Dec 292010
 

[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 Flyers and Canucks were a good matchup on paper. Both teams have excellent strength down the middle and strong forward lines overall, a solid defensive corps, and comparable records. Some said, prior to tonight’s contest, that we might be looking at a potential Stanley Cup Finals matchup. Roberto Luongo said it was a big measuring stick game. The Flyers hadn’t lost in Vancouver since 1989. That is to say, nobody expected a retread of the Columbus Blue Jackets game. Mitigating factors: the flyers were playing without Chris Pronger, as well as, seemingly, motivation and heart. This may come as a surprise, but Chris Pronger is a good hockey player, and a team without him is lesser. How much lesser is now a valid question.

But who cares about the Flyers? The Vancouver Canucks dominated this game in every aspect, and, somewhat giddy, we watched:

  • First things first: just today, I sat down and compiled a sweet list of the best 50 goals the Canucks had scored in 2010. Then Alex Burrows went and made a fool of Kimmo Timonen (above). Next time, I would appreciate some notice, Alex. Sour grapes aside, this was one of the prettiest goals we’ve seen this season, and shows why Alex Burrows is not just a glorified tap-in artist. It also shows that he is a legitimate complement to the Sedins. Proof: his unwillingness to shoot the puck.
  • The Canucks riddled the Philadelphia net with shots like it was the last duck in Duck Hunt and they were afraid they’d get mocked by that stupid dog. 49 shots in total, including 22 in the first period alone, and we should note that they weren’t just winging the puck, willy-nilly. They were putting up points like they were holding the NES gun up to the screen like a cheaty cheater who cheats. Brian “The Mighty Boosh” Boucher got pulled after four goals and a stinkeye (check out his glare, post-whiff, on this goal), and he didn’t play too badly. The Flyers simply defense gave up more chances than a Monopoly board.
  • John Buccigross tweeted this evening that Ryan Kesler is currently the best player in the Western Conference. He’s wrong, but the sentiment is touching. Kes is on fire. He scored twice tonight, and was a crossbar away from the second hat trick of his career (and this year). And, as well as he’s playing, you could argue that he hit the crossbar on purpose to set up Jeff Tambellini. You’d be completely full of rubbish, but you could argue it. It’d be a bit of a Chewbacca Defense, but you could argue it. Kesler put up another three points tonight to extend his point streak to eight games, he had seven shots, and he showcased breakaway speed that would make Gob Bluth look like he was never a member of the Hot Cops. These days, Kesler is playing like the Canucks are the United States of America. You could say everything he touches turns to gold right now, except his silver medal.
  • Jeff Tambellini is similarly aflame. No longer aflame? Darryl Sutter.
  • But seriously, Tambellini is quietly riding a six-game point streak of his own, and he’s been a solid linewife for Kesler in the absence of Mason Raymond. Do you think, when Raymond gets back, things will be awkward? I’ve been raising your kids, Mason!
  • Tambellini had a game-high nine shots, by the way. Toss in Jannik Hansen’s 1 shot (which scored, despite clearly being a pass), and the second line combined for 18 shots on goal, 4 of which rippled the mesh. While we’re on the subject, let’s establish that I find “rippled the mesh” kind of a gross thing to say, because I wear nothing under my swim trunks.
  • Forgotten stat: Jannik Hansen continues to lead Canucks forwards in hits. He had 6 tonight, for a total of 70 on the season, just 5 short of Andrew Alberts for the team lead.
  • Speaking of Alberts, word is he left Rogers Arena with a bit of a shiner after Jody Shelley sucker-punched him. We at PITB do not endorse the sucker punch, but we do endorse classic ska band Five Iron Frenzy’s catchy ditty, Sucker Punch. We also endorse punching suckas. The jury is still out on Zack Snyder’s upcoming film, Sucker Punch.
  • The Canucks won the faceoff circle yet again, coming out of 66% of draws with the puck. The big three won their draws with typical regularity, but it’s worth noting that Alex Bolduc also won 6 of 11, and wingers Samuelsson, Torres, and Tambellini all won a draw as well. I have a theory that the Canucks are grooming Tanner Glass for the 4th-line center job (evidenced, perhaps, by footage of Manny Malhotra showing him faceoff techniques), but Alex Bolduc is quietly winning his coach’s trust in the circle, and giving the top faceoff team in the NHL (by a wide margin) yet another option. Bolduc had 3 defensive zone faceoffs, and you can expect that number to increase if he gets a reputation for winning them.
  • We haven’t talked about the Sedins yet at all, but they were fantastic tonight. They put up 5 points between them–1 goal and 1 assist for Daniel, and 3 assists for Henrik–and they buzzed around the offensive zone like twin bees. (Sidenote: holy crap do you remember TWIN BEE?!) Henrik now leads the NHL with 39 assists, and he’s on pace for 91. We all know he’s gunning for 100 assists. He hates when he scores, because it’s not an assist. Goals are secondary to him. They’re even more secondary than secondary assists.
  • The Sedins have put together a string of fabulous games, and I can’t help but think that the improvement in Alex Burrows’ play has given their line a cohesion they had previously been playing without. Until recently, they’d been putting up points, but they hadn’t been dictating pace with their typical cycle game and strong possession. They’re doing that now, and when people are claiming a teammate of theirs is the best player in their Conference, you know the Canucks are strong.
  • The Sedins are so good that fans cheer like it’s an odd-man rush when they come across the blue line 2-on-2. Have you noticed? We noticed. It’s funny. Laugh at it.
  • Aaron Volpatti finally had his first NHL fight, and we found it adorable. It was nice of Sean O’Donnell to indulge him, as well as re-engage him after their first attempt ended in minor penalties. He held his own. Whatever.
  • The Canucks’ defense was so good we didn’t notice them whatsoever. Like Abed delivering a baby in the background of Community, they quietly made a major impact on tonight’s episode. We often question the way Alain Vigneault metes out minutes, but when your top four defenders are playing exactly the way you want them to, you don’t keep them from the ice.
  • And finally, a word about Ryan Kesler’s second goal, which looked a little like he and Henrik were playing skee-ball, not hockey. Unfortunately, Brian Boucher did not dispense tickets. Instead, he was dispensed from the game.
Dec 272010
 

[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.]

A couple days ago on Puck Daddy, Justin Bourne wrote about the dreaded post-Christmas game, and suggested that hockey fans “be sure to set [the] DVR for ‘anything but NHL hockey’ on Dec. 26 and 27″ as players work off their Christmas hams and turkeys with lethargic play. Instead, both the Canucks and Oilers came out flying in a fairly wide-open hockey game. The Canucks carried the bulk of the play, out-shooting the Oilers 33-21, but Khabibulin put up a wall, the Oilers were opportunistic with their chances, and the Canucks had to come from behind to win this one.

I wasn’t worried for an instant: as everyone knows, the two-goal lead is the worst lead in hockey. As soon as the Oilers went up 2-0, I knew the Canucks had this game in the bag. Despite such foreknowledge, I watched this entire game:

  • Last Boxing Day, Jeff Tambellini sat in the press box at Madison Square Garden, a healthy scratch while his New York Islanders eked out an overtime victory against the Rangers. Three nights later, he would get 12:27 of icetime in his first game in three weeks before heading right back in the press box for the next game. In the new year, he would play one game in January, two more in February, and finish the season in and out of the press box, without a goal since November 23rd in Toronto. That offseason, the worst team in the NHL let him walk without much consideration, and they’re probably the only ones who are even remotely sore about it. Tamby got picked up by his hometown team, and his luck changed dramatically. Tonight, he scored a vital goal on his patented high wrister, had another waved off, and buzzed around the offensive and defensive zones making big plays (including a huge backcheck on a 2-on-1). Give the kid credit for an incredible turnaround.
  • The Biggest Idiot Ever award goes to the two fans sitting behind the Oilers’ net in the 1st and 3rd period who couldn’t seem to refrain from banging their hands on the glass ALL. NIGHT. LONG. Pro Tip: when you do that, your team does not get a brief turbo boost.
  • The First Law of Sedinery: if a game is tied late in the third period, and the Sedins have not yet factored into a goal, they’ll soon factor into the game-winner. Both Sedins had strong games, creating multiple scoring chances, including a perfect setup for Andrew Alberts in the slot. Unfortunately, it was a perfect setup for Andrew Alberts in the slot.
  • The fourth line had only one shift after the complete collapse that led to the Oilers’ first goal, leaving both Aaron Volpatti and Alexandre Bolduc with under 5 minutes in total time-on-ice. The only reason Tanner Glass had more is because he was used once in a penalty killing role in the third period. Most, if not all, of the blame has to be given to Volpatti, who completely mishandled a pass from Glass, giving it away to O’Marra at the blueline, then failing to follow O’Marra to the net to prevent him from putting the puck in the open net. We’re only a few games removed from Volpatti scoring his first NHL goal and the fourth line being praised for finally existing, but that is the kind of play that could see Volpatti on a plane to Manitoba.
  • Cory Schneider only made 19 saves tonight, but made several tough stops off of odd-man rushes. It’s dangerous to give a young, hungry team like the Oilers so many odd-man rushes. It’s also dangerous to give slightly older, well-fed players like Ryan Whitney an odd-man rush: Schneider had less of a chance on his goal than Brian Herzlinger with Drew Barrymore.
  • Manny Malhotra had his usual strong defensive game, going an astonishing 83% in the faceoff circle and logging almost 2 minutes of time on the penalty kill, but he also showed some offensive flourish, with 3 shots and an assist. His most impressive moment came towards the end of the second period, just before Tambellini scored, as he split the defense and forced Khabibulin to make a solid save. He just needs a browncoat, pistol, and a more accurate shot to upgrade from Alternate Captain Mal to Captain Mal.
  • With an assist on Tambellini’s goal, Kesler extended his point streak to 7 games. He has 11 points in that span. Only 17 more games and 35 more points to catch Crosby!
  • That said, did Kesler forget how to turn right on the Tambellini goal? After cutting across the blue line to drop the puck, he does a full spin to get back into position for a return feed. A simple right turn would have sufficed. Does he think he’s Derek Zoolander? Perhaps.
  • Speaking of Kesler, both he and Henrik were terrible on faceoffs tonight at 33% and 32% respectively. Against a better team, that could have been disastrous. Meanwhile, Alexandre Bolduc was 100% on draws; too bad he only took 3 of them. Still, Ducer (pronounced “dük-er” and yes, that’s apparently what his teammates call him) is a solid 55.9% for the season.
  • Remember when it was safe to go to the outside on a Canucks defenseman? Remember that? It’s no longer the case. I am happy about that.
  • I’m often hard on Raffi Torres for his poor puck decisions and bizarre pass attempts, but his assist on Samuelsson’s goal was pretty fantastic. Also pretty fantastic? Dr. Doom riding a unicorn. Missing from that replay is Keith Ballard’s excellent work at gaining the blue line and going hard to the net. After getting the puck to the corner, he rotates back to the point, where Mikael Samuelsson was covering him. Samuelsson stealthily glides into the slot and no one thinks to pick him up because of the rotation between he and Ballard. Shorty even yells “There’s Samuelsson!” as if he had no idea where he was either. He was probably hiding under an invisibility cloak.
  • Speaking of Ballard, it’s tempting to yet again question AV’s decisions with time-on-ice as Ballard yet again played under 14 minutes. But when Edler, Ehrhoff, Hamhuis, and Bieksa are playing so well ahead of him and eating up big minutes…well, there’s only so much time to go around. Bieksa-haters may want to argue that Ballard should get his minutes; this wasn’t the game to make that argument.
  • Bieksa’s game-winning goal, seen above, comes unsurprisingly off some fantastic work below the goal-line by Henrik Sedin. Despite being “hauled down” by Taylor Hall, he manages to hook the puck behind the net to Alex Burrows from his back. Burrows smartly waits for Daniel to crash the net before feeding the puck to Bieksa at the point. Bieksa does not have the heavy shot of Edler or Ehrhoff, but he consistently gets his shots on net and manages to thread the needle through the haystack of bodies in front of Khabibulin. It’s a perfect shot: about a foot and a half above the ice, just off the inside post.
Dec 262010
 
Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks Team Store had their annual Boxing Day Sale today. Here are a few (unneeded) items they had available for sale:

  • Jannik Hansen’s hands of stone – In the past 6 games since moving to the second line with Ryan Kesler and Jeff Tambellini, Hansen has 3 points (1 goal – 2 assists). I know it’s a modest 0.5 points per game average, but consider he had 7 points (2 goals – 5 assists) in the previous 28 games – a 0.25 points per game average.
  • Tanner Glass’ plane ticket to Manitoba – The fourth line has seen a revolving cast of characters; no less than 11 players have suited up on the fourth line this season. About the only constant has been Glass.
  • Ryan Walters’ motivational posters – Sure didn’t help Steve Bernier’s confidence.
  • Cases of Eggo Waffles – The Leafs don’t come to Rogers Arena again until next season.
  • Kyle Wellwood’s game-worn jersey – Comes in size XL (but some smaller sizes available).
  • Robero Luongo’s goalie mask – Some markings. Looks like a ‘C’ under the cage.
  • Ryan Walters’ powerplay playbooks – The Canucks’ powerplay improved steadily with Walters behind the bench, but it’s really taken off this season with Newell Brown.
  • 40-Year Old Virgin DVDs – Because it hurts too damn much to watch. (Located next to the Canucks at 40 books – you know the one that reminds us that we’ve had a couple of good runs but haven’t won the whole thing yet.)
  • VIP passes to the Roxy – Previously belonged to Shane O’Brien.
  • Jeff Tambellini’s plane ticket to Manitoba – Kid’s got 14 points (8 goals – 6 assists) in 20 games and the Canucks are 16-1-3 with him in the lineup.
  • Floorball equipment – Must keep away from Sami Salo.
  • Green spandex tights – Surely The Green Men’s 15 seconds of fame is up, right? Right?
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 212010
 

[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.]

This was one of those games the Canucks had to win. No, it wasn’t a must-win (I hardly believe in them), but it was a road game against a beleaguered and bruised Blues team, for whom three of their top three offensive weapons weren’t playing. And, sadly for St. Louis fans, the injuries to David Perron, TJ Oshie, and Andy Macdonald have made the St. Louis offense about as threatening as the Disney Channel. It was apparent early in tonight’s game that the only Blues to watch out for were Alex Steen and Blu Cantrell (who is totally due for a comeback).

Even motivation wasn’t a factor, as the same basic Blues team had come to GM Place two weeks ago and handed the Canucks their only regulation loss in December–a game Vancouver probably had no business losing. These are the games you should win, and thankfully, the Canucks did win. And, just like the time my friend was getting picked on by bullies, and I probably should have stepped in except that I’m a coward, I watched:

  • Congratulations to Aaron Volpatti on his first NHL goal (above). You know he’s stoked about it, primarily because of the high-pitched squeal he emits after potting it. Listen for it at the 0:07 mark–Whitney Houston wishes she could still hit that note.
  • The Canucks are now 6-1-1 since the blessing of Head Poke Kid. This is an unprecedented display of supernatural power. Despite being blessed by a superior deity, even Adam and Eve couldn’t stay good for this long.
  • I thought the fourth line played a solid game tonight. Tanner Glass is always solid (except in Scrabble, where he will soon be soundly trounced), but Alex Bolduc and Aaron Volpatti were on their game as well. The line generated a goal, a couple other scoring chances, and played defensively solid enough that Alain Vigneault was comfortable giving them icetime while protecting a one-goal lead in the third period. In fact, no member of the trio had less than eight minutes. I’ve been especially impressed with Volpatti’s restraint in his two games. You know he’s licking his chops for his first big NHL hit and/or fight, but the Canucks have been playing with leads since he got here. Good on him for knowing when isn’t the right time. I have a theory that it’s a constant message from the bench, but you still need mature players to buy into a message of composure, and the Canucks appear to have a roomful of such players.
  • While you would be correct for attributing much of the opening goal to the thunderous hit of Tanner Glass, let’s be sure to give full credit to Alex Pietrangelo for confusing himself with the Venus De Milo. Had he remembered that, unlike the Venus De Milo, he is neither protected by a velvet rope, nor without arms, I imagine he would have moved the puck a little faster. Unfortunately for him he didn’t, and like the Gummi Venus De Milo, he was an irresistible target.
  • Blues fans might be forgiven for being a bit upset with the referees. The fans were on the zebras all night for missed calls, especially after St. Louis was hit with a steady stream of penalties in the first. Then, on two separate occasions, referees ran beautiful pick plays for Vancouver–one leading to a scoring chance for the Canucks, and other negating one for the Blues. I predict lingering animosity towards anybody in refereeing stripes. If I lived in Missouri and worked at a Foot Locker, I’d call in sick tomorrow.
  • Ryan Kesler, whose wife gave birth to a baby boy just the other night, claimed he’d be playing on adrenaline and Red Bull. Well, nuts to any theory of exhaustion: he scored the game-winner on a wrist shot so quick Jaro Halak didn’t even have time to fan on it, and he had a game-high seven shots on net. Kes, how many Red Bulls did you drink? Don’t be surprise if his post-game interview is reminiscent of a Corky Romano press conference.
  • I love Jannik Hansen. He can play on any line, and his forechecking is more Crazy/Beautiful than the Kirsten Dunst movie of the same name. I’m always amazed at the way he fools opposing puckhandlers into thinking he’s coming in the wrong side. He’s constantly knocking pucks off sticks. On one penalty-kill, he ate up valuable time poking the puck away from multiple Blues, then when they finally got away from him, he turned on the jets and was there to break up their entry into the offensive zone. Hansen is so hot right now.
  • If you’re wondering why Henrik and Daniel Sedin went pointless tonight, I’d take a look at the faceoff numbers. Henrik had a mediocre 6-for-13 night, but he went 2-for-8 in the offensive zone. On the plus side, Manny Malhotra had another strong night, winning 13-of-20. Alternate Captain Mal is now the NHL’s top faceoff guy, one-tenth of a percentage point better than Washington’s David Steckel. By the by, Alexandre Bolduc went 3-for-3 in the faceoff circle for the second game in a row. He may have found a way to earn more icetime.
  • It’s time we gave some credit to the second power play unit. The Canucks have scored 10 power play goals in the month of December, and four of them have come from the second five. Considering how heavily the Canucks lean on the first unit, those are pretty decent numbers. Their goal tonight was a nice piece of insurance, as Jeff Tambellini broke his minor slump on a nice feed from Mikael Samuelsson. Also a nice piece of insurance? J-Lo’s 27 million dollar policy on her own butt.
  • Speaking of the second power play unit, Keith Ballard is no longer on it. In fact, the return of Christian Ehrhoff has spelled a major reduction in minutes for Hips. He played only 14:47 tonight, but don’t feel bad for him: considering what he gets paid for under fifteen minutes of work, his hourly salary should make you feel bad about yourself.
  • Shifting our focus to the enemy, let’s give some credit to Eric Brewer, who had seven blocked shots tonight. Those are Dennis Rodman numbers. The way he was amassing blocks, you’d have thought he was going for a Tetris.
  • And finally, did anyone else catch the furious lasagna eater right behind Alain Vigneault at the beginning of the second? Obviously, nobody looks particularly classy when they’re eating, especially as captured by Sportsnet’s HD camera, but this guy was going to town on his stadium meal. Clearly, he was confused about which Italian staple food he was eating, because he was devouring his lasagna like a slice of deep-dish pizza. I’ve seen less voracious eating from the extras in zombie movies.

Skeeter’s thoughts:

  • Kesler didn’t just have 7 shots tonight; he had an additional 5 shots blocked and 1 missed shot. That’s a whopping 13 attempted shots, dwarfing the next closest Canuck, Mikael Samuelsson, who had 9 attempted shots, 4 of which missed the net. Additionally, Kesler has now tied Daniel Sedin for the team lead in goals with 16 and he has more goals this season than Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla, Ryan Getzlaf, and, of course, Ilya Kovalchuk. That $5 million dollar contract doesn’t look so bad right now.
  • The Blues had over twice as many hits as the Canucks, but it never seemed like the Canucks were losing the physical battle. It helps when the hits the Canucks did make were super-effective, like Tanner’s emasculation of Pietrangelo that led to Peppermint Volpatti’s first ever NHL goal.
  • Speaking of, Volpatti needs some lotion immediately to soften up those hands. He had the entire right half of the net to shoot at and was extremely lucky to slide his shot under Halak’s pads. He had another golden opportunity in the third period off a slick pass from Alexandre Bolduc, but the puck clanked off his stick like it belonged to Curt Blefary.
  • Raffi Torres continues his slide. He may have logged a point on Kesler’s goal, but let’s face it, that goal was all Kesler. He played a mere 10:55, barely more than the fourth line, and didn’t see any time on the powerplay. It appears that Burrows has taken his spot on the second powerplay unit while continuing to kill penalties. If it wasn’t for Raymond being out with a broken thumb, Torres would be on his way to the press-box.
  • I love Jannik Hansen. If I had lady-parts, I would want to have his babies.
Dec 092010
 

[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.]

My favourite thing about come-from-behind victories is the following day’s media coverage. Despite a Canucks’ victory, articles are still overwhelmingly negative, because the journalists have pre-written pieces about a Canucks loss. When it becomes a win, they hold their tone. They’ll claim it’s because the Canucks shouldn’t be in a position to need a desperate comeback, but I suspect it’s because their workload just doubled with all the late revisions, and they’re pissed. Late comebacks of this sort force them into a corner where they have to majorly overhaul their story and still meet their deadlines. As Iain MacIntyre tweeted, last night’s outcome forced him to hammer out 800 words in about 35 minutes. Good thing he’s a pro.

I’d like to take this moment to welcome our new readers from Canucks Hockey Blog, where PITB’s popular I Watched This Game is now being cross-posted. Here’s how we do it:

  • Putting aside my massive Canuck bias, I do think the universe screwed Curtis McElhinney out of what would have been only his 11th career win in 5 NHL seasons. He played well enough to get it, and I’m pretty sure the rule in the NHL is that the play is blown dead when a goaltender gets hit in the mask, especially when he’s bleeding all over the place. I felt like Daniel Sedin’s goal, which came after Christian Ehrhoff’s high slapshot broke the McElhinney’s face, shouldn’t have counted. That said, and this is in poor taste, it can now be safely said that Daniel Sedin is literally out for blood.
  • Ryan Kesler was the night’s first star, and for the second game in a row, he was clearly the best Canuck forward. His powerplay goal supports my controversial theory that he’s the engine of the Canucks’ top unit. His game-tying goal (above) was ugly, but it exhibited the high level of effort Kesler puts out every night. No wonder he made a baby.
  • Let’s talk about Jeff Tambellini, the plucky, manic, little Port Moody forward. Tamby scored his 5th goal of the season last night, along with the shootout winner on a beautiful, sudden snapshot. It goes without saying that Tamby is a goal-scorer; his goals per game average is 0.42, which puts him third on the Canucks behind Ryan Kesler and Daniel Sedin. Tambellini contributes defensively, too. He had five hits to lead all Canucks forwards, the fourth game in a row that he’s done that. One of those hits was a brilliant backcheck, an Anaheim rush where Tambellini came all the way from behind the goal line to knock the Duck forward off the puck before he even reached the Canucks’ blue line. I’m with Iain MacIntyre; Tamby’s an NHLer.
  • The Ducks had about six or seven just crazy, blatant offsides, most courtesy of an overeager Bobby Ryan. Seriously, it was like he built a crappy time machine, and was living about three seconds in the future. Not since Bob Saget’s NSFW rendition of the Aristocrats has a man been so consistently offside.
  • The penalties in this game wreaked brief havoc on Canucks units and my fragile psyche in the third, as Tanner Glass took shifts on both the first and second lines. I broke a lamp. I nearly called 911. But, thankfully, he never got on the third line, so it all worked out.
  • I think the Canucks really miss Andrew Alberts. He averages 15:30 of physical, hitty hockey, and without him, the Canucks just aren’t as big. Consider that, after he missed the game against the Blues–the first game he’d missed all year–we suddenly started hearing about the Canucks lack of grit. It might have been an issue last night as well, but thankfully, Anaheim/Vancouver games are always bloodthirsty, physical affairs. These teams hate each other like cats hate dogs. Or other cats. Or humans. You know what? Cats are jerks.
  • Daniel and I often argue about Kevin Bieksa, but there’s no dispute over Bieksa’s fighting ability. He can chuck ‘em. He is the last Canuck I would ever fight. I suspect Aaron Voros now feels similarly.
  • The best Shorty & Garrett banter moment follows. Garrett, dubious of a Christian Ehrhoff penalty call: “Ehrhoff’s saying, ‘who’s holding whom?’” Shorty: “You really think Ehrhoff is saying that?” That’ll teach you to put words in Ehrhoff’s mouth. Whom? English is his second language!
  • Keith Ballard’s minutes finally went up, as he played 17:19, including a tasty 1:45 of powerplay time. Let us congratulate Alain Vigneault for having both Kevin Bieksa and Aaron Rome in the lineup and resisting the temptation to give them a single second of powerplay time. You’ve turned a corner, AV.
  • Correction: Aaron Rome got 15 seconds. I trusted you, AV.
  • Anyway, I thought Keith Ballard had a great game. I especially liked the way he was skating the puck out of his own end. Remembering how sluggish his legs were in the preseason, it was great to see him beating forecheckers with his speed.
  • This one should have been a laugher (the Canucks outshot the Ducks by 40 to 20), but there were two factors that kept this close. First, Anaheim blocking shots (they blocked 21), and second, Luongo not blocking shots. Both trends were unfortunate. But after you rag on Luongo for a few softies, remember to give him credit for his shootout performance. Before last night, he hadn’t stopped a shootout attempt all season, leading to two skills competition losses. Last night, he stopped them all, and we won. Coincidence? No. It’s a causal element.
  • Ryan Getzlaf played just under thirty minutes last night. That’s a ton of ice time, considering he’s a forward. I’ll tell you why Ducks coach Randy Carlyle has to do this: his defense-corps are not very good at starting the rush, and only the Ducks’ star forwards can create offense from their pitiful zone starts. The Canucks did a good job of exploiting this, too. They were turning the puck up ice faster than I’ve ever seen them, even gleefully dumping it in because the Anaheim d-corps was just going to turn the puck over anyway.
  • How do I know the puck spent an inordinate amount of time in Anaheim’s zone? Offensive zone starts. The Canucks took 21 offensive zone faceoffs, and only 13 in the defensive zone. Kesler and Malhotra won 8 of 11 in their own zone, but Henrik Sedin won the night, breaking his brief faceoff funk with a 15-for-24 showing.
  • And finally, a word about Henrik Sedin. His inclination towards passing the puck in traffic has made him fairly predictable, don’t you think? He needs to be a little more surprising. Here’s what you do, Henrik. Next time you’re in a fight along the end boards, lick the defender’s cheek. No one will expect that.

(Editor’s note: We here at CHB would like to thank the Pass It To Bulis boys for sharing this feature with us. There are more posts like this on their site: http://passittobulis.blogspot.com.)

Dec 032010
 
Henrik Sedin

Photo credit: Vancouver Sun

After last year’s career years from Mikael Samuelsson and Ryan Kesler and breakout year from Mason Raymond, it was no surprise that the bar was set high for the Canucks’ second line. But any realistic fan would have expected there to be some drop off. And though we expected drop off, we certainly didn’t expect to see as steep of a drop off as we did from the trio at the start of the season.

That all changed with the introduction of one Jeff Tambellini.

Tambellini, who’s been trying to prove his versatility, has gone from Sedin trigger man to bottom-six winger and now back to the top-six in a comfortable spot alongside Kesler and Raymond. When the Canucks’ second line was struggling to make an impact and the team was looking like a one-line team again, that concept of forward depth seemed more like a myth than reality. Thanks to the exodus of Peter Schaefer, some juggling around and some mixing of things up, Tambellini got the call up and has made the Canucks second line visible again.

Samuelsson, who only seems to respond to relegation or a good kick in the ass, is actually noticeable for the first time all season. For a while, Samuelsson looked like he was floating around the ice and missing shots on net. Since being relegated to the third line on Manny Malhotra’s wing the last few games, he’s elevated his game back up has started creating odd man rushes and scoring chances.

The real story however is the play of Tambellini, who fit well with the Sedins, but when called upon this time has catalyzed Kesler and Raymond. Since his return from a seven-game stint with the Moose, he’s had points in every game – 4 points in three games to be exact. In the same three games, Kesler has 4 points and Raymond has 5 points. To compare, the trio of Kesler, Raymond and Samuelsson combined for just 3 points in their previous three games before that. Tambellini’s energy and speed has jumpstarted that second line and given the Canucks a legitimate secondary scoring threat.

Tambellini’s audition has been exceptional and I think it’s safe to say he’s very close to earning himself a permanent spot on this roster.

Oh, and the Canucks are 8-0-1 with him in the lineup.

Dec 022010
 

(Please forgive me for the cheesy headline, but any chance you get to drop a Top Gun reference there is no way you can pass it up – kinda like taking pot shots at the Calgary Flames for instance.)

If you’ve been watching the Canucks over the past couple of weeks, you’ve likely noticed a few players find a third and fourth gear in their skates. Heck, the only Flames worth watching last night were coming from Raymond and Tambellini as they lit the ice up. In fact, it seems that Tambellini’s insertion into the Canucks second line provided Kesler an upgrade in hustle department considering his play as of late. Arguably, you could say the current edition of the second unit would be the first line on close to half of teams in the league at this point.

And in this humble wonk’s opinion, this has to do with speed.

That’s right. Speed. But it’s not just the ability to burn past opposing players that has impressed me the most, but the fact the team seems to be open to the idea that an offensively-gifted team with one of the top netminders in the NHL and a relatively solid blueline can play a “run-and-gun” style. In a generation where the smartest system utilizes words such as lock, trap, and defense-or-death, it’s refreshing that the Canucks have decided to open it up from time to time. I just wish that they would use this particular style more often.

Think about it. Give me another team that has the same qualifications as the Canucks, but an equivalent level of speed to keep up with the wilder side of hockey? The Kings? Sure they might be able to keep up, but I don’t believe Quick has the ability to make that one save when it counts the most. You say the Caps? Please refer back to exhibit one and get back to me after that.

And if such a style were to generate wins the same way the good ol’ defensive shutdown, strangle the flow, watch the paint dry systems have, why would we as fans complain?

EX-actly.

Nov 272010
 

The Canucks have to make a decision on Jeff Tambellini.

If they decide to send him back to the Manitoba Moose this weekend, he won’t need to go through waivers. If they decide to keep him past the weekend, he would lose his waiver exemption.

Since being given a spot on the one of the top two lines, Tambellini has been productive. In 3 games on the Sedins’ line prior to being sent down to Manitoba earlier this month, he potted 2 goals. In 2 games on the Kesler’s and Raymond’s line this week, he has a goal and an assist.

If anything, Tambellini’s play has allowed the Canucks to move Samuelsson to the third line and Hansen to the fourth line, and thus spreading their offense further down the lineup – a depth that was very much evident in last night’s 6-1 win against the San Jose Sharks.

Can he keep this up? If he wants to stick around the Canucks, he knows he has to.

But with the 30-day waiver clock ticking down and the Canucks not playing again until Wednesday, maybe the better question is, has he proven enough to warrant a longer look – maybe even a permanent stint – with the team?

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