May 012010

The clock’s ticking down to game one on the 2010 battle between the Blackhawks and Canucks and while Canucks nation seems a little collectively quiet, this year it’s more anxiety than nervousness present in the air. Everyone knows things are different, it’s just a matter of proving it on the ice. If the result is the same as last year, one could argue that while the Canucks had a record year, they’ve made no progress. With that in mind there are five keys to the Canucks coming out of this series on top.

Luongo vs. Kane
The big story within this series is no doubt the Luongo vs. Kane battle. Kane victimized Luongo last year in that crucial game six for three goals and Luongo faltered in the biggest game of his career. Then came the Olympics and Luongo prevailed. Luongo 1, Kane 1. This is the rubber match. There’s no doubt that Kane is in Luongo’s head. After the Olympics though, there’s no doubt that Luongo is in Kane’s head. However, if you look at the single impact either player can have on the outcome of a game, Luongo is the one with the uphill battle. If Luongo can play like he did in the last two games of the first round, the Canucks will have nothing to worry about with their last line of defense.

Keeping Emotions in Check
It’s simple. The team that can take a punch and walk away is the one that’s going to win this series. The tensions between Kesler and Ladd are no secret. The Canucks haven’t been on particularly friendly terms with Dustin Byfuglien in a while, and Bieksa and Eager haven’t had any sleep overs since their big dance. Bottom line is, these two teams don’t like each other and while we know both teams are going to have no problem getting under each others’ skin, it’s going to be the team that can “be the bigger man” that’s going to walk away the winner, and likely with the man advantage.

Clearing the crease of Byfuglien and that guy named Alberts
Speaking of Byfuglien, it’s no surprise that his name is being brought up. He was a big reason the Blackhawks got to Luongo early and often last year and while he only had one goal against him, his presence in front of the net was his biggest asset to the Blackhawks. The Blackhawks moved Byfuglien up to forward not even a week ago so it’s no surprise that they plan to use that tactic again and if the Canucks have learned anything the four years they’ve had Luongo, it’s that if you clear his crease, he’ll do the rest. Cue Alberts. He was in the doghouse the first two games, rode pine for the next few, but since returning has got his discipline in check. Alberts is a big guy. He’s built like a train and he needs to use that. The Canucks don’t have a Willie Mitchell to patrol the crease and Alberts has to use his size in a disciplined manner to clear the ‘Hawks out of the paint. If he’s going to take a penalty doing it though, he might as well sit on the bench.

Alex Burrows and the X Factors
Burrows was the Canucks leading goal scorer during the regular season with 35 goals and he lead all Canucks in regular season series between the Blackhawks and Canucks with one goal and four assists for five points. He only had one goal in the first round (an empty netter) and he’s going to be a huge part of the Canucks getting through the Blackhawks. The Canucks received surprise help from playoff attendees Demitra and Bernier and if they can continue to contribute key goals to the offense, with the addition of Burrows this team’s depth will finally pay off.

Special Teams
It’s cliche, but special teams wins series. The Canucks would know, it almost lost them the first round. The Blackhawks have a potent offense and their special teams aren’t half bad either. With the return of Campbell to the Blackhawks blue line the Canucks can’t give Chicago’s power play as much time as they did LA’s and they certainly can’t respect the blue line in a similar fashion to last round. The Canucks power play looks to be okay so as long as they can maintain that they should be fine. The biggest loss to the Canucks PK in the first round was Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler. Two of the Canucks best regular season penalty killers were seemingly absent when down a man and they’re going to have to get back to form and shot blocking soon if they want to see this penalty kill remain successful and continue it’s improvement since game four of the first round.

Apr 022010

This is all you need to know about the Canucks’ 8-3 loss to the LA Kings last night (via Jason Botchford, Vancouver Province):

“I’m just going to make a statement and I’m not going to answer any questions,” Luongo said. “As a team, we should be embarrassed by the way we played. From the first guy, which is me, all the way out to the last guy, it’s unacceptable to play this way.

“We just have to get better. And that’s it.”

It was a horribly pathetic effort and the Canucks should be embarrased. With a single point against the Kings, who had lost 4 of their previous 5 games, the Canucks could have clinched a playoff spot. To quote Jerry Seinfeld, the Canucks instead folded faster than Superman on laundry day.

The defense were constantly out of position and gave the Kings all sorts of great scoring chances, and Luongo couldn’t come up with the great save to bail them out. Up front, it didn’t help that the Canucks didn’t have Daniel Sedin and lost Alex Burrows in the first period. It also didn’t help that Darcy Hordichuk did his darndest best to give the Kings the man-advantage.

On a more positive note…

Forced into a top-six role, Kyle Wellwood scored a couple of goals. Believe it or not, he’s within 3 points of matching last season’s point totals.

Somehow, Christian Ehrhoff managed a plus-2 rating in 23:54 minutes of ice-time. (6 of the Kings’ 8 goals were on even-strength.)

Alex Burrows sounded okay after the game. Here’s hoping he can make a speedy return to the lineup.

And maybe the rest of the team can get back to playing good hockey too.

Mar 242010

Roberto Luongo only faced 22 shots last night, but he allowed three weak goals and the Canucks lost.

Sound familiar? How about March 16 against the Islanders, where he allowed four goals on 12 shots? Or January 13 against Minnesota (five goals, 19 shots) or January 30 against Toronto (three goals, 8 shots)?

Luongo has been pulled eight times this season. Once was against Chicago. The other seven were against teams headed to the golf course when the season ends: the Islanders, Minnesota (twice), Toronto, St. Louis, Columbus, and Calgary.

Do Luongo’s legs fall asleep when he doesn’t face enough shots? Compare his save percentage in games grouped by the number of shots he faced.

No. of shots (weighted)*GPSAGASave %
Under 20580100.875
40 and over6227230.899

(Full dataset here.)

As we suspected, Luongo is dismal when he faces under 25 shots, and only average when he faces under 30 shots.

His sweet spot is 30 to 39 shots. Three of his four shutouts came in those 21 games, and he’s got an impressive .947 SV%, crushing Ryan Miller’s league-leading .929.

In fact, Luongo hasn’t played a single bad game this season when facing that many shots. The worst he did was to surrender 4 goals to the Sharks on November 29, the second of back-to-back games. (Compare that to six games allowing 4 or more goals this season when facing under 30 shots.)

The stats confirm what we all knew: the busier Luongo is, the better he plays. He slides down to 0.899 SV% when facing 40 or more shots, though, so it would be rash to promote Andrew Alberts and Shane O’Brien to the number one pairing.

But there may be one tip for Alain Vigneault: put Andrew Raycroft in net against the crappy teams. He could hardly have done worse last night against the Oilers than did Luongo.

* Shots are weighted to 60 minutes. For example, if Luongo was pulled after the first period for allowing 5 goals on 14 shots (as he was against Chicago on March 5), I averaged that out over 60 minutes and recorded that as a 42-shot game.

Mar 212010

Luongo’s play this season has been far from what it was in his first year with the team, and while his numbers still remain amongst the league’s best, some of his other numbers stand out. Last year he was pulled in just two games, this year he’s been pulled seven times and four times in the last 13 games. JJ wrote a post the other day about Luongo saying “All that matters is winning games” and I don’t buy it.

When Luongo says what he said after getting pulled against New York, it worries me a little bit:

On Wednesday, Luongo blamed it [getting pulled, and the loss] on what he said is a more offensive style of play being employed by the Canucks this season.

“We are playing a different brand of hockey this year and it’s been more offensive,” said Luongo, who only got the hook twice last season. “We are not as conservative as we used to be.”

Vigneault took issue with that and said it is his team’s propensity for surrendering early leads to its opponents that is the real culprit.

“I think maybe what has happened, especially during this (recent) road trip, when you give up early goals you have to press, you have to try and make the ground up,” he said.

We didn’t sign this guy for 12 years and agree to front load his contract so he gets 10 million dollars in the first year of that deal to be an excuse maker. It’s one thing to call your team out as the leader, it’s a completely different thing to throw them under the bus like this. That’s not classy, it’s embarrassing, and Luongo needs to start speaking with his actions. A goalie of his calibre shouldn’t be pulled four times in a season let alone four times in the last 13 games.

As the team’s captain, he has a responsibility to lead. No leader should at any point place the blame on anyone but himself, if he’s placing blame. Would Linden have ever blamed anyone but himself for the short comings of the team? No. I don’t like the attitude Luongo’s taken as of late. He’s had a lot of L’s turn to W’s because of the Canucks, or in a couple of instances because Raycroft has been more solid than he has been, in relief. Luongo’s getting the wins, and the Canucks comeback play diverts attention from his poor play and he’s getting off scot free.

Winning, losing, being pulled and statistics aside though, I have an issue with what he said because of what it implies. You can’t win them all and you’re bound to lose a few. I take issue with the fact that he’s throwing his team under the bus, and then saying “All that matters is winning”. Thats’ not cool, that’s not what your captain should do at any point. That’s not even acceptable for anyone else on the team to do no matter how true it may be.

Mar 202010

There was quite a fuss earlier this week when Roberto Luongo was pulled against the New York Islanders – the 7th time this season and 4th in his last 13 games he didn’t finish a game he started.

After the game, Luongo tried to defend himself:

“We are playing a different brand of hockey this year and it’s been more offensive,” said Luongo, who only got the hook twice last season. “We are not as conservative as we used to be.”

To which, Alain Vigneault replied:

“I think maybe what has happened, especially during this (recent) road trip, when you give up early goals you have to press, you have to try and make the ground up,” he said. “When you are pressing, obviously you are going to give up more chances and a lot of those chances are going to be rush chances because you are pressing. But as far as the style of play that we are playing since I have been here, it’s the exact same thing. The skill level has changed, but the style of play is the same.”

Both of them are correct.

So far this season, the Canucks are averaging 3.24 goals/game and 30.6 shots/game, easily their highest averages in Luongo’s almost 4 seasons in Vancouver. They’re playing a more offensive style and the defensemen are pinching in more. Of course, the by-product of that is that the Canucks are surrendering more quality chances against.

It’s also true that the Canucks are having to come-from-behind more often. In the 59 games that Luongo started, the Canucks surrendered the first goal in 58% of them.

I don’t think anyone is disputing that Luongo is going through a stretch of games right now in which he’s been inconsistent. Here are his stats since the Canucks embarked on their 14-game road trip.

Mar. 3 to 18GamesGAASave%
Stats in wins81.860.940
Stats in others65.730.796

I know it may seem stupid to compare his stats between games he’s won and games he didn’t, but I wanted to point out the inconsistency in his recent play and I don’t want you to think that I’m overlooking it.

Despite all that, Luongo – and the Canucks – continue to pile up the wins. Already, Lui has 37 wins for the season, his highest total since his first season with the Canucks. He’s tied for 3rd in the NHL with Jonathan Quick and Evgeni Nabokov, and behind Martin Brodeur (39) and Ilya Bryzgalov (38); he’s played less games than all of those other goaltenders.

When you remove Tukka Rask, Anti Niemi and Jaroslav Halak from the equation – all three played about half the number of games Luongo has this season – his 2.45 GAA and .915 save percentage are top-10 in the league.

When you also consider that the Canucks have played a significant part of their season without both Willie Mitchell and Kevin Bieksa, the numbers become even more impressive.

Jan. 20 to Mar. 9GPRecordGAASave%
Without Mitchell1913-5-02.810.908
Wihtout Mitchell and Bieksa1510-4-02.970.906

How many teams can lose 2 of their top-4 defenseman, go on a 14-game road trip, and not only keep pace with the other teams around them, but also gain ground on the teams ahead of them in the standings?

More from Luongo:

“I’m in goal to win games, you know. I haven’t looked at my numbers. I can’t even tell you what they were the last two months. All that matters to me is winning games and unfortunately at times there is going to be an ugly line at the end of the day. You have to win four games out of seven (in the playoffs) in a month, so that is all that matters to me.”

And it’s all that matters to me.

Mar 102010

I’ll give Roberto Luongo credit – he accepted responsibility for his slow start last night.

“That’s probably the worst I’ve ever played in my career,” he said before rebounding to help backstop a dramatic 6-4 third-period comeback victory over the Colorado Avalanche to keep the club atop the Northwest Division.

“It was pretty bad, but I’m pretty happy with myself and I battled back and stayed with it. I could have put my head down and not come out in the second, but I came back and made some saves and the guys scored some big goals. At the end of the day I’m disappointed, but happy with myself in the way I battled back.”

The result was (another) come-from-behind win – the Canucks’ 10th win when trailing after two periods this season – and an 8-5 record on this road trip.

Regardless of Luongo’s performance, Andrew Raycroft will get the start in Phoenix tonight.

Well before being ventilated by three goals on the first 10 shots he faced Tuesday, logic seemed to dictate that Roberto Luongo should take tonight off in Phoenix and rest up for back-to-back weekend games at GM Place. Pressed on the issue following his morning session with goalie consultant Ian Clark, the starter didn’t have an answer to the theory. A 6-4 comeback win over the Colorado Avalanche would indicate he could have redeemed himself further against the Coyotes or make room for backup Andrew Raycroft. The latter makes more sense. There was much amiss about Luongo’s start against the Avs to suggest that inconsistency could be a product of fatigue or a lack of confidence. After a 40-minute session with Clark, the starter was talking of what it meant to get back to basics and prep for the stretch drive. “It’s good to get that positive re-enforcement and work on basics a bit,” he said. “The better you feel about your technical game, the more confident you feel on the ice and the better you play.”

Since starting for Team Canada against Germany in the Olympic Qualification round, Luongo has played 8 games in 14 days. 4 of those games carried enormous pressure and expectations. I’m not making excuses for Luongo, though I kinda understand how he’s looked less Luon-Godly this past week.

His statistics since the Olympics aren’t great (4 GP, 4.20 GAA and 0.869 save percentage) except where it counts – in the win column. He won 3 of the 4 games he started, and overall, the Canucks have won 4 of 5 games in the latter portion of this road trip.

That said, it makes perfect sense to start Raycroft tonight. Even in his wildest dreams, I don’t think Raycroft himself expected to appear in half of the games during this road trip, but tonight will be appearance no. 7. In the 6 games he’s played, his numbers are quite respectable (3-1 record, 2.23 GAA, 0.915 save percentage). Raycroft starting also gives Luongo 3 days off before the Canucks return home to play the Ottawa Senators at GM Place on Saturday.

More from Luongo:

“Sometimes it’s just mental,” shrugged Luongo. “I did not feel in my element at all to start the game and I don’t know why. Sometimes those things happen and sometimes you have to fight through things.”

Here’s the hoping the rest will do him good.

Mar 092010

The comeback kids have done it again. The Canucks now lead the league with their 10th 3rd period come from behind win after Samuelsson’s 2nd period hat trick helped them stage a 6-4 win in a big NW division tilt. It’s reached a stage where the Canucks level of confidence is so high that they can give up the first goal in nearly every game, they can give up a multi goal lead, and still fight back.

The first time around you could argue that maybe it’s a fluke, and while I’m not suggesting that this is some sort of strategy, it’s certainly something that doesn’t phase them. After overcoming two 3-goal deficits in the game to win 6-4 and stun the Avalanche at the Pepsi Center, a lot of people get completely caught up in the win and neglect to look at the most important part of the game which isn’t the comeback so much as it is the start.

The Sedins are coming alive at the right time (if their play in the last few games is any indication of comeback) but Luongo’s play has to be addressed. It’s alright to let in one soft goal here or there, the best goalies do it at the worst of times. Luongo however seems to be making it a habit though. The worst part is although he’s coughing up early leads, because the Canucks are coming back his shoddy first period play is going unnoticed. While I agree with Vigneault when he says “You never critique a win” you can’t give Luongo a free pass.

Luongo allowed more than one soft goal today and you can’t blame the defense as much as we’ve started to do. He’s paid the big dollars to put up the big saves. Of course many people will point to his stellar saves in the second and third period, but the bottom line is those don’t mean a thing if the Canucks aren’t still in the game, and his weak goaltending in the first detracts from just how well he played in that second and third period.

At this point in the season the Canucks need their highest paid players to be their best players. That goes without saying regardless of the roster station, but becomes even more important based on the current blue line injuries. The Sedins have definitely turned their game back on with their play in the last few games and Luongo really needs to shut down. This stretch drive is the tune up for the playoffs. Teams don’t blow three goal leads in the playoffs and the Canucks can’t expect to play the comeback game when the second season starts.

With one more game on the Canucks road trip, heading home is going to be a nice change. Raycroft’s been fantastic for the Canucks on this road trip so going into tomorrow night the Canucks should be able to ride the momentum from this game to start well against a Coyotes team that is as tough as any team in the West. Luongo better use the night off to get his head together because he’s been shaky in first periods since coming back from the Olympics and if he’s not giving the Canucks a chance to win every night the Canucks have bigger fish to fry.

Mar 082010

I almost spit out my coffee when John Shorthouse referenced Miley Cyrus’ song at the end of the Canucks’ 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators yesterday. Better than daddy Billy Ray’s Achy Breaky Heart, I suppose.

As you all know by now, it was the 9th time this season the Canucks had overcome a 3rd period deficit to come back and win the game – that’s 3 wins more than any other team in the league. While it’s disconcerting that they seem unable to produce the proverbial 60-minute game, it’s also remarkable that they somehow manage to find a win anyway.

Here’s Roberto Luongo (via Gordon McIntyre, Vancouver Province):

“How many times have we come back in the third to win on this road trip?” Roberto Luongo said, including the pre-Olympic stretch as well. “It’s probably four or five.” [It's five].

“If there’s anything positive, it’s that even if we don’t play our best hockey, we can always come back if we just keep battling.”

And coach Alain Vigneault (via Iain MacIntyre, Vancouver Sun):

“You never critique a win,” Vigneault lied. “It was another comeback-from-behind game. We played better in the third, but obviously we had moments in this game where our puck management wasn’t very good and gave them momentum. They played a strong game, but we were down by a goal going into the third and again we found a way to get it done.”

How does this keep happening?

“Our guys have the mentality that they never give up,” Vigneault said. “Conditioning is a huge factor. I think we’re No. 1 in the league now at coming back and this is not an easy league to come back in.”

Yesterday’s win was the Canucks’ 40th win of the season. With 17 games left in the season – and 10 of those games at home – they’re within reach of setting a franchise record for win in a season. (When the Canucks set their current franchise record of 49 wins in the 2006-2007 season, they had 5 wins in the shootout. So far this season, they only have 3.)

Count me among those impressed that the Canucks are even in this position. 12 games into their record 14-game road trip, they’re 7-5 and assured of a .500 record. They still lead the Northwest Division with a game in hand over the surprising Colorado Avalanche, who, incidentally, they play tomorrow night. They’ve done this without two of their top-4 defensemen in Willie Mitchell and Kevin Bieksa for almost a full quarter of the season. In fact, they’re 12-5 since Mitchell suffered a concussion against the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 16, and the Canucks, until the Andrew Alberts acquisition, have had to rely on a combination of Aaron Rome, Nolan Baumgartner and Brad Lukowich as their 3rd defense pairing.

It’s happy times for sure for Canucks fans, and after a month and a half away from GM Place, it’ll be good to see them come home with a modestly successful record. If they get at least 2 more points on this road trip, they would have survived it without giving up any ground to teams like the Predators, Detroit Red Wings and Calgary Flames, all of whom are battling for the final playoff spots. Party time indeed.

Feb 242010

[Editor's note: Tom Wakefield moved from Ontario to BC a few years ago. He's a Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers fan, but more importantly, he's a hockey fan and a friend of mine. He knows his stuff, folks, and we welcome this guest post on tonight's game. - J.J.]


If you know anything about Leaf fans (some of you think you do, only a few of you might), you know that we invariably value players with less skill (insert mocking laughter here). We cheer Domi over Sundin; Roberts over Mogilny; the Burns era over the Quinn era.

I was 9-years old in 1987. Old enough to visit my brother Tim in Pickering and help babysit his children. Young enough to be sent to bed after the first period of each Canada Cup game.

The defining hockey tournament of my generation was enjoyed primarily through my trusty portable radio – a radio that incidentally lasted me 15 years.

And while I’ll never forget the magic of Gretzky to Lemieux, I’ll also never forget the appreciation I developed for Normand Rochefort and Doug Crossman – two journeyman defencemen who played the hockey of their lives during that tournament.

I wanted them to be Toronto Maple Leafs.

I raise this because, as a new generation enjoys perhaps the greatest hockey tournament of all-time, and a new chapter of Canada-Russia is written tonight, I don’t believe enough is being said about Canada’s 4th line.

While the “San Jose” line has been opportunistic and the Getzlaf line a failure, Canada’s most consistent unit has been Toews, Morrow, Richards. They’ve been physical, tenacious in their puck pursuit and reliable defensively.

Coach Mike Babcock isn’t a line-matcher, and Russia’s the home team. So we’re likely to see a lot of Crosby vs. Datsyuk tonight.

But I wouldn’t be surprised, in a close matchup like this one, if Toews and company play an important role.


As the Brodeur-Luongo debate rages (and it does rage outside Vancouver, and will rage even more if Canada loses tonight), much of the Roberto Luongo criticism centers on his inability to win big games.

Well, what has Russian goalie Evgeny Nabokov ever won?

Over the past five years San Jose has consistently been considered a Stanley Cup favourite and have consistently failed to measure up.

I had Canada and Russia’s goaltending rated equal heading into this tourney. We’ll see who outplays who tonight.

Personally, if I’m Russia, I have more confidence in Bryzgalov than Nabokov.


Niedermayer, Doughty, Keith and Boyle are all puck-moving d-men. More brains than brawn on the ice. Given the struggles Canada’s defence have had at times down low in the trenches behind the goal-line (how many goals against have started from won puck-battles behind the net?), is anybody else wondering if we needed four of the same type of defenceman?

Russian Superiority

Yes we haven’t beaten the Russians at an Olympics in 50 years. But this Russian team hasn’t played well so far either. In fact, the two teams tonight are remarkably similar in their struggles. It was only last game that the Russians found a scoring line (Ovechkin-Malkin-Semin), and their powerplay has been incredibly individualistic. They’ve also been prone to bad penalties (paging Alex Radulov). They are beatable.


Smart puck-movement from defence to offence (aka a clean transition game) can nullify a speedy forecheck. The keys are quick decision-making, accurate passes, good gap control and trust between forwards and defence. Canada hasn’t excelled in this area in the tournament so far, which is surprising, given the presence of so many puck-moving defencemen. If Canada wins tonight, they will have found a way to be better in this area.

Pre-tourney rankings

Offence: Russia
Defence: Slight edge Canada
Goaltending: Even
Powerplay: Russia
Penaltykill: Canada

Has anything changed my mind? Not really.

Canada wins a thriller tonight. Gotta stick with the pre-tourney pick.

Enjoy the game everyone!

Feb 232010
Roberto Luongo starts for Team Canada

Photo credit: Vancouver Sun

Leave it to a fan of Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils, Grey Wyshynski (aka Puck Daddy), to write the best piece about the opportunity now presented to Team Canada goaltender and Vancouver Canucks captain, Roberto Luongo:

Luongo takes over for Martin Brodeur against Germany in the qualifying round on Tuesday, which is to say that that he’s earned a moment to attain something Brodeur’s had for 15 years: a legacy.

Is he ready?

This is Luongo’s moment. The moment he actually achieves the elite status that’s bestowed on him, sometimes begrudgingly, by the hockey world. The moment at which he becomes a clutch goalie in championship situations. The moment when Canada embraces him with the same cherished regard as it does Brodeur.

He doesn’t have to be perfect. He needs to be competent and timely, according to Coach Mike Babcock. “We’re in the winning business, winning a game at any level you need big saves,” he said. “You need momentum changing saves. And we’re looking for Loo to do that for us.”

Critics will question the decision to pull Brodeur, NHL career shutout leader, Stanley Cup champion, Olympic champion, and simply, one of the greatest goaltenders in the history of the game. He’s also 5-9-2 with a 2.93 GAA and 0.884 save percentage in the last month.

Critics will point to the fact that Luongo has never won anything. Neither had Dominik Hasek in 1998 and Henrik Lundqvist in 2006, and both led their teams to Olympic Gold.

For what it’s worth, Luongo enters tonight’s game with a 2-1 record in 3 previous games in the Olympics. He has a 1.01 GAA and a 0.947 save percentage in those 3 games. He beat tonight’s opponent, Germany, in Torino in 2006. It’s true that he doesn’t have the same experience or anywhere close to the same accomplishments than Brodeur, but at least from what we’ve seen of him in Olympic competition, Luongo has been able to perform competently. Maybe even more than competently.

Will that be enough for Team Canada to win Olympic Gold?

We sure hope so. We’ll see starting tonight.

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