Mar 052011
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

Brian Murray, Ottawa Senators

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Gotta give it to Bryan Murray – he’s an entertaining, horse-trading general manager in a league where many front offices are afraid to make deals. However, his off-season plans for the team, as expressed to local media this week, have to concern Sens fans. Quick fixes won’t get the job done, and players selected in the first round aren’t always ready to play in the NHL right away.
  • As a courtesy for Sens fans, here’s a taste of the type of “top-six forward” likely available through free agency this summer: Simon Gagne, Alexei Kovalev (been there, done that), Tim Connolly, Jason Arnott, Michael Ryder, Steve Sullivan, Cory Stillman, Marco Sturm, Alex Ponikarovsky, Radim Vrbata. Yikes.
  • James Mirtle had a great piece this week analyzing the success and future potential of Leafs goalie James Reimer.
  • Speaking of the Leafs, Phil Kessel and Remier are getting a ton of credit for getting the Leafs into the playoff race. Going unnoticed is the very strong play of Carl Gunnarsson. He’s been an upgrade on Tomas Kaberle defensively, and Gunnarsson’s outscored the former Leaf defenseman since the deal.
  • The sky really isn’t falling in Vancouver, but the Canucks’ secondary scoring issues are very real. Manny Malholtra and Maxime Lapierre are unlikely to contribute any offense in the post-season. Which means Vancouver’s second line (Mason Raymond-Ryan Kesler-Mikael Samuelsson) will have to produce, or it’ll be another early exit from the playoffs.
  • Speaking of the Canucks, their defense is reminiscent of the 05-06 Carolina Hurricanes blueline – a collection of good second and third pairing defensemen without a real strong #1. It worked for the Hurricanes, who won the Cup. Usually though, Cup winners have at least one top-end, puck-moving guy. The Canucks don’t have anyone like that, no matter how hard Christian Ehrhoff tries.
  • The Columbus Blue Jackets have spent almost ten years trying to find suitable linemates for Rick Nash. Jakub Voracek certainly looks like a strong offensive match for Nash, but he’s a mess in his own zone. Until he figures that part out, Voracek isn’t a first-line player.
  • Since the Buffalo Sabres are suddenly a “have” organization financially, it will be interesting to see if they can become a viable option for the best free agents. Players hailing from the Greater Toronto Area may like the fact that they can play “close to home” without the media frenzy that comes with playing for the Maple Leafs.
  • If the Atlanta Thrashers become the Winnipeg Jets, they’ll move to the Western Conference, with the Detroit Red Wings coming East. The Jets are an easy fit replacing Detroit in the Central Division. Yet finding a place in the East for the Red Wings could see a major reorganization of the Conference. There really isn’t a suitable replacement to slot into the Southeast Division.
  • It was foolish for Taylor Hall to get into a fight, but not unexpected – the Oilers are the softest team in the league, and Hall has been on the receiving end of punishment all year. At some point, even the most veteran of NHL players is going to lose their cool. That being said, Edmonton has to become a tougher team to play against for 2011-12. For three years now they’ve been pushovers, and that will only hinder their development into an NHL powerhouse.
  • Who knows how long it will last, but it should be noted right now the much-maligned Phil Kessel is outscoring Alex Ovechkin 27-25.
  • This is like a real-life Family Guy joke – enjoy some lewd telestrator-ing.
  • Boston coach Claude Julien says he wants a fourth line that gives the team “an identity.” Translation: Tyler Seguin can expect even less ice time in Boston.
  • One thing to watch in the Eastern Conference playoff race – given Martin Biron’s injury, it looks like Henrik Lundqvist will have to start every remaining game for the Rangers. Lundqvist has played in 70+ games for four straight seasons, and fatigue has affected his game before.
  • An interesting Toronto Star piece on the KHL.
  • One thing to consider after Nashville’s victory over Vancouver this week is the lack of success low-scoring teams have had in the playoffs since the lockout. The lowest-scoring team to make the playoffs in each Conference has never made it further than the second round. In fact, the lowest scoring team to make the playoffs in the Western Conference has yet to make it past the first round.
  • The three lowest scoring teams currently fighting for playoff spots in each Conference: Nashville (8th), Minnesota (10th), Dallas (9th) in the West, Toronto (10th), Montreal (6th), Washington (5th) in the East.
Feb 132011
 

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

Canucks Record

56 GP, 36-11-9, 81 points (1st in Northwest Division, 1st in Western Conference)

Who’s Hot

It was about this time last year that Mikael Samuelsson went on a hot streak, a way of showing Team Sweden what they were missing out on. To say that Sammy is en fuego as of late would be an understatement. He has 6 goals and 14 points in his last 8 games while adding a different look to the first PP unit. With the injury to Alex Edler, Sammy has fit nicely into the first PP unit and is, for now anyway, quarterbacking the point with Christian Ehrhoff. Sammy is also happy to back on the 2nd line with Kesler, where they have rekindled their chemistry along side Mason Raymond.

Who’s Not

Night in and night out, Jannik Hansen is one of the hardest working Canucks on the ice, but unfortunately, it hasn’t translated in to much offensive success recently. He only has 1 goal and 1 assist in his last 12 games. While he works tirelessly on the penalty kill and tries to generate chances on the 3rd line with his speed, he just hasn’t been able to finish.

Who’s Next

Monday, February 14, 2011 vs. St. Louis Blues (5:00 PM start, away)

The St. Louis Blues lost both games to the Minnesota Wild in this weekend’s home-and-home series. Since a 5-game win streak to end 2010, the Blues have only 4 wins in 2011. (In contrast, the Canucks have 3 regulation losses in 2011.) The Blues are looking from the outside into the playoff race, sitting in 13th place in the Western Conference.

The Canucks and Blues have split their first two meetings of the season, with the road team coming out on top both times. The Blues won 3-2 in Rogers Arena on December 5th; the Canucks won their latest meeting 3-1 on December 20th in St. Louis.

Alex Steen has 4 points (3G -1A) and is a plus-3 in the season series to date. He has 15 goals, 40 points and a plus-4 rating for the season.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011 vs. Minnesota Wild (5:00 PM start, away)

On the front page of the Minnesota Wild’s website, it says “Every Point Counts”, which is fitting considering that the standings in the Western Conference seem to change every night. Minnesota has been battling with the Flames and Kings for the last playoff spot. The Wild are hot and are currently on a 4-game winning streak; they have an 8-2-0 record in their last 10 games.

The Wild have won 2 of their 3 games against the Canucks this season. Both wins came at home at the Xcel Energy Center where they outscored the Canucks 10-2, including the 4-0 beating just last month. (Incidentally, that loss was the start of a mini-slide where the boys in blue went 0-1-3.)

Martin Havlat has 9 points with a plus-7 rating in his last 10 games. He leads the team in points with 48 (16G – 32A) for the season. He has 3 points in 3 games against the Canucks this season.

Thursday, February 17, 2011 vs. Nashville Predators (5:00 PM start, away)

The Canucks roll into Nashville for the last game of a 3-game road trip. The Preds look different this time with the addition of Mike “Mr. Underwood” Fisher, who came over in a trade from the Ottawa Senators. The Predators are 5-4-1 in their last 10 and are currently sitting in 4th place in the Western Conference.

The Canucks have won the only meeting between the two teams this season, when Lee Sweatt potted his first NHL career goal and first game-winning-goal.

After a few tumultuous years in Montreal, Sergei Kostitsyn seems to have found a home in Nashville. He has 10 points (4-6) in his last 10 games and is second in team scoring, just behind Captain Shea Weber, with 15 goals, 18 assists and 33 points – all are career-highs.

Saturday, February 19, 2011 vs Dallas Stars (7:00 PM start, home)

It’s Hockey Night in Canada and the Canucks are home from a road trip to play against the Dallas Stars. With only 2 wins in their last 9 games, Dallas is just barely holding onto 3rd place in the Western Conference, with the Coyotes only a point back and making a push for the Pacific Division lead.

The Canucks have had Dallas’ number this season winning all 3 previous meetings by a combined score of 15-3. Both Sedins have 6 points each in the 3 games played.

All-Star Loui Eriksson has 4 points (1-3) in his last 5 games and is second in team scoring with 18 goals and 53 points this season. He is also a good plus-14. Eriksson is a pure offensive player and is generally-considered to be one of the most underrated players in the league.

Welcome Back: Sami “Balls of Steel” Salo

The win against the Calgary Flames on Saturday saw the return of Sami Salo.

About a month ago it was unknown whether we would even see Sami back this season or ever. But with the latest string of injuries – unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of weeks, you’ll already know that Edler is out indefinitely after having back surgery, Ballard is out about a month with a sprained knee and Dan Hamhuis was plastered to the boards and will be out indefinitely with a concussion – the return on Sami has happened with opened arms.

Sami’s presence adds so much to the Canucks lineup, and it’s always nice to know we have that blast from the point that would scare any goalie straight. It’ll take a few games for Salo to get back into top playing form, after all this is his “training camp”, but to see #6 back on the ice makes all Canucks fans happy.

So here’s to Sami Salo, we missed you and your balls of steel!

Feb 082011
 

[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.]

You’d have thought, from the tone of the media coverage leading up to this game, that Ottawa was coming in with a bag over their collective heads, while the Canucks had been spotted a guillotine, a French audience, and a death warrant personally signed by Maximilien Robespierre. From the outset, this one looked like a routine execution, the league’s best team up against, arguably, the league’s worst team. Of course, that’s not how it went. Rather than crush the Senators like the Crushinator might have crushed them, the Canucks jumped out to an early lead, indicating a crushing, then nearly lost it with some sloppy play in the second. As a result, this one was a lot closer than anybody had expected, myself included. My official prediction was a Canuck victory by the score of 50 million billion to 1. I wound up being off by one goal. I watched this game:

  • The big story was the play of the Canucks’ second line of Raymond, Kesler, and Samuelsson, which appears to be coming to life like the denizens of Stephen King’s Pet Sematery. They led the way last night, with 3 goals and 8 points between them. Kesler played the way he usually played, capable of giving straight men pause, and Raymond and Samuelsson finally looked like suitable linemates, using their respective speed and shootiness to great effect. The game-winning goal (above) was an excellent display of their reignited chemistry. Kesler fought the puck through the neutral zone before Raymond gained some room in the offensive zone with his speed. MayRay then fed it back to Kesler, who found Samuelsson in front. It was very cute, like Animaniac sister Dot.
  • Also worth mentioning is that Kesler made that pass with Jannik Hansen’s stick, given to him after his own lumber snapped in the neutral zone. I wondered what Hansen was thinking while Kesler was using it to dazzle. I suspect the following: 1) Why doesn’t it do that when I’m holding it? and 2) Maybe now they’ll finally let me join their study group.
  • Not featured in this clip of the Kesler goal is the post he hit seconds prior. His shot really is something else. Not literally, of course–it’s remains a shot. Kesler has become a remarkable player. I’m downright salivating at the thought of what he could fetch us in a trade. I’m thinking a top-line, two-way, power forward center and a late draft pick.
  • On the heels of being named one of the NHL’s three stars for the week, Mikael Samuelsson potted another two goals tonight. His empty-netter to seal the win was a reassertion that yes, he will shoot from anywhere (joke credit: @MFitz24). Thanks for reminding us, buddy, but next time, gain the red line. Samuelsson is like that member of the sniper team that picks off the bank robber right at the moment the cop on the inside is beginning to get through to the guy, and the audience is beginning to sympathize with him. Then bam! He’s dead. Not in Mikael’s bank!
  • If you’re not sure whether or not you’re the squeamish sort, have a look at Keith Ballard’s knee. Are you vomiting? You’re squeamish. I’ve eaten licorice that wouldn’t bend like that. Anyway, Ballard left the game with an undisclosed injury (early bet: knee) early in the first. The good news: this hardly disrupted Alain Vigneault’s perma-gameplan of giving all Ballard’s minutes to Aaron Rome.
  • Rome then exacerbated the Canucks’ lack of playable defencemen when he took 1140 seconds in penalties for fighting with Chris Neil, and I have to give a ton of credit to Neil on this one. When the Senators went down by two, Neil tried to start something with Rome, and Rome smartly declined. But here’s the thing: the Canucks have been playing with the lead so much this season, they almost always decline, and Neil was the first one to force the issue. The first chance he got, he took a run at Henrik Sedin. For those complaining it was in any way dirty (I’m looking at you, Garry “I only own paisley ties” Valk), it looked nearly identical to every Raffi Torres hit. It was fine. And, it necessitated a response, which was the point. Then, Neil smartly looked off Daniel Sedin, who was first on the scene for some reason (and took a Burrows-esque stab at Neil’s genitals) before pummeling Aaron Rome. That is how you get what you want. The fact that it put the Canucks down to 4 defenseman for much of the entire second period (during which Ottawa scored twice) was a bonus. You may hate Chris Neil, but his was an absolutely perfect piece of agitation.
  • It’s a small beef, but let’s talk about Aaron Rome’s delay of game penalty: really? Rome was lying on his belly when he swept the puck away. Can he really be blamed for the fact that it took off like a hornuss? I say no. If the Bible’s creation story has taught us anything, it’s that, once on its belly, a creature goes from treacherous to harmless pretty quickly. How can the referees not read this situation? In the third period, Roberto Luongo briefly lost his stick. Had it met the puck in the corner, would he have received a delay of game penalty too? The order to call this penalty by the letter of the law has only made the referees look like fools. In a parallel universe, they’re the guys ticketing motorists for turning right at a red light.
  • Andrew Alberts probably wasn’t expecting to play 17:10 (that’s Aaron Rome icetime) tonight, but he was pretty great in his first game back in the lineup. Alberts used his body to great effect (like Willa Ford), finishing with a game-high seven hits, two blocked shots, and a plus-2.
  • When Alex Burrows is playing with confidence, he becomes more than a Sedin linemate–he’s his own weapon. On his goal, he looks off Daniel Sedin to take the puck to the net himself. The power move completely surprises Chris Phillips, who cuts behind the goal, thinking he’s going to shrewdly take the puck away. Instead, Burrows finds himself alone in front, and shows a great bit of patience to put it past Elliott. There was an article in the Province only yesterday about Burrows working with Glenn Carnegie to take that extra second with the puck after missing four open chances versus Chicago. The extra work appears to have paid off instantly.
  • How about that 3-on-0 rush the Senators got? Granted, it doesn’t happen if the puck doesn’t jump over Daniel Sedin’s stick, but the rest of the team picked a poor time to have a tea party at the bench. I was surprised Luongo was even in the net.
  • Dan “Community Man” Hamhuis was the big-minute guy tonight, logging over 30 minutes in the absence of Ballard and Rome. He’s such a good guy he didn’t mind the extra work. He had plenty of energy left over, too. During the intermission, he freed Tibet.
  • I always wonder about the player that serves the bench minors. Is he aware he’s in there because he’s the least important? Coach says I’m the best at breakaways, that’s why I’m in here.
  • And finally, you had to feel bad for the snake-bitten Senators, who hit three posts in about a two-minute span when a goal would have tied the game. Not since the cast of Canada’s Worst Driver has a group hit so many consecutive posts.
Feb 072011
 

Congratulations to the Green Bay Packers for winning Super Bowl XLV. As well, congratulations to Christina Aguilera for joining Bryan Adams in national anthem infamy and looking like a younger Cyndi Lauper in the process.

As we turn our attention back to the Canucks and wait for puck drop in tonight’s game against the Ottawa Senators, here are some reads to help pass the time:

Jan 252011
 

It’s amazing what difference one game makes.

At this time yesterday, all the talk was about the Canucks’ 4 losses in a row, their 6 losses in 8 games, and the double-digit scoring slumps some of their forwards were in.

Despite the rain, this morning already seems brighter. With their 7-1 win, the Canucks became the first team in the Western Conference to hit the 30-win mark this season. They also increased their Western Conference lead on the Detroit Red Wings to 5 points, and are once again tied with the Philadelphia Flyers with the most points in the NHL (the Flyer have a game-in-hand).

More importantly, the Canucks finally got scoring from players other than Sedin, Sedin, Kesler and Edler. Alex Burrows scored his first goal in 7 games, Mason Raymond his first in 12 games and Samuelsson his first in 15 games. While they didn’t score, Raffi Torres and Jeff Tambellini both recorded assists, their first points in 7 and 14 games, respectively. In all, 14 Canucks hit the scoresheet; only Bieksa, Malhotra, Hansen and Glass didn’t.

Consider their slump busted.

Jan 252011
 

[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 that watched a hockey game.]

Friends, Romans, countrymen, I ask you, humbly, what is the cure for an offensive slump? Don’t answer; this is a rhetorical question. The solution, as everybody knows, is an opponent with porous goaltending and crap defense. It’s a fairly simple remedy, but the real trick is finding a major league team willing to provide it. Short of scheduling a shinny with the Washington Generals or the South Park Peewee Team, you can only hope that some NHL club is going to fly into town and generously lay an egg. Lucky for Canucks fans, that’s about what happened in tonight’s game which, by the way, I watched:

  • What a welcome return to form for the home team. The Canucks played with the energy and pace they’d hinted at during the Calgary game and then some. We also saw a recommitment to limiting shots against (only 26 for a high-scoring Dallas team), and a renewed offensive potency (7 goals, y’all). They played much better than they have in quite awhile, more in keeping with the level we know they’re capable. Still, before we get ahead of ourselves, it wasn’t only a return to form that caused tonight’s result; Dallas also played sloppier than a loose meat sandwich. What we saw was the Canucks’ get better and the Stars come apart at the same time, and this beautiful coincidence resulted in a nasty shellacking.
  • A number of slumps were bumped tonight, but none more important than the goals scored by both of Ryan Kesler’s wingers. Mikael Samuelsson’s was an especially nice wrist shot. Word is he broke his goal-scoring slump by imagining a logo in the top corner of the net, then hitting it dead center. Perhaps more impressive than the goal, however, were his game-high five shots, equal to how the number of shots he attempted. None were blocked, and none missed.
  • I’m not sure if Mason Raymond’s goal will stay his. The scorekeepers seemed so eager to declare another slump busted that they seemed to give it to him just because he was near it. Looks like Edler blasted it clean through to me; Raymond might be more deserving of a takeaway for stealing credit. But I won’t quibble over whether or not it’s his; I’m not Maury Povich. Let’s just hope it’s the first of many.
  • Speaking of blasting pucks, let’s take a moment to celebrate the long-awaited emergence of Alex Edler’s deadly slapper. He had two assists tonight, both on redirected slapshots (the aforementioned, from Raymond, and one from Kesler to take a 2-1 lead). Christian Ehrhoff also had a goal on one that got clean through. Ehrhoff’s been the member of this pairing most willing to shoot this season, which has always seemed silly to me. Edler’s got the hardest shot on the team. Now, they’re both shooting regularly, and it’s made them a lethal tandem on the blue line, with 12 points in the last six games. Letting them fire away seems like a wise move, especially after they broke the power play’s two-game mini slump by these very means.
  • Aaron Volpatti had a strong game tonight, and it’s possible that you hardly noticed. First there was a solid hit on Tom Wandell behind the Stars’ net. Then, Krys Barch tried to respond by drawing Volpatti into a fight, but Volpatti was smart enough to realize it wasn’t the right time. Instead, he responded by shouting, “F*** you, Barch!” loud enough for the cameras to clearly pick it up.
  • Later, Volpatti assisted on the Henrik Sedin 5-1 backbreaker halfway into the 2nd, skating well and centering a puck that would go in off Steve Ott’s boot after a touch from Henrik. If the assist wasn’t enough, Volpatti then “accidentally” tripped over Ott as he circled the net to celebrate the goal. It was a smart, sneaky play, and don’t be surprised that Volpatti’s a sneak; everybody knows Ivy Leaguers are shifty. I mean, they steal entire social networks from one another.
  • If you’re wondering why Henrik Sedin already has a mind-boggling 50 assists on the season, look no further than his puck movement on the power play. Watch him on either power play goal. On Kesler’s goal, he draws three defenders to him with a simply head fake before making a brilliant saucer pass to Edler for a one-timer. On Ehrhoff’s goal, it’s much a simpler feed, but this time Henrik uses a head fake to back his defender off. Opponents are so terrified he’s going to pass, you’d think they were auditioning for American Idol.
  • The perennially out for blood Daniel Sedin is now 4 points back of the NHL scoring lead. Earlier today, Elliotte Friedman suggested he might get picked last in the NHL All-Star draft. If that happens, I suspect he’ll coolly walk to the podium and shoot his captain in the chest, like Boomer on Battlestar Galactica.
  • Andrew Raycroft’s mask is as sparkly as a preteen girl’s binder. Or a preteen girl’s idea of a vampire.
  • How to make a player lose his mind: eye gouge him in a scrum. Just like the Rypien incident, you can clearly see Burish raging, “he was eye gouging me,” after the referees finally pull Burrows and him apart. Not to go all “Ron Maclean” on you guys, but, considering Burr’s reputation, he’s probably guilty here. That’s a finger to the peeper and a stick to the peepee in the last two weeks. He needs to be careful he doesn’t get a reputation as a dirty(er) player.
  • If he’s not careful, he’ll undo all the goodwill the Zen Canucks have built up towards officials this season. Seriously, the Canucks successfully argued for a call to be overturned tonight. When the last time that’s ever happened? I think we’re more used to the “On second thought, the Canucks lose” type of calls. Especially recently.
  • Dan Hamhuis dropped his gloves tonight. Dan. Hamhuis. What could Mike Ribiero have possibly said or done to make Hammy drop the mitts? Ribieiro: Frankly, I don’t think Haiti deserves our relief. And the children can read to themselves. Hamhuis: I’ll kill you!
  • Congratulations to Chris Tanev, who picked up his first career point, an assist on Hamhuis’s goal, the seventh and final goal of the evening. Tanev showed impressive poise tonight, finishing a plus-one with two blocked shots in just over sixteen minutes of icetime. Granted, everyone (in blue) looked good tonight, but Tanev is beginning to look like he might belong in the NHL, which is more than I can say for tonight’s opponent.
  • All credit to Tanner Glass, who spent some time tonight as the fourth-line center, and some time as the third-line winger. When he earned third line icetime last season, it was more an indictment of the Canucks’ lack of forward depth. This season, however, he’s been so defensively responsible and so smart with the puck that he’s earned every extra minute he’s been given, and I’m happy to eat crow when it comes to his stints in the top nine. I’m still not sold on his scoring ability, but I think, when your third line hasn’t scored in ten games or more, Tanner Glass certainly can’t make you offensively less potent.
  • Kevin Bieksa’s eye doesn’t look too bad… if he’s planning a trip to McDonaldland. His face is so purple he could pass for The Grimace. Speaking of passing, Bieksa did take advantage of the distinguishable mark for some brilliant duplicity. Rather than serve a second period penalty, he traded places with a wax #statueofbieksa (hashtag credit: @RE4713), and nobody noticed because, like the real Bieksa, the replica had a black eye.
  • The Canucks dominated the faceoff circle tonight, winning 40 of 65 draws. All four centres finished over 50%, with even Glass winning 4-of-7. He’s won 17 of 31 on the season now, which is pretty impressive, considering he was 3-for-18 last season. He’s developing this skill really quickly.
  • This is the second consecutive game versus the Canucks where the Stars have lost their composure, and you have to consider their sources of leadership. First, Marc Crawford’s teams have never been known for being particularly mentally tough (and Crow’s never been good at knowing when to pull his goalie, either). Second, Brendan Morrow’s captaincy might be a good cautionary tale for those who think Kesler should have gotten the “C” in Vancouver. Like Kesler, Morrow plays an intense, gritty game that’s a nice example when he’s focused, but he has a tendency to get overemotional and lose focus. When he does, the team follows him. He’s simply not a calming force.
  • Henrik Sedin, on the other hand, knows how to channel his emotions. He digs so deep, you might say he chunnels his emotions. He was solely to blame on Dallas’s only goal, but rather than beat himself up about it, he simply upped his resolve. He looked downright determined to atone for the remainder of the period. Then he did. Not since the award-winning film based on the novel Atonement have I seen such atonement.
Jan 242011
 

[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)]

Mason Raymond

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

The Canucks are finishing the month of January at a less-than-inspiring L10 record of 4-2-4, a bit of a slump compared to how they began the New Year (7-0-3). Shootout woes, the injury bug and scoring slumps have been plaguing the team for most of the past month. After a month of near perfection and little to complain about, suddenly many fans finally have something (or a lot) to talk about.

Stephanie (@stephnav) asks: What do you think the Canucks need to do to break out of their mini slump?

A lot of Redbull or a swift kick in the ass. You decide.

The Canucks aren’t exactly tanking, as they are managing to at least get a point when they lose in the shootout, but is this type of performance good enough for a Cup contender? Frankly, no. Although Henrik Sedin pointed out that if the team had won in their last two shootouts, that their performance wouldn’t be a big issue, I disagree. They’ve already lost the top spot in the league to the Flyers, and Detroit is hot on their heels to overtake them in the Western Conference if this play continues; the Canucks are lucky that the Red Wings are battling injury problems of their own.

Many Vancouver forwards scorers aren’t scoring (to be discussed below) and this is what’s affecting the team the most. Luongo has been playing very well, and despite injuries, the Canucks’ blue line is doing the best that it can and is often producing more goals than the team’s forwards, like Alex Edler against the Flames.

Kayli (@CanuckKayli13) asks: What do you think is the key to breaking those scoring slumps of the few forwards?

There are quite a few scoring slumps on the roster to mention here. Daniel Sedin hasn’t scored in four games but this is nothing compared to five other Canucks forwards who are scoreless in over 10 games. As I mentioned in my post last week, the third line hasn’t scored in almost a month, and to quote The Province’s Ed Willies: “Jeff Tambellini is 0-for-his-last-13 games. Mason Raymond is 0-for-11. Manny Malhotra is not only is goal-less in his last 12, he’s also pointless. The list is actually longer but there are space limitations here.”

So what to do? Is there even anything that can be done aside from demoting or benching some of these forwards (like Samuelsson or Malhotra) until they smarten up? Even I’m at a loss for words about what to do with this problem. And that, my friends, says a lot.

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 142011
 

[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.]

It is the worst letdown in the world when the Canucks suffer a shutout loss. It’s a worse letdown than Urkel O’s (the cereal that showed so much promise). Not only am I forced to watch the Canucks lose, but I’m forced to watch as they’re held off the scoresheet. Truth is, it’s boring. Plus it means the highlight package will also be boring: Don Taylor: in the second, Mikael Samuelsson streaks into the zone and shoots–it is blocked. It means the post-game breakdown will be boring. Blake Price: Henrik Lundqvist is a good goalie. It means fan conversation will be boring. Fan: I thought the Sedins weren’t that good tonight. Like the pace of the game, everything slows to a crawl until the next one. It’s a torture.

That’s right. Watching bad hockey is literally torture. I, like any good Canadian, would sooner give away national secrets than watch a shutout loss. This is why Canada should never go to war with the United States: we’re too easy to torture (and boy, do they torture). Sigh. I watched this game:

  • Well everyone, the Canucks lost in regulation. Don’t panic, but this can only mean one thing: it’s the end of days. How will it happen? I theorize the following: the human race is about to be overthrown by a coalition of marmots and marmosets. Their combined brainpower will allow them to crack the evolutionary code and evolve at alarming rates. Their combined military power will create an unstoppable marmy. People: it’s marmageddon.
  • I’m exaggerating slightly. Nothing can evolve that quickly, save Canuck fans’ opinions on their team. This loss isn’t the end of the world. It sucks that the Canucks’ point streak and Cory Schneider’s point streak both had to end, but it was going to happen eventually. Hopefully, this loss is just a loss, and not the beginning of a streak going the other way. It’s going to take much more winning to remain atop the NHL, where the Canucks maintain a three-point lead on Detroit and Philadelphia.
  • Let’s get right out in front of any potential navel-gazing and establish that the Rangers played one Hell of a defensive game. The Associated Press called it an all-heart performance, and while it may not have been the hockey equivalent of trying to liberate Scotland, it was certainly commendable. The Rangers swarmed the puck, had 13 different guys combine to block 24 shots (including 5 from Dan Girardi), and forced the Canucks to shoot from the outside all night. Against a team like Vancouver that scores the majority of their goals a foot from the crease, that’s a solid recipe for success.
  • The Canucks lost this game along the boards. Sadly, there’s no statistic to back this up, but when the Canucks are playing well, they win their offensive zone puck battles and sustain offensive pressure. Led by pinching expert Kevin Bieksa (the grandma of the NHL), they keep pucks inside the blue line and break down defensive structures by throwing it around the zone willy-nilly. Last night, the Rangers prevented them from doing this.
  • Also, Henrik Lundqvist stopped all the shots. That helped too.
  • While New York’s 24 blocks came from thirteen guys, Vancouver’s 12 blocks came from only four defensemen, including four apiece from Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis, who quietly played a stellar game. It’s always a bummer when a team loses 1-0 because the strong defensive effort of the losers goes relatively unnoticed. The Ham n’ Juice pairing looks as defensively sound as any Canuck tandem this town’s seen in years, Bryant Reeves and Stromile Swift notwithstanding.
  • Ryan Kesler continued his shootiness, throwing five on net, and attempting another five. However, the shot king last night was Mikael “Shooty McShooterson” Samuelsson. He had five shots as well, with two blocked and four more missing the goal. He’s a funny player. He shoots when he should pass; he holds the puck when he should move it, such as when he dragged the puck back in the neutral zone when any other player would have dumped it in. Sammy’s not unlike Daniel and Henrik in that he plays the game at his own, mechanical pace, and can frustrate by appearing take it easy or playing without urgency. He’s just a measured, intelligent player. Last night he was our best forward. Let’s keep him.
  • Let’s not keep him on the first unit power play. Why, I ask, did the Canucks put him on the point instead of Ehrhoff for the five-on-three? Why did they take Kesler out from the front of the net and put him at the point? If you’re wondering why they did not score, tackle these first two whys and you’ll probably have your answer.
  • Mason Raymond had some jump as well, but he seems to have forgotten how to capitalize on a chance. Even in Monopoly, all he gets are parking fines and poor taxes.
  • Cory Schneider had a fine game, but there’s definitely something to Richard Loat‘s observation that the team plays better defensively in front of him. I agree that they tighten up a bit. Combine that with the run support he’s been getting in his starts (and his own strong play) and you have a recipe for a going this many games without a regulation loss. Last night, however, the run support dried up and Schneider saw the goose egg in his middle column disappear.
  • Speaking of middle columns: perhaps realizing that his team wasn’t about to sneak one past Henrik Lundqvist, Alex Burrows went five-hole on Marc Staal instead. Thanks a lot, Burr. Not only do I have to defend your hair-pulling when I tell people you’re my favourite player, but now I have to defend your groin-spearing? It’s embarrassing loving a man who pulls hair and stabs groins. And yet my love persists. Burrows will probably get a phone call from the league, as nether attacks are never cool–unless you’re making a short film. Here’s hoping he sees some discipline, as it’s fairly warranted, especially after the refs decided instead to instead punish Marc Staal for failing to protect his testicles.
  • Such are the foibles of a young goalie, but this is the third or fourth game in a row where Cory Schneider’s made a pretty egregious error. Last game, it was the slapstick fall that gave Jamal Mayers a freebie. He nearly handed the Rangers another when he coughed the puck up behind the net. The look on Roberto Luongo’s face afterward was priceless.
  • According to the stat sheet, the Rangers had 38 hits to the Canucks 31. No they didn’t. Madison Square Garden employs one of the most liberal stat guys in the country. Note that the Rangers have 573 hits on the road and a league-leading 731 at home. Who is this guy, thinking everything’s a hit? He’s probably the guy that greenlit Kesha. This is a surefire hit. Also, I bet the police answer domestic abuse calls at his house all the time. She hit you again, sir?
  • Daniel and Henrik did have a quiet game, though it probably helped that the Rangers were allowed to latch onto them like brain slugs. I’ve heard some criticism of the Sedins for disappearing, and I think it speaks to their expectations as the offensive leaders of this team. All this talk of Ryan Kesler as a dark horse for the Hart is silly if he’s not even the one held accountable when the Canucks get shut out. That said, when your scoring leaders don’t score, that’s a problem. Score more, Daniel and Henrik.
  • And finally, I realize that playing Aaron Rome semi-regularly is a good way to prevent him from playing like he hasn’t played in months, but when he plays that way in spite of this approach, you have a problem.This is the catch-22: Aaron Rome plays like he shouldn’t be playing, but he’ll only play worse if you don’t play him. Unless you never play him again. Get well soon, Salo.
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