May 012013
 

On paper, the Vancouver Canucks probably couldn’t have drawn a better match-up in these first round of the NHL playoffs than the San Jose Sharks.

Or maybe put it another way, at least they don’t have to play a 7-game series against a bigger, more physical St. Louis Blues team.

The Canucks and the Sharks resemble each other in many ways. Both teams have veteran-laden rosters that have experienced a lot of regular season success. But also, save for an extended run or two, both teams have a history of crashing and burning in the postseason.

Since the 2004 lockout, the Canucks have put together 5-100 point seasons and have won 6 playoff rounds. Ditto the Sharks, but they won 1 more playoff round (7) than the Canucks. Of course, both teams met in the Western Conference Finals in 2011. And of course, following that, both teams also flamed out in the first round of the playoffs last year.

With an aging core, a lot of pundits predict that whichever team loses this series will be forced to undergo major changes in the offseason. But then again, with a decreasing salary cap, maybe both will be forced to make changes anyway.

Why the Canucks will win

Except for Chris Tanev, who is expected back sometime in the middle of this round, and David Booth, the Canucks are finally healthy, and what a healthy roster can do to improve how this team looks can’t be understated.

Now, coach Alain Vigneault can roll out 3 potentially potent scoring lines consisting of Sedin-Sedin-Burrows, Higgins-Kesler-Kassian, Raymond-Roy-Hansen. Or, if he wants to load up the top-6, he can roll out Sedin-Sedin-Burrows, Higgins-Roy-Kesler, and roll out a checking line of Raymond-Lapierre-Hansen. Either of these combinations match up well against the Sharks.

On defense, the group of Hamhuis, Garrison, Bieksa and Edler, is deeper than the group of Boyle, Vlasic, Stuart and Irwin.

We’ve seen what a healthy Canucks lineup can do, evidenced by a complete effort against the Chicago Blackhawks just last week. The only question is whether or not they will be motivated enough to do so for the next 2 months.

Why the Sharks will win

Antti Niemi may very well hold the key to a Sharks series victory. He’s been great this year, finishing the regular season with 2.16 GAA and a 0.924 save percentage. Particularly against the Canucks, he was lights out, stopping 82 of 87 shots (0.943 save percentage) in 3 San Jose wins; for those counting at home, that’s 5 goals allowed in 3 games.

Now, this is not an indictment on Cory Schneider because, statistically, Schneider was a shade better (2.11 GAA and a 0.927 save percentage). However, Niemi has much more playoff experience than Schneider does. Schneider has only appeared in 8 playoff games. The last team with a relatively inexperienced goaltender to win the Cup was the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010… with Niemi in net, who at the time had 42 NHL games under his belt and was appearing in the postseason for the first time.

If Niemi shuts the door on the Canucks’ 20th-ranked offense, the Canucks will have to rely on Schneider and hope he’s equally up to the task.

[Update]

Scratch that. It looks like Roberto Luongo is starting tonight.

Quickies

Apr 212013
 

Cory Schneider played great. So did Alex Burrows, who kept the Wings on their heels all night, and Max Lapierre, who chanelled his inner Patrick Kane in the shootout, and scored the shootout winner. With their 2-1 shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings last night, the Canucks clinched their spot in the 2013 NHL playoffs.

But who cares about all that? DJ Tanner and Aunt Becky were at the game.

Have mercy!

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Apr 092013
 

Ryan Kesler returns to the lineup and scores the game-winning goal. Cory Schneider gets his 11th straight start and records his 4th shutout in 9 games.

With the win, the Canucks are now 10 points clear of the 9th place Coyotes.

Yes, it was a good night.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Apr 062013
 

Chris Higgins of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates a goal he scored with teammate Derek Roy.

Photo credit: AP

For GM Jay Feaster and the Calgary Flames, the NHL trade deadline resembled more of a fire sale than anything. In a span of a week, they dealt their long-time captain, Jarome Iginla, to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and their no. 1 defenseman, Jay Bouwmeester, to the St. Louis Blues. In return, the Flames received nothing more than some depth prospects, a couple of first round picks, and perhaps some hockey tape and a used water bottle. But don’t fret, Calgarians, this is all part of the rebuild, right? RIGHT?!

If Flames fans can take comfort in anything, it’s that the team has finally admitted it needs to gut its aging core and move forward. After years of denying it needed to rebuild – even Feaster admitted he should have started this process earlier – it finally made the moves to start stockpiling younger assets. And in today’s NHL, where 19 of the top 25 scorers are under 30 years old, that’s a good thing.

Of course, the Flames will experience some growing pains. Since Iginla was traded on March 27, they’ve lost all 4 games and have been outscored 20-8. Against the Edmonton Oilers on trade deadline day, they blew a 2-0 lead and ended up losing 8-2. Last night against the San Jose Sharks, they took a 1-0 into the second intermission only to let the Sharks score twice in the third period – one a couple of minutes in and the other with a couple of minutes left – en route to a 2-1 loss.

And it doesn’t get any easier for the Flames the rest of the way. 7 of their remaining 12 games are on the road, where they’ve won just 3 times all season (3-12-3). They’re a dismal 0-11-1 in their last 12 games away from the Saddledome, including 10 straight losses.

Canucks Record

20-11-6, 46 points (1st in the Northwest Division, 3rd in the Western Conference)

Season Series

The Canucks are 16 points ahead of the Flames in the standings, but the Flames did win the last meeting between the two teams. In that game, Alain Vigneault took a questionable abuse of official penalty in the third period, and while the Canucks technically killed the penalty, the Flames scored 2 seconds after it expired to break what was a 2-2 tie at that point.

Cory Schneider and company have won 4 straight games at Rogers Arena, outscoring their opponents 11-3. Schneider posted shutouts in 2 of those games.

Who’s Hot

The only things “hot” about Calgary right now are the flames coming out of their logo.

Chris Higgins has a 4-game point streak that includes scoring in 3 of those 4 games. Fresh from signing a 4-year/$10 million contract extension, he had a particularly good game on Thursday against the Oilers, and if that game is any indication, his line with Derek Roy and Jannik Hansen could be the perfect tonic to the Canucks’ scoring woes.

What’s Not

The Canucks finally connected on the powerplay on Thursday – they scored during a lengthy two-man advantage – but they still rank 28th in the NHL in powerplay efficiency (13.1%).

Likewise, their penalty kill has been better (81.7%), but ranked 15th in the league, it’s still quite average.

With just 11 games left in the season, the Canucks may want to start getting their special teams in order, especially if they want to make a deep run in the playoffs.

Quickies

  • After a quick cup of tea with the big boys, Nicklas Jensen is going back to the Chicago Wolves. (Vancouver Province)
  • Mason Raymond and Dale Weise have recovered from their respective injuries and will return to the lineup tonight. (Vancouver Sun)
Mar 312013
 

There was a lot of anticipation heading into the Canucks’ matchup against the Edmonton Oilers last night. After all, a win against the high-powered – and suddenly streaking – Oilers would extend their win streak to 7 games and keep the Minnesota Wild at bay in the race for the Northwest Division title.

Good vibes, right?

Ummm… not quite.

The Canucks gave up 3 goals in 3 shots in the first 3 minutes of the game, and Taylor Hall had a hat trick before the first period was 8 minutes old, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now on to the grisly details and your reactions.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Mar 282013
 

Vancouver Canucks celebrate a goal against the Colorado Avalanche

Photo credit: Vancouver Sun

A few weeks ago, the very thought that Roberto Luongo could be traded by next week’s trade deadline scared many fans. The Canucks were in a slump, having won just 3 of their 11 games, and in part because their $9.3 million goaltending duo of Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo were battling inconsistency between the pipes. At that time, neither Schneider or Luongo had taken the reigns of the team’s no. 1 goaltending spot. Regardless of their play, on some level, having both in the lineup perhaps provided a sense of safety in numbers.

Before the Canucks’ current 5-game win streak, Schneider, specifically, was struggling. His timing was off and he seemed out of position at times. For a one-month stretch between February 15 and March 19, he was a rather pedestrian 2-3-3 with a 2.82 GAA and a 0.902 save percentage. And let’s not even get into his puckhandling adventures. Obviously, the Canucks’ struggles weren’t all his fault – he wasn’t getting much support from his defense and the team continues to struggle to score – but for that stretch, it seemed like he couldn’t make the big save when the Canucks needed him to, and that had Canucks fans a bit spooked.

Now, that sense of fear appears to have dissipated.

Going into tonight’s game against the last place Colorado Avalanche, Schneider, who will make his 6th consecutive start, is playing his best hockey of the season. He’s won his last 5 starts, which coincides with the Canucks’ 5-game win steak, and has a 0.98 GAA, a 0.962 save percentage and 2 shutouts in those games. Quickly, he’s worked his way back to more expected numbers, and for the season, he now has an 11-5-3 record with a 2.19 GAA (9th in the NHL), a 0.923 save percentage (3rd in the NHL), and 3 shutouts (4th in the NHL).

There will be very little room for error for Schneider if the much-anticipate Luongo trade occurs before the trade deadline. But it’s a great sign to finally see him settle in his role, and certainly, his play is helping alleviate fans’ fears of moving forward with him as the Canucks’ starting goaltender.

Canucks Record

18-9-6, 42 points (2nd in the Northwest Division, 4th in the Western Conference)

Season Series

The Canucks won the most recent meeting last Sunday. The Avs have actually had a dreadful month of March with only 3 wins in 12 games (3-8-1). They’re winless in their last 10 road games (0-7-3) and are dead last in the Western Conference. With 16 games to go, they’re still 10 points out of a playoff spot.

Who’s Hot

PA Parenteau is on a 3-game point streak (2G-3A-5P). He leads the Avs in goals (14) and points (33).

Who’s Not

Milan Hejduk has just 2 points in his last 8 games. Usually a big part of the Avs offense – he’s averaged 25 goals in his past 6 seasons – he’s had trouble finding the net and has just 4 goals and 7 assists in 25 games.

Quickies

  • Keith Ballard has a minor fracture in his foot and won’t play tonight. (Vancouver Province)
  • Roberto Luongo patiently waiting. Sitting and waiting. (Vancouver Sun)
Mar 272013
 

It wasn’t exactly a masterpiece, but the Canucks won their 5th consecutive game last night, beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 1-0 in the shootout.

If you were looking for chills, spills and thrills, well, you went to the wrong place.

But hey, 2 points is 2 points, and with the win, the Canucks regained top spot in the Northwest Division, although the idle Minnesota Wild has 2 games in hand.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Mar 262013
 

Mason Raymond of the Vancouver Canucks scores a spinorama goal in the shootout to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Photo credit: Globe and Mail

Rick Nash was the face of the Columbus Blue Jackets for nine seasons.

So it was a bittersweet moment when the only true superstar the franchise had ever had agreed to waive his no-trade clause to go to the New York Rangers.

The Blue Jackets had only made the playoffs once in its not-so-storied history. The Rangers boasted some big names in their lineup and had just made the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2007. It was obvious that Nash wanted to go to a team that had a legitimate chance of, not only making the playoffs, but also making a run for the Stanley Cup, and that team wasn’t Columbus.

If you thought Columbus would have seller’s remorse, think again. An informal Twitter poll done by Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch asked whether or not Columbus fans would do the Rick Nash trade again – the Blue Jackets received Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a first round draft pick in return – and the answer was overwhelming on the “Yes” side.

And who would blame them?

Perhaps it’s a by-product of a shortened season, but with only one-third of the season left to play, there’s not much difference between the two teams. The Rangers, who many thought would be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, especially with Nash in the lineup, are barely clinging on to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets, who many thought would occupy their usual spot in the bottom of the Western Conference, are only 2 points out of a playoff spot.

Starting at the top, where GM John Davidson has started to mold the Blue Jackets into a young, hard-working team, and through the lineup where guys like Dubinsky, Anisimov, Nick Foligno, Mark Letestu, Jack Johnson and Sergei Bobrovsky are leading the team on a nightly basis, there is, for the first time in a long time, a feeling among the faithful that their team can beat any team on any given night.

And it took the trading of their superstar in the summer to pave the way for their success so far this season.

Canucks Record

17-9-6, 40 points (2nd in the Northwest Division, 4th in the Western Conference)

Season Series

This is the third and final meeting between the Canucks and the Blue Jackets this season. Neither of the first two meetings were decided in regulation time. In their first meeting on March 7, Matt Calvert scored the OT winner for the Blue Jackets. Five days later, Mason Raymond scored the shootout winner to win the game for the Canucks and kickstart their current 6-2-0 run.

Who’s Hot

Sergei Bobrovsky has been the Blue Jacket’s best player this season. Playing in the final year of his contract, Bobrovsky is 8-1-2 in his last 11 starts. He is 3rd in the NHL in save % (0.927) and is 6th in both GAA (2.17) and shutouts (2).

Cory Schneider, who is getting his fifth consecutive start, has won 4 straight games and has allowed only 5 goals in that span.

Quickies

  • Keith Ballard will once again suit up on the third line with Andrew Ebbett and Alex Burrows. #kb4ward (Vancouver Province)
  • Jussi Jokinen and Kaspar Daugavins are on waivers, and the Canucks should make a claim for both of them. (Pass It To Bulis)
Mar 242013
 

Canucks vs Avalanche

Photo credit: canada.com

After the Colorado Avalanche dropped a 5-2 decision to the Dallas Stars yesterday, Avs goaltender Jean-Sebastian Giguere didn’t mince any words:

“We had a big meeting two or three days ago, a players-only meeting. We talked about some stuff and I thought we had a good response against Dallas at home (Wednesday). Then we have a day off, then come back and practice, and I thought our practice was just awful,” Giguere said. “The effort wasn’t there. We practiced defensive zone coverage, and guys weren’t taking the body and swirling and stuff like that. This is the stuff we have to work on every day. I told a couple of the guys that ‘I don’t think we’ll have a good game today.’ It’s unacceptable. It’s an everyday job. You’ve got to work hard every day. You’ve got to be a lot more desperate than that.”

I suppose Giguere’s outburst is a bit understandable. After all, the Avs have lost 5 of their last 6 games and now occupy last place in the Western Conference. Especially after a 20-point improvement between the 2010/2011 and 2011/2012 seasons – they went from 68 to 88 points in 82 games – there was some hope that the Avs could maybe make a push for a playoff spot this season. Now 7 points back of 8th place in the Western Conference and with only 18 games left to play, that hope is slowly fading.

Canucks Record

16-9-6, 38 points (2nd in Northwest Division, 4th in Western Conference)

Who’s Hot

Cory Schneider has started the last 3 Canucks games – all wins – and stopped 85 of the 88 shots he faced (0.966 save percentage). In an afternoon matinee against the defending Stanley Cup champions Los Angeles Kings, who had won 12 of their 17 games before facing the Canucks, Schneider stopped all 20 shots he faced for his second shutout of the season.

Who’s Not

After finally breaking an 0-for-35 slump against the Minnesota Wild last week, the Canucks’ powerplay is mired in another lengthy slump. They haven’t scored in their last 11 man-advantages, including 3 PP opportunities against the Kings yesterday. Perhaps Dimitri Filipovic from Canucks Army described it best:

I don’t want to harp on how dreadful the power play looks, because I realize that it’s missing 2 of its most important pieces. I’ll just mention that the team had 3 opportunities, which only generated 2 scoring chances. Both were for the Kings.

Quickies

  • A personal fave column: Canucks Brunch. (Nucks Misconduct)
  • Still trying to figure out if Tony G. is giving AV a hard time for his lineup decisions or giving him a pass because of all his missing players. (Vancouver Province)
  • For those hoping the Canucks’ offense gets a trade deadline boost, who knows if it they’ll come. (Vancouver Province)
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