Jan 212011
 

Kristin Reid just tweeted that some of the snakebitten Canucks – Mason Raymond, Jeff Tambellini, Alex Burrows and Tanner Glass – are working with Skills Coach Glenn Carnegie.

That’s probably good news for you poolies out there.

It’s been a tough stretch of games for what is one of the NHL’s highest-scoring teams. Since a 6-1 pounding of the Edmonton Oilers on January 7th, the Canucks have lost 5 of 7 games, including their last 3 games, and have been shut out twice. The good news is, they’ve managed to earn points loser points along the way and have somehow managed to hang on to 1st place in the Western Conference, but there’s no doubting the scoring slump some – actually most – of the guys are in.

Given the Canucks’ torrid pace through most of December and January, I suppose it was inevitable that the offense would start to dry up. I can’t pinpoint exactly when this started but it’s worth noting that the Canucks scored 44 goals in 11 games between December 8th and December 31st and only 27 goals in 11 games since January 1st.

And of their 27 goals since the calendar turned to 2011, the Sedin line, Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler and Christian Ehrhoff combined to score 23 of them.

As recently as yesterday, coach Alain Vigneault has stood up for the rest of the roster.

The Vancouver Canucks may have a quintet of forwards in deep scoring slumps, but head coach Alain Vigneault isn’t upset because the team is still winning.

“That should be everybody’s focus,” Vigneault said heading into Thursday’s home game against the San Jose Sharks. “Our guys might be having a tough time finishing, but as far as on the ice, they’re doing the right things.”

To be fair, Raymond, Tambellini and Jannik Hansen still create their fair share of offensive chances. Even Mikael Samuelsson has, albeit only in (very) small spurts. Guys like Manny Malhotra, Raffi Torres and Tanner Glass aren’t counted on for much offense, though it would be nice if they chipped in with the odd goal.

So what now that they’re not winning?

You have to think that they’re bound to bump the slump. At some point, the puck will start going back in the net again. Maybe some time with Carnegie will help. At least hopefully it does.

Jan 172011
 

[Every Monday, Katie Maximick takes your questions and gives her take on the Canucks in her own cantankerous style. If you have any questions about the Canucks, send it to her via Twitter (@canucksgirl44)]

Mikael Samuelsson, Raffi Torres

Photo credit: Yahoo Sports

Everyone put on their blue and green hardhats! Because after last night’s 4-0 shut-out loss in Minnesota, the sky is falling for a percentage of fans who sit on the tailgate of the Canucks bandwagon.

Yes, the team got its butt kicked, and yes, the Canucks now have three injuries in addition to Salo (Bolduc, Rome and Alberts), but hey, here’s the silver lining –- at least at this rate we won’t have to worry about making room for Salo when he comes back! In fact, many of us are ready for his return riiiiighhht about now.

But, aside from the injuries and last night’s sky-is-falling loss, there are a couple other questions floating around there in Canuck Nation.

Will the 3rd line score again?

This was asked before last night’s game against the Wild, so I was hoping for some positive reinforcement to answer this with… and then nobody scored. To be brief, if the 3rd line’s January record says anything, it’s looking dismal.

The last time the line produced any goals was the week from December 23rd to December 31st; they had 10 points that week. Samuelsson last scored on December 26th, and only has one assist since. Torres had a 2-goal night on December 23rd, hasn’t scored since December 31st, and has had 3 assists since. Malhotra last scored December 28th and has only 1 assist (onTorres’ goal on the 31st) since.

So what the hell happened, and why has it been so long since any member of the 3rd line has scored a goal? Is it a line slump? (Wait, am I asking Katie questions now?)

Who knows. The fans’ guesses are as good as mine, and Canucks fans are pretty smart. I just hope the 3rd line breaks their slump soon. With 3 d-men and Bolduc out, we can use all the offensive help we can get.

Tanner Glass or Jannik Hansen – who has surprised you more and why?

I’m going to give this one to Jannik. I’ve always known Hansen had the potential to be a great player, reminding me a bit of Mason Raymond three seasons ago: a young playmaker whose hands haven’t quite caught up to him yet (I think I’ve heard “hands of stone” thrown around on Twitter). But he seems to be progressing  and maturing very nicely this season, which has surprised me and a lot of Canucks fans. Halfway through the season he’s at 15 points and is a plus-8 (despite the loss in Minnesota). His career record is 21 pts in 55 games, which he’s definitely on pace to meet (and pass) and he had a very strong game against Washington, earning first star for the game. He’s the underdog and, like Tanner Glass, doesn’t get as much recognition as he deserves for his role on the ice.

Hansen has the ability to move between lines rather smoothly at the whim of Vigneault’s line juggling, and he consistently generates smart plays for whoever he’s on the ice with. He works tirelessly when he’s on the ice, forechecking, hitting (he leads the team with 99 hits) and isn’t too bad in the faceoff circle either.  If he could just find his hands and grow a bit more confidence (he tends to hesitate in front of the net a little), I think we could see a 25-to-30 point season from Hansen, and thus a lot more #36 jerseys around Vancouver to give @mozy19 some company.

J.J. Guerrero (@canuckshockey) asks: What’s up with all the New Kids tweets?

How is this related to the Canucks again, J.J.? The New Kids on the Block was the most amazing boy band to come out of the 90s (no offense to your precious Backstreet Boys, J.J.). My roommate and I like to youtube New Kids videos over a glass of wine and talk about the god ole days of fluorescent fanny packs and crimped bangs… Wait, was I supposed to reveal that information? And five bucks says Shane O’Brien knows all the words to “The Right Stuff” and the dance moves to go with it.

By the way, I was tweeting way more about BodyBreak commercials lately than New Kids. Who doesn’t like a great push-broom ‘stache and big hair in 80’s tracksuits? I rest my case.

Have a great week, Canucks fans. And don’t worry about the loss. We can’t win all 82 games. No one’s that good.

Jan 112011
 

(Contributions from J.J. Guerrero and Katie Maximick.)

Now that the Canucks have reached the official halfway point of the 2010/2011 season, we take a look back and give the players their midseason marks.

Manny Malhotra and Jannik Hansen, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

Manny Malhotra: Malhotra has fewer points than Raffi Torres, which is odd for a lot of people. But he’s the king of the faceoff circle, ranked second in the NHL at 63.4%. With 17 points, he’s on pace to match last season’s 33-point output in San Jose. So has he exceeded expectations? Not really, but he hasn’t exactly underperformed either.

Grade: B

Raffi Torres: Torres started the season red-hot with 5 goals in 3 games at the beginning of November, but the fiery left wing has cooled off with only 9 points since the end of November. However, he’s still third on the team for goals at 11 and has 8 assists. For a one year, $1 million contract, have the Canucks got what they paid for? I say yes – he has 19 points, throws hard hits and freight-trains his way to the net. I think Vancouver fans have been pleasantly surprised by their Baby Beluga.

Grade: C+

Mikael Samuelsson: Mikael “go eff yourself” Samuelsson is perhaps receiving the most flack of any player on the roster right now. He has the lowest shot percentage of all the Canucks forwards at 7.1%, even lower than Kevin Bieksa. Is it bad luck or are they bad shots? His point production isn’t horrible, with 8 goals and 16 assists, but he is currently pointless in his last 7 games. So, does the media have reason to pick on Samuelsson? Hard to say. Maybe he just needs someone to hurt his feelings and he’ll start putting up points again.

Grade: C+

Alex Bolduc: Bolduc’s been good at times and unnoticeable at others. Against the Sharks last Monday, he won 4 of 6 faceoffs; he followed that up by losing all 8 of his draws against the Flames last Wednesday. The revolving door on the team’s fourth line center position is due in large part to his inconsistency.

Grade: C-

Tanner Glass: No less than 11 Canucks have played on the fourth line all season; of those 11, Tanner Glass has been the most consistent. Coach AV trusts him enough to play a regular shift on even-strength and on the penalty-kill. Halfway through the season, he’s only 1 goal, 2 assists and 3 points short of his career-highs in those categories.

Grade: C

Jannik Hansen: His stat line (41 GP, 5 G – 8 A – 13 P) doesn’t reflect it, but Hansen’s play has improved from previous seasons. He’s a fast skater, excellent forechecker and versatile winger who’s proven through the first half of the season to be able to move up and down the lineup with relative ease.

Grade: B-

Aaron Volpatti: Volpatti was called up a month ago and quickly made his mark. He scored his first goal in his second game and got into his first fights a week after that. For what it’s worth, he’s better suited for the fourth line than Jonas Andersson and the since-departed Peter Schaefer, and has played better than the likes of Joel Perrault, Guillaume Desbiens and Mario Bliznak.

Grade: C-

Jan 102011
 

[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.]

You hate to see a game like this go to a shootout. I did. After 60 minutes of the top two teams in the NHL strutting their excellent puck movement, remarkable defense, and fabulous systems play, suddenly everything that made the game so stellar is taken away and a coin is flipped. Because that’s what the shootout is, really: a coin toss, a crapshoot. So before you go blaming anybody for the loss (i.e. Tambellini, for missing on that breakaway, or Luongo, for getting beat by Hudler), take a deep breath and recognize that this game, like all games decided in a shootout, was a tie with an extra point pulled out of a hat.

Then recognize that, in their sixth games in nine nights, the Canucks still skated away with a point, just as they did in the other five, and just as they did in this season’s other two intense games versus these Red Wings. I tell you, if we’re lucky enough to see these two teams in the playoffs, I’d cancel Christmas to watch every second of it. I’m serious. I’d watch so freaking hard, much like how I watched this game:

  • Jimmy Howard was the game’s deserving first star. He made 32 saves, many of the incredible variety. He flatly robbed Henrik and Daniel once each, controlled rebounds, and swallowed up shots like they were merchant ships floating above the nest of the Krakken. Then he stoned all three shooters in the shootout. He stoned them just like Jelly Roll. Howard was out of this world tonight, not unlike another famous Howard in red.
  • Were it not for Howard’s play, you’d be hearing a lot of talk about the Sedins (or, the Wizards of the Coast, as per @victoriado, brilliantly). They were consistently dangerous tonight, especially on that lob play that they seem to have perfected. I counted about three times that Burrows or Henrik vaulted the puck into the air, only to have Daniel glove it down and start an odd-man rush. There should be a law against lobs that sweet. That’s right. A Lob Law.
  • By the way, we’ve seen that play a lot this year. We take for granted the way the Sedins innovate ways to create offense. They’re always scheming, from their set faceoff plays to the slap-pass to these lobs. I guess that’s what happens when you share a duplex with a perma-linemate.
  • Chris Osgood is nearing forty, but you’d never know it. Not because he plays like a younger man, but because he looks like a younger man. Osgood didn’t play tonight, but the HNIC producer couldn’t stay away from shots of him sulking in the hallway, and he looks about sixteen. He also looks a lot like Ian Walker. Think Bif Naked is the victim of a brilliant switcheroo? Probably. Foxy celebrities marry athletes, not writers. Who does Walker think he is? Arthur Miller?
  • Keith Ballard had a fantastic game tonight. He was named the game’s second star, which was enough to earn him about a whole two extra minutes of icetime. Not too shabby. Though he was only credited with 3 hits, one of the hits looked like this. That’s good for an extra minute right there. Ballard had a solid overall game. He rushed the puck out of his own zone well, played physical, and rang a shot off the post that might have put Vancouver over the top. If we get this kind of play regularly from our fifth defenseman, we’ll probably do all right.
  • Ballard didn’t actually deserve the second star, though–Kevin Bieksa did. Juice played 24 minutes, seemingly all of them engaged in a cross-check fight with Tomas Holmstrom. Despite battling the big jackass all night, Bieksa managed to get off five shots, attempt another five, block three, and collect three takeaways. Apparently, like the marriage of Stanley and Stella Kowalski, Kevin Bieksa is better when he’s fighting.
  • Both teams were clearly exhausted tonight, but I really recognized it in the Canucks. Mason Raymond and Jeff Tambellini, who normally fly, instead did whatever it is turkeys do to get around. The rest of the Canucks, too, seemed to lack jump, especially in the third. After limiting the Red Wings to less than ten shots in both the first and second, they Canucks looked like they just ran out of the steam. This is a team known for their ability to #WinDaTurd, but they couldn’t keep pace with Detroit in the third period tonight. Detroit rattled off seventeen shots and had the Canucks scrambling in the defensive zone for most of the final frame. Were it not for the stellar play of Roberto Luongo, I don’t think this one would have gotten to overtime. Like Kanye West, the Canucks were all over the place, but like Mike Myers, Luongo seemed desperate to salvage the point.
  • Jim Hughson with the Lord of the Rings reference of the night: “Helm couldn’t smeagol by him along the boards.” How does one smeagol, exactly? I’ve never heard this term before in my life. I take this to mean Helm tried to bite Alberts’s finger off.
  • Though the Canucks’ powerplay only scored one time (above) in five opportunities, they looked absolutely awe-inspiring at times. At times the Sedins threw the puck around. At times Kesler tried to muscle the puck through. At times, Christian Ehrhoff showed why he’s the motor of the back end, zipping around the zone like Ben Stiller only wished he could have. It was fun to watch.
  • @GutsMcTavish24 observed that Todd Bertuzzi still has moments of soft perimeter play. Almost immediately upon tweeting that Bertuzzi wasn’t “willing to sacrifice,” DJ Dave threw on Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice.” How he knew to do that is beyond me.
  • I’m interested in Ryan Kesler only taking 12 faceoffs. He won 6, but for a guy who’s top ten in the circle, you’d think he’d take more. Any theories? Here’s mine: Kesler is the best skater on the team, and Vigneault wanted to start him on the fly.
  • Speaking of faceoffs, after narrowly gaining his coach’s trust in the faceoff circle, Alex Bolduc is clearly back to square one. A few games ago, he was taking eight faceoffs. Problem was, he lost all eight. Tonight he took two, and he won them both, but do you know who else took two? Mason Raymond. Bolduc’s got his work cut out for him; it’ll take some time to regain that trust.
  • Manny Malhotra, on the other hand, was a faceoff machine, and in a playoff-atmosphere game like this, it was impossible not to notice. He went 18-for-28, but it seemed like he never lost, especially in the defensive zone, where he was 13-for-18. Red Wing centermen tried everything to combat his technique; they seemed highly irritated with how low he was getting. Nothing worked. Like a guy who wants to be startin’ something, Malhotra was too low to get under.
Jan 042011
 

[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 came into San Jose to play their third road game in four nights. Unbeaten in five, and expected to be dog-tired, there was a sense among Canuck nation that a loss to San Jose was as inevitable as the extraplanar robots that chase down lawbreakers. The Sharks came into this game fourth in the Western Conference, and with their continued employment of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, and Dan Boyle, looked to be formidable foes.

They were formidable foes. That said, they still got beat, by a Canucks team that has seemingly forgotten how to lose. As a born loser, I’m here if they need the help, but I don’t think they’ll call. In the meantime, I guess Daniel and I will just have to sit around watching them win, like we did tonight when we watched this game:

  • The Second Law of Sedinery: if the Sedins find themselves alone behind the defense, you may as well go line up at center ice. They will score. The opening goal (above), off a turnover by Joe Thornton (and not Jason Demers, as crazy old John Garrett insisted), is a classic case of Wizardous Sedinerie. Antti Niemi made a common mistake and got Daniel confused with Henrik. Had he realized that Henrik had the first touch, he might have realized Daniel was about to get the second. Instead, he anticipated a shot from Henrik Sedin. Rookie mistake. Also a rookie mistake? Letting Gary Busey date your mom.
  • Speaking of Rookie of the Year, let’s talk about casts. The second-line featured a rotating one, as Jannik Hansen, Jeff Tambellini, and Mason Raymond all saw time as Ryan Kesler’s wings. When Tambellini and Raymond were together, they showed the potential to be the fastest duo since Northstar and Aurora. (Other similarities: both duos are Canadian, and spend an inordinate amount of time in dark blue. Differences: Raymond’s not gay, and Tambellini’s not a woman.) Anyway, Raymond and Hansen finished the night on that line, and Hansen may have re-won his spot there with this game-tying goal late in the second period. Early in the second, I grumbled about Hansen spending time on the second line–normally he finishes his checks, but not his scoring chances. That said, like a piece of furniture haunted by the ghost of a carpenter, Hansen has magically developed finish. #WorstAnalogyAward
  • What was going on during the Canucks second goal? Ehrhoff and Edler apparently switched places with Daniel and Henrik, briefly becoming the forwards on the rush. They didn’t do too badly, either. Perhaps Edler felt slighted when Skeeter suggested he didn’t have the stuff to play center, or perhaps the Sedins felt pigeonholed as offensive wizards and wanted a chance to play defense. Third option: the Sedins forgot that the teams switched ends for the second, and were thrilled about being in behind the defense for a second time.
  • Tanner Glass played 8:25 tonight, which is about on par with his usual minutes, except that he spent ten minutes in the box for two fights (a full one-sixth of the game). The fourth line in general was noticeable tonight, spending a lot of time in the offensive zone. Chalk this up to the return of Mason Raymond, which has banished a top-nine player to the bottom three. And, while the line may not have seen an increase in minutes, they saw a definite increase in third period minutes, as Alain Vigneault trusted them with late shifts in a close game.
  • Part of this might have been a desire to play fresh guys on the back-to-back games, but another part might have been that Alex Bolduc was winning faceoffs when Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler weren’t. For the third straight game, the Canucks lost the faceoff battle, although this time by a very narrow margin. Manny Malhotra was his usual stalwart self, winning 14-of-18, including all six in the defensive zone. Just Manny being Manny. The other two big drawmen were kind of crummy. Kind of really crummy. Kesler was 35% in the circle. Henrik was 27%.
  • Continuing the negativity, on San Jose’s first goal, Rome needs to cover Clowe in front of the net, not the random patch of ice to Schneider’s left, which he so ably defended. On San Jose’s second goal, Henrik needs to not be in the box. Captain Hook strikes again. On San Jose’s third goal, Schneider needs to remove all banana peels from his crease prior to the start of the period. Open letter to Rollie Melanson: get on that.
  • Christian Ehrhoff was good tonight. He facilitated breakouts like working at McDonald’s, had 5 shots, blocked 4 shots, and picked up two assists. I’ve heard fans saying that, now that Bieksa’s playing well, we should trade Ehrhoff instead. Tonight, Ehrhoff showed San Jose why they never should have let him go; let’s not wish that same regret upon ourselves.
  • Like Evangeline Lilly in a Live Links commercial, Mason Raymond draws a lot of calls. It’s good to see him buzzing around the offensive zone, falling down like Cory Schneider.
  • Not to rag on Cory Schneider too much. Despite his shaky moments, such as collapsing like a Jenga tower in a rowboat, he made some incredible saves, and also let in less goals than Antti Niemi. These are both positives. The Canucks are now 7-0-2 when Schneider starts.
  • Worst outfit of the night goes to Dan Murphy, who wore an ugly tie that looked like it was made of dried beef broth. Someone needs to get him on What Not to Wear immediately. Seriously, where did he get it? The toilet store?
  • Observation: every time the puck goes over the glass, pro hockey players become children stargazing with their fathers. They point with such enthusiasm it’s embarrassing. Look, Dad, a shooting star! Didja see it? Didja?
  • Word was Kesler might sit this one out after taking a shot to the foot in the game prior, but he wound up playing twenty-three very effective minutes. He put up four shots, as well as attempting another six, one of which hit the crossbar after a beautiful tip.
  • Speaking of shots, the Canucks put up 47 and attempted 70. They peppered Niemi like a flavourless steak. A ton of those shots ended up in Niemi’s glove, which the Canucks apparently hate as much as the shooter in The Jerk hates oil cans. The Canucks won the last game against the Sharks with considerable hittiness, but tonight, shootiness was their primary asset.
  • And finally, let’s give major credit to Alex Burrows, who took it upon himself to win da turd by scoring the game-winner halfway into da turd. The refs reviewed it for something that isn’t reviewable but, since many officials still sort of hate Burr for that thing that happened, it makes sense.
Dec 312010
 

Daniel and Henrik Sedin are fourth and fifth in league scoring, and Ryan Kesler is on pace for a 40-goal, Selke Trophy season. But superstars alone don’t win Stanley Cups. Champions need depth, and especially a dominant third line.

Consider the five Stanley Cup winners since the lockout, and their third lines.

Chicago: Dave Bolland, Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg
Pittsburgh: Jordan Staal, Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke
Detroit: Kris Draper, Dan Cleary and Dallas Drake
Anaheim: Travis Moen, Rob Niedermayer and Samuel Pahlsson
Carolina: Doug Weight, Mark Recchi and Ray Whitney

All five teams had hard-working third lines that could shut down the opposition and pop in clutch goals — pretty much everything Wellwood, Demitra and Bernier failed to do last spring.

Let’s pause for a moment’s gratitude those three are gone, and then meditate on their replacements.

Alain Vigneaut’s current incarnation of that third line has Malhotra between Torres and Samuelsson. Are they good enough?

Manny Malhotra

Manny Malhotra is a quietly effective two-way player, and the league’s second-best faceoff man at 63.5%. That skill is even more important in the playoffs, where winning a defensive-zone faceoff with 30 seconds line can mean the difference between pulling out a win or heading to the golf course.

And Manny has some offensive flair as well. Remember that shorthanded breakaway goal against Detroit?

Raffi Torres

Raffi Torres has been fondly described as a bowling ball, scattering defenders as he works the boards. Torres was named the NHL’s first star of the week on November 8 after five goals in four games. Since then, he’s fallen into a slump, and his -2 is the worst plus/minus of any Canucks who’s played over 25 games.

Mikael Samuelsson

Mikael Samuelsson may be this season’s greatest disappointment. After a 30-goal performance, he was a monster against the LA Kings, sniping 7 goals in the first round.

Despite starting the season with the twins, he was unable to capitalize and sunk to the second, and then the third line. (He may be the team’s fourth-leading scorer, but only because Burrows, Raymond and Tambellini have played fewer games.)

Even worse, Samuelsson’s been prone to making brutal giveaways, like this one leading to Daniel Briere’s goal on Tuesday.

Then again, Samuelsson has the greatest upside of the third line members. If he ever finds his shot (and his brain) again, he has the ability to take over a game and even a series.

Is the third line good enough? It can be. It all depends on two streaky players coming into their own at the opportune moment.

Let’s hope Torres and Samuelsson are banking the magic for springtime.

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 122010
 

[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.]

So I don’t think the Tampa Bay Lightning realize they were supposed to treat this game like a ceremonial faceoff: show up, smile for a photo, then stand back while Henrik Sedin picks up the puck and hands it to the Queen. It should have been fairly simple. Instead, the Lightning came out trying to win, and did, which I found completely classless. Somebody needs to delicately tell them they ruined a fabulous night. I watched this game:

  • A lot of people are going to want to pin this loss on Cory Schneider. Let them.] Ignore the pundits eager to criticize his infrequent usage, eager to pin this on coaching and continue to innocently plant the seeds of a goaltending controversy. The Canucks outplayed the Lightning and needed a few stops to make sure the final score reflected that. If Luongo never gets a pass (and he never does), then let it be so for all Canuck goaltenders. Schneider didn’t look so good on a few of these goals; he needs and has the capability to be better. So what if it had been nine games since his last start? He was slotted, at the season’s outset, to start every fourth or fifth game. With a nine-game break, he actually only missed one start. Players miss starts. They’re still expected to be good when they get back in. Schneider did make a couple of very impressive saves, including a brilliant toe kick early in the first period that made me think, maybe, he was going to have Stamkos’s number. It was not meant to be.
  • Steven Stamkos is pretty good at hockey, don’t you think? If I was picking teams, and he was one of the guys waiting to be picked for some reason, I’d pick him pretty early on. Stamkos had 3 points last night, including the game-winner on an incredible one-timer. The last time I saw a shot that unstoppable, I ignored the desperate pleadings of everyone at my intervention and I drank it.
  • How to explain this loss? I’ll tell you what happened: The Lightning saw Brian Burke in attendance, and assumed this was a winnable game. Zing.
  • How badly did the Canucks miss Christian Ehrhoff? Ehrhoff facilitates more breakouts than the grill at McDonald’s, and Vancouver could have used him on more than a few clunky-looking rushes. Realizing the importance of his contributions for the first time, I spent the whole night humming Big Yellow Taxi. The Hoff was especially missed on the powerplay, where the five-man unit was sorely lacking in a guy who does what he does. Dan Hamhuis, his replacement, did different things, and unfortunately, those things were counterproductive.
  • Alain Vigneault would be forgiven for bumping Kevin Bieksa to that top special teams unit. Bieksa is a good puckhandler, and nobody on the Canucks pinches along the boards better. But I wouldn’t recommend it. Bieksa’s shot isn’t overly threatening; his presence would allow defenders to shade off of him and attack the open passing lanes this unit exploits so well. Rather, this might be Keith Ballard’s best opportunity to show what he can do. His end-to-end rush that resulted in the game-tying goal was, while a bit of a softie, an impressive display of offense and skating from a defenseman who has yet to fully convince his coach of his skill level. Ignore the terrifying fact that Cory Schneider has as many points as he does; Ballard’s been exploding out from behind the net for a few games now in a way that only Christian Ehrhoff could emulate. What other Ehrhoffian traits does he possess?
  • Andrew Alberts’ return to the lineup coincided with a suspicious upstick in team hittiness. The Canucks had 23 hits to Tampa’s 13. My theory: Alberts is an instigator of violence, akin to Mookie from Do the Right Thing. Keep him away from Brooklyn, trash cans, and Italian restaurant windows.
  • The Markus Naslund retirement ceremony was a thing of beauty, and done with penultimate class, but who expected Nazzy to talk for that long? We’ve come to expect brevity from him. Instead, we discovered that Markus Naslund is, like any other retired father, prone to rambling. That said, his reunion with the Vancouver fans still seemed much too short. We needed a left winger last night. He should have just played.
  • Best tie of the night goes to former Canuck goaltender Dan Cloutier. Daniel suggested Alain Vigneault was sporting some pretty spiffy neckwear as well, but my wife insisted, “Cloutier never won anything; let him have this one.”
  • Mason Raymond’s absence was felt yet again. Even when he’s not scoring, he’s a threat to do so, and it gives Ryan Kesler a bit more space to work with. Kes was going full tilt in the opening frame, but once the Lightning realized he was doing it alone, they smothered him like an only child. Related: Kesler never gets through with those bullish sprints up the middle, but I hope he never stops.
  • The Canucks won 64% of faceoffs, led by Manny Malhotra winning 14 of 19, including 9 of 10 in the neutral zone. Henrik went 11-for-19 and Kesler 11-for-16. The dirty underbelly of this stat? The Canucks only won 5 of 12 in the defensive zone, thereby failing to take advantage of their faceoff superiority by giving up possession on their defensive zone starts too often. Alex Bolduc lost all three faceoffs he took, by the way.
  • Food for thought: Manny Malhotra finished minus-1 and only won 1 defensive zone faceoff. As the Canucks’ defensive center, you’d have to call this a bad game for him. Despite scoring a goal, he didn’t do the things he’s in the lineup to do.
  • Spend a shift or two watching Raffi Torres. He makes some bizarre decisions with and without the puck. He makes cross-ice passes that suddenly end promising odd-man rushes. He puts himself out of position to make needless (albeit sweet) hits. In one instance, he tried to one-time a puck that was bouncing like Li’l Bow Wow on roller skates. My favourite Torres moment: when he sat down in the box after a first period penalty, the camera caught a nearby lady in a Bertuzzi jersey (with a Degrassi haircut) give him an amorous eyebrow raise. You know what they say about a guy with big eyes.
  • Ron Maclean still thinks it’s Mardi Gras. During the first intermission, he talked about how Guy Bocuher doesn’t focus enough on threesomes. Not everyone is into your kink, Maclean.
  • I actually really enjoyed the broadcast team last night. Mark Lee’s vocabulary was incredibly entertaining, and Weekes is steadily improving as a commentator. My wife: didn’t Kevin Weekes used to play goalie for the Canucks? Us: Kind of.
  • Before you lament the lost point, consider that the Canucks made an impressive comeback to get one. Furthermore, consider that comeback was led by two distinct instances of Wizardous Sedinerie. As the broadcast team showed Henrik’s goal (above) is scored on a shot so accurate it bent the space-time continuum.
Nov 082010
 

[Every Monday, Katie Maximick takes your questions and answers them in her own cantankerous style. If you have any questions about the Canucks, send it to her via Twitter (@canucksgirl44)]

Vancouver Canucks beat Los Angeles Kings, 2010 Playoffs


In this week’s edition of “Ask Katie about the Canucks”, Katie Maximick responds to your questions on player surprises and lineup changes, and looks ahead to the playoffs. (We know it’s only November, but hey, we’re allowed to get overexcited sometimes.)

Kayli (@KayliDiebel93) asks: Who is your favourite current Canucks player?

Katie: I would have to say, like 90% of Canucks fans right now, Manny Malhotra. He’s a beast. Amazing faceoff statistics, great SHG chances, scoring ability, and veteran leadership. Who wouldn’t love Manny? But I’d still get a new Kesler jersey over a Malhotra – loyalties, after all, lol. Kesler was here first.

Calvin asks: From the opponents we played so far, who would be the toughest first round opponent?

Katie: I think the LA Kings. They’re getting a lot of hype, and for good reason, with Kopitar, Brown, Smyth, Doughty and even our former D-man Willie Mitchell and a pretty good goalie. They’re going to be really dangerous this year, and if Vancouver can avoid them in the playoffs at all cost, the better. Let’s hope that someone else can take them out first before the Canucks have to face them because it’s not going to be easy.

Thomas asks: Do you think Torres can be the Burrows from last year and put up 35-40 goals?

Katie: If he keeps his recent play up, I think so, yes. He plays with a lot of heart, grit and drive, and a lot of Canucks fans are hoping that this will be his consistent style rather than a streak that will burn out or fade away. But wouldn’t it be better to have both Burrows and Torres scoring 30+ goals each this season? Talk about offensive depth. I gotta say, I’m liking Torres killing other teams for once. Nice to have him on our side!

Todd (@Toddske) asks: When Hamhuis returns, who will be bumped? Rome or Alberts?

Katie: Rome, hands down. He seems really slow out there on the ice and has been pretty much invisible. Alberts, on the other hand, has been using his size out there, finishing checks, making big hits and is at least TRYING to stay out of the penalty box so far.

Andrew asks: The West Conference is looking extremely competitive as always with 9 teams within 5 points of each other after approx. 13 games played. What are your thoughts on the Canucks success, and what will be the key factor(s) that will take them into the playoffs?

Katie: Not since the West Coast Express era has the Canucks had this much depth, which is why Vancouver is practically trembling in anticipation to see what this season brings (hopefully a Cup, obviously). I think the potential is there, but it’s been there before and we still don’t have a Cup in this city (aside from the Millionaires). First of all we need to stay healthy, although that’s hard to guarantee. We’re already having issues. Last year our injuries killed us in the playoffs, in addition to Burrows and Kesler playing injured. Second, we need solid goaltending. We’re still waiting to see Luongo at his best, but at least we have consistent and stellar backup goaltending with Cory Schneider. Third, offensive consistency.  Vancouver has a few players that tend to disappear during the playoffs (the Sedins are the worst at this, but not quite so bad last playoffs) and others who get taken out by our first issue, injuries.

Steve asks: Taking off from Andrew’s question, I am wondering what strategies during the regular season will help them when they are in the playoffs. Last season they seem to fade as the playoffs progressed, as they did the year before.

Katie: Maybe look to the coach? Don’t sit on leads then have to fight back in the third period as result (typical of AV’s defensive style of play) and use timeouts and your backup goalie when the team is struggling. Don’t keep players out there just to punish them and prove your point. Get them off the ice and give someone else the opportunity to help the team.  I hope that if Luongo does blow a tired during the playoffs again, that both Lu and Vigneault will be comfortable and confident enough to put in Schneider to help the team get to that next step. I’m not saying count Lu out, I’m just implying that having Schneider in for a game or two during the playoffs would boost the team’s confidence a bit if Luongo is struggling.

We could always just fire Vigneault and solve most of these problems. Just a suggestion for MG to mull over…

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