Jan 062012

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

Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: Yahoo Sports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec 132011

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

I think it’s safe to say that the Stanley Cup hangover has passed. The Canucks are playing the game that they’ve wanted to play and the hockey Canucks Nation has come to expect out of this team. Bobby Luo and company are currently on a 4-game win streak and have won 10 of their last 12 games.

Canucks Record

29 GP, 18-10-1, 37 points (2nd in Northwest Division, 6th in Western Conference)

Who’s Hot

Jannik Hansen has been on fire as of late. He is currently riding a 5-game point streak and has 4 goals and 2 assists in that span. In his last 15 games, Honey Badger hasn’t gone more than 1 game without recording at least a point.

Hansen has really shown his versatility this season. He’s played on all 4 forward lines this season and is a regular on the penalty kill. In only 29 games, he’s already tied his career-high in goals (9).

Who’s Not

Aaron Rome started off his season scoring goals in 3 of his first 4 games. The magic’s worn off since and Romer hasn’t scored a goal in his last 8 games; he only has an assist and is a -2 in that stretch. Extremely disappointing considering AV was probably getting excited about the possibility of having a Norris Trophy nominee on his team. (Yes, that was sarcasm.)

Who’s Next

Tuesday December 13, 2011 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (4:00 PM start, away)

Looking at the standings, it would be easy to mark a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets as an easy victory. Let’s be honest, Columbus has only 8 wins in 29 games played and is sitting in dead last in the Western Conference. That being said, the Canucks can not take these kinds of games for granted – the Jackets are actually playing .500 hockey (6-5-3 record and 15 points in their last 14 games).

The Blue Jackets and Canucks met at the end of November. The Canucks won 4-1 with Danny, Kesler, Booth and Burrows each scoring a goal and Cory Schneider stopping 47 of 48 shots. Columbus hasn’t had much luck against Northwest division opponents going 2-5-1 so far this season.

Vinny Prospal has recorded a point in 4 of his last 5 games and leads the team with 23 points (7G-16A).

In their two games against each other so far this season, Alex Burrows leads both teams in scoring with 3 points (2G-1A).

Thursday December 15, 2011 vs. Carolina Hurricanes (4:00 PM start, away)

The Canucks head to Carolina for another Eastern Conference matchup. Vancouver has a record of 5-2-1 against Eastern Conference teams so far this season. The Hurricanes have had a horrible start to the season and recently fired head coach, Paul Maurice, and replaced him with Kirk Muller. The ‘Canes sit in last place in the Eastern Conference.

In the two teams’ only meeting last season, the Canucks won 5-1 and Mason Raymond had 2 goals and 1 assist.

Jeff Skinner may look like he is just about to graduate middle school but he is having another great season. He is certainly not feeling the effects of the dreaded sophomore slump and is leading the team in goals (12) and points (24). It’s hard not to like a kid that has so much potential and has that silly smile on his face whenever he scores a goal.

Saturday December 17, 2011 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (4:00 PM start, away)

Every year, I make a bet with my cousin-in-law (@GoodHustle) on the Leafs and Canucks game; usually I win this bet and have the joys of boasting before, during and after the game. This year is a little different, I’m not sure whether the world is ending or whether I’m in the twilight zone but the Maple Leafs are actually playing… well.

No matter how well either team is doing, a Canucks/Leafs game is always exciting to watch and it will be no different come Saturday. The Leafs have had a lot of success against Western Conference teams this season, going 5-1-2 so far.

Phil Kessel leads the NHL with 18 goals and is ranked second with 36 points. He hasn’t gone consecutive games this whole season without recording a point. In his last 3 games, he has 2 goals and 2 assists. He also leads the Buds with 103 shots and 3 game-winning goals.

Dec 062011

In this episode of the CHB TV video podcast, Matt Lee, Clay Imoo and J.J. Guerrero talk about the improved production from the Canucks’ second line and back end. Also, more on the team’s goalie tandem.

Nov 052011

[Inspired by Arsenio Hall's "Things That Make You Go Hmmm…", Clayton Imoo talks about Canucks-related things that make him go hmmm… You can follow Clay on Twitter at (@canuckclay) or on his website, Clay's Canucks Commentary.  Clay is also a finalist in the "Replace the KB" blogging competition for the Province and you can see all of his submissions for the contest here.]

With back-to-back victories over the Washington Capitals and Calgary Flames last week, it looked as if the Vancouver Canucks were going to put a mediocre October safely in their rear-view mirror.  Well, the Canucks didn’t get too far before returning to their middling October ways with losses to the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues.  Let’s call a spade a spade and look at 5 things that make me go hmmm…

  1. Who are you?  Booth Booth, Booth Booth. (If you didn’t figure it out, you were supposed to sing that to the tune of The Who’s “Who are You”).  David Booth has 2 points in his first 6 games with the Canucks.  Extrapolated over a full-season, that would amount to about 27 points.  Except that he already had played 6 games with Florida before being traded here, and he only had 1 point in those 6 games.  So extrapolate those three points in 12 games over 82 games (though the maximum he’ll be able to play is 80 games) and you get 20 points.  That’s an unacceptable number for a second-line forward making $4.5 million (cap hit of $4.25 million).  I know it’s still early in his Canucks career, but I’m already wondering who David Booth is.  Is he the dynamic player who scored 60 points and was plus 10 just three seasons ago?  Or is he more like the player who struggled to get to 40 points last year while amassing a dreadful minus 31?  I hope it’s the former, despite early returns indicating the latter.  Case in point:  he’s tied with Dale Weise in team scoring.
  2. You’ve Got the Minus Touch.  Speaking of plus/minus, have you seen some of the alarming numbers just 14 games into the season?  Manny Malhotra is a minus-10, David Booth is a minus-9 and Jannik Hansen is a minus-8.  With the Canucks at only a minus-3 in overall goal differential, it means that they are being badly out-played at even strength.  Add in Chris Higgins’ minus-1 and things don’t look good for the Canucks’ third line.  Especially when the third line isn’t supposed to be scored on.  It’s not much better on defense, with Keith Ballard at minus-9 and Kevin Bieksa at minus-8.  The term “Replace the KB” seems appropriate here for the two struggling defencemen. 
  3. Gaudy Goalie Numbers.  When you look at the top 5 goalies in terms of goals against average, the Canucks have already played against 3 of them:  Nikolai Khabibulin of the Oilers (twice), Josh Harding of the Wild, and Brian Elliott of the Blues (twice).  These same 3 goalies are among the top-5 in save percentage as well.  That means that 5 of the Canucks’ first 14 games have been against 3 of the top goalies in the league (stats-wise).  Looking at the Canucks’ offensive woes, this is a classic chicken and egg example.  Have the Canucks struggled to score because the opposing goalies are so hot right now?  Or has the Canucks’ inability to score helped contribute to the gaudy numbers?  The answer is probably a bit of both.  But one thing’s for certain: the Canucks better find their scoring touch soon before they slip further in the standings.  Remember, this is the same team that led the league in scoring last year.
  4. O Canada.  Who would have thought that one month into the season that the Canucks would be only the 5th-best team in Canada?  Looking at win percentage (as opposed to total points as all the teams have played anywhere from 12 to 14 games), the Canucks are behind the red-hot Oilers and Maple Leafs, and Canadiens and Senators.  Vancouver is ahead of only the Flames and Jets and it’s by less than a percentage point.  So it’s conceivable that after the game against Chicago on Sunday that the Canucks will be the worst team in Canada.  Unfathomable at the start of the season.
  5. 5.  National Anthems.  Lastly, and staying on the Canada theme, just a small thing I noticed last year that bugs the heck out of me.  Why is that all 3 networks (CBC, TSN and SN) only show Canucks during the Canadian national anthem and never during the American national anthem?  Let me explain.  I get the fact that when playing at Rogers Arena against a team from a US city, that the Canucks are obviously the “home team”.  And vice-versa when then Canucks are playing in the States.  And I get the fact that when playing in the States, they are only playing O Canada because it’s the Canucks. But I still find it funny that we as viewers are to presume that all Canucks are Canadians and other opposing players are American.  I first noticed it in the Chicago Blackhawks playoff series last spring.  During the Star Spangled Banner, the camera would focus on crowd shots and the Blackhawks, including Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook (before he got knocked out) – all 3 stalwarts on the Canada’s 2010 Winter Olympic Team.  And then, during O Canada, we got shots of not only Luongo (Canadian) but shots of the Sedins (Sweden) and Kesler and Higgins (American) as well.  Although admittedly unrealistic, I would love it if the cameras focused on American-born players from both teams during the American anthem and Canadian-born players for the Canadian anthem.  Look for this during the next few games on TV.

The Canucks barely have any time to lick their wounds as they face their nemesis Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday.  This will likely go one of two ways:  either the Canucks pick their game up for one of their biggest rivals or they come out with even less confidence and more discombobulated than they already are.  What will happen?  Hmmm….

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