Dec 092011
 

[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.]

Cody Hodgson, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

With their 4-3 shootout over the Montreal Canadiens last night, the Vancouver Canucks have won 3 straight games and 8 out of their last 9 contests.  With their make-shift forward lines and Luongo’s hyped return to Montreal, the table was set for an entertaining game.  We certainly weren’t disappointed, as always there are a few Things That Make Me Go Hmmm…

  1. Third Period Prowess. As the Canucks rack up wins, it’s hard not to compare them to last year’s team at this point in the season.  As I detailed in last week’s post, the Canucks went on a torrid 17-1-2 run (in games 21 through 40) from November 24, 2010 to January 7, 2011.  This season the Canucks are 7 and 1 in games 21 through 28.  Where the Canucks really seem to be distinguishing themselves is in the third period of games.  In their last 5 games, Vancouver has out-scored their opponents 11-2 in the final frame, compared to 8-3 in the second period.  Conversely, in the first period, the Canucks have been outscored 6-4.  The team has started off games slowly more often than not, but they’re proving once again that they have outstanding conditioning and poise.  In last night’s game, I never felt that a comeback was impossible, even with the Canucks down 3-0 early in the second.  They don’t seem to panic; rather they pick up their play as the game nears its conclusion and are relentless on the attack.  The numbers bear that out as well: in the last 5 games, the Canucks have out-shot their opponents 54-47 in the third period.  Take out the Columbus game (game #24) and the Canucks have out-shot their opponents 42-25 in the last four.  That’s pretty dominant.
  2. Lack of Forward Depth. The sudden injuries to second-line wingers Chris Higgins and David Booth exposed a lack of depth at the forward position.  With a healthy Higgins and Booth, the Canucks have balanced scoring throughout their top 9 forwards, especially with the return of Mason Raymond.  However, without them the Canucks had Billy Sweatt make his pro debut and defenceman Andrew Alberts playing as a forward on the fourth line.  Sweatt barely broke one, as he logged only 6:18 of ice time and Alberts had even less, playing a measly 5:36.  The defenceman-turned-forward-likely-turning-back-to-defenceman had a rough first period as he was caught down low on both of Montreal’s first-period goals.  I guess habits are indeed hard to break, as both times Alberts was below the faceoff dots chasing around Canadiens forwards leaving the point unmanned (his linemates Malhotra and Weise didn’t fare much better).  With Sweatt and Alberts combining for only 12 minutes, if left the other forwards to pick up the slack.  Due also in part to coach AV shortening the bench in a bid to catch up, Kesler (24:35), Henrik (23:17), Daniel (22:37) and Burrows (22:15) saw significantly higher ice time – 3 to 5 minutes higher than their season averages.  Even Mason Raymond, in only his third game back from his back injury, logged over 19 minutes of ice time. Strangely, Cody Hodgson played only 10 minutes despite having a decent outing and scoring a goal.  Good to see that the limited ice time didn’t affect him, as Hodgson was the only player to score in the shootout.  It will be interesting to see who plays on Saturday against Ottawa.
  3. Ballard vs. The World. Did you happen to catch Keith Ballard’s mesmerizing end-to-end rush half-way through the overtime period?  After picking the puck up in his own zone between the faceoff circles, he held the puck for a total of 11 straight seconds covering 160 feet: he rushed out of the defensive zone (avoiding Eric Cole), dashed past the Canucks bench (evading Lars Eller), cut across the middle (making Frederic St-Denis miss his check), bat the puck down with his glove (with Cole draped all over him), gained the blue line and skated into the corner (while fighting off Hal Gill), and then threw it behind the net to Daniel who centered it to Henrik.  Only a great pad save by Carey Price robbed Ballard of what would have been one of the most memorable second assists in recent memory.  It was somewhat appropriate that the Superman theme song was played during the next stoppage in play as Ballard’s effort was indeed super.
  4. Movin’ On Up…Not Really. Despite the Canucks’ strong play of late, they can’t make up any ground on division leader the Minnesota Wild.  The Wild have rattled off 6 straight wins (all on the road) and have won 11 of their last 13 games.  Thus, Vancouver sits 6 points back of Minnesota with one game in hand.  The Canucks can’t even break free from the pack to take sole possession of fourth place in the Western Conference, as both Detroit and St. Louis are also playing extremely well.  All three teams are deadlocked with 35 points, ahead of the Sharks who have 3 games in hand.  I just can’t get used to seeing Minnesota on top of the entire league.

The Canucks have a great opportunity to continue racking up the points as their next games are against Ottawa, Columbus and Carolina.  While the defense and the goaltending seem to have solidified, all the questions are up front.  Will Higgins return soon?  Will Billy Sweatt make like Victor Oreskovich and return to the farm after just one game?  And will Andrew Alberts ever play on the fourth line again?  There are a few things that make me go hmmm.

Nov 072011
 

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

This past week was full of ups and downs. The Canucks came out flying against the Calgary Flames to start the month off right; they won decisively 5-1. They then followed it up with two of the most frustrating and disappointing games by the Canucks so far this season. Defensive zone break downs, not being able to capitalize on chances and an overall lackluster effort resulted in back-to-back losses against the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues. Vancouver then rolled into the Madhouse on Madison, came out guns-a-blazing, and beat the rival Chicago Blackhawks 6-2. They had secondary scoring, the powerplay was unstoppable, and they got key saves at key times. Remember last week when I mentioned about seeing a more consistent team in November? Well, here’s hoping that their success in the Chicago game help turn things around for good.

Canucks Record

15 GP, 7-7-1, 15 points (4th in Northwest Division, 10th in Western Conference)

Who’s Hot

After being moved to the 3rd line with the addition of David Booth and the consistent play of Cody Hodgson, Chris Higgins has shown signs of why he was once a 50-point guy in this league. Higgy has 3 goals and 1 assist in his last 5 games and is a plus-1 in that span. He is tied with Daniel Sedin in goals with 6 and his 4th in team scoring with 9 points. If he can continue his solid play, he will be an important asset to this team because we all know that secondary scoring is key to winning. One can also hope that his play will help to motivate and help Uncle Manny get out of his rut.

Who’s Not

Unlike last season when he spent a lot of time in the press box, Keith Ballard seems to be getting much more opportunities this season. So far, we’ve witnessed his great skating abilities and his want to jump up on the rush. However, with only 1 goal, he doesn’t have much to show in terms of offense, and his play this might be taking away from his defensive play as he is currently a team worst minus-11. If he does not start to smarten up defensively, and with Aaron Rome back in the lineup and Alex Sulzer performing adequately, we might see him back in AV’s dog house sooner than later.

Who’s Next

Thursday November 10, 2011 vs. Los Angles Kings (7:30 PM start, away)

The Canucks have a few days off before facing the Kings at Staples Center. Last year, the two teams split the season series. Goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Jonathan Quick each backstopped their respective teams to a couple of wins each.

The Kings are currently holding on to 8th place in the Western Conference and are being lead by sniper, Anze Kopitar, who has 7 goals and 9 assists in just 13 games. Last season, Kopitar only managed 1 assist in the season series; and captain Dustin Brown led the team with 3 points (2 goals and 1 assist). It’ll be key to focus on both players come Thursday night.

Friday November 11, 2011 vs. Anaheim Ducks (7:30 PM start, away)

The Ducks have been struggling as of late, going winless in their last 5 games (0-3-2). This will be the first meeting between the two teams this season and will certainly be an exciting matchup with the likes of Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan and the ageless Teemu Selanne again leading the Ducks.

Both teams won 2 games each in last season’s series. Ryan Getzlaf with 6 points (1G-5A) and Daniel Sedin with 7 points (4G-3A) led their respective teams in scoring.

Like the Canucks, the Ducks are off to a slow start but are getting solid contributions from their core players. 41-year old, Teemu Selanne is showing that age doesn’t matter and currently leads the team in points (14) and goals (5). The Ducks are also happy to see the return of number 1 goalie Jonas Hiller after he battled symptoms of vertigo for a few months last season which saw him play a limited 49 games.

Sunday November 13, 2011 vs. New York Islanders (6:00 PM start, home)

The Islanders started off the season well winning 3 of their first 4 games however since then they have gone 1-4-2 in their last 7 games. The Canucks won their only meeting last year against the Isles in a shootout; Ryan Kesler had the shootout winning goal. Blake Comeau had a goal, an assist and was a plus-2 in that game.

Considering the Islanders do not play many games against the Northwest Division they had a lot of success last season going 4-1-1, while outscoring their opponents 22-14.

John Tavares currently leads the team in scoring with 12 points (8G-4A). He also leads the league in powerplay goals with 4. Sunday will also mark the return of Michael Grabner who has come into his own on Long Island.

Ehrhoff who?

After losing Christian Ehrhoff this off season to the Buffalo Sabres, Canucks Nation was worried about who would pick up his offensive numbers. Ehrhoff was obviously a key player last year, putting up 50 points (14G – 36A) and a plus-19 rating.

This season, Alex Edler was expected to pick up some of the lost offense on the blueline, and so far, he has lived up to expectations. He is 3rd in team scoring with 15 points (3G-12A) in 15 games, including 8 points (3G -5A) in his last 5 games.

In contrast, the ‘Hoff only has 7 points (1G-6A) in 13 games. He is also a minus-6, which the worst plus/minus rating on the Sabres.

It’s still early in the season and I expect that Ehrhoff will have another solid campaign in Buffalo but I also expect to see a career year from Edler. Eddy’s poise on the backend and his ability to finish off plays, will hopefully be a big reason the Canucks go on a long playoff run again.

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….

Oct 232011
 

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

Canucks Record

8 GP, 4-3-1, 9 points (2nd in Northwest Division, 6th in Western Conference)

Last week, the Canucks were shut out against the Rangers, the second time they’ve been held off the scoresheet this season. The boys were the better team for most of the game, but were unable to capitalize on their chances against King Lundqvist. The Canucks also pounded the Predators – a lopsided 5-1 win – and won an overtime squeaker against the Wild, thanks to Sami Salo and his balls of steel.

Who’s Hot

Reigning Art Ross champion and Ted Lindsay award winner, Daniel Sedin, has had a great start to the season. He currently has 12 points (4G-8A) to lead the team in scoring. He and brother Henrik have combined for 22 points (7G-15A) already – to put that into perspective both have generated the same number of points than the next 5 highest scoring players on the Canucks combined!

Who’s Not

The defensive pairing of Kevin Bieksa and Keith Ballard is a risk and reward type of relationship. They are both great skaters and willing to join the rush but they have also had trouble getting back and tying up their men. It’s been evident that Keith Ballard is playing some of his best hockey in a Canucks uniform; he is skating well, he gets into the dirty areas and he likes to chirp and get under the skin of opposing players. That being said, KB3 and KB4 have the worst plus/minus ratings on the team. They only have 1 goal and 1 assist between the two of them. Either they need to change their mentality to defensive first, join the rush later or AV needs to mix up the pairings and put a more stay-at-home defenseman with Ballard and maybe reunite the shutdown pair of Hamhuis-Bieksa.

Who’s Next

Tuesday, October 25, 2011 vs. Edmonton Oilers (6:30 PM start, away)

In their last meeting just over a week ago, the Canucks witnessed the talent of young star Ryan Nugent-Hopkins when he scored his first career hat-trick. In that contest, the Canucks overcame several one-goal deficits and battled back to win the game 4-3. Since then, the Oilers have points in 3 of 4 games and are sitting just outside the top 8 in the Western Conference.

The Oilers have yet to beat a Northwest Division opponent this season (0-2-2). With a team-leading 5 goal and 7 points, RNH is having the best possible start to his rookie season. The Canucks saw his hockey sense and goal scoring instinct first-hand so perhaps the Canucks would want to pay special attention to number 93.

Thursday October 26, 2011 vs. St. Louis Blues (7:00 PM start, home)

The St. Louis Blues are on a bit of a streak having won both of their weekend games against the Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers.

The Blues had a losing record against the Northwest division last season going 7-10-3, including a 2-2 tie against the Canucks.

Against the Canucks last season, Alex Steen had 5 points (4G-1A). The Blues will look for much of the same as he and new comer Jason Arnott lead the team in scoring with 6 points (3G-3A) and 7 points (3G-4A), respectively.

There seems to be a legitimate battle in net for the Blues as their backup Brian Elliott has gone 3-0 this season with a 2.06 GAA and a .935 save percentage. On the other hand, starter Jaroslav Halak has struggled with a 1-4 record with a 3.47 GAA and .835 save percentage.

Saturday, October 29, 2011 vs. Washington Capitals (7:00 PM start, home)

Alexander the Gr8 and the Washington Capitals have had a dream start to the season, going 7-0-0 so far, including a 7-1 beating of the Detroit Red Wings; at the time, the Caps and the Wings were the only 2 unbeaten teams in the league.

It’s always exciting to see Eastern Conference teams play in Vancouver, it’s especially exciting to see the likes of team scoring leader, Nicklas Backstrom (2G-8A-10P), Alexander Semin, Brooks Laich, and of course, the always entertaining Ovechkin. The Caps addressed a major issue in the off-season, boosting their blueline with the additions of Dennis Wideman, who is second in team scoring with 7 points (2G-5A), and veteran Roman Hamrlik.

With a solid veteran presence on the back end, their always potent firepower up front, and now, a consistent goalie in Tomas Vokoun, the Caps are hoping to finally translate their regular season production to postseason success.

A Shoutout to the 4th Line

Having a good top-six is needed to win games, but having a gritty, hardworking bottom-six who can change the course of game is vital as well. Do we all remember the effect that Shawn Thornton had on the Bruins?

I believe the line of Volpatti-Lapierre-Weise is the best 4th line that the Canucks have had in a long time. These three gentlemen have been the biggest surprises for me this season. They are not afraid to play physically and get to the dirty areas. They’re able to maintain a strong forecheck, and most importantly, they’re not a liability when they’re on the ice. The 4th line’s energy and enthusiasm can change the atmosphere of the game with one great shift. They have the ability to get the bench going with one bone crushing hit. If they continue to play the way they are as well as chip in offensively every now and then, the issue of the revolving door, that we saw all of last season, will no longer be a problem.

Oct 192011
 

[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.]

I was at Rogers Arena last night as the Vancouver Canucks hosted the New York Rangers.  With the tribute to Rick Rypien, the return of Ryan Kesler, and the newest Canuck Dale Weise facing his former team, it promised to be a memorable night.  Unfortunately, with respect to the actual game, people will be remembering defensive breakdowns and seeing the Rangers win their first game of the young season.

As always, here are a few things that make me go hmmm…

  1. Roberto Luongo – or more accurately – his supporters and detractors.  The netminder is easily the most polarizing sports figure on the Canucks let alone in the entire province.  After the game, likely 75% – 80% of the Canucks-related tweets had to do with Luongo.  When he’s not playing well, his supporters preach patience while his detractors call him a waste of money and bust.  When he is playing well, his supporters remind us that he’s the best netminder we’ve ever had while his detractors say that he hasn’t proven anything until he leads the team to a Stanley Cup.  I’m not afraid to proclaim that I’m a Luongo supporter.  But I don’t flippantly point to him being a traditionally slow starter as an excuse for only one win in four starts.  Luongo must bear some of the blame, but he can certainly share it with his forwards who aren’t scoring enough and his defencemen who are breaking down at the most inopportune times.  One thing’s for certain however:  for the Canucks to win he can’t be the second-best goalie on the ice.
  2. Problems on the point.  Why is Coach Vigneault so insistent on keeping Mikael Samuelsson on the point on the first powerplay unit?  I’ve already written about this before, but Samuelsson’s ineffectiveness was on display once again Tuesday night.  He had trouble generating decent scoring chances and he struggled with keeping the puck in the zone.  While I would love to see Sami Salo on the first powerplay unit, I’m presuming that the coach wants to balance things out with a booming shot on each unit (with Alex Edler playing marksman on the first unit).   However, when the home team goes 0 for 8 on the powerplay in a game where we desperately need goals, something has to give.

    Also, as an aside, I would love to see Hamhuis and Ballard play together.  They are both good skaters and the steady Hamhuis would help offset the riskier play of Ballard.  And can you imagine the hip checks they could dish out?  Ever since the Canucks acquired them last summer within 6 days of each other, I’ve been hoping to see them on the ice together.  But it hasn’t happened yet.  Then again, Ballard didn’t spend much time on the ice with anyone last season.

  3. Speaking of polarizing players…the love/hate Luongo phenomena reminds me of the feelings towards Todd Bertuzzi after his hit on Steve Moore.  I happened to be in GM Place on that fateful March 8, 2004 evening.  The game itself was a blowout, with Canucks fans looking for something to cheer for.  We were wrought with anticipation as Bertuzzi chased Moore around the ice and we cheered like mad upon Bertuzzi’s first punch.  The cheers quickly subsided as players and fans alike realized that Moore was seriously injured.  There was an eerie silence in the stands followed by a reserved buzz as fans compared notes as to what they had just witnessed.  The radio shows and internet were abuzz with chatter for weeks afterwards, with equal percentages of people applauding and condemning Bertuzzi.

    Can you imagine if Twitter had been invented back then?  Whereas last night’s Luongo Twitter chatter kept the social networking platform busy, Bertuzzi’s hit might have shut the whole thing down.

   

PS:  Kudos to the Vancouver Canucks for an emotional and classy tribute to the late Rick Rypien.  The most touching moment for me was seeing Kevin Bieksa embracing Rick’s mother Shelley.  It brought a tear to this writer’s eye…and I’m sure I’m not alone.  Rest in peace Rick…you are already missed.

Oct 152011
 

In the first episode of our new video podcast, Matt Lee, Chris Golden and Clay Imoo talk about the first week of the Canucks’ 2011/2012 season. Topics include: Roberto Luongo’s and the defense’s poor play, and Cody Hodgson’s good start.

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