Jan 062012

[Inspired by Arsenio Hall's "Things That Make You Go Hmmm…", Clayton Imoo talks about Canucks-related things that make him go hmmm.  You can follow Clay on Twitter at (@canuckclay) or on his website, Clay's Canucks Commentary.]

Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: Yahoo Sports

I’m taking a break from planning my Saturday morning “Ruin the Bruins” party to offer up a few quick thoughts as the Canucks have reached the midway point of the season.  It feels so strange to type the word “morning” when blogging about a hockey game, but I digress.

On this eve of the Stanley Cup Finals rematch, here are a few Things That Make Me Go Hmmm:

1.  The need for perspective. There are so many intriguing storylines heading into Saturday’s game against the Boston Bruins, notwithstanding the fact that it’s the only regular season meeting between the two Stanley Cup Finalists.  Luongo or Schneider.  Mason Raymond’s return to the rink where he nearly had his career ended.  Daniel Sedin vs. Brad Marchand.  Burrows, Bergeron, and biting.

Thursday afternoon, I tweeted: “48 hours from now we’ll either be celebrating a bit of revenge for the Canucks or wondering what it will take to beat the Bruins in Boston.”  I received a couple of replies, with both of them intimating that a Canuck win had limited upside (as opposed to a Canuck loss having a larger downside) and that true revenge would be winning the Stanley Cup.  While I didn’t disagree with these sentiments, I pointed out that a win is a win and we can’t do much about the Stanley Cup until June.  It’s important to remember that this is game #42 of an 82 game regular season and that we shouldn’t read too much into the result of the game, whatever it may be.  I don’t buy the argument that a Canuck loss will have a long-term effect on the team’s psyche… the same way I won’t get too excited if the Canucks walk out of Boston with a win.  Enjoy it for what it will be: a hotly-contested battle of two of the top teams in the league.

2. Biggest surprises and disappointments. There have been numerous “midseason evaluation” posts including an excellent one by CHB writer Matt Lee already, but I thought I would chime in with a few of my observations.  For me, the biggest surprises up front have been Jannik Hansen, Cody Hodgson and Chris Higgins.  The collective Triple H has combined for 31 goals and 37 assists for 68 points, a welcome wave of secondary scoring behind the big four of the Sedins and Kesler and Burrows.  On the flip side, Manny Malhotra is still struggling to regain his pre-injury form of last year and the jury is still out on David Booth, who was picking up his game before his knee injury.

On the back end, the play of the top four d-men (Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis and Sami Salo) have helped some Canuck faithful forget about Christian Ehrhoff.  In particular, Hamhuis is quietly piling up the points and is on pace to match his career high of 38 points (2005-2006 season).  Hamhuis and partner Bieksa (who has overcome a shaky start) have become one of the league’s premier shutdown pairs, while Edler and Salo continue to contribute at both ends of the rink.  Conversely, Keith Ballard is still not playing like a $4 million defenseman, and he is still prone to making risky plays in his own end.  I really like him and I want to see him succeed, but 6 points and -1 just doesn’t cut it.

3. The Canucks in the Winter Classic. On the heels of another entertaining Winter Classic and HBO 24/7 series, there’s increased chatter about the possibility of the Canucks appearing in the big game in the near future.  One would think that Montreal and/or Toronto are likely to be considered ahead of our local team, but you never know.  With respect to the 24/7 series, it’s hard to predict what kind of ratings a Canadian team would draw south of the border.  But one thing’s for sure: the Canucks would make for some interesting TV.  I would find it fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes look at the player’s preparation and personal lives.  What is Luongo like away from the cameras?  How are the twins different in how they approach the games?  Who are the locker room leaders?  Does Dale Weise un-follow and block people in real life?  And where does Bieksa come up with his comedy gold?  With respect to opponents, I think it’s a toss-up between Boston and Chicago.  The former for all of the reasons listed above, the latter for the playoff history and animosity between the teams for three years running.  A dark-horse would be Detroit, but their rivalry with the Canucks is one based on respect and similar playing styles as opposed to the dislike that comes with the Bruins and Blackhawks.

Amidst all these questions, it’s good to see that the Canucks have emerged from the first-half of the season at the top of the Western Conference (albeit with the other teams holding games in hand).  Now please excuse me as I continue preparations for my Saturday morning viewing party.  I’m curious as to how many of my friends will be drinking while watching the game.  10 AM seems a tad early, but I’m certainly not here to judge.  Hmmm…

Dec 282011

[Every week, Caylie King looks at the Canucks week that was and the Canucks week ahead.  You can follow Caylie on Twitter (@CayKing).]

All is right in Northwest Division again. With last night’s win, the Canucks are finally atop of the NW standings. The Canucks ended their four-game homestand with an entertaining and physical battle against the Edmonton Oilers on Boxing Day; Andrew Ebbett lead the team with his first career multi-goal game, while the bromance of Burrows and Kesler combined for two goals, including the game winner.

The three games prior to Christmas break included a clinic put on by the Sedins against the Minnesota Wild, a furious start against the Detroit Red Wings that ended 4-2 for the boys in blue, and then a lackluster effort in a 3-1 loss against the Calgary Flames.

Vancouver now heads out to California for a three-game road trip.

Canucks Record

36 GP, 22-12-2, 46 points (1st in Northwest Division, 2nd in Western Conference)

Who’s Hot

Cody Hodgson might not be AV’s favourite player but he deserves to be recognized for his play as of late. He is currently on a four-game point streak (1G-3A).

CoHo spends most of his time between the 3rd and 4th lines, and if that isn’t happening he is most probably being benched by Alain for some unknown reason. Through all of that he has been a professional and makes the most of ice-time when he gets it. When he’s rolling, Canucks Nation sees glimpses of what made him a top-10 pick. He is very effective along the boards or in close quarters, he has great hockey sense and he has been doing a better job of coming back and taking care of his defensive responsibilities.

Who’s Hotter

Alex Burrows seems to be everywhere on the ice. He always seems to be in the right place when playing with the Sedins. He is constantly a beast on the penalty-kill; he not only sacrifices the body but he is also able to be an offensive threat while being shorthanded.

Burr has 8 points (5G-3A) in his last six games while going a plus-5 in that stretch. He is tied with Daniel Sedin for the most goals on the team (14) and is tied for 5th in team scoring (23 points). He also boasts a team-best plus-16 rating.

Who’s Next

Wednesday December 28, 2011 vs. San Jose Sharks (7:30 PM start, away)

In their first meeting of the season, the Canucks went into the Shark Tank and stole two points from San Jose. Andrew Alberts was the unexpected hero in the game, recording the GWG, while Cory Schneider stopped 43 out of 45 shots to get the victory.

San Jose has had some success against the Northwest division this season going 4-2-1; while outscoring their opponents 21-17.

Logan Couture is tied with Joe Pavelski for the team lead in goals with 15. Couture has 6 points (4G-2A) in his last 6 games and is tied for 3rd in team scoring with 26 points.

Thursday December 29, 2011 vs. Anaheim Ducks (7:00 PM start, away)

At the start of the season, not many people would have guessed that the Anahiem Ducks would have 10 wins in 35 games and be in 14th place in the Western Conference. The Ducks fired head coach, Randy Carlyle, and brought in Bruce Boudreau hoping that he would provide the lift that they needed. So far that move hasn’t paid off. They have just 3 regulation wins in their last 11 games (3-6-2) under the former Caps coach.

Although the Ducks are not playing well, this is a team that the Canucks cannot take for granted especially since Anahiem won the first meeting 4-3 back in November. In that game, Andrew Cogliano led the Ducks with 2 points (1G-1A); while Jannik Hansen had two goals for the Canucks.

The ageless Teemu Selanne leads the Ducks with 35 points (11G-24A) and is always deemed a “Canucks-Killer” because he always seems to find the score sheet when the two clubs meet. He hasn’t scored in his last two games, but just prior to that, he was on a 9-game point streak (3G-10A-13P).

Saturday December 31, 2011 vs. Los Angles Kings (7:00 PM start, away)

The Canucks look to end 2011 with a win against Drew Doughty and company. The Kings are still fighting for a playoff position in the tough Western Conference; they currently sit in 10th place.

Aaron Rome got the game winning goal against the Kings in their meeting back in November. Talented defenseman Drew Doughty led the Kings with 1 goal, 1 assist and a plus-1 rating in that game; while also having the most ice time with over 26 minutes.

Anze Kopitar is currently riding a four-game point streak; he has 5 assists in that stretch. Kopitar leads the team in assists (24) and points (34).

Dec 092011

[Inspired by Arsenio Hall's "Things That Make You Go Hmmm…", Clayton Imoo talks about Canucks-related things that make him go hmmm… You can follow Clay on Twitter at (@canuckclay) or on his website, Clay's Canucks Commentary.]

Cody Hodgson, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

With their 4-3 shootout over the Montreal Canadiens last night, the Vancouver Canucks have won 3 straight games and 8 out of their last 9 contests.  With their make-shift forward lines and Luongo’s hyped return to Montreal, the table was set for an entertaining game.  We certainly weren’t disappointed, as always there are a few Things That Make Me Go Hmmm…

  1. Third Period Prowess. As the Canucks rack up wins, it’s hard not to compare them to last year’s team at this point in the season.  As I detailed in last week’s post, the Canucks went on a torrid 17-1-2 run (in games 21 through 40) from November 24, 2010 to January 7, 2011.  This season the Canucks are 7 and 1 in games 21 through 28.  Where the Canucks really seem to be distinguishing themselves is in the third period of games.  In their last 5 games, Vancouver has out-scored their opponents 11-2 in the final frame, compared to 8-3 in the second period.  Conversely, in the first period, the Canucks have been outscored 6-4.  The team has started off games slowly more often than not, but they’re proving once again that they have outstanding conditioning and poise.  In last night’s game, I never felt that a comeback was impossible, even with the Canucks down 3-0 early in the second.  They don’t seem to panic; rather they pick up their play as the game nears its conclusion and are relentless on the attack.  The numbers bear that out as well: in the last 5 games, the Canucks have out-shot their opponents 54-47 in the third period.  Take out the Columbus game (game #24) and the Canucks have out-shot their opponents 42-25 in the last four.  That’s pretty dominant.
  2. Lack of Forward Depth. The sudden injuries to second-line wingers Chris Higgins and David Booth exposed a lack of depth at the forward position.  With a healthy Higgins and Booth, the Canucks have balanced scoring throughout their top 9 forwards, especially with the return of Mason Raymond.  However, without them the Canucks had Billy Sweatt make his pro debut and defenceman Andrew Alberts playing as a forward on the fourth line.  Sweatt barely broke one, as he logged only 6:18 of ice time and Alberts had even less, playing a measly 5:36.  The defenceman-turned-forward-likely-turning-back-to-defenceman had a rough first period as he was caught down low on both of Montreal’s first-period goals.  I guess habits are indeed hard to break, as both times Alberts was below the faceoff dots chasing around Canadiens forwards leaving the point unmanned (his linemates Malhotra and Weise didn’t fare much better).  With Sweatt and Alberts combining for only 12 minutes, if left the other forwards to pick up the slack.  Due also in part to coach AV shortening the bench in a bid to catch up, Kesler (24:35), Henrik (23:17), Daniel (22:37) and Burrows (22:15) saw significantly higher ice time – 3 to 5 minutes higher than their season averages.  Even Mason Raymond, in only his third game back from his back injury, logged over 19 minutes of ice time. Strangely, Cody Hodgson played only 10 minutes despite having a decent outing and scoring a goal.  Good to see that the limited ice time didn’t affect him, as Hodgson was the only player to score in the shootout.  It will be interesting to see who plays on Saturday against Ottawa.
  3. Ballard vs. The World. Did you happen to catch Keith Ballard’s mesmerizing end-to-end rush half-way through the overtime period?  After picking the puck up in his own zone between the faceoff circles, he held the puck for a total of 11 straight seconds covering 160 feet: he rushed out of the defensive zone (avoiding Eric Cole), dashed past the Canucks bench (evading Lars Eller), cut across the middle (making Frederic St-Denis miss his check), bat the puck down with his glove (with Cole draped all over him), gained the blue line and skated into the corner (while fighting off Hal Gill), and then threw it behind the net to Daniel who centered it to Henrik.  Only a great pad save by Carey Price robbed Ballard of what would have been one of the most memorable second assists in recent memory.  It was somewhat appropriate that the Superman theme song was played during the next stoppage in play as Ballard’s effort was indeed super.
  4. Movin’ On Up…Not Really. Despite the Canucks’ strong play of late, they can’t make up any ground on division leader the Minnesota Wild.  The Wild have rattled off 6 straight wins (all on the road) and have won 11 of their last 13 games.  Thus, Vancouver sits 6 points back of Minnesota with one game in hand.  The Canucks can’t even break free from the pack to take sole possession of fourth place in the Western Conference, as both Detroit and St. Louis are also playing extremely well.  All three teams are deadlocked with 35 points, ahead of the Sharks who have 3 games in hand.  I just can’t get used to seeing Minnesota on top of the entire league.

The Canucks have a great opportunity to continue racking up the points as their next games are against Ottawa, Columbus and Carolina.  While the defense and the goaltending seem to have solidified, all the questions are up front.  Will Higgins return soon?  Will Billy Sweatt make like Victor Oreskovich and return to the farm after just one game?  And will Andrew Alberts ever play on the fourth line again?  There are a few things that make me go hmmm.

Nov 232011

[Two-Line Pass is a discussion, or even a debate, between two hockey bloggers on some of the hottest topics in Canucks Nation and the NHL.]

In this version of Two-Line Pass, Richard and I give our early views on Cody Hodgson’s rookie season.

First, Richard:

Someone asked me recently what I thought Cody Hodgson’s chances were at winning the Calder Trophy this year. I’m not going to answer that question – I’d like to think it’s obvious. He hasn’t done anything to deserve being in Calder conversation through the quarter-mark of the season. That said – it raised another question for me. A question of our expectation of him.

Getting drafted in the first round comes with a set of expectations. Unless you’re drafting a goalie or a defenseman, you draft a forward for their offensive potential. You draft them for all the things they can do that your 3rd and 4th line players can’t do. When we think of recent first round picks, names like Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Jordan Eberle, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares or most recently even, Ryan Nugent Hopkins come to mind. You don’t really think of Cody Hodgson.

When one thinks about a first round draft pick, a weight of expectation comes as an association. Expectation to be the next big thing. The Canucks have done it with previous early picks, we put that pressure on the Sedins. Some of those expectations include clutch goals, blistering fast speed, a deadly accurate wrist shot that could peg an apple on someone’s head the same way Robin Hood could with an arrow. Oh, and a lot of points.

If you look at some of the first rounders listed above, they’ve managed to do that in a relatively short time. Even the most recent Nugent Hopkins is coming off an incredible 5 point night. Why is it other teams can expect their first rounders to bedazzle, awe, and blow out of the water their expectations with highlight reel first goals (see Eberle), quick first milestones, and incredible feats, but we’re expected to settle for mediocre play?

Why do all of the above have highlight reel goals, some with their first career hat tricks, and many with equally incredible feats – but we don’t expect the same of our first round draft pick? When it comes to any other player on the team – Canuck fan impatientness is in a race with the media. Who can hop on a player first? Sure Hodgson was out with an injury, but he’s been back, he had last playoffs and this year I haven’t seen anything particularly exciting.

The biggest thing Hodgson did was score his first goal and it happened to be in a romp over the Phoenix Coyotes. Hodgson put up big OHL numbers, and was a clutch scorer. I’ll be the first to admit that they are different leagues and it’s foolish to think that what happens in one league translates to the other. But as the 10th overall draft pick, I’m wholly underwhelmed by Hodgson.

Erik Karlsson of the Sens who went 15th overall in Hodgson’s year already has an All Star Selection under his belt. Fellow 10th overall pick from 2009 Magnus Paajarvi Svensson has his first hat trick, and Evander Kane’s made him self a mainstay in the NHL. Jeff Skinner went 7th overall in 2010 and has an All Star Game under his belt and a Calder to his name. Claude Giroux went 22nd overall, his play with Philly has been incredible. Logan Couture was a 9th overall pick, his second season was a 32 goal performance, he was named to the NHL All Rookie team and a Calder Finalist.

These are guys are on par with Hodgson’s place in the draft and they’re excelling in the NHL. If we don’t have patience for the performance of our star players like Kesler, Luongo or the Sedins, and we can’t wait for our acquisitions like Booth to make an impact, why do we keep making excuses for Hodgson’s relative lack of impressiveness? What is everyone waiting for? Or rather, is what they’re waiting for actually going to show up?

My thoughts:

Ask Mike Gillis about how he patterns the Canucks’ approach to developing prospects and he’ll quickly point to the Detroit Red Wings model. It’s the model where young players don’t get rushed to the NHL, but are ready to make an impact when they do make it. If you look for a common thread among some of the recently, locally-developed talent on the Red Wings roster – guys like Jimmy Howard, Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm, for example – you’ll notice that each one honed their skills in the minors for a few years before becoming full-time NHL players.

Unfortunately, this model requires patience, and Canucks fans are notoriously impatient when it comes to dealing with the team’s prospects. In fact, if some of them had their way, the Sedin twins would have been traded for Olli Jokinen a few years ago. Some of those same fans would have gladly taken a 2nd round pick than given Ryan Kesler a $1.9 million contract. And even some would just as sooner write off 2008 top-10 draft pick, Cody Hodgson, as the next Josh Holden.

Hodgson’s short time in Vancouver so far has been a mix of hype and disappointment. He impressed in his first training camp with the Canucks, and after being returned to the OHL’s Brampton Battalion, tore up the league, led Team Canada to the World Junior Championship, and was named the CHL Player of the Year. Not surprisingly, expectations for Hodgson were sky-high. Unfortunately for him, he suffered a back injury – a misdiagnosed one at that – and a broken orbital bone (not at the same time), and he missed most of the next two seasons.

But now, for the first time in two years, Hodgson is completely healthy. And for the first time in his pro career, we’re finally beginning to see some progress in his development.

IMHO, even while the team struggled through the first quarter of the season, Hodgson was one of the Canucks’ more consistent forwards. Due in part to injuries to Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond, AV’s deployed him anywhere from the second line to the fourth line, at center or on the wing, at 5-on-5, 4-on-4 and on the powerplay. Through 20 games, he has 4 goals and 9 points – good for 4th among Canucks forwards despite ranking just 9th in average ice-time – and is on pace for about 15 goals and 35 points this season.

It’s sometimes easy to forget that Hodgson is only 21 years old and that this season will (hopefully) be his first full season in the big leagues. When you look at some of the Canucks’ elite players, his production is actually in line with theirs. The Sedins were 30-point players during their rookie seasons; and in fact, they were 30-point players during their first 3 years in the NHL. Ryan Kesler had 23 points in his first full season with the Canucks, and while he was always good on the defensive side of things, didn’t crack the 30-point plateau until his 4th year in the league. All three worked their way up the Canucks lineup.

I’ll agree that Claude Giroux is lighting it up right now, but he was drafted two years before Hodgson; at 21, Giroux was still transitioning between the AHL and NHL. Ditto Logan Couture, who didn’t break out with 32 goals until last season, four years after he was drafted.

Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Evander Kane, the Oilers trio of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and even Cody’s good friend, Matt Duchene, made immediate impacts on their respective teams, but these guys are more the exception than the rule. For starters, these guys all log (or logged) top-line minutes for rebuilding organizations.

With a couple of Art Ross Trophy winners, a Selke Trophy winner and a couple of 30-goal scorers ahead of him in the Canucks’ lineup, it’s unlikely Hodgson will receive the same sort of minutes. But GMMG is okay with that. As long as Hodgson is improving, the Canucks will be okay with bringing him along slowly. After all, there’s no reason to rush him up the lineup and practicing patience with the Sedins and Kesler eventually paid off. Obviously, the hope is that a similar approach will pay off for Cody as well.

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