Jan 042011
 

[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 came into San Jose to play their third road game in four nights. Unbeaten in five, and expected to be dog-tired, there was a sense among Canuck nation that a loss to San Jose was as inevitable as the extraplanar robots that chase down lawbreakers. The Sharks came into this game fourth in the Western Conference, and with their continued employment of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, and Dan Boyle, looked to be formidable foes.

They were formidable foes. That said, they still got beat, by a Canucks team that has seemingly forgotten how to lose. As a born loser, I’m here if they need the help, but I don’t think they’ll call. In the meantime, I guess Daniel and I will just have to sit around watching them win, like we did tonight when we watched this game:

  • The Second Law of Sedinery: if the Sedins find themselves alone behind the defense, you may as well go line up at center ice. They will score. The opening goal (above), off a turnover by Joe Thornton (and not Jason Demers, as crazy old John Garrett insisted), is a classic case of Wizardous Sedinerie. Antti Niemi made a common mistake and got Daniel confused with Henrik. Had he realized that Henrik had the first touch, he might have realized Daniel was about to get the second. Instead, he anticipated a shot from Henrik Sedin. Rookie mistake. Also a rookie mistake? Letting Gary Busey date your mom.
  • Speaking of Rookie of the Year, let’s talk about casts. The second-line featured a rotating one, as Jannik Hansen, Jeff Tambellini, and Mason Raymond all saw time as Ryan Kesler’s wings. When Tambellini and Raymond were together, they showed the potential to be the fastest duo since Northstar and Aurora. (Other similarities: both duos are Canadian, and spend an inordinate amount of time in dark blue. Differences: Raymond’s not gay, and Tambellini’s not a woman.) Anyway, Raymond and Hansen finished the night on that line, and Hansen may have re-won his spot there with this game-tying goal late in the second period. Early in the second, I grumbled about Hansen spending time on the second line–normally he finishes his checks, but not his scoring chances. That said, like a piece of furniture haunted by the ghost of a carpenter, Hansen has magically developed finish. #WorstAnalogyAward
  • What was going on during the Canucks second goal? Ehrhoff and Edler apparently switched places with Daniel and Henrik, briefly becoming the forwards on the rush. They didn’t do too badly, either. Perhaps Edler felt slighted when Skeeter suggested he didn’t have the stuff to play center, or perhaps the Sedins felt pigeonholed as offensive wizards and wanted a chance to play defense. Third option: the Sedins forgot that the teams switched ends for the second, and were thrilled about being in behind the defense for a second time.
  • Tanner Glass played 8:25 tonight, which is about on par with his usual minutes, except that he spent ten minutes in the box for two fights (a full one-sixth of the game). The fourth line in general was noticeable tonight, spending a lot of time in the offensive zone. Chalk this up to the return of Mason Raymond, which has banished a top-nine player to the bottom three. And, while the line may not have seen an increase in minutes, they saw a definite increase in third period minutes, as Alain Vigneault trusted them with late shifts in a close game.
  • Part of this might have been a desire to play fresh guys on the back-to-back games, but another part might have been that Alex Bolduc was winning faceoffs when Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler weren’t. For the third straight game, the Canucks lost the faceoff battle, although this time by a very narrow margin. Manny Malhotra was his usual stalwart self, winning 14-of-18, including all six in the defensive zone. Just Manny being Manny. The other two big drawmen were kind of crummy. Kind of really crummy. Kesler was 35% in the circle. Henrik was 27%.
  • Continuing the negativity, on San Jose’s first goal, Rome needs to cover Clowe in front of the net, not the random patch of ice to Schneider’s left, which he so ably defended. On San Jose’s second goal, Henrik needs to not be in the box. Captain Hook strikes again. On San Jose’s third goal, Schneider needs to remove all banana peels from his crease prior to the start of the period. Open letter to Rollie Melanson: get on that.
  • Christian Ehrhoff was good tonight. He facilitated breakouts like working at McDonald’s, had 5 shots, blocked 4 shots, and picked up two assists. I’ve heard fans saying that, now that Bieksa’s playing well, we should trade Ehrhoff instead. Tonight, Ehrhoff showed San Jose why they never should have let him go; let’s not wish that same regret upon ourselves.
  • Like Evangeline Lilly in a Live Links commercial, Mason Raymond draws a lot of calls. It’s good to see him buzzing around the offensive zone, falling down like Cory Schneider.
  • Not to rag on Cory Schneider too much. Despite his shaky moments, such as collapsing like a Jenga tower in a rowboat, he made some incredible saves, and also let in less goals than Antti Niemi. These are both positives. The Canucks are now 7-0-2 when Schneider starts.
  • Worst outfit of the night goes to Dan Murphy, who wore an ugly tie that looked like it was made of dried beef broth. Someone needs to get him on What Not to Wear immediately. Seriously, where did he get it? The toilet store?
  • Observation: every time the puck goes over the glass, pro hockey players become children stargazing with their fathers. They point with such enthusiasm it’s embarrassing. Look, Dad, a shooting star! Didja see it? Didja?
  • Word was Kesler might sit this one out after taking a shot to the foot in the game prior, but he wound up playing twenty-three very effective minutes. He put up four shots, as well as attempting another six, one of which hit the crossbar after a beautiful tip.
  • Speaking of shots, the Canucks put up 47 and attempted 70. They peppered Niemi like a flavourless steak. A ton of those shots ended up in Niemi’s glove, which the Canucks apparently hate as much as the shooter in The Jerk hates oil cans. The Canucks won the last game against the Sharks with considerable hittiness, but tonight, shootiness was their primary asset.
  • And finally, let’s give major credit to Alex Burrows, who took it upon himself to win da turd by scoring the game-winner halfway into da turd. The refs reviewed it for something that isn’t reviewable but, since many officials still sort of hate Burr for that thing that happened, it makes sense.
Jan 032011
 

[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.]

With a gritty, hard-fought win against the Avalanche, the Canucks have won 5 straight, haven’t lost in regulation in 12 games, and have the best goal differential in the NHL. And, oh yeah, they’re first place in the entire NHL right now. Now, there are plenty of spoilsports out there who will complain that being first place in January is meaningless, or that no one cares about the President’s Trophy, just the Stanley Cup. To them I say, “Boo! Boo! Boo!” I, for one, am a Canucks fan and I will take pleasure in the Canucks doing well, whether you like it or not. I take pleasure in watching the Canucks win, and I watched this game:

  • Alexandre Bolduc got his first NHL goal (above), added a particularly savvy assist, and finished a game-high +2, but let’s not lose perspective. He still played only 5:52 in the game and didn’t see a single shift after Paul Stastny narrowed the lead to one. That said, he made the most out of his limited time tonight. His heads up play on the odd bounce that led to Mason Raymond’s goal was very nifty. I suspect he got a brief lecture on knowing where his teammates are on the ice after confessing in a 1st intermission interview that he had no idea where Glass was on the 2-on-1 that led to his goal.
  • The scorekeeper for tonight’s game was apparently feeling generous, as somehow Kevin Bieksa received an assist on Mason Raymond’s goal despite about 5 different players, including a couple from the Avalanche, touching the puck between his last touch and the goal. Unless Bieksa’s giant forehead gives him telekinetic powers, there’s no way he should get an assist, although that would explain the bizarre bounce that puck took off the seamless glass.
  • Unsurprisingly, Mason Raymond got the most ice-time for the fourth line as he saw some penalty killing duty and briefly skated 4-on-4 with Jeff Tambellini. He still played under 10 minutes in his return to the lineup, but it seemed clear that his hand wasn’t impairing his shot, as he fired 3 on net including the snipe from the slot for the gamewinning goal. Welcome back, Raymond, we missed you.
  • While the fourth line did all the scoring, Roberto Luongo did all the saving. He was fantastic in net, making 31 and a half saves. He battled hard through traffic to make saves and didn’t give up many rebounds, unless he clearly meant to, like when he sprung Glass and Bolduc with a great kick-save pass. Seriously, he got credited with an assist on that one. I honestly was not aware that they gave assists for giving up a rebound. That’s like saying the wall in Shaolin Soccer was passing the ball to Mighty Steel Leg Sing.
  • Ehrhoff and Edler were solid as a tandem. The duo played the most minutes for the Canucks and made nice plays at both ends of the rink. Ehrhoff was connecting well with his passes, had 3 shots on net, and was smart with his stickwork in the defensive end, getting credit for 2 takeaways. Edler was the more physical of the two and was credited with 3 hits, including this destruction of T.J. Galiardi. If that video doesn’t work, try this one, it’s a bit of a better angle.
  • In a show of solidarity for the Make it Seven campaign, the Avalanche played the dying moments of the game with 7 skaters on the ice. J.J. Guerrero from Canucks Hockey Blog has the picture to prove it. The refs were getting a fair amount of criticism from Canucks fans during this game and that gaffe won’t help their case.
  • For my part, I think it’s just nice to see the Canucks winning in spite of the difference in powerplay time. The Canucks penalty kill was perfect at 5-for-5 and didn’t even give up a single shot on net for the latter 3 powerplays. Lost in the hubbub of their record and powerplay has been the steady work of the penalty kill which jumped up to third in the league with their performance tonight. They are far better at being shorthanded than Dr. Curt Connors.
  • Despite not recording any points, the top three lines did not play particularly poorly. The Sedins had several shifts where they penned the Avalanche in with strong possession and the second line shifted the momentum several times with their speed. It was a solid shift by the third line that led to the possession on which Mason Raymond scored his goal. Part of the problem was all the penalties that prevented them from icing their normal lines for large chunks of the game. It’s incredibly encouraging, however, to see the team pick up a win without any points from their top offensive contributors: balanced scoring is the key to playoff success.
  • Part of the reason the normal offensive contributors didn’t show up on the scoresheet tonight was faceoffs. Manny Malhotra was the only centre above 50% and even he had a relatively pedestrian 53%. It’s troubling because the Avalanche are a sub-50% team on faceoffs. On the plus side, they were 5-for-8 shorthanded, which aided their killing abilities like a golden gun.
  • During the broadcast, Shorty promoted an interview with Alison Sweeney, host of The Biggest Loser, on Breakfast Television. Garrett: Alison Sweeney is on “Days of Our Lives.” Do you watch that? Shorty: No.
  • Mikael Samuelsson apparently had 5 shots on goal. Did you even notice him tonight? Because I didn’t. Torres, on the other hand, was very noticeable, unfortunately for the wrong reasons. He took two very dumb penalties. You can criticize the officiating if you want, but the 4 minute difference in powerplay time can easily be pinned on Torres.

And on that critical note, congratulations to the Canucks for moving to the top of the NHL. Continue being awesome, boys.

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 192010
 

[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.]


Leading up to this game, the 4pm start time was a bone of contention among Canucks fans. Ever afraid of The Eastern Bias, an elusive swamp monster (pictured) that feeds on national inequality, many claimed the afternoon puck drop gave the Maple Leafs an unfair advantage. But thankfully, the Canucks reasserted their own advantage: having better players. I’d rather that.

It’s always a chippy game when the Leafs come to town, perhaps because Burke’s boys are armed with truculence in place of hockey ability. Unfortunately, the Canucks played down to the Maple Leafs at times, and the game stayed closer a little longer than it should have. But, when the final whistle blew, all was right with the world, as Vancouver skated away with yet another decisive victory the hapless Leafs. And I watched this game:

  • Lost in a very physical contest was the fact that it didn’t have a single fight, and very little in the way of post-whistle pugilism. In fact, despite all the slashing and chirping during play, it never even looked like the rough stuff was on the horizon. Considering that Aaron Volpatti was in the lineup (and you know he was looking to make an impression), I’m going to go out on a limb and surmise the team asked him and everyone else not to drop the gloves. Why? The Canucks had no reason to fight; most of the night, they played with the momentum. The Leafs are a team built on toughness and they were playing in front of an away crowd littered with supporters. A fight would have given them life. Instead, the Canucks saw that their opponents were playing frustrated (Kris Versteeg, especially), and instead of supplying an outlet for that frustration, they simply let the Leafs come apart. If someone ever complains the Canucks don’t fight enough, point to this game as an example of why they might refrain.
  • Speaking of Aaron Volpatti and Toronto fans, I found it a little classless for the jackanape sitting next to his parents to be shouting “Go Leafs Go” while Elliotte Friedman tried to interview his proud parents, down from Revelstoke to attend their son’s first ever NHL game. But, for a fanbase known for booing the home team, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by new evidence that they’re dumber than the saliva on a postage stamp.
  • Am I the only one who thinks that Colby Armstrong looks like a young Monty Burns? What a beak on that guy. Shades of Cyril Sneer.
  • On the empty-net goal: I recognize that Alain Vigneault put Henrik out for the last shift as faceoff insurance, what with Kesler taking the shift before, but part of me wonders if his experience as a parent coloured his decision. Daniel had already gotten a point–Henrik hadn’t, and it’s important to have equality between siblings. The last thing you want is Daniel teasing Henrik on the plane. I find it adorable that Henrik wanted to pass this puck and the Maple Leafs forced him to score. If you wonder why Toronto’s fans are so grumpy all the time, it’s because these are their minor victories.
  • Big props to the Green Men for their props, the waffle-throwing especially. It was a thrilling return to form for them after some concerns that their time in the very lime limelight was nearly over. That said, I have to wonder what happens when these guys go through security. You could see them finding their seats early in the telecast, carrying a backpack. Now I’m not allowed to keep the lid from my water bottle, but the masked vigilantes can carry a sack full of projectiles? I have questions.
  • If we were ever unclear what makes Christian Ehrhoff invaluable to this team, his return to the lineup tonight was a pretty indicative of his regular contributions. In twenty minutes of icetime, Ehrhoff scored the crucial insurance goal, added a threat to the powerplay, (although it still went 0-for-5), and directed 10 shots on goal. He’s got this hockey thing down cold.
  • You’ve gotta feel for Luke Schenn on the second goal (above). First, Jeff Tambellini gets around him. Then, he overplays Tambellini and uselessly puts himself behind the trapezoid for when the puck hits Kesler, the trailer. You could hear him calling for the puck before he even came into the frame. At this point, Francois Beauchemin’s been hung out to dry. He knows Kesler’s a shooter, so he leaves his man (Hansen) and goes down to block the shot. Kesler steps around him and finds Hansen instead. It’s a brilliant bit of playmaking from a guy who might have earned the label “superstar veteran,” but ladies and gentlemen: Luke Schenn is your goat.
  • We watched last night’s game with a Maple Leafs fan. He began the night hurling expletives at John Mitchell. By the evening’s end, he had cried himself to sleep.
  • While I agree our star pests have indeed matured somewhat, I like that Alex Burrows, like the OMG Cat, remains incapable of keeping his mouth shut. He’s the Joe Biden of the Canucks–prone to nonsense, but always smiling. I hope he never changes. I also like the way he crashes a crease.
  • Some other guys who played well: Tanner Glass and Jannik Hansen, who have become fantastic defensive players. Hansen is most definitely the team’s best forechecker, and Glass has become an expert shot-blocker and penalty-killer. For obvious reasons, I think my next purchase will be a Tanner Glass jersey. Kevin Bieksa also had another great night, finishing with two assists, a game-high plus-3 rating, and third star honours. Secret shame: I’ve come around completely. I like Kevin Bieksa.
  • And finally: In Edmonton, Roberto Luongo was robbed of a much-deserved shutout because the guys in front of him quit playing ten seconds early. Last night, the goal that broke the goose egg was his fault. When shots come up at him, Luongo can get a little overeager, and when he does, he gets stabby, like Norman Bates or Patrick Bateman. He stabs at the puck when he doesn’t need to. The Blackhawks have exploited this flaw in the past, putting shots glove side and then attacking the crease if Luongo knocks it down instead of making a clean catch. Against Grabovski, he should have been able to catch the puck, but an impatient jab puts his glove out of position and it finds a way past him. Like a stray dog, this is something that needs to be caught and fixed.
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.
Dec 122010
 

[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.]

So I don’t think the Tampa Bay Lightning realize they were supposed to treat this game like a ceremonial faceoff: show up, smile for a photo, then stand back while Henrik Sedin picks up the puck and hands it to the Queen. It should have been fairly simple. Instead, the Lightning came out trying to win, and did, which I found completely classless. Somebody needs to delicately tell them they ruined a fabulous night. I watched this game:

  • A lot of people are going to want to pin this loss on Cory Schneider. Let them.] Ignore the pundits eager to criticize his infrequent usage, eager to pin this on coaching and continue to innocently plant the seeds of a goaltending controversy. The Canucks outplayed the Lightning and needed a few stops to make sure the final score reflected that. If Luongo never gets a pass (and he never does), then let it be so for all Canuck goaltenders. Schneider didn’t look so good on a few of these goals; he needs and has the capability to be better. So what if it had been nine games since his last start? He was slotted, at the season’s outset, to start every fourth or fifth game. With a nine-game break, he actually only missed one start. Players miss starts. They’re still expected to be good when they get back in. Schneider did make a couple of very impressive saves, including a brilliant toe kick early in the first period that made me think, maybe, he was going to have Stamkos’s number. It was not meant to be.
  • Steven Stamkos is pretty good at hockey, don’t you think? If I was picking teams, and he was one of the guys waiting to be picked for some reason, I’d pick him pretty early on. Stamkos had 3 points last night, including the game-winner on an incredible one-timer. The last time I saw a shot that unstoppable, I ignored the desperate pleadings of everyone at my intervention and I drank it.
  • How to explain this loss? I’ll tell you what happened: The Lightning saw Brian Burke in attendance, and assumed this was a winnable game. Zing.
  • How badly did the Canucks miss Christian Ehrhoff? Ehrhoff facilitates more breakouts than the grill at McDonald’s, and Vancouver could have used him on more than a few clunky-looking rushes. Realizing the importance of his contributions for the first time, I spent the whole night humming Big Yellow Taxi. The Hoff was especially missed on the powerplay, where the five-man unit was sorely lacking in a guy who does what he does. Dan Hamhuis, his replacement, did different things, and unfortunately, those things were counterproductive.
  • Alain Vigneault would be forgiven for bumping Kevin Bieksa to that top special teams unit. Bieksa is a good puckhandler, and nobody on the Canucks pinches along the boards better. But I wouldn’t recommend it. Bieksa’s shot isn’t overly threatening; his presence would allow defenders to shade off of him and attack the open passing lanes this unit exploits so well. Rather, this might be Keith Ballard’s best opportunity to show what he can do. His end-to-end rush that resulted in the game-tying goal was, while a bit of a softie, an impressive display of offense and skating from a defenseman who has yet to fully convince his coach of his skill level. Ignore the terrifying fact that Cory Schneider has as many points as he does; Ballard’s been exploding out from behind the net for a few games now in a way that only Christian Ehrhoff could emulate. What other Ehrhoffian traits does he possess?
  • Andrew Alberts’ return to the lineup coincided with a suspicious upstick in team hittiness. The Canucks had 23 hits to Tampa’s 13. My theory: Alberts is an instigator of violence, akin to Mookie from Do the Right Thing. Keep him away from Brooklyn, trash cans, and Italian restaurant windows.
  • The Markus Naslund retirement ceremony was a thing of beauty, and done with penultimate class, but who expected Nazzy to talk for that long? We’ve come to expect brevity from him. Instead, we discovered that Markus Naslund is, like any other retired father, prone to rambling. That said, his reunion with the Vancouver fans still seemed much too short. We needed a left winger last night. He should have just played.
  • Best tie of the night goes to former Canuck goaltender Dan Cloutier. Daniel suggested Alain Vigneault was sporting some pretty spiffy neckwear as well, but my wife insisted, “Cloutier never won anything; let him have this one.”
  • Mason Raymond’s absence was felt yet again. Even when he’s not scoring, he’s a threat to do so, and it gives Ryan Kesler a bit more space to work with. Kes was going full tilt in the opening frame, but once the Lightning realized he was doing it alone, they smothered him like an only child. Related: Kesler never gets through with those bullish sprints up the middle, but I hope he never stops.
  • The Canucks won 64% of faceoffs, led by Manny Malhotra winning 14 of 19, including 9 of 10 in the neutral zone. Henrik went 11-for-19 and Kesler 11-for-16. The dirty underbelly of this stat? The Canucks only won 5 of 12 in the defensive zone, thereby failing to take advantage of their faceoff superiority by giving up possession on their defensive zone starts too often. Alex Bolduc lost all three faceoffs he took, by the way.
  • Food for thought: Manny Malhotra finished minus-1 and only won 1 defensive zone faceoff. As the Canucks’ defensive center, you’d have to call this a bad game for him. Despite scoring a goal, he didn’t do the things he’s in the lineup to do.
  • Spend a shift or two watching Raffi Torres. He makes some bizarre decisions with and without the puck. He makes cross-ice passes that suddenly end promising odd-man rushes. He puts himself out of position to make needless (albeit sweet) hits. In one instance, he tried to one-time a puck that was bouncing like Li’l Bow Wow on roller skates. My favourite Torres moment: when he sat down in the box after a first period penalty, the camera caught a nearby lady in a Bertuzzi jersey (with a Degrassi haircut) give him an amorous eyebrow raise. You know what they say about a guy with big eyes.
  • Ron Maclean still thinks it’s Mardi Gras. During the first intermission, he talked about how Guy Bocuher doesn’t focus enough on threesomes. Not everyone is into your kink, Maclean.
  • I actually really enjoyed the broadcast team last night. Mark Lee’s vocabulary was incredibly entertaining, and Weekes is steadily improving as a commentator. My wife: didn’t Kevin Weekes used to play goalie for the Canucks? Us: Kind of.
  • Before you lament the lost point, consider that the Canucks made an impressive comeback to get one. Furthermore, consider that comeback was led by two distinct instances of Wizardous Sedinerie. As the broadcast team showed Henrik’s goal (above) is scored on a shot so accurate it bent the space-time continuum.
Dec 092010
 

[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.]

My favourite thing about come-from-behind victories is the following day’s media coverage. Despite a Canucks’ victory, articles are still overwhelmingly negative, because the journalists have pre-written pieces about a Canucks loss. When it becomes a win, they hold their tone. They’ll claim it’s because the Canucks shouldn’t be in a position to need a desperate comeback, but I suspect it’s because their workload just doubled with all the late revisions, and they’re pissed. Late comebacks of this sort force them into a corner where they have to majorly overhaul their story and still meet their deadlines. As Iain MacIntyre tweeted, last night’s outcome forced him to hammer out 800 words in about 35 minutes. Good thing he’s a pro.

I’d like to take this moment to welcome our new readers from Canucks Hockey Blog, where PITB’s popular I Watched This Game is now being cross-posted. Here’s how we do it:

  • Putting aside my massive Canuck bias, I do think the universe screwed Curtis McElhinney out of what would have been only his 11th career win in 5 NHL seasons. He played well enough to get it, and I’m pretty sure the rule in the NHL is that the play is blown dead when a goaltender gets hit in the mask, especially when he’s bleeding all over the place. I felt like Daniel Sedin’s goal, which came after Christian Ehrhoff’s high slapshot broke the McElhinney’s face, shouldn’t have counted. That said, and this is in poor taste, it can now be safely said that Daniel Sedin is literally out for blood.
  • Ryan Kesler was the night’s first star, and for the second game in a row, he was clearly the best Canuck forward. His powerplay goal supports my controversial theory that he’s the engine of the Canucks’ top unit. His game-tying goal (above) was ugly, but it exhibited the high level of effort Kesler puts out every night. No wonder he made a baby.
  • Let’s talk about Jeff Tambellini, the plucky, manic, little Port Moody forward. Tamby scored his 5th goal of the season last night, along with the shootout winner on a beautiful, sudden snapshot. It goes without saying that Tamby is a goal-scorer; his goals per game average is 0.42, which puts him third on the Canucks behind Ryan Kesler and Daniel Sedin. Tambellini contributes defensively, too. He had five hits to lead all Canucks forwards, the fourth game in a row that he’s done that. One of those hits was a brilliant backcheck, an Anaheim rush where Tambellini came all the way from behind the goal line to knock the Duck forward off the puck before he even reached the Canucks’ blue line. I’m with Iain MacIntyre; Tamby’s an NHLer.
  • The Ducks had about six or seven just crazy, blatant offsides, most courtesy of an overeager Bobby Ryan. Seriously, it was like he built a crappy time machine, and was living about three seconds in the future. Not since Bob Saget’s NSFW rendition of the Aristocrats has a man been so consistently offside.
  • The penalties in this game wreaked brief havoc on Canucks units and my fragile psyche in the third, as Tanner Glass took shifts on both the first and second lines. I broke a lamp. I nearly called 911. But, thankfully, he never got on the third line, so it all worked out.
  • I think the Canucks really miss Andrew Alberts. He averages 15:30 of physical, hitty hockey, and without him, the Canucks just aren’t as big. Consider that, after he missed the game against the Blues–the first game he’d missed all year–we suddenly started hearing about the Canucks lack of grit. It might have been an issue last night as well, but thankfully, Anaheim/Vancouver games are always bloodthirsty, physical affairs. These teams hate each other like cats hate dogs. Or other cats. Or humans. You know what? Cats are jerks.
  • Daniel and I often argue about Kevin Bieksa, but there’s no dispute over Bieksa’s fighting ability. He can chuck ‘em. He is the last Canuck I would ever fight. I suspect Aaron Voros now feels similarly.
  • The best Shorty & Garrett banter moment follows. Garrett, dubious of a Christian Ehrhoff penalty call: “Ehrhoff’s saying, ‘who’s holding whom?’” Shorty: “You really think Ehrhoff is saying that?” That’ll teach you to put words in Ehrhoff’s mouth. Whom? English is his second language!
  • Keith Ballard’s minutes finally went up, as he played 17:19, including a tasty 1:45 of powerplay time. Let us congratulate Alain Vigneault for having both Kevin Bieksa and Aaron Rome in the lineup and resisting the temptation to give them a single second of powerplay time. You’ve turned a corner, AV.
  • Correction: Aaron Rome got 15 seconds. I trusted you, AV.
  • Anyway, I thought Keith Ballard had a great game. I especially liked the way he was skating the puck out of his own end. Remembering how sluggish his legs were in the preseason, it was great to see him beating forecheckers with his speed.
  • This one should have been a laugher (the Canucks outshot the Ducks by 40 to 20), but there were two factors that kept this close. First, Anaheim blocking shots (they blocked 21), and second, Luongo not blocking shots. Both trends were unfortunate. But after you rag on Luongo for a few softies, remember to give him credit for his shootout performance. Before last night, he hadn’t stopped a shootout attempt all season, leading to two skills competition losses. Last night, he stopped them all, and we won. Coincidence? No. It’s a causal element.
  • Ryan Getzlaf played just under thirty minutes last night. That’s a ton of ice time, considering he’s a forward. I’ll tell you why Ducks coach Randy Carlyle has to do this: his defense-corps are not very good at starting the rush, and only the Ducks’ star forwards can create offense from their pitiful zone starts. The Canucks did a good job of exploiting this, too. They were turning the puck up ice faster than I’ve ever seen them, even gleefully dumping it in because the Anaheim d-corps was just going to turn the puck over anyway.
  • How do I know the puck spent an inordinate amount of time in Anaheim’s zone? Offensive zone starts. The Canucks took 21 offensive zone faceoffs, and only 13 in the defensive zone. Kesler and Malhotra won 8 of 11 in their own zone, but Henrik Sedin won the night, breaking his brief faceoff funk with a 15-for-24 showing.
  • And finally, a word about Henrik Sedin. His inclination towards passing the puck in traffic has made him fairly predictable, don’t you think? He needs to be a little more surprising. Here’s what you do, Henrik. Next time you’re in a fight along the end boards, lick the defender’s cheek. No one will expect that.

(Editor’s note: We here at CHB would like to thank the Pass It To Bulis boys for sharing this feature with us. There are more posts like this on their site: http://passittobulis.blogspot.com.)

Nov 152010
 

[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)]

Keith Ballard

Photo credit: zimbio.com

With two more games remaining in their eastern road trip, the Canucks are heading to Buffalo, NY with a lot of confidence, boasting 11 goals in the last two games and winning two out of the three road games.

That being said, the fan base is not boasting about the state of the Canucks’ blueline at the moment. Even though the team is tenth in the league in the penalty-kill, the number of noticeable bad penalties and turnovers being made by Vancouver’s defencemen is making many fans cringe.

On top of that, Ballard is still sitting, and talks of extending Ehrhoff’s contract have reached a stalemate between GM Mike Gillis and Ehrhoff’s agent, Rick Curran, despite Ehrhoff being one of Vancouver’s best on the blueline.

Many fans are wondering what’s going on.

Darrin (@DTIslandSales) asked, “With the current play of the Canucks’ defence, what should they do with Keith Ballard?”

Well as we all know, Ballard has been a healthy scratch for the entire eastern road trip so far. When Vigneault decided to send the defenceman to the press box, Ballard was sitting at -3 with zero points, pretty dismal if you ask me.

But then again, Ryan Parent (D) is also at -3 with zero points.

Is Ballard being punished because he’s considered a veteran – an expensive one – and thus should know better than someone like Parent? Or is Vigneault playing favourites?

Fans are quick to assume the latter, calling AV out for being a Francophile, and what they consider to be an odd love affair with Kevin Bieksa (who is actually at +5 right now, tied for best +/- with Malhotra). Others were saying that Ballard’s size, speed and defensive style is exactly what Vancouver needed when they were shut out in Montreal on Tuesday.

I would ask Vigneault what he has to lose by playing Ballard for a game or two and seeing what happens. After all, hasn’t Ballard learned his lesson, having to be a healthy scratch for the entire eastern road trip so far? One would think that he’s probably made a vow to play better as soon as he’s allowed to hit the ice. Whenever that is. God knows Vigneault’s a sucker for punishing people, but I think three games is enough.

As for talks with Ehrhoff coming to a stall regarding a contract extension, there’s no huge hurry to sign the German defenceman, but it would give Canuck Nation a bit of security to know that he’s locked in for a few more years.

There’s speculation that agent Curran is seeking a contract between $4 million to $5 million per season – Ehrhoff can probably get that much in the open market – but is that a little much for a defenceman in the new NHL, or is that how valuable #5 has become in Vancouver?

What do the fans think?

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.

Oct 252010
 
  • Finally the offence really shined. Hank and Danny got on the score sheet again but so did almost everyone else! Bellini looked confident playing with the Sedins and scored a goal. Manny Malhotra scored 2 goals and had an assist (bad ass). Jannik Hansen had 2 assists and was noticeable every time he was on the ice. The 2nd line finally gelled and had a goal and an assist. Even Andrew Alberts and Cory Schneider had a point!
  • Alex Edler and Christian Ehrhoff were very solid. Ehrhoff was a +5! And he didn’t have one point! He’s not called the Hoff for nothing. The Bieksa and Parent pairing only had me wincing a couple of times. Alberts is a completely different defenceman this year. I guess that’s what happens when you get comfortable with a new team and city.
  • Raffi Torres scored his 100th point and I got to sing Baby Beluga
  • Cory Schneider was very solid again. I really enjoy watching him in net. He’s so damn mellow and I don’t freak out when he goes to play the puck. His stats are quite sparkling. There are going to be whispers of ‘Goalie Controversy’ on the wind which is silly. I’m not totally sold on Luongo but he’s the Canucks stallion for better or worse. TWELVE YEARS is a marriage. Schneider is the scrappy young colt that you trade at auction for several other young colts. Sorry, I got a little too caught up in my horse analogy there.
  • The Wild have a player named Stoner. And he was born in BC. Was there ever a more perfect player for Vancouver? Trade ya, Minnesota!
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