.

*****

[Editor's note: For the duration of the Games, I think it's totally okay to call the Sedins second-liners again. - J.J.]

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