Feb 192013
 

On Friday, Henrik Sedin passed Markus Naslund as the all-time leader with points as a Canuck, Ryan Kesler returned from injury, and Canucks fans were getting a chance to vote on what they felt the boys in blue should skate out to.

Clay, Chris, Ed and back again as a special guest, Alan from the Hogshack in Steveston, ponder these and more in this latest episode of CHB TV. Apologies in advance for the singing.

Feb 192013
 

Surrey native, Brenden Dillon, of the Dallas Stars scores the game-winner against the Vancouver Canucks.

After 6 consecutive wins, the Vancouver Canucks fell a bit back down to earth last week. They did win a relatively low-key game against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, but then blew leads in back-to-back losses to the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the last week was Henrik Sedin passing Markus Naslund as the Canucks’ franchise scoring leader. Against the Stars on Friday, King Hank assisted on brother Daniel’s goal to tie Naslund, and a bit later in the game, passed Naslund with a beautiful cross-ice assist on Alex Burrows’ marker. For good measure, he recorded another 2 points on Sunday against the Blues – an assist on Ryan Kesler’s first goal of the season, and also, his own first goal of the season.

This week, the Canucks embark on a four-game road trip through the Central and Pacific Divisions.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at Chicago Blackhawks (5:30 PM start)

The Canucks won the two teams’ first meeting back on February 1st behind some great goaltending from Roberto Luongo and Jordan Schroeder’s shootout winner. To-date, this stands as 1 of the Hawks’ 3 losses this season – they are 12-0-3 with all 3 losses coming in the shootout.

Patrick Kane is off to a hot start with 21 points (9G-12A) in 15 games, putting him in a tie with Steven Stamkos for 3rd in the NHL in scoring. (Stamkos has played 1 less game, however.) Starter Corey Crawford remains sidelined due to a suspected concussion.

With the Canucks placing Andrew Ebbett on waivers yesterday, it is expected that David Booth will make his season debut against the Hawks.

Thursday, February 21, 2013 at Dallas Stars (5:00 PM)

The Dallas Stars ruined Hank’s night last Friday by coming back from a 2-goal deficit and posting a 4-3 win at Rogers Arena. With 3 minutes left in the third period, Surrey native, Brenden Dillon, scored his 3rd goal of the season, which stood up as the game-winner.

Undrafted in junior and undrafted in the NHL, Dillon is a good story for the Stars in the early season.

Friday, February 22, 2013 at Nashville Predators (5:00 PM)

After last season’s offensive explosion of sorts, during which they ranked 8th in the league in goals per game (2.83), the Nashville Predators have somewhat reverted back to form, currently ranking 30th out of 30 teams and scoring a measly average of 2.06 goals per game. Losing Ryan Suter in the summer has surely hurt. And now, they’re also missing Patric Hornqvist (leg injury), who had 27 goals for them last season. Still, they sit 5th in the Western Conference, thanks in large part to gaining 5 “loser points” (1 in OT and 4 in the shootout).

The Canucks and the Preds split their 4 games last season with both teams winning two games each, one at home and the other on the road.

Tuesday, February 24, 2013 at Detroit Red Wings (2:00 PM)

For a team going through a turnover of sorts, the Detroit Red Wings are doing a decent job of staying in contention for a playoff spot. Sure they lost Niklas Lidstrom, Brad Stuart and Jiri Hudler, but they’ve been able to break in guys like Damien Brunner, Tomas Tatar and Brian Lashoff into the lineup. They’ve also given Jonathan Ericsson a larger role in the back end.

The Canucks had a 2-1-1 record against the Wings last season. Henrik Sedin paced the Canucks with 4 assists while Daniel had 2 goals and 3 points. Darren Helm scored 5 (1G-4A) of his 26 points last season in the 4 games against the Canucks.

Feb 032013
 

In quite a comical scene from Friday night’s game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Vancouver Canucks, Roberto Luongo and Patrick Kane shared a few words as they were sprawled on the ice together seconds after Luongo foiled Kane’s shootout attempt (see video below).  Two rounds later, rookie Jordan Schroeder beat the Hawks’ Corey Crawford before Luongo stopped Nick Leddy to seal the 2-1 win.

Reports surfaced later that Luongo said to Kane “Not this time” as the two players untangled themselves.  Even so, the two rivals were within earshot of each other for a full five seconds after Kane’s failed attempt.  Thus, Luongo likely said more than those three words.

Here are 10 things that Roberto Luongo may have said to Patrick Kane:

10. Just so you know – I let you score on me earlier in the game just to make it more exciting.

9. You should clean your jersey.

8. What’s it like being the Undertaker’s brother?

7. Thanks for boosting my trade value.

6. What do you think of my new single-leg take down maneuver?

5. Got room for one more in the limo?

4. Nice try…hopefully you’ll be able to score at the Roxy.

3. Those moves might work on Schneider but certainly not on me.

2. Tell your GM and coach I’d be an upgrade over your current goalie.  In fact, he’ll probably let a rookie score on him later on in this shootout.

1. Let me know if you need exact change for the taxi later.

Feb 022013
 

Are you ready for this? I hope so, because it’s Canucks v. Blackhawks baby!

That is just unnecessary and uncalled for. 80′s music is amazing thank-you very much. I now officially declare it 80′s night.

Now, on to the game.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Feb 012013
 

The Canucks celebrate their April 2011 playoff series win over the Blackhawks (Photo credit: Reuters)

I’m looking forward to tonight’s big match-up between the Vancouver Canucks and their nemesis the Chicago Blackhawks for a few reasons.  I’m intrigued to see how Roberto Luongo plays against his arch-rivals as the fascinating goaltending saga goes on.  I’m eager to see if guys like Zack Kassian and Keith Ballard can keep up their strong play.  I’m looking forward to some quality time with my lovely wife Gail (who patiently puts up with my blogging shenanigans).  And I wonder if there will be any retribution for Duncan Keith for his dirty hit on Daniel Sedin at the end of last season.

Just 21 months ago, I witnessed the same two teams clash in the best game that I’ve ever seen live.  Of course, I’m talking about game 7 in the first-round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.  There had been so much drama and unrest leading up to game 7 as the Blackhawks had won three straight games to tie the series and bring the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Canucks to the brink of elimination.  There were questions about the officiating and questions about the Canucks goaltending (apparently the more things change the more they stay the same).  In fact, Roberto Luongo had been pulled in both games 4 and 5 before Cory Schneider was given the surprise start in game 6.  Schneider then was pulled in game 6…but due to injury.  Add in the fact that the Blackhawks had eliminated the Canucks in the second-round the two previous years and you can see why the game meant so much.

The atmosphere in Rogers Arena was incomparable that evening; there was a noticeable excitement, intensity and nervousness in the crowd the entire night.  I’m sure you remember the game details very vividly: how Alex Burrows scored early in the first and even had a chance to put the Canucks up by two with a penalty shot early in the third period.  How Jonathan Toews tied the game up with only two minutes left in the third period scoring from his knees with an amazing short-handed effort.

The 17-minute intermission between the third period and overtime was among the longest 17 minutes of my life.  I remember very vividly that the crowd sat in stunned silence for the entire time.  My buddy Mike and I, both of us never short for words when at a Canucks game, didn’t say a word to each other for the duration of the intermission.  There wasn’t really anything to be said.  We were about to witness history: either the Canucks were about to exorcise the Chicago Blackhawks demons or they would complete one of the greatest meltdowns in NHL playoff history.

We didn’t have to wait too long for a sign.  And it wasn’t a good one.

Just 24 seconds into the extra frame, Alex Burrows took a holding penalty on Duncan Keith on what seemed like a harmless play behind the Chicago net.  On the ensuing power-play, Roberto Luongo made an absolutely amazing save on Patrick Sharp’s one-timer from five feet away.  In watching the save countless times, I will say that it wasn’t Luongo’s most difficult save of the season.  But it certainly was his biggest.

You know the rest: just two shifts later, Burrows intercepted Chris Campoli’s clearing attempt, deftly dropped the puck to his feet, and slapped the winner over Crawford’s blocker.  The goal set off a wild celebration both on the ice (remember Victor Oreskovich jumping around looking for someone to hug?) and in the stands.  It’s certainly the loudest I’ve ever heard the crowd at Rogers Arena…rivaled only by the roar after Kevin Bieksa scored in game 5 vs. the Sharks to send the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Finals.

That’s why I look forward to Blackhawks-Canucks games.  They always seem to be intense and exciting contests.  We’ll see what drama unfolds tonight.

Jan 282013
 

The season didn’t quite start the way Vancouver Canucks fans expected as the Canucks got thumped 7-3 in their season opener against the Anaheim Ducks last week. Rust, timing and lack of execution were clearly evident, but as the week went along the Canucks seemed to start putting in better efforts.

They did lose in the shootout against the young and talented Edmonton Oilers before winning in the shootout against the Calgary Flames. In that win against the Flames, the Canucks were led by one of their best players in the early season – Zack Kassian, who scored a goal on the shootout so dirty and so slick that I think Miika Kiprusoff is still looking for his jockstrap.

A couple of days later, the Canucks redeemed themselves against the Ducks. They went into Anahiem, who was hosting their first home game, and won decisively by a 5-0 score. This game was by far their best of the five they’ve played to-date – they played with a lot of physicality, scored some beautiful and gritty goals, and were buoyed by an excellent goaltending performance from Cory Schneider.

The Canucks then ended the week in San Jose, where they couldn’t take advantage of Ryane Clowe’s meltdowns and numerous powerplay advantages, and couldn’t find any puck luck from the hockey gods (5 posts!) en route to a 4-1 loss.

Who’s Next

Monday, January 28, 2013 at Los Angles Kings (7:30 PM start)

Roberto Luongo will get the start in the building where he lost his starting position in last years playoffs. This will be Bobby Lu’s second start of the season.

With just one win in their first 4 games (1-2-1), the Kings might be experiencing the infamous Stanley Cup hangover. Their official Twitter account may have picked up right from where they left off last season, but the Kings themselves are still struggling to put some wins together.

In the last regular season, the Canucks went 2-1-1 against the Kings. Captain Hank Sedin had 4 points (1G-3A) in 3 games while Anze Kopitar led LA with 4 points in 4 games.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 vs. Colorado Avalanche (7:00 PM)

This past summer, Gabriel Landeskog was named the Avs’ youngest captain in franchise history. It’s unknown if Landeskog will be in the lineup on Wednesday as he’s still feeling the effects of a big hit he took from Brad Stuart of the Sharks.

Newcomer PA Parenteau has fit right into the Avs system with 2 goals, 1 assist and a team-best plus-4 in 4 games.

The Canucks had Colorado’s number last year, winning all 6 games in the season series. Luongo was in goal for 4 of those wins; Schneider was in net for 2. Hank, Jannik Hansen, Chris Higgins and Kevin Bieksa all had 5 points each against the Avs last season.

Friday, February 1, 2013 vs. Chicago Blackhawks (7:00 PM)

Canucks fans have had this Friday night meeting against the Blackhawks circled on their calendar since the schedule was released. The rivalry between these two teams speaks for itself, and these matchups are always some of the most entertaining – and most heated – games of the NHL season. Not like the Canucks need more motivation, but the Blackhawks, having won all of their first 6 games, are one the hottest teams in the league. This will also be the first time that the Canucks will meet Duncan Keith after Keith’s dirty elbow put Daniel out of action at the end of last season. It’s an interesting subplot and we’ll see if anything comes out of it.

Patrick Kane currently leads the ‘Hawks with 9 points (2G-7A) and Marian Hossa leads them with 5 goals.

Last season, the Canucks were 2-1-1 against Chicago. Kane and Hossa led the Hawks with 4 points each in the season series while Hank Sedin had 6 points in their 4 meetings.

Jan 232013
 

Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: National Post

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

Here are a few of the biggest head scratchers:

Goalie Drama. Again. Sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

Jersey Off Our Backs Make Me Go Hmmm… and Mmmm

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

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

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

 

Jan 182013
 

The Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues could be battling for top spot in the Western Conference this season.

Yesterday, we previewed the Eastern Conference. Today – the Western Conference:

1. St. Louis Blues – 60 points

Status: Contender
Goaltending: A-
Defense: A-
Forwards: B-
Coaching: A

Why: The time is now for the Blues, who are strong in all areas and backstopped by one of the best pairings in the league (Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott). A Conference Finals appearance, at the very least, should be expected. Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pieterangelo are among the best young defensemen in the game and eat up minutes on the back end. The addition of rookie winger Vlad Tarasenko should give the Blues three scoring lines with grit.

2. Los Angeles Kings – 58 points

Status: Contender
Goaltending: A+
Defense: B+
Forwards: B
Coaching: B-

Why: The Kings finally played to their potential in last year’s post season, winning the Stanley Cup after a difficult regular season. There’s no reason to expect similar struggles this time around, especially with the lockout-related layoff recharging some of the players’ batteries. An injury to Willie Mitchell hurts somewhat, but should give more icetime to second-year defenseman Slava Voynov, who was the reason L.A. could part with Jack Johnson at last year’s deadline. The Kings are extremely deep at centre, with Anze Kopitar a dominant two-way force (although he’s starting the season with a knee injury). Jonathan Quick was the NHL’s best goalie in 2012, and is supported by Jonathan Bernier, who could easily start for a number of other teams.

3. Vancouver Canucks – 50 points

Status: Decline
Goaltending: A-
Defense: B+
Forwards: B+
Coaching: B-

Why: The window on the Canucks’ Stanley Cup dream is quickly closing. Injuries have rendered Ryan Kesler a question mark, and without him it’s hard to see where the goals will come from beyond the Sedin line. David Booth’s injury also adds to these offensive woes. The team is deep in net, and really needs to move Roberto Luongo as soon as possible to fill gaps up front. The blueline is very solid but unspectacular, with Jason Garrison likely to struggle to repeat last year’s goal-scoring performance. New starting goalie Cory Schneider was the only significant Canuck to spend time playing during the lockout. Expect this team to be slow out of the gate.

4. Detroit Red Wings – 54 points

Status: Decline
Goaltending: B
Defense: C+
Forwards: B
Coaching: A

Why: The Red Wings blueline looks rather suspect, especially when you consider two former Maple Leafs (Carlo Colaiacovo, Ian White) will be expected to shoulder top-4 minutes. Actually, the Wings will likely go as far as two youngsters take them: If Brendan Smith can step in and fill some of the offensive void left by Lidstrom’s retirement, that will be a major boost to the team’s fortunes. Similarly, if Damien Brunner can find chemistry with Henrik Zetterberg, it will fill the void left by Jiri Hudler’s departure. Pavel Datsyuk remains an elite player, and Jimmy Howard is a proven commodity in goal.

5. Nashville Predators – 52 points

Status: Status Quo
Goaltending: A
Defense: B
Forwards: C-
Coaching: B-

Why: The Predators will be successful as long as Pekka Rinne remains a top-end goaltender in the NHL. Thankfully, Rinne played throughout the lockout, and should be in top-form right out of the gate. Yes, the loss of Ryan Suter has an impact, but not as much as you may expect, as youngsters Jonathan Blum and especially Roman Josi are ready for additional minutes. Up front, the team is filled with strong skating grinders, with Craig Smith the most likely Predator to experience a bump in offensive performance. This team will never win pretty, and the style of play likely to be found during this shortened season may actually be to their benefit. For what it’s worth, reviews of Sergei Kostitsyn’s play overseas during the lockout were extremely positive.

6. Phoenix Coyotes – 52 points

Status: Status Quo
Goaltending: B
Defense: B
Forwards: D+
Coaching: A

Why: Mike Smith came out of nowhere to dominate between the pipes, lifting the Coyotes all the way to the Western Conference Finals. A similar level of performance should get them safely back into the playoffs, although an injury would be devastating (the drop-off in quality to backup Jason LaBarbera is massive). Oliver Ekman-Larsson was a point per game defenseman in the AHL, and looks ready to assume the mantle left by Niklas Lidstrom as the best Swedish defenseman in the NHL. Nobody squeezes more out of marginal NHL talent on the third and fourth lines than coach Dave Tippett. Steve Sullivan is unlikely to replace the performance of Ray Whitney (off to Dallas), which means the time is now for Mikel Boedker and Martin Hanzal to find their offensive game. In all honesty, the Predators and Coyotes are arguably the same team playing in different coloured jerseys.

7. Chicago Blackhawls – 51 points

Status: Dogfight for a playoff spot
Goaltending: D
Defense: A
Forwards: A-
Coaching: C+

Why: The elite talent to be found on the Blackhawks roster – and there’s a lot of it – is held back by questionable goaltending. Corey Crawford was inconsistent in goal last season for Chicago, and Ray Emery wasn’t much better. The defense unit is largely unchanged and should be strong, although Duncan Keith’s play dipped slightly in 2011-12. Up front, Marian Hossa should be ready after a devastating playoff hit from Raffi Torres, and Patrick Kane played very well overseas during the lockout.

8. Minnesota Wild – 49 points

Status: Dogfight for the playoffs
Goaltending: B-
Defense: C
Forwards: C+
Coaching: D+

Why: Since when has spending a lot of money on unrestricted free agents led to on-ice success? Granted, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are huge improvements to the Wild roster, but this remains a work-in-progress lineup. Mikko Koivu should thrive with Parise on his wing, but the real key to the Minnesota attack this year will be the development of Mikael Granlund. If Granlund is Calder Trophy-worthy offensively, that should push the Wild into playoff contention. The defense behind Suter is thin and relatively young, and who knows how he will respond to greater responsibility than what he had in Nashville. Nik Backstrom is better-than-average in goal, but has been injury prone of late. His backup – Josh Harding – also has injury issues and was diagnosed with MS in October. Raised expectations and a slow start could cost coach Mike Yeo his job.

9. Edmonton Oilers – 49 points

Status: Dogfight for a playoff spot
Goaltending: C-
Defense: C
Forwards: C+
Coaching: C-

Why: Let’s be clear – on paper, right now, it’s hard to see the Oilers as a playoff team. However it’s very likely they will improve upon every grade listed above over the course of the season. That’s what happens when young teams develop and get better. It should also be noted that only the Flyers had more players active during the lockout than the Oilers. Rookie Jeff Schultz has dominated the AHL, and could be the most exciting rookie defenseman to hit the NHL since Sergei Zubov. NHL-calibre play from the rookie Schultz, and injury-free play from Ryan Whitney, will give a significant boost to the Oiler blueline. Meanwhile, the team is loaded with offensive talent up front. Jordan Eberle, in particular, looks like he might be ready to join elite status. Finally, there isn’t a more respected coach internationally than Ralph Krueger. If he lives up to his reputation, it’s just one more reason why the Oilers can make the playoffs.

10. San Jose Sharks – 49 points

Status: Dogfight for a playoff spot
Goaltending: C
Defense: A-
Forwards: C+
Coaching: C

Why: The Sharks nucleus remains formidable, but beyond Logan Couture, it is also aging, with the best days behind Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle and Patrick Marleau. San Jose remains a team with a good top-six and a sketchy bottom six group of forwards. The blueline is the team’s strength. Brent Burns is still recovering from off-season surgery and had a disappointing first season on the West Coast, but has the talent to be a solid #2 defenseman. Brad Stuart and Doug Murray are solid defensively, while Marc-Edouard Vlasic is underrated. In goal, Antti Niemi continues his history of inconsistent play, and may be pushed by backup Thomas Greiss.

11. Dallas Stars – 46 points

Status: Dogfight for a playoff spot
Goaltending: A-
Defense: C
Forwards: C+
Coaching: C-

Why: The Stars have rolled the dice in the off-season, loading up with aged veterans Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr in efforts to get the team back into the playoffs. It’s quite possible this strategy could blow up in the team’s face, as older players will have their energy and bodies taxed during the shortened season. Top-line forward Jaime Benn is also sitting out with a contract dispute, making it even more likely the Stars get off to a poor start. The blueline is thin, although Alex Goligoski has untapped potential as a puck-mover. The key then is how well Kari Lehtonen can play, and how healthy he can remain. Lehtonen was Vezina-calbire last season.

12. Anaheim Ducks – 44 points

Status: Also-rans
Goaltending: C+
Defense: C
Forwards: B
Coaching: C-

Why: Like their state rivals in San Jose, the Anaheim Ducks boast a very solid offensive nucleus in their top two lines (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Teemu Selanne) but little depth beyond that upfront. The hope is rookies Nick Bonino, Kyle Palmieri and Devante Smith-Pelly can fill the talent gap, but that’s asking a lot (especially Smith-Pelly, who hasn’t shown much in the AHL). The addition of Scott Niedermayer as an assistant coach is hoped to help the stalled development of Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa. They must improve to support what is otherwise a slow-footed, veteran blueline. In net, Jonas Hiller had a poor 2011-12 and must rebound for the Ducks to get into the playoff race. A slow start could see some major changes to the roster, not to mention coach and management.

13. Calgary Flames – 43 points

Status: Also-rans
Goaltending: B+
Defense: C+
Forwards: C-
Coaching: C-

Why: There’s just not enough talent on this roster to win a playoff spot, which means it will take a superhuman season from Miikka Kiprusoff to get the Flames to the post-season. At his age (36) that’s a lot to ask. Meanwhile, the team’s best player, Jarome Iginla, has already suffered a groin injury and has a lot of wear and tear on his 35-year old body. The additions of Jiri Hudler, Roman Cervenka (out with a blood clot) and Dennis Wideman are band-aid solutions to solving some of the offensive issues that have plagued the team recently. You can question each players’ willingness to compete and they’re likely to be found in Bob Hartley’s doghouse at some point. In fact, a poor start to the short Flames season could see both Kiprusoff and Iginla finally dealt, in efforts to better secure the team’s future.

14. Colorado Avalanche – 41 points

Status: Wild Card
Goaltending: B
Defense: D
Forwards: C
Coaching: C-

Why: Whereas the Capitals are the biggest question mark in the Eastern Conference, welcome to the biggest question mark in the West. They could win the division; they could end up in last place. The Avalanche certainly feature talented young forwards up front (Matt Duchesne, Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Statsny), but the contract dispute with Ryan O’Reilly is a significant blow. He’s the team’s best two-way player – Colorado’s version of Ryan Kesler – and without him there’s a significant lack of grit and defensive acumen amongst the forward group. The defense looks like a mess. Erik Johnson is still struggling to find a consistent, top-level NHL game. Rookies Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott may be asked to add speed and puck-movement to a sluggish blueline, but both play a high-risk game. Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere are a goaltending duo with strong potential but prone to streakiness. Keep in mind – only 5 Avs players were active during the lockout.

15. Columbus Blue Jackets – 38 points

Status: Rebuilding
Goaltending: D-
Defense: C
Forwards: D
Coaching: D+

Why: Essentially, the Blue Jackets have blown themselves up by trading Rick Nash, and are starting from scratch in terms of building a winner. They’re going about it the right way this time, with a focus on building from the net out. They could be better than they’re rated here. Sergei Bobrovsky was lights-out during the lockout in the KHL and has high-end potential. A strong season from him would be the first strong goaltending season Columbus has had in years. On defense, Jack Johnson played very well after being dealt from the Kings, as did Nikita Nikitin (from St. Louis). Add James Wisniewski to the equation and suddenly you have a mobile, solid puck-moving top-three. It’s in their own zone where there could be problems. The biggest hole is up front on offense, where youngster Cam Atkinson looks primed to break out. There’s some decent grit and speed in the mix, but goals will be very hard to come by.

Jan 142013
 

Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks shakes hands with Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings.

Photo credit: Toronto Star

Finally.

After winning a second consecutive Presidents Trophy and then falling to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, Los Angeles Kings, in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, and after almost nine months of wallowing in the what might have been, the Vancouver Canucks will finally hit the ice again this Saturday to start the 2012/2013 NHL season.

The team released their 48-game regular season schedule this weekend. They’ll be playing 4 or 5 games against each Northwest Division opponent, and 3 games against each of the other teams in the Western Conference. They’ll play 0 games against teams in the Eastern Conference.

Because of the shortened season, Canucks fans, unfortunately, again won’t see the likes of Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos in Vancouver. Regardless, there are still some marquee match-ups on tap; here are 5 of them:

Saturday, January 19th vs Anaheim Ducks

The Canucks want to make it up to fans for putting them through the 113-day lockout, and they’re starting on opening night. The Canucks have promised a full night of festivities, including selecting a lucky fan to drop the ceremonial puck before the game, giving the jersey of the players’ backs, and offering 50% discounts on team merchandise and $1 hotdogs, popcorn and drinks.

Friday, February 1st vs Chicago Blackhawks

This will be the two teams’ first meeting since Duncan Keith’s cheap shot to Daniel Sedin’s head. For his transgression, Keith earned a 5-game rest before the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Canucks sorely missed their leading scorer, fizzled out in the first round of the playoffs, and fans have been demanding for their pound of flesh ever since.

Monday, January 28th at Los Angeles Kings

The last time the Canucks tried to avenge a playoff loss, they beat the Bruins in Boston in a spectacularly entertaining and dirty game. It was a Saturday matinee game in January, but also, the peak of their season. Likewise, the Canucks will want to win this rematch against the Kings, but they have to also understand that this game is only game 6 of 48.

Saturday, March 30th at Edmonton Oilers

The Canucks play the Oilers and their phenom five of Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz five times this season – twice at Rogers Arena and three times in Edmontom – but this is the only one televised nationally on CBC Hockey Night in Canada.

Saturday, March 16th vs Detroit Red Wings

Even without Nicklas Lidstrom manning their blueline, the Red Wings are still a big draw in Vancouver. They still have some firepower and skill in the lineup with Pavel Datsyuk and new captain, Henrik Zetterberg. After leaving for a few years to play for the Canucks and the Florida Panthers, the ever-quotable Mikael Samuelsson re-signed back with Detroit this past summer.

Apr 272012
 
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues

Photo credit: The Checking Line

Let’s just get this out of the way first, shall we?

This first round was a bloody disappointment.

Welcome to the deadpuck era 2.0 – to a style of play that see goal prevention more successful than goal creation.

Where goaltenders dominate, and the flow of the game – much improved since the lockout – has returned to slogging through muck.

It’s an game filled with interference and Wild West justice, where league’s least skilled players may attack, hurt and render obsolete its most talented.

Look, playoff hockey is supposed to be many things – faster, more physical, more passionate. But what it shouldn’t be is more boring.

But that’s what it’s been.

The league has become stronger defensively in general, and the playoffs have only amplified that. This is shaping up to be the lowest scoring first-round of the last five years, if not longer. 

First Round Goals Per Game:

Western ConferenceYearEastern Conference
4.4320125.64*
5.9620115.83
6.4320105.08
5.3020095.00
5.0820085.65

God bless that Pittsburgh-Philadelphia series, which on its own has saved the league from having the lack of goals be a bigger negative story. The Battle of Pennsylvania averaged 9.33 (!!!) goals per game. The rest of the Eastern Conference games have been snore-fests (4.47).

Skilled teams are falling by the wayside in these playoffs, which, unless Philadelphia or Nashville win the Stanley Cup, reverses the historic trend that shows scoring teams persevere.

The only question is if this is a one-year anomaly or not.

The decline in scoring league-wide in recent years; the rise in shot-blocking; the reduction in penalty calls this season and power play goals (only the Sharks scored at a rate higher than 10% on the powerplay after the All-Star Game!); the defensive collapse in front of the net and other strategies lead me to believe things are only going to get worse unless rules are changed.

With that cheery thought in mind, let’s take a look at the Second Round match-ups in the Western Conference.

 St. Louis Blues (2) vs.Los Angeles Kings (8)

Season Series: Los Angeles Kings (3-1)

What we have learned about St. Louis:

They have come of age. When the Blues hired Ken Hitchcock, they did so to determine once and for all whether the young players they’d assembled on their roster were good enough to win together. Manhandling the Sharks in the first round answered that question. Winning in five games also gives them some rest ahead of another round of significant travel against a gruelling West Coast team. The Blues have four lines that can contribute, although in reality only the top-two lines are a threat to score.

What we have learned about Los Angeles:

That they look like another Darryl Sutter team – the 2004 Calgary Flames that went on a Cup run. Jonathan Quick remains a brick wall in goal (Miikka Kiprusoff-esque) and Dustin Brown did a pretty terrific Jarome Iginla impression against the Canucks. Having said that, the absence of Daniel Sedin for three games (all losses) and the poor play of Ryan Kesler were significant factors in L.A.’s win. They’re a good team – better than your usual eighth place team – but the stars were aligned a bit for them in round one. Oh, and the fourth line barely plays.

Quick Decisions:

Coaching: Blues. Slight edge to Hitchcock because he’s won a Cup but both coaches have their teams playing about as well as possible.

Goaltending: Kings. Both teams have put up microscopic goals against totals but if I had to pick one goalie from this series to win a seventh game right now it would be Jonathan Quick, not Brian Elliott or Jaroslav Halak.

Defense: Even. Alex Pieterangelo is playing better than Drew Doughty these days, but Willie Mitchell had the series of his life against the Canucks. Both teams execute their defensive systems flawlessly.

Offense: Blues. A slight edge here to the Blues, as Andy McDonald and Patrick Berglund had impressive first rounds. Can they continue? Meanwhile, the potential is there for L.A.’s offense to explode, but a strict commitment to Darryl Sutter’s system could mean on-going sporadic production from Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. If the Kings are to win this series, they need one of their big guns to get hot.

Special Teams: Blues. The Blues powerplay was third-best in the league post the All-Star Game, and lit-up the Sharks at a rate of 33%. Both teams have very good penalty kills.

Prediction: Blues in 6.

*****

Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs Nashville Predators (4)

Season Series: Tied 2-2

What we have learned about Nashville:

They are who we thought they were – arguably the most talented, deepest Predators team in franchise history. They proved they can skate and out-play the Red Wings five-on-five as their powerplay (league best in the regular season) failed them in the first round. At over 20-minutes a game, rookie defenseman Roman Josi was leaned on and played a sound series against Detroit.

What we have learned about Phoenix:

That Mike Smith has pretty much transformed himself into goaltending coach Sean Burke, who at his best was among the league’s elite netminders. This is a Phoenix team that found surprising scoring depth in round one – no remaining Western Conference team had as many different round one goal scorers as Phoenix did (11). Otherwise, this is a Coyotes team that won a playoff series by taking advantage of the counter-attack and being opportunistic. Territorially, thanks to their bend-don’t-break defensive scheme, the Coyotes were outplayed much of round one by the Blackhawks.

Quick Decisions:

Coaching: Even. Two of the best coaches in the game.

Goaltending: Even. Pekka Rinne has a bit longer resume, but Mike Smith was all-world for Phoenix in round one.

Defense: Predators. It’s an underrated blueline in Phoenix, but Ryan Suter and Shea Weber were dominant against the Red Wings. The Predators should get Hal Gill back as well, which should give them a boost on the penalty kill and an additional match-up advantage. Forwards on both teams are expected to play both-ways, but the Predators don’t give up nearly as many shots as the Coyotes do.

Offense: Predators. The Coyotes surprising scoring in the first round could be attributable to poor play from Chicago’s Corey Crawford. Ray Whitney is an elite, intelligent attacker but the rough style of play found in these playoffs limits his effectiveness at even strength. Let’s not forget Nashville was one of the highest scoring teams in the league during the regular season. Alex Radulov is probably the player in this series most capable of dominating play.

Special Teams: Predators. Phoenix’s special teams were very good against a Chicago team that struggled in this area during the regular season. Expect a bit of a drop-off. Nashville’s powerplay struggled against Detroit. They’ll need a better second round performance if they hope to beat the Coyotes.

Prediction: Predators in 5.

*****

Finally, a quick word on the departed:

Vancouver Canucks

Cause of death: A lack of secondary scoring and Duncan Keith’s elbow.

Prescription: Stay-the-course, get what you can for Luongo, and try and find a 25-goal scorer or strong playmaker who can mesh with Ryan Kesler.

*****

Chicago Blackhawks

Cause of death: Poor goaltending and a massive concussion to Marian Hossa, care of Raffi Torres.

Prescription: Upgrade in net. Otherwise there’s still much to like about this Chicago team.

*****

Detroit Red Wings

Cause of death: Age. This team is just not as deep or capable on defense or up front.

Prescription: Use their cap space on Zach Parise and/or Ryan Suter. A Rick Nash trade would be worth exploring too. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Jaromir Jagr end up here either as a PP specialist (if he doesn’t resign in Philly).

*****

San Jose Sharks

Cause of death: Age. See the Red Wings above.

Prescription: Shake up the core. It would not be a surprise to see Patrick Marleau and/or Danny Boyle moved to bring fresh pieces into the fold. The Sharks will try to take a quick step back to take a giant leap forward before Joe Thornton is completely washed up.

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