May 142012
 

Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs. Los Angeles Kings (8)

Season Series: L.A (3-1-2)

What we learned about the Coyotes in the Second Round: That they’re Cinderella at the ball. Hard to give too much credit to a team that has been routinely outshot (-9.5 shots for/shots against differential in the playoffs) and only had one powerplay goal in the second round. Mike Smith has been terrific yes, but the Desert Dogs were fortunate Nashville found the Phoenix nightlife to their liking. Then again, there are a couple of notorious partiers on the Kings team…

What we learned about the Kings in the Second Round: After a rather miserable 82-game season, this Kings team has become the fearsome squad many pundits predicted could be a darkhorse Cup contender way back at the beginning of the season. It’s not a very fast team, but the Kings move the puck well, are big, and might have the best forecheck left in the playoffs. Los Angeles is averaging 3.00 goals per game right now (tied for 3rd in the post-season and best remaining with the Devils), which is the type of production that should be expected from this group of forwards. Jonathan Quick has been the best goalie in the league this spring (.949 save percentage). Darryl Sutter got some good minutes out of the fourth line against St. Louis (which he didn’t do against Vancouver) and even Dustin Penner (5 pts in 5 games against the Blues) is rolling.

Quick Decisions:

Coaching:  Even (Sutter’s been to a Cup Final as a head coach before, but Dave Tippet has had a great playoff behind the bench leading his less-talented team to two series wins)

Goaltending: Even. Quick has been the playoffs’ best, but the Coyotes don’t get this far without Mike Smith performing like a superhero. Smith gets the benefit of the doubt, although the Kings made Brian Elliott look human last series.

Defense: Kings. Both teams are exceptional defensively. The difference is the Coyotes still give up a ton of shots (even if they’re from outside scoring areas). The Kings are able to clamp down a bit more and they have Drew Doughty, who showed flashes of dominance early in the Blues series.

Offense: Kings (Los Angeles’ top two lines are more talented than what Phoenix can put on the ice, and they’re hot right now. Having said that, Phoenix has gotten timely scoring from every line. Consider this a slight edge that could grow larger if Jeff Carter could ever get going).

Special Teams: Even. Neither team is lighting up the powerplay right now and yet both teams have extremely strong penalty kills. This, coupled with the strength of both goalies, points to a low-scoring series.

Prediction:  Kings in 5.

*****

Notes on the Dearly Departed:

St. Louis Blues

Cause of Death: Injuries to Alex Pieterangelo and Jaroslav Halak.

Prescription: Stay the course. Brian Elliott was inconsistent at times in the second round, meaning interest in dealing Jaroslav Halak in the off-season should be limited. Otherwise this is a team in the headed in the right direction (especially if Patrick Berglund can carry his playoff performance into next year).

Nashville Predators

Cause of Death: Off-ice distractions that tore the dressing room apart.

Prescription: Let Ryan Suter go – the Predators have some good young defenseman primed for NHL exposure, and they could use the money to help keep Shea Weber long-term. Move back-up goalie Anders Lindback in a package that can return a top-six scoring forward. Let Alex Radulov go – sure he’s talented, but it’s clear now he doesn’t have the intangibles that lead to NHL playoff success. This could be a classic case of a team stumbling before taking the next step. There’s still a lot to like in Smashville.

Apr 232012
 
Cory Schneider, Vancouver Canucks, Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings shake hands

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

I’m not going to rant. I’m not going to rage. I would probably cry but I don’t want to short-circuit my keyboard so I won’t even do that. Instead I’ll keep this brief. And then I will eat chocolate.

Where We Went Right

Ryan Kesler was incredible on the penalty kill. He may not have scored goals but in this game his shot blocking and clearing was equally if not more important. If it wasn’t for Kesler and Cory Schneider the score would have been 8-1 for the Kings by the end of the third.

And that leads me to the second thing we did right – we had the right goalie in net. Schneider was calm and collected despite slashes by Mike Richards and bodies flailing in his crease. He never fell down and stayed down and he never lost his stick – both traits Luongo is famous for.  Cory did every thing you could ask of a goalie and more. He earned his spot as our number one netminder and I will be shocked and horrified if that’s not exactly what he is next season.

Where We Went Wrong

One goal is not going to win you a series when you are down 3 games to 1. Putting David Booth on a line with the twins is not going to get you goals. Putting Mason Raymond on the ice at all is not going to get you goals. For me, Alain Vigneault’s coaching decisions were almost as epically bad as Alex Edler was on defence. And they of course, are a reflection of what Mike Gillis has given him to work with. The trades this year have no been the glorious additions Max Lapierre and Chris Higgins were last year. Not even close.

I Don’t Blame Hamhuis

I honestly don’t. Hammy was about the only defenceman trying in Games 1 and 2. He made 1 mistake at a very inopportune time. If we’re going to crucify individual players here we need to nail Raymond and Booth and Edler. End of story. Their complete and utter uselessness, or in the case of Edler his plethora of mistakes, are what cost us the first two games. We wouldn’t have been in a hole if it wasn’t for those 3 more than anyone else. And Kesler diving instead of taking shots. And Duncan Keith elbowing Daniel to in regular season and taking him out of the first 3 games. There are so many more reasons we lost than simply Dan Hamhuis falling down. We need to take a good hard look at all of those reasons – on the bench and behind it – and make some changes before October.

It’s been an honour and a pleasure writing for the Canucks Hockey Blog. I hope I can do it next season while I cheer on our boys in Blue – no matter who those boys may be. (But it better not be Raymond).

Apr 222012
 

The odds are still stacked against them, but you can’t help but feel the collective confidence boost around Canucks Nation after the Canucks’ Game 4 win.

After all, the offense finally managed to put 3 pucks past Jonathan Quick, the first time since Game 2 of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals they scored 3 goals in one playoff game. After going 0-for-14 in the first three games of the series, the powerplay finally broke through with 2 powerplay goals. And despite the manufactured goaltending controversy, Cory Schneider was huge, making 43 saves, including a Dustin Brown penalty shot that could have tied the game in the third period.

Now at home for Game 5, can the Canucks continue to break down the Kings and get themselves back in this series? Here’s the chatter around the Smylosphere:

Apr 192012
 

I don’t know about you guys, but I was full of questions all day long. Could the Canucks do it? Is starting Cory Schneider the right move? Will one extra Sedin really make that big a difference? The answers to all those questions wouldn’t come until the 2nd period but when they came, they were all yes.

The Wonderful Wonder Twins

I’ll be honest. I thought Henrik was doing okay without Daniel. He was working hard. He had to think more but he was setting up everyone he could and taking shots. And then Daniel came back and I remembered what I was missing. 19 minutes (each) of blind passes, beautiful set-ups and a beauty of an insurance goal. It took a period for the spark to catch fire, but Daniel’s return ignited virtually the entire team. The passion was back. And most importantly, the powerplay was back. And unlike the Flyers-Pens series, you can’t blame tonight’s outcome on LA’s goaltending. Quick was solid. The Canucks weren’t given any easy goals, so they went out and got the hard ones.

Number 35 Is Number 1. Deal With It.

I’ve said all season long that the Canucks have two #1 goalies. Unfortunately we don’t have two nets to put them in at the exact same time so someone has to sit on the bench. When Schneider was announced as the starter in Game 3 and again in Game 4, Lu-lovers were angry. They had reason to be. Lu was solid in Game 1 and 2. We will never know the exact reason Alain Vigneault replaced him. Maybe AV feels the team has more confidence in Schneids. Maybe AV himself has more confidence in Schneids. Maybe he just flipped a coin. Here’s the reality of it – you shouldn’t care. Because it worked.  Schneider was incredible tonight. He kept the score 1-0 while his teammates found their mojo. He stopped 43 shots, including a penalty shot. He deserves to start the rest of this series.  Does it suck for Luongo? Yes. And I feel bad for him. But not bad enough to mess with what’s working and risk a chance at a Stanley Cup. Thankfully, I think AV feels the same way.

It’s Not All Redheaded Saviors

The still have problems to fix. Even Sedin Wonder Twin Magic can’t improve David Booth’s output. Although he assisted on Kevin Bieksa’s goal, he still isn’t scoring. And then there’s Mason Raymond.  Completely whiffing on checks is his new hobby. I guess falling down got old. Why he goes for checks at all instead of lifting the stick I’ll never know. He was the goat on the Kings’ only goal. Then he gave the puck away about 3 minutes later. Yes ladies he’s cute but if he’s on the bench instead of the press box next game we’re in trouble. Last but not least, the beast that’s inside Ryan Kesler is still in a coma nap. We need to solve a few of these issues pretty quick. I don’t think it’ll take the Kings 3 games to figure out they need to shut down the twins.

 

Apr 182012
 

Because it’s do-or-die time, because it’s time to leave everything on the ice and give it 110%, here are some of today’s links around the Smylosphere:

Apr 162012
 
Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

Where to begin? I’m dazed and confused right now. I’m devastated. I’m lost as to exactly what I can say that will make any sense of this for any of you because it’s just ridiculous to think the Presidents Trophy winners are one game away from elimination. But here’s what small thoughts my brain could wrangle up on Game 3 of the Canucks-Kings series.

You want a controversy? I’ll give you a controversy!

When AV announced Cory Schneider was starting, heads exploded all over the internet. I don’t understand why Canucks fans think this our BIG controversy right now. We have 2 starter goalies. I’d venture to say Schneider’s performance tonight along with Lu’s in Games 1 and 2 prove that. Accept it and move on.

Tonight also proved what the real controversy is: our talented, trophy-heavy team can’t score goals. We have a Hart Trophy winner, a Selke Trophy winner, an Art Ross Trophy winner and several clutch scorers and we just got blanked. Other than Burr and Hansen, our goals this series have been scored by Edler and Pahlsson. 4 goals in 3 games. No Kesler or Henrik goals, obviously no Daniel ones. But other clutch players like Higgins and Lapierre aren’t netting anything either. And Booth and Raymond… don’t even get me started.

Canucks fans, get your knickers in a knot over THAT. The fact that Vigneault can pick between a redheaded American who stops 3-on-1s or an Italian-Canadian who stands on his head is a luxury not a controversy.

Did we trade one too many puzzle pieces?

I honestly do not believe missing Daniel Sedin is having this big an effect. That is because, in the past playoffs, the Sedins together have been quite easily controlled. Last year players like Kesler took the playoff lead. Burrows slayed the beast known as Chicago. Bieksa and his stanchion-rific goal got us through San Jose. Lapierre and Torres scored clutch goals against Boston. So although it would be easy to say Duncan Keith ruined our playoffs chances, it would be erroneous.

I do think though that management may have tinkered one too many times with the winning machine. Dumping Samuelsson, Hodgson and picking up Booth, Kassian, and Pahlsson might have seemed like good ideas but did it tilt the balance? This game alone Booth fanned on a pass, missed the net and lost the puck. Pahlsson took a dumb penalty and then, after shoving Dustin Brown into the corner, thought his work was done and left Brown to get up, take a pass and nail the back of the net. Kassian gave a puck right to a King and made no physical impact. We may have traded ourselves out of contention. That said if someone would offer us a bag of magic beans and a unicorn for Edler and Raymond right now I would take it. Even if the unicorn can’t skate it would be a step up.

Let’s hear it for Hammy

I want to make sure that, even if this is all over in two days, the valiant efforts of Dan Hamhuis do not go unrecognized. He was the best defensemen out there tonight. He hip checked like a king. He took shots. He pinched pucks. And for the second time in two games Hammy was our real back-up goalie, blocking shots like a boss. Hamhuis wants this. Let’s put him in net and make Luongo and Schneider Hank’s new wingers and see where that goes. After all, we only have everything to lose.

All we can do now, Canucks fans, is believe. Believe that our team paid special notice to how the Blackhawks marched their way thru us to a game 7 last year. Believe Ryan Kesler will find the back of the net. Believe Mason Raymond won’t fall down. Believe Booth will get his mojo back. Believe whatever alien life form has been occupying Edler’s body will get bored with being a blonde and give him back to us. Believe, Canucks fans. Believe.

Apr 152012
 
Darryl Sutter, Los Angeles Kings

Photo credit: The Globe and Mail

We all know the numbers. After losing the first 2 games at home, the Canucks trail the Kings 0-2 in this Western Conference Quarterfinal Series with the next 2 games in La-la land. The odds of coming back from a series deficit as such is small. Only 16 of 99 teams have lost the first 2 games at home of an NHL first round series, and then come back to win it.

It’s a steep climb, but it’s not impossible. The Carolina Hurricanes did it against the Montreal Canadiens in 2006, and the ‘Canes went on to win the Stanley Cup that season. Ditto the Boston Bruins, who did it last season, also against the Habs.

Alix pretty much hit it in the head when, after Game 2, she tweeted, “Of course the universe would make us look to Boston for inspiration. LOL.”

Unfortunately, the Canucks aren’t playing the Habs, but let’s not lose hope just yet. Certainly, things are still sounding pretty optimistic around the Smylosphere:

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