Apr 202013
 

Vancouver Canucks vs Detroit Red Wings

Photo credit: Vancouver Sun

It’s hard to remember a time when the Detroit Red Wings were fighting for a playoff spot. Heck, the last time the Wings missed the playoffs, Alannah Myles’ Black Velvet was no. 1 on the Billboard charts. Yet here they are now, 2 points out of the playoff picture – behind the 8th place Columbus Blue Jackets – with only 5 games left in their regular season.

The good news for the Wings is, they still very much control their destiny. They have 2 games in hand on the Jackets, and so as long as they take care of their own business, they’ll extend their 21-year streak of making the NHL postseason.

However, the Wings have been struggling lately. They’re a rather mediocre 3-5-2 in their last 10 games, having only scored 18 goals in that span.

On the other hand, the Canucks have only lost 5 of their last 16 games. (Though you can’t really tell from the way they’ve been playing.)

Canucks Record

24-13-7, 55 points (1st in the Northwest Division, 3rd in the Western Conference)

Season Series

Tonight is the 3rd and final meeting between the Canucks and Wings this season.

To say the Canucks were outplayed in the first 2 games would be too kind. They weren’t just outclassed by the Wings, they got their asses handed to them, losing 8-3 back in February and 5-2 about a month ago.

Henrik Zetterberg, Damien Brunner and Pavel Datsyuk all have 5 points each against the Canucks this season. Jimmy Howard, who the Wings recently signed to a 6-year/$31.8 million contract extension, was in net for both Detroit wins, and will be in net again tonight.

Who’s Hot

Johan Franzen is riding a 4-game point streak (3G-1A-4P).

Who’s Not

Niklas Kronwall is pointless in his last 5 games.

Quickies

Mar 162013
 

Coach Alain Vigneault admitted the Canucks were embarrassed after their 8-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings back in February. They should be. They had a 3-2 lead going into the first intermission of that game before allowing the Wings to score 6 unanswered goals in the second and third periods.

Roberto Luongo, who was in net for all of the Wings’ goals that afternoon, will get the start tonight and a chance to redeem himself.

Vancouver Millionaires Jerseys

Courtesy of canucks.com


If it’s any comfort, the Wings’ offense has sputtered a bit since then. In their 9 games since putting 8 past Luongo, they’ve only scored 15 goals. They scored 3 powerplay goals that night; their powerplay is 3-for-26 since.

Not that the Canucks are hot themselves. Sure, they scored 7 goals against the Nashville Predators the other night, but their powerplay hasn’t connected in their last 27 opportunities.

This is the Wings’ 3rd game in 4 nights. They beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 in overtime in Edmonton last night and lost 5-2 to the Calgary Flames in Calgary on Wednesday night.

Canucks Record

13-7-6, 32 points (1st in Northwest Division, 3rd in Western Conference)

Who’s Hot

Pavel Datsyuk has points in 5 of his last 6 games (1G-4A-5P), and is second in the team in scoring with 27 points (9G-18A) in 27 games. Defenseman Niklas Kronwall scored in both games in Alberta and has 3 points (2G-1A) in the road trip so far.

Jannik Hansen sits 3rd in the Canucks in scoring behind Henrik and Daniel Sedin. Hands-up if you saw that coming. (Didn’t think so.) The Honey Badger has 9 points (4G-5A) in his last 7 games.

Who’s Not

God bless his effort, but Alex Burrows is pointless in 4 games.

Wings scoring leader, Henrik Zetterberg, and 27-year old rookie, Damien Brunner, both have just 3 assists each in their last 9 games.

Quickies

  • The Canucks are celebrating the Vancouver Millionaires and donning the Millionaires jersey tonight. (canucks.com)
  • OMG IS KEITH BALLARD COMING BACK IN THE LINEUP?? (Vancouver Province)
  • It’s Luongo’s turn to be no. 1. (Vancouver Sun)
  • Dude, where’s our powerplay? (Vancouver Sun)
Feb 252013
 

It’s an early game in Detroit today. Luckily NASCAR finished on time, so there were no TV conflicts in my house. None of the duct taped cars won, so I was pretty disappointed.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

Feb 252013
 

In a strange scene from Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena yesterday afternoon, the Red Wings fans began to chant “USA! USA!” during the last 30 seconds of their team’s 8 – 3 defeat of the Vancouver Canucks. 

For better or for worse, I know that this has happened in other hockey arenas before. 

And while there’s nothing wrong with showing a bit of patriotism from time to time, there is indeed a time and place for such showings. 

I’m not convinced that Red Wings fans picked the right place nor right time given that only 5 of the 20 players dressed for Detroit were born in the USA.

Thus, after much thought, research, and coin-flipping, I have come up with the Top 10 Reasons Why the Detroit Fans Were Chanting “USA! USA!”:

10.  They got tired of singing along to Don’t Stop Believing and Sweet Caroline (credit to @transcendwebs).

9. They are still bitter at Roberto Luongo and all of Canada for beating Team USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

8. Related to #9, they were cheering for their US-born netminder Jimmy Howard (and his American backup Tom McCollum for that matter).

7. They really wanted to affirm their US-born players: the 2 goalies (as mentioned above), Justin Abdelkader, Drew Miller, and Brian Lashoff…at the risk of insulting their 6 Canadians, 4 Swedes, and one each from Switzerland, Russia, Finland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.

6. Chanting “United Nations! United Nations!” doesn’t have the same ring to it (credit to @lyteforce).

5. They were being very considerate and wanted to cheer up Canuck Americans Ryan Kesler, Chris Higgins, Keith Ballard, Jordan Schroeder, Andrew Alberts, and Cory Schneider.

4. They were inspired by a video tribute to Hacksaw Jim Duggan (see below) during the previous stoppage in play (credit to @DaveLeeSon1).

3. None of them were in their seats for the Star Spangled Banner prior to the game.

2. They wanted to do something fun before leaving the arena only to find that their cars are gone (credit to @browntobure).

1. They were giving a special shout-out and welcome to CHB writer @concretefluff who moved to Los Angeles last week.

Feb 192013
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan 182013
 

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

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

1. St. Louis Blues – 60 points

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

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

2. Los Angeles Kings – 58 points

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

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

3. Vancouver Canucks – 50 points

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

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

4. Detroit Red Wings – 54 points

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

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

5. Nashville Predators – 52 points

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

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

6. Phoenix Coyotes – 52 points

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

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

7. Chicago Blackhawls – 51 points

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

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

8. Minnesota Wild – 49 points

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

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

9. Edmonton Oilers – 49 points

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

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

10. San Jose Sharks – 49 points

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

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

11. Dallas Stars – 46 points

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

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

12. Anaheim Ducks – 44 points

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

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

13. Calgary Flames – 43 points

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

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

14. Colorado Avalanche – 41 points

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

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

15. Columbus Blue Jackets – 38 points

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

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

Jan 142013
 

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

Photo credit: Toronto Star

Finally.

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

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

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

Saturday, January 19th vs Anaheim Ducks

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

Friday, February 1st vs Chicago Blackhawks

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

Monday, January 28th at Los Angeles Kings

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

Saturday, March 30th at Edmonton Oilers

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

Saturday, March 16th vs Detroit Red Wings

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

Dec 312012
 
Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins

Photo credit: National Post web. REUTERS/Adam Hunger

Hopefully the holiday season has you in a much more festive mood than the current state of the NHL, and if not, we here at CHB ask that you please drink more Rum & Egg Nog (pretty sure Tom provided the best recipe last year).

Anywho, with the year winding down and us in need some content to keep the dust bunnies from collecting on the site, I sent out the call to our contributors to see what they could remember from the past year & what they can foresee for the next (which you’ll learn more about tomorrow).

J.J. Guerrero (@canuckshockey)

2012 was supposed to be the year the Canucks would take that one final step towards winning their elusive first Stanley Cup. With a largely intact roster from the 2011 team that fell one win short and the addition of a second-line power forward in David Booth, they were certainly poised to make another run at it.

However, as GM Mike Gillis admitted, the Canucks peaked seven days into 2012. Led by Cory Schneider and Cody Hodgson, they exacted revenge on the Boston Bruins, beating them in a Saturday matinee in Beantown, a win which probably ranks among the most memorable in this franchise’s history.

It’s just too bad the calendar read January 7, 2012 instead of June 15, 2011.

The Canucks were physically and emotionally-spent after that win and played less than stellar hockey the rest of the way. They somehow snagged a second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy, but were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Kings.

With Ryan Kesler and Alex Edler coming off major surgeries, the Sedins, Alex Burrows, Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa a year older, and the salary cap expecting to shrink with a new CBA, the window for this core may be closing and 2012 may prove to be a year of “what-ifs”, unfortunately one of many in the Canucks’ 41 years.

Matt Lee (@mattlee61)

2012 was a pretty bizarre year for the Canucks not only on the ice, but off of it, too. Going into the season, a lot of the talk was about how Vancouver would tackle the Stanley Cup hangover (which was of course answered with their season ending in 5 playoff games). But on the ice, you’d be hard pressed to find any particular game which gave you a reason to stand up and cheer. For me, only a couple games seemed to stood out, one of which was the Boston Bruins rematch back in January. The highlights speak for themselves, though:

Almost hard to believe the Canucks called it “just another game” after watching that, huh?

The other game which also proved memorable was the Canucks in Detroit back in February. The Red Wings had a lengthy home winning streak going at the Joe, and Vancouver was still the cream of the crop in the NHL standings. The game had the makings of a classic, and it was in every possible way.

But again, off the ice it was a circus. The fallout from their abrupt first-round playoff exit ushered the era of Cory Schneider and the (still going) exodus of Roberto Luongo. If the NHL lockout ends any time soon, it’ll just be a matter of time before the Luongo trade rumours swirl once again.

That doesn’t even include some other bizarre happenings: The Cody Hodgson trade rocked the city, Ryan Kesler’s continued rehab from another major surgery sparked worry among fans about how ready he will be in the event of a shortened season, and the signing of Jason Garrison in July was met with some cheers and some jeers… And the guy hasn’t even played a game yet.

Clay Imoo (@canuckclay)

2012 started off with so much promise. The Canucks entered the year having just passed the mighty Minnesota Wild for the Northwest Division lead – a lead they would never relinquish for the rest of the season. Then came that fateful game in Boston on January 7.

In the highly anticipated Stanley Cup Finals rematch, the Canucks prevailed 4-3 in a fight-filled affair. At the time, Canucks fans were on top of the world having just defeated their nemesis. However, the team struggled at times for the rest of the season despite locking up a second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy. In fact, even General Manager Mike Gillis admitted that the game may have taken an emotional toll on the team.

Add in a struggling power play and Duncan Keith’s dirty elbow on Daniel Sedin, and Vancouver looked over-matched in their first-round playoff series against the eventual Stanley Cup winners the Los Angeles Kings.

Victoria Pattison (@concretefluff)

Looking back on the 2012 season for the Canucks, I have to say it peaked early for me.

January 7, 2012 was the only game that really mattered to me in 2012. It was the game that should have happened on June 15, 2011. But it was more than just beating the dirty bears, it was also the first sign of the big changes the Canucks would make in 2012.

My favorite gum-smacking coach may say that he only started Cory Schneider because he wanted to let him play in his hometown, but no one believes that. It was a chance for Luongo to redeem himself and Vigneault didn’t trust him enough to let him have that chance. Schneider, was epic in that game. He played himself into the number one goalie spot.

Every game after the Boston game, seemed to be lack luster. Even when we won games, it seemed to me like it was by happenstance not due to actually working hard. I don’t blame the Canucks. Having a short summer break after a long, hard season with a heartbreaking Game 7 loss I didn’t think we would actually make it that far again.

That said, I didn’t think we would go down to the Kings in Round 1. The only thing more painful than watching Raymond fall down and Edler’s defensive meltdowns in Round 1 was reading the LA Kings snarktastic twitter posts.

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

Photo credit: The Checking Line

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

This first round was a bloody disappointment.

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

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

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

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

But that’s what it’s been.

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

First Round Goals Per Game:

Western ConferenceYearEastern Conference
4.4320125.64*
5.9620115.83
6.4320105.08
5.3020095.00
5.0820085.65

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

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

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

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

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

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

Season Series: Los Angeles Kings (3-1)

What we have learned about St. Louis:

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

What we have learned about Los Angeles:

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

Quick Decisions:

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Blues in 6.

*****

Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs Nashville Predators (4)

Season Series: Tied 2-2

What we have learned about Nashville:

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

What we have learned about Phoenix:

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

Quick Decisions:

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Predators in 5.

*****

Finally, a quick word on the departed:

Vancouver Canucks

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

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

*****

Chicago Blackhawks

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

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

*****

Detroit Red Wings

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

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

*****

San Jose Sharks

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

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

Apr 132012
 

For his hit on Kyle Clifford, Byron Bitz was suspended by Brendan Shanahan for the next 2 playoff games. No issues here. Like I said yesterday, it wasn’t necessarily malicious, but it was still a dangerous hit on a player in a vulnerable position.

Now compare that to Shea Weber’s *ahem* play on Henrik Zetterberg:

For grabbing Zetterberg’s head and slamming it into the glass a la Blake Griffin, Weber was issued a $2,500 fine.

I have three words to describe this: What. A. Joke.

Late last season, the NHL swore to take steps to eliminate head shots. To underscore the point, they suspended Aaron Rome for an unprecedented 4 Stanley Cup Finals games – the equivalent of 48 regular season by Sheriff Shanny’s own calculations. In the preseason, they suspended players for 5, 7, 8 games.

All those seem like faded memories now.

Watch the video again.

Weber makes no play on the puck. He doesn’t throw a check. He doesn’t even to pretend to. He goes straight for Zetterberg’s head, grabs it and smashes it against the glass hard enough that Z’s helmet cracked.

In this era of supposed heightened awareness on concussions and player safety, this merited a mere $2,500 fine, which Weber will pay off by about the 2 minute mark of tonight’s game.

What. A. Joke.

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