Feb 082011
 

[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.]

You’d have thought, from the tone of the media coverage leading up to this game, that Ottawa was coming in with a bag over their collective heads, while the Canucks had been spotted a guillotine, a French audience, and a death warrant personally signed by Maximilien Robespierre. From the outset, this one looked like a routine execution, the league’s best team up against, arguably, the league’s worst team. Of course, that’s not how it went. Rather than crush the Senators like the Crushinator might have crushed them, the Canucks jumped out to an early lead, indicating a crushing, then nearly lost it with some sloppy play in the second. As a result, this one was a lot closer than anybody had expected, myself included. My official prediction was a Canuck victory by the score of 50 million billion to 1. I wound up being off by one goal. I watched this game:

  • The big story was the play of the Canucks’ second line of Raymond, Kesler, and Samuelsson, which appears to be coming to life like the denizens of Stephen King’s Pet Sematery. They led the way last night, with 3 goals and 8 points between them. Kesler played the way he usually played, capable of giving straight men pause, and Raymond and Samuelsson finally looked like suitable linemates, using their respective speed and shootiness to great effect. The game-winning goal (above) was an excellent display of their reignited chemistry. Kesler fought the puck through the neutral zone before Raymond gained some room in the offensive zone with his speed. MayRay then fed it back to Kesler, who found Samuelsson in front. It was very cute, like Animaniac sister Dot.
  • Also worth mentioning is that Kesler made that pass with Jannik Hansen’s stick, given to him after his own lumber snapped in the neutral zone. I wondered what Hansen was thinking while Kesler was using it to dazzle. I suspect the following: 1) Why doesn’t it do that when I’m holding it? and 2) Maybe now they’ll finally let me join their study group.
  • Not featured in this clip of the Kesler goal is the post he hit seconds prior. His shot really is something else. Not literally, of course–it’s remains a shot. Kesler has become a remarkable player. I’m downright salivating at the thought of what he could fetch us in a trade. I’m thinking a top-line, two-way, power forward center and a late draft pick.
  • On the heels of being named one of the NHL’s three stars for the week, Mikael Samuelsson potted another two goals tonight. His empty-netter to seal the win was a reassertion that yes, he will shoot from anywhere (joke credit: @MFitz24). Thanks for reminding us, buddy, but next time, gain the red line. Samuelsson is like that member of the sniper team that picks off the bank robber right at the moment the cop on the inside is beginning to get through to the guy, and the audience is beginning to sympathize with him. Then bam! He’s dead. Not in Mikael’s bank!
  • If you’re not sure whether or not you’re the squeamish sort, have a look at Keith Ballard’s knee. Are you vomiting? You’re squeamish. I’ve eaten licorice that wouldn’t bend like that. Anyway, Ballard left the game with an undisclosed injury (early bet: knee) early in the first. The good news: this hardly disrupted Alain Vigneault’s perma-gameplan of giving all Ballard’s minutes to Aaron Rome.
  • Rome then exacerbated the Canucks’ lack of playable defencemen when he took 1140 seconds in penalties for fighting with Chris Neil, and I have to give a ton of credit to Neil on this one. When the Senators went down by two, Neil tried to start something with Rome, and Rome smartly declined. But here’s the thing: the Canucks have been playing with the lead so much this season, they almost always decline, and Neil was the first one to force the issue. The first chance he got, he took a run at Henrik Sedin. For those complaining it was in any way dirty (I’m looking at you, Garry “I only own paisley ties” Valk), it looked nearly identical to every Raffi Torres hit. It was fine. And, it necessitated a response, which was the point. Then, Neil smartly looked off Daniel Sedin, who was first on the scene for some reason (and took a Burrows-esque stab at Neil’s genitals) before pummeling Aaron Rome. That is how you get what you want. The fact that it put the Canucks down to 4 defenseman for much of the entire second period (during which Ottawa scored twice) was a bonus. You may hate Chris Neil, but his was an absolutely perfect piece of agitation.
  • It’s a small beef, but let’s talk about Aaron Rome’s delay of game penalty: really? Rome was lying on his belly when he swept the puck away. Can he really be blamed for the fact that it took off like a hornuss? I say no. If the Bible’s creation story has taught us anything, it’s that, once on its belly, a creature goes from treacherous to harmless pretty quickly. How can the referees not read this situation? In the third period, Roberto Luongo briefly lost his stick. Had it met the puck in the corner, would he have received a delay of game penalty too? The order to call this penalty by the letter of the law has only made the referees look like fools. In a parallel universe, they’re the guys ticketing motorists for turning right at a red light.
  • Andrew Alberts probably wasn’t expecting to play 17:10 (that’s Aaron Rome icetime) tonight, but he was pretty great in his first game back in the lineup. Alberts used his body to great effect (like Willa Ford), finishing with a game-high seven hits, two blocked shots, and a plus-2.
  • When Alex Burrows is playing with confidence, he becomes more than a Sedin linemate–he’s his own weapon. On his goal, he looks off Daniel Sedin to take the puck to the net himself. The power move completely surprises Chris Phillips, who cuts behind the goal, thinking he’s going to shrewdly take the puck away. Instead, Burrows finds himself alone in front, and shows a great bit of patience to put it past Elliott. There was an article in the Province only yesterday about Burrows working with Glenn Carnegie to take that extra second with the puck after missing four open chances versus Chicago. The extra work appears to have paid off instantly.
  • How about that 3-on-0 rush the Senators got? Granted, it doesn’t happen if the puck doesn’t jump over Daniel Sedin’s stick, but the rest of the team picked a poor time to have a tea party at the bench. I was surprised Luongo was even in the net.
  • Dan “Community Man” Hamhuis was the big-minute guy tonight, logging over 30 minutes in the absence of Ballard and Rome. He’s such a good guy he didn’t mind the extra work. He had plenty of energy left over, too. During the intermission, he freed Tibet.
  • I always wonder about the player that serves the bench minors. Is he aware he’s in there because he’s the least important? Coach says I’m the best at breakaways, that’s why I’m in here.
  • And finally, you had to feel bad for the snake-bitten Senators, who hit three posts in about a two-minute span when a goal would have tied the game. Not since the cast of Canada’s Worst Driver has a group hit so many consecutive posts.
Jan 252011
 

[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 that watched a hockey game.]

Friends, Romans, countrymen, I ask you, humbly, what is the cure for an offensive slump? Don’t answer; this is a rhetorical question. The solution, as everybody knows, is an opponent with porous goaltending and crap defense. It’s a fairly simple remedy, but the real trick is finding a major league team willing to provide it. Short of scheduling a shinny with the Washington Generals or the South Park Peewee Team, you can only hope that some NHL club is going to fly into town and generously lay an egg. Lucky for Canucks fans, that’s about what happened in tonight’s game which, by the way, I watched:

  • What a welcome return to form for the home team. The Canucks played with the energy and pace they’d hinted at during the Calgary game and then some. We also saw a recommitment to limiting shots against (only 26 for a high-scoring Dallas team), and a renewed offensive potency (7 goals, y’all). They played much better than they have in quite awhile, more in keeping with the level we know they’re capable. Still, before we get ahead of ourselves, it wasn’t only a return to form that caused tonight’s result; Dallas also played sloppier than a loose meat sandwich. What we saw was the Canucks’ get better and the Stars come apart at the same time, and this beautiful coincidence resulted in a nasty shellacking.
  • A number of slumps were bumped tonight, but none more important than the goals scored by both of Ryan Kesler’s wingers. Mikael Samuelsson’s was an especially nice wrist shot. Word is he broke his goal-scoring slump by imagining a logo in the top corner of the net, then hitting it dead center. Perhaps more impressive than the goal, however, were his game-high five shots, equal to how the number of shots he attempted. None were blocked, and none missed.
  • I’m not sure if Mason Raymond’s goal will stay his. The scorekeepers seemed so eager to declare another slump busted that they seemed to give it to him just because he was near it. Looks like Edler blasted it clean through to me; Raymond might be more deserving of a takeaway for stealing credit. But I won’t quibble over whether or not it’s his; I’m not Maury Povich. Let’s just hope it’s the first of many.
  • Speaking of blasting pucks, let’s take a moment to celebrate the long-awaited emergence of Alex Edler’s deadly slapper. He had two assists tonight, both on redirected slapshots (the aforementioned, from Raymond, and one from Kesler to take a 2-1 lead). Christian Ehrhoff also had a goal on one that got clean through. Ehrhoff’s been the member of this pairing most willing to shoot this season, which has always seemed silly to me. Edler’s got the hardest shot on the team. Now, they’re both shooting regularly, and it’s made them a lethal tandem on the blue line, with 12 points in the last six games. Letting them fire away seems like a wise move, especially after they broke the power play’s two-game mini slump by these very means.
  • Aaron Volpatti had a strong game tonight, and it’s possible that you hardly noticed. First there was a solid hit on Tom Wandell behind the Stars’ net. Then, Krys Barch tried to respond by drawing Volpatti into a fight, but Volpatti was smart enough to realize it wasn’t the right time. Instead, he responded by shouting, “F*** you, Barch!” loud enough for the cameras to clearly pick it up.
  • Later, Volpatti assisted on the Henrik Sedin 5-1 backbreaker halfway into the 2nd, skating well and centering a puck that would go in off Steve Ott’s boot after a touch from Henrik. If the assist wasn’t enough, Volpatti then “accidentally” tripped over Ott as he circled the net to celebrate the goal. It was a smart, sneaky play, and don’t be surprised that Volpatti’s a sneak; everybody knows Ivy Leaguers are shifty. I mean, they steal entire social networks from one another.
  • If you’re wondering why Henrik Sedin already has a mind-boggling 50 assists on the season, look no further than his puck movement on the power play. Watch him on either power play goal. On Kesler’s goal, he draws three defenders to him with a simply head fake before making a brilliant saucer pass to Edler for a one-timer. On Ehrhoff’s goal, it’s much a simpler feed, but this time Henrik uses a head fake to back his defender off. Opponents are so terrified he’s going to pass, you’d think they were auditioning for American Idol.
  • The perennially out for blood Daniel Sedin is now 4 points back of the NHL scoring lead. Earlier today, Elliotte Friedman suggested he might get picked last in the NHL All-Star draft. If that happens, I suspect he’ll coolly walk to the podium and shoot his captain in the chest, like Boomer on Battlestar Galactica.
  • Andrew Raycroft’s mask is as sparkly as a preteen girl’s binder. Or a preteen girl’s idea of a vampire.
  • How to make a player lose his mind: eye gouge him in a scrum. Just like the Rypien incident, you can clearly see Burish raging, “he was eye gouging me,” after the referees finally pull Burrows and him apart. Not to go all “Ron Maclean” on you guys, but, considering Burr’s reputation, he’s probably guilty here. That’s a finger to the peeper and a stick to the peepee in the last two weeks. He needs to be careful he doesn’t get a reputation as a dirty(er) player.
  • If he’s not careful, he’ll undo all the goodwill the Zen Canucks have built up towards officials this season. Seriously, the Canucks successfully argued for a call to be overturned tonight. When the last time that’s ever happened? I think we’re more used to the “On second thought, the Canucks lose” type of calls. Especially recently.
  • Dan Hamhuis dropped his gloves tonight. Dan. Hamhuis. What could Mike Ribiero have possibly said or done to make Hammy drop the mitts? Ribieiro: Frankly, I don’t think Haiti deserves our relief. And the children can read to themselves. Hamhuis: I’ll kill you!
  • Congratulations to Chris Tanev, who picked up his first career point, an assist on Hamhuis’s goal, the seventh and final goal of the evening. Tanev showed impressive poise tonight, finishing a plus-one with two blocked shots in just over sixteen minutes of icetime. Granted, everyone (in blue) looked good tonight, but Tanev is beginning to look like he might belong in the NHL, which is more than I can say for tonight’s opponent.
  • All credit to Tanner Glass, who spent some time tonight as the fourth-line center, and some time as the third-line winger. When he earned third line icetime last season, it was more an indictment of the Canucks’ lack of forward depth. This season, however, he’s been so defensively responsible and so smart with the puck that he’s earned every extra minute he’s been given, and I’m happy to eat crow when it comes to his stints in the top nine. I’m still not sold on his scoring ability, but I think, when your third line hasn’t scored in ten games or more, Tanner Glass certainly can’t make you offensively less potent.
  • Kevin Bieksa’s eye doesn’t look too bad… if he’s planning a trip to McDonaldland. His face is so purple he could pass for The Grimace. Speaking of passing, Bieksa did take advantage of the distinguishable mark for some brilliant duplicity. Rather than serve a second period penalty, he traded places with a wax #statueofbieksa (hashtag credit: @RE4713), and nobody noticed because, like the real Bieksa, the replica had a black eye.
  • The Canucks dominated the faceoff circle tonight, winning 40 of 65 draws. All four centres finished over 50%, with even Glass winning 4-of-7. He’s won 17 of 31 on the season now, which is pretty impressive, considering he was 3-for-18 last season. He’s developing this skill really quickly.
  • This is the second consecutive game versus the Canucks where the Stars have lost their composure, and you have to consider their sources of leadership. First, Marc Crawford’s teams have never been known for being particularly mentally tough (and Crow’s never been good at knowing when to pull his goalie, either). Second, Brendan Morrow’s captaincy might be a good cautionary tale for those who think Kesler should have gotten the “C” in Vancouver. Like Kesler, Morrow plays an intense, gritty game that’s a nice example when he’s focused, but he has a tendency to get overemotional and lose focus. When he does, the team follows him. He’s simply not a calming force.
  • Henrik Sedin, on the other hand, knows how to channel his emotions. He digs so deep, you might say he chunnels his emotions. He was solely to blame on Dallas’s only goal, but rather than beat himself up about it, he simply upped his resolve. He looked downright determined to atone for the remainder of the period. Then he did. Not since the award-winning film based on the novel Atonement have I seen such atonement.
Jan 142011
 

[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.]

It is the worst letdown in the world when the Canucks suffer a shutout loss. It’s a worse letdown than Urkel O’s (the cereal that showed so much promise). Not only am I forced to watch the Canucks lose, but I’m forced to watch as they’re held off the scoresheet. Truth is, it’s boring. Plus it means the highlight package will also be boring: Don Taylor: in the second, Mikael Samuelsson streaks into the zone and shoots–it is blocked. It means the post-game breakdown will be boring. Blake Price: Henrik Lundqvist is a good goalie. It means fan conversation will be boring. Fan: I thought the Sedins weren’t that good tonight. Like the pace of the game, everything slows to a crawl until the next one. It’s a torture.

That’s right. Watching bad hockey is literally torture. I, like any good Canadian, would sooner give away national secrets than watch a shutout loss. This is why Canada should never go to war with the United States: we’re too easy to torture (and boy, do they torture). Sigh. I watched this game:

  • Well everyone, the Canucks lost in regulation. Don’t panic, but this can only mean one thing: it’s the end of days. How will it happen? I theorize the following: the human race is about to be overthrown by a coalition of marmots and marmosets. Their combined brainpower will allow them to crack the evolutionary code and evolve at alarming rates. Their combined military power will create an unstoppable marmy. People: it’s marmageddon.
  • I’m exaggerating slightly. Nothing can evolve that quickly, save Canuck fans’ opinions on their team. This loss isn’t the end of the world. It sucks that the Canucks’ point streak and Cory Schneider’s point streak both had to end, but it was going to happen eventually. Hopefully, this loss is just a loss, and not the beginning of a streak going the other way. It’s going to take much more winning to remain atop the NHL, where the Canucks maintain a three-point lead on Detroit and Philadelphia.
  • Let’s get right out in front of any potential navel-gazing and establish that the Rangers played one Hell of a defensive game. The Associated Press called it an all-heart performance, and while it may not have been the hockey equivalent of trying to liberate Scotland, it was certainly commendable. The Rangers swarmed the puck, had 13 different guys combine to block 24 shots (including 5 from Dan Girardi), and forced the Canucks to shoot from the outside all night. Against a team like Vancouver that scores the majority of their goals a foot from the crease, that’s a solid recipe for success.
  • The Canucks lost this game along the boards. Sadly, there’s no statistic to back this up, but when the Canucks are playing well, they win their offensive zone puck battles and sustain offensive pressure. Led by pinching expert Kevin Bieksa (the grandma of the NHL), they keep pucks inside the blue line and break down defensive structures by throwing it around the zone willy-nilly. Last night, the Rangers prevented them from doing this.
  • Also, Henrik Lundqvist stopped all the shots. That helped too.
  • While New York’s 24 blocks came from thirteen guys, Vancouver’s 12 blocks came from only four defensemen, including four apiece from Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis, who quietly played a stellar game. It’s always a bummer when a team loses 1-0 because the strong defensive effort of the losers goes relatively unnoticed. The Ham n’ Juice pairing looks as defensively sound as any Canuck tandem this town’s seen in years, Bryant Reeves and Stromile Swift notwithstanding.
  • Ryan Kesler continued his shootiness, throwing five on net, and attempting another five. However, the shot king last night was Mikael “Shooty McShooterson” Samuelsson. He had five shots as well, with two blocked and four more missing the goal. He’s a funny player. He shoots when he should pass; he holds the puck when he should move it, such as when he dragged the puck back in the neutral zone when any other player would have dumped it in. Sammy’s not unlike Daniel and Henrik in that he plays the game at his own, mechanical pace, and can frustrate by appearing take it easy or playing without urgency. He’s just a measured, intelligent player. Last night he was our best forward. Let’s keep him.
  • Let’s not keep him on the first unit power play. Why, I ask, did the Canucks put him on the point instead of Ehrhoff for the five-on-three? Why did they take Kesler out from the front of the net and put him at the point? If you’re wondering why they did not score, tackle these first two whys and you’ll probably have your answer.
  • Mason Raymond had some jump as well, but he seems to have forgotten how to capitalize on a chance. Even in Monopoly, all he gets are parking fines and poor taxes.
  • Cory Schneider had a fine game, but there’s definitely something to Richard Loat‘s observation that the team plays better defensively in front of him. I agree that they tighten up a bit. Combine that with the run support he’s been getting in his starts (and his own strong play) and you have a recipe for a going this many games without a regulation loss. Last night, however, the run support dried up and Schneider saw the goose egg in his middle column disappear.
  • Speaking of middle columns: perhaps realizing that his team wasn’t about to sneak one past Henrik Lundqvist, Alex Burrows went five-hole on Marc Staal instead. Thanks a lot, Burr. Not only do I have to defend your hair-pulling when I tell people you’re my favourite player, but now I have to defend your groin-spearing? It’s embarrassing loving a man who pulls hair and stabs groins. And yet my love persists. Burrows will probably get a phone call from the league, as nether attacks are never cool–unless you’re making a short film. Here’s hoping he sees some discipline, as it’s fairly warranted, especially after the refs decided instead to instead punish Marc Staal for failing to protect his testicles.
  • Such are the foibles of a young goalie, but this is the third or fourth game in a row where Cory Schneider’s made a pretty egregious error. Last game, it was the slapstick fall that gave Jamal Mayers a freebie. He nearly handed the Rangers another when he coughed the puck up behind the net. The look on Roberto Luongo’s face afterward was priceless.
  • According to the stat sheet, the Rangers had 38 hits to the Canucks 31. No they didn’t. Madison Square Garden employs one of the most liberal stat guys in the country. Note that the Rangers have 573 hits on the road and a league-leading 731 at home. Who is this guy, thinking everything’s a hit? He’s probably the guy that greenlit Kesha. This is a surefire hit. Also, I bet the police answer domestic abuse calls at his house all the time. She hit you again, sir?
  • Daniel and Henrik did have a quiet game, though it probably helped that the Rangers were allowed to latch onto them like brain slugs. I’ve heard some criticism of the Sedins for disappearing, and I think it speaks to their expectations as the offensive leaders of this team. All this talk of Ryan Kesler as a dark horse for the Hart is silly if he’s not even the one held accountable when the Canucks get shut out. That said, when your scoring leaders don’t score, that’s a problem. Score more, Daniel and Henrik.
  • And finally, I realize that playing Aaron Rome semi-regularly is a good way to prevent him from playing like he hasn’t played in months, but when he plays that way in spite of this approach, you have a problem.This is the catch-22: Aaron Rome plays like he shouldn’t be playing, but he’ll only play worse if you don’t play him. Unless you never play him again. Get well soon, Salo.
Jan 112011
 

(Contributions from J.J. Guerrero and Matt Lee.)

Now that the Canucks have reached the official halfway point of the 2010/2011 season, we take a look back and give the players their midseason marks.

Dan Hamhuis, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: canada.com

Dan Hamhuis: The Smithers native has been everything the Canucks wanted in a top defenseman – excellent skater, positionally-sound defensively and good puck-mover. Hamhuis often plays against opposing team’s top lines, but is also on pace to match his career-high point totals.

Grade: A-

Kevin Bieksa: Bieksa is perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the Canucks’ season. Playing injury-free for the first time in three years, he’s dug himself out of a deep doghouse and re-established himself as one of the team’s best defensemen and leaders. He has 8 points (3 G – 5 A) and a +10 rating in his last 8 games.

Grade: B+

Alex Edler: Take a quick look at the NHL leaderboard and you’ll see 24-year old Alex Edler among the top-25 in NHL defensemen in points (25), total ice-time (989:55), average ice-time per game (24:08) and plus-minus (+10). No, the Canucks don’t have a Norris Trophy candidate yet but maybe – just maybe – they’ll have one in Edler soon.

Grade: A

Christian Ehrhoff: Ehrhoff had an outstanding first campaign with the Canucks last year and he’s continued that trend this season. While it doesn’t appear he’ll eclipse his team-best +36 rating from last season (+10 this year), the German is still a safe bet for 45+ points.

Grade: B

Keith Ballard: Some of the hype around trading for Keith Ballard in the summer was diminished when the American was hampered by the lingering effects of hip surgery and further when he sustained a concussion. But since getting back to full health, Ballard has been a solid defensive presence.

Grade: C+

Andrew Alberts: The whipping boy of playoffs past has re-acquitted himself to the fans with some surprisingly strong defensive play. Alberts has been a nice fit on the bottom pairing and if he keeps his game simple, will stay there.

Grade: C

Aaron Rome: Alberts’ improved play has pushed Rome further back down the depth chart. It doesn’t help that Rome’s play has regressed in the last few games he’s played. He’s only appeared in 24 games to date.

Grade: C-

Jan 112011
 
Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Raffi Torres, Manny Malhotra

Photo credit: Global TV BC

After Willie Mitchell signed with the Los Angeles Kings, Canucks GM Mike Gillis moved to pick up a guy that was a younger, faster, and better replacement. His name landed on Nashville’s Dan Hamhuis, and as they say, the rest is history. But this post isn’t about Dan Hamhuis, at least not directly. It’s about Kevin Bieksa or what I like to call the Hamhuis Effect.

If there’s one player who’s seen both sides of the media spectrum with everything from praise to criticism to daily trade rumours, it’s Kevin Bieksa. He’s been in the spotlight for his game-winning heroics, under the gun for underperforming, and in the dog house for boneheaded plays.

And that’s usually just within the span of a week.

I don’t think there’s a player more simultaneously loved and hated than Kevin Bieksa. This season, however, he’s started to turn things around. Some argue that he hasn’t been consistent since signing his contract extension three years ago while many believe he’s playing well because he’s in a contract year. Both are valid points to which I may point out he hasn’t had a chance to be consistent because of the two tendon laceration injuries he had between his breakout year and this one.

Fortunately for Bieksa, the fact that he’s playing so well coincides with his contract year. But just as notable, Bieksa is fortunate that Gillis signed Hamhuis when he did.

When Kevin Bieksa had his breakout year in 2006/2007 – after which the Canucks gave him an 800% raise – his offensive numbers were directly attributable to his defensive partner, Willie Mitchell. As an offensive defenseman with a defensive game that struggles and the ability to be mistaken for a forward on most nights Bieksa’s biggest struggles have come when he’s forced to shift the onus of his game from offense to defense. Now while that seems coutner productive to the role of a blue liner, that’s just how Bieksa operates. After his breakout season, the Canucks’ back end was hit with a barrage of injuries that then forced Bieksa to assume different blueline partners, especially in the last couple of years. He’s played with everyone from Alex Edler to Shane O’Brien to Andrew Alberts to Aaron Rome – none of whom have been the defensive rock that Willie Mitchell was. (At least Edler at that stage of his career wasn’t.)

Like Mitchell, Hamhuis is rock solid at his own end of the rink and he has allowed Bieksa to make his forays into the offensive zone without being caught. Hamhuis is so good at covering the gap that it’s allowed Bieksa to take those high-rish, high-reward offensive opportunities. The regularity of a defensive partner as defensively sound as Hamhuis has given Bieksa back the ability to play his Jovanovski-esque game; consequently, Bieksa has built a confidence which further improves both aspects of his game.

There is no doubt this season Bieksa is playing better this season. Part of it may be because he’s stayed healthy this season or perhaps it’s partly because of the pressure of performing well in a contract year. Maybe it’s because he now sports an ‘A’ on his jersey – appointed by Henrik – and is expected to play better and play a leadership role. I don’t doubt that these are all influences which have brought out the best in Bieksa.

But we also can’t deny that Hamhuis has had a positive impact of Bieksa’s play. Somewhat unexpectedly, Hamhuis has quietly come in and assumed the role of the departed Mitchell. He’s been playing big shutdown minutes and his calming influence on the blueline – in a way similar to the defensive calm that Salo brings when he’s playing – has allowed BIeksa to excel. Without Hamhuis, maybe we would still be expecting more from Bieksa and Bieksa would still be underachieving.

Jan 012011
 

[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 closed out 2010 the same way they opened it: with a win over the Dallas Stars, but don’t let the 4-1 score fool you into thinking this was just another rout of a good team. Vancouver outscored Dallas, but that’s about the only stat category they won. Thankfully, it’s the only one that matters after sixty minutes, but they were lucky to escape Dallas with a victory. I’ve been skeptical of the Stars, especially after hearing about their astronomical shooting percentages and their litany of one-goal wins and overtime points. Ignore the cynics: Dallas is good.

The Stars have evolved into the prototypical Marc Crawford team. At their best: highly-skilled, offensively strong, and gritty. At their worst: unpoised, defensively suspect, and undisciplined. After living through Vancouver’s ultimately failed Marc Crawford era, it was great to see his team have its weaknesses exposed by a smarter team without it meaning a Canucks loss. I watched this game, and it was cathartic:

  • There are two ways to look at the massively lopsided shot totals: You could say, with forty-five shots to Vancouver’s 22, Dallas outshot the Canucks by a margin of 2 to 1. Or, you could say, with 44 saves to Kari Lehtonen’s 10 or Andrew Raycroft’s 8, Cory Schneider outsaved both Dallas goaltenders by a margin of 4 to 1. I choose the latter.
  • Yes, Cory Schneider was incredible tonight. He had a bit of luck and Dallas hit a couple of posts, and he got himself into a bit of trouble (including the lone goal against) with his indecision with the puck, but he was still incredible. His lateral movement was as strong as I’ve ever seen, he was square with the shooter every time, his rebound control was sound, and he was strong along the ice. If the Canucks are hoping to showcase this kid for an eventual trade, I’d save tape of this game. He soundly outplayed twoNHL goaltenders and was rightly named the game’s first star.
  • My only quibble with Schneider: his nickname. In the blogosphere, folks are calling him Ginger Jesus. I don’t like it. I’ve been racking my brain for a better nickname, but the only redheaded goalie I remember is Archie Andrews, who played goal for Riverdale High in many a strip. (In a classic, Betty & Veronica go to see him play, not knowing he’s the goalie, and when they can’t find him–due to the mask he’s wearing and because they’re dumb girls–they leave.) Anyway, Archie’s nemesis Reggie often called him Frecklesnoot. Let’s go with that.
  • As the calendar year ends, it was nice of Marc Crawford to remind us that one thing will never change: he will always, always have the worst hair in hockey. He looks like he killed a hedgehog and glued it to his scalp. Someone needs to find the stylist who keeps dying only the top and not the sides of his hair, then gingerly feathering it, then slicking it back, and convince them to pick a new career.
  • It’s no surprise that Alain Vigneault’s shutdown pairing munched the big minutes against an offensive machine like Dallas. Bieksa and Hamhuis skated for over twenty-three minutes each. In that time, Hamhuis had 1 assist, 3 shots, 3 blocks (including one that surely saved a goal), and 2 hits; Bieksa scored a goal and added an assist to go with 2 blocks, a hit and a takeaway. The pair was shaky at times (Hamhuis had 3 giveaways), but the Canucks don’t win without their contributions.
  • It was a rare rough night in the faceoff circle, as the Canucks lost 35 of 58 draws, and only Ryan Kesler finished at 50%. Henrik Sedin, who really is hot or cold in the faceoff circle, was colder than supercooled beer, at a frosty 3-for-12, including 0-for-6 in the defensive zone. If you’re wondering why you hardly noticed the Sedins at even strength, it’s because they spent the whole game scrambling to get the puck out of their zone after Henrik lost the draw.
  • I heard Grumpy Old Man Gallagher on the Team 1040 today complaining about the Sedins, as he often does. He grumbled that Henrik and Daniel are points machines, even when they don’t play particularly well. He was probably pulling his hair out tonight when the Sedins did exactly that, by putting up a goal and an assist each while playing badly, for the most part. Somebody needs to remind him that points are awarded when your team scores goals, and the team with the most goals wins hockey games.
  • That said, the Sedins helped Vancouver put this one away early by engineering two very similar power play goals (one above, the other here). Along with Torres’s solo rush, they came suddenly, and were major momentum killers. On the opening goal, Henrik whiffs on the pass, but Karlas Skrastins is so busy fighting with Ryan Kesler he doesn’t even see the puck until it trickles to Daniel. Vancouver’s power play went 3-for-6 tonight.
  • Poor Kesler. Though his work in front of the net on the two power play goals might have deserved an assist, he didn’t get one. His streak came to an end tonight, but that’s why they call it a streak: because, eventually, it stops. A streak that never stops is called a nudist colony.
  • Kesler will have to settle for the other streak of which he’s a major part: Vancouver’s 4-game win streak, which sees them finish 2010 with an NHL-best .708 win percentage.
  • In typical Raffi Torres fashion, he had a so-so night, but scored a goal on a sudden burst of skill against the flow of the play. He fought off a can opener from Karlas Skrastins and deked out Kari Lehtonen forty-seven seconds after the Canucks had opened the scoring.
  • Brad Richards had a message for the homers saying Kesler is the best player in the Western Conference. Something along the lines of: I am also good. He had 6 shots tonight, with another 5 missing the net and another 5 blocked. He looked dangerous every time he was on the ice, which was quite often. He played 23:41, more than any Canuck player, save Kevin Bieksa.
  • Keith Ballard had a strong game, finishing with 4 hits and 2 blocked shots. He had a respectable 16:29 of ice time, but consider the Canucks were up 4-0 going into the third. Vigneault also gave nearly ten minutes to the fourth line. Tanner Glass had 11:04.
  • Awesome Glass moment: after Jeff Woywitka horse-collared Alex Bolduc, Tanner Glass was the first man into the scrum, and can be seen quietly wailing on Woywitka before becoming lost in the mess of bodies.
  • What, exactly, was Jannik Hansen doing tonight that was making the Stars so mad? Stephane Robidas gave him two gloved punches with no regard for the penalty he was about to take. I can’t imagine Hansen chirping. He’s got the highest voice on the team. It’s like getting chirped by Kristen Schaal.
  • And finally, PITB would like to wish every Bulie from here to Australia a happy new year.
Dec 242010
 

[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.]

Less than twenty-four hours after a high-octane skillfest with one of the NHL’s elite teams in one of the NHL’s elite hockey markets, the Canucks were sentenced to an evening in Columbus. There was concern that this game could be something of a trap game, as Vancouver realistically couldn’t have much left to give after yesterday’s tilt, and also because it’s literally impossible to be excited about a trip to Ohio. Yet somehow, the Canucks came out like gangbusters, making crisp passes and scoring seemingly at will; they had this one sewn up before the end of the first period. It was refreshing to see the Vancouver crush an opponent, especially after we saw what they were capable of a day earlier in Detroit–and Columbus ain’t Detroit. The Canucks put on a clinic last night and, much like the Blue Jackets, I watched this game:

  • We’ve talked about the Sedins’ frustrating ability to put up 4 points between them without controlling the game, so it’s always nice to see them decimate and demoralize an opponent with with their Wizardous Sedinerie. They were unrelenting last night, and the Blue Jackets looked downright hapless defending them. The opening goal was an excellent example, as Henrik Sedin lost the draw, but still managed to poke it to Daniel in front of the net. The Blue Jackets never got organized, and while Daniel’s shot didn’t go in, the line was already onto Plan B. This is something I love about the Sedins: once they have a team on their heels, they just push and push until the puck’s in the net.
  • I love Shorty’s call on the second goal: “Somebody start singing Sweet Georgia Brown, it’s 2-0!” If you’re wondering, Sweet Georgia Brown is the Harlem Globetrotters theme, but it was first recorded in 1925 by bandleader Ben Bernie. Somedays, I wonder how Bernie would feel knowing his tune had been adopted as the theme song of a swarm of emasculating, glory-hogging showboaters. I tell you, if my music ever becomes synonymous with bad sportsmanship, let me die.
  • Raffi Torres is an enigmatic dude. He’s talented enough to score 20 goals in a season, despite being not smart with the puck. Raffi got halfway to 20 on Thursday night with a two-goal performance, both on fabulous tip plays, and I’ve said it before: Torres tips like the waitress is pregnant. He tips like he’s the star of It Could Happen to You with Nic Cage and Bridget Fonda. Raffi’s the best tipper on the team–maybe one of the best in the league–and if you give him a waist-level puck, he’ll prove it in a hurry. Because of his goofy puck decisions, Torres lost his spot on the second unit powerplay to Jeff Tambellini awhile back, but he’ll win it back every time he reminds the coaching staff how good at redirecting pucks he is. I suspect, after Christmas, he’ll be back on the unit.
  • While we’re talking about the second Torres goal, let’s take a moment to realize how little Columbus cares at this point. When it lands in the back of the net, it’s like one of those improv flash mobs that freezes at a train station. Nobody moves, and nobody seems to care. Mason’s a butterfly goaltender and he’s standing straight up like Kirk McLean. Marc Methot looks like he’s still waiting for the referee to drop the puck. Did someone slip these guys a roofie? If someone’s sitting on a stash of Rohypnol, now might be a good time to give one to every fan still in the stadium.
  • Before I forget, the Henrik and Daniel combined for two more goals, (this one and the crazy one above) finishing with 4 and 3 points, respectively. What’s incredible to me is that they only played 15 minutes of the game. Even more interesting, though, is that their icetime wasn’t severely reduced in the third. They played about five minutes of every period, meaning Vigneault was already resting them by the first.
  • If I have one gripe, it’s Shorty and Garret’s broken promise: on the third goal, Garrett begs Shorty to use the Sweet Georgia Brown line again, and Shorty says he’ll use it later. Then, later, the Sedins give him the perfect opportunity with their fourth display of wizardous sedinerie. Instead of doing what he said, Shorty just laughs incredulously. You promised.
  • Even despite the gimme game, Vigneault found a way to make some curious decisions with his icetime. As a result of the game’s lopsidedness, Keith Ballard played eighteen minutes, but before you applaud the extra minutes, realize Andrew Alberts played over twenty. Vineault’s just rubbing his nose in it! Now, some of this had to do with resting his top players, as Christian Ehrhoff and Alex Edler were the game’s low-minute pairing, finishing with eighteen minutes and seventeen minutes, respectively. But nothing makes sense when realize Kevin Bieksa still skated for a team-high 22:05. If somebody can tell me why Vigneault hates Keith Ballard and loves Kevin Bieksa so much, I’d like to know, so I can emulate it. Perhaps it’s a fragrance? We’re often very unaware of the ramifications of our odours. Someone tell Keith Ballard he smells.
  • Maybe Vigneault was just showcasing Bieksa for those people in the crowd who looked identical to him. The one guy looked like he could be Kevin’s twin brother. He must have been a scout.
  • Dan Hamhuis had four shots in the first period, and holy cow, has this guy suddenly come alive. Hammy was flying in the opening frame, pinching like a madman, keeping the puck in the offensive zone, and stepping in off the blueline to wire shots. Every time Columbus thought they were about to alleviate the pressure, Hamhuis sent them wheeling back into their zone. He finished the night with one assist, but if he plays like that, he’s got a pretty good chance to get two assists.
  • Ryan Kesler’s point streak is now at 6 games, and he’s got 10 points in that span, and 15 points in the month of December. He’s scoring like every night is prom night. Kesler had 1 goal, 2 shots, a game-high 5 hits, and 2 takeaways (i.e, an awesome stat line), and if we’re being realistic, he’s the reason this team has the best win percentage in the Western Conference. The Sedins are so good that any opponent’s game plan is to stop them (hence, when the team gives up, the Sedins score a billion points). But if you do stop Daniel and Henrik, you’ve got a point-a-game center coming on the ice afterwards. That’s tough to stop, and it’s a luxury fans should celebrate. Vancouver has two of the best centers in the NHL; the best center in Toronto, on the other hand, is the YMCA.
  • Let’s give credit to Jannik Hansen, who appears to have stolen somebody else’s hands. I saw this episode of Futurama. More than likely, somebody took Daniel’s advice and gave him some lotion for Christmas, which he used it to soften up his hands. Impressive; that’s not what I would have done with it.
  • Cory Schneider played well, but who cares? Chris Levesque could have won this game. Hey, has anybody ever seen that movie The Big Green? Doesn’t Schneider kind of look like the goalie in that?
  • And finally, Bulie @beninvictoria pointed this out: Jeff Tambellini needs 3 more points to break his career season high. it took him 65 games last year, 18 so far this year. Not since the Micro Machines guy have I seen a man burn through points at such an accelerated rate.
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 132010
 

[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.]

Let’s talk about Daniel and Henrik Sedin, currently sitting 4th and 7th in the NHL with 36 and 35 points, respectively. Henrik has 4 more assists than any other player; Daniel is 5th in the league in goals. They’ve been among the top ten scoring leaders since the season began, but sometimes it’s easy to forget how good the Sedins really are.

It’s easy because the Sedins aren’t always flashy. Sometimes they’re merely opportunistic when we’d prefer they were creating their own opportunities. The Sedins are so good they can have forgettable games and still get two points apiece. But who wants that? It’s a truism, but you want your best players to be your best players, and the Sedins are among the best in hockey. We don’t want to see that reflected on the stat sheet; we want to see it on the ice.

Tonight the Sedins put in a dominant performance from puck drop to buzzer. It might have been their best game of the season. For once, they got two points when they probably should have had more. It was kinda nice. More please.

  • We here at PITB often talk about what we call wizardous sedinerie, defined as an instance when the Sedins do something positively magical and make it look conspicuously easy, like perhaps they’re secretly hockey man-witches. (Not to be confused with hockey man-sandwiches). We saw two instances of this last night. Both goals tonight were wizardous.
  • Henrik Sedin is the only player for whom I get depressed when he scores. I don’t ever want him to score. I want him to get 100 assists. I want him to have more helpers than a secret slave colony.
  • It seemed like Alain Vigneault wasn’t planning to play the Sedins much in this game. They had only 4 minutes of icetime in the first, and only 5 minutes in the second. But by the third, it was apparent that A) they were playing dominant hockey, and B) they were the best bet for a much-needed insurance goal. As a result, they played nine minutes in the third–just under half of the period. He rode the Sedins like they were Marty McFly’s hoverboard.
  • It probably wouldn’t have been necessary, but tonight was a spotty night for Ryan Kesler, the next scoring option, whose Raymondlessness is allowing defenders to focus on shutting him down. For the second night in a row, the Canucks’ leading shooter was held to only one shot. He made things harder on himself by winning only 4 of 13 faceoffs, spending the whole evening chasing the puck. He was good on the defensive end, though, with a game-high 5 hits and solid checking that directly contributed to the Oilers pathetic shot totals.
  • Oh my, were they pathetic. The Canucks held the Oilers to a wimpy 11 shots in the game, including 1 shot in the third period. Unfortunately, the Oilers scored on that shot, spoiling Roberto Luongo’s shutout bid. But 1-for-1 is a dangerous way to live. Revenge merely propagates more violence.
  • Last night, Alain Vigneault tried Dan Hamhuis in Christian Ehrhoff’s place on the top powerplay unit. It was a short-lived experiment. This morning, I suggested Keith Ballard, but it was Mikael Samuelsson manning the other point the first time an Oiler landed in the box. With this configuration in place, the Canucks’ NHL-best powerplay went 0-for-7 against the Oilers’ NHL-worst penalty kill. Even on a lengthy 5-on-3 for which that top unit stayed out nearly the entire time, they couldn’t put the puck past Devan Dubynk. I’m not sure Samuelsson is the answer.
  • While we’re all thinking of him, Keith Ballard finally cracked 20 minutes of icetime. He played 20:29 this evening and finished a plus-1. He continues rush the puck out from behind his own net with confidence.
  • On the Oilers’ side, Ryan Whitney played a game-high 29:58. In that time, he had a game-high six giveaways. Granted, Whitney’s minutes were inflated by Edmonton losing Jim Vandermeer to injury, but six giveaways? Those are spam filter numbers.
  • Kevin Bieksa had 6 blocked shots tonight. In fact, the Canucks had an impressive 20 blocks in total. That’s more blocks than my first Duplo set. Duplo is a sweet idea–it’s Lego you can’t choke on and die. Mind you, that takes away all the suspense.
  • And lastly: Quietly, the Canucks have improved their road record to 7-5-2. It’s a good road record. I mean, it’s not Captain Falcon good, but it’s still good.
Nov 242010
 

The Canucks’ season has been a deceptive one so far. A 6-game winning streak and an extra hot third line swept under the rug some of the biggest problems the Canucks have been having this season. One of the biggest problems the Canucks have faced this season has been injury, a problem that has also plagued the defense in previous seasons. With the injury to Sami Salo, more responsibility was placed on the rest of the Canucks defense, newcomers and returning vets alike. The problem however doesn’t lie in their acceptance of responsibility and response as a result. The defense as a single unit has looked fragmented all season and it’s clear a lack of chemistry is frustrating them.

Newcomers Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard were coming into a new system, one that’s chewed up and spit out defensemen before. Alain Vigneault has a defensive system that is based on trust and team play. The defensemen in it have to rely on their partner and the players have to buy into the system working. The Canucks have brought in defensemen before that have attempted to learn the system. Shane O’Brien comes to mind, and more recently, Andrew Alberts struggled to fit into the Alain Vigneault model. The system takes time to learn and to adapt to. We’ve seen that in his tenure as coach and it’s no surprise Hamhuis and Ballard are taking a little longer to get comfortable. It doesn’t help that Hamhuis’ foot injury set him back and looks like it still is effecting his play and that Ballard can’t catch a break between hip surgery, a concussion and now the flu.

The Canucks’ defense has been offensively powered almost singlehandedly by Alex Edler and Christian Ehrhoff. Alberts has a couple points and Kevin Bieksa has been nearly invisible. That said, offense isn’t the primary concern of the defense right now. As a unit they’ve seen so many different defensive pairings this year that it’s hard for them to have built any chemistry. The Canucks have dressed nine defensemen this year and with injuries to Ballard, Hamhuis and Parent the combination of defensive pairings has switched nightly, and perhaps not surprisingly, they’ve sometimes looked awkward and out of place when they step on the ice. The most consistent pair we’ve seen this season has been the Ehrhoff-Edler combination but even they got separated at times during this recent losing skid.

It’s time for Vigneault to start coaching and creating that cohesion and chemistry in his blueliners. It’s probably a positive sign that he’s now willing to let the group play together a bit.

“It’s not just him (Ballard), but I’d like our whole team to get together a little bit here,” Vigneault said. “I’m hoping to put a couple of strings together of games where guys start to feel a little bit more comfortable with themselves.”

Let’s hope they do.

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