Mar 292009
 
Kevin Bieksa shushing the Chicago Blackhawks

Photo credit: canucks.com

Shortly after the Canucks scored and made it 3-0 in the 3rd period against the Chicago Blackhawks tonight, the Blackhawks decided to show how tough and resilient they are. First, Dustin Byfuglien punched Roberto Luongo in the face. A few seconds later, Dave Bolland punched Daniel Sedin while the puck was a good 30 feet away from him.

Yeah, real tough.

Alain Vigneault was pissed off at Chicago coach Joel Queneville and rightfully so. Sending their tough guys going after the Canucks’ best players was a chicken shit move and it’s the kind of “fighting” the league needs to eliminate. (To be fair, I thought the refs did a good job of trying to eliminate it from this game.)

Full credit goes to the Canucks for their response. Kevin Bieksa, Shane O’Brien, Alex Burrows and even Mats Sundin stepped in and stood up for their teammates, and Ryan Kesler eventually scored a powerplay goal to make it 4-0. It was the best response, and in more ways than the final score, the Canucks showed they were the better team.

Video of Byfuglien’s cheap shot on Luongo and ensuing brouhaha is here:

Video of Bolland’s cheap shot on Daniel Sedin is here:

[update: 03/30/2009, 6:52 AM]

Added sweet Bieksa pic on top and the Sportsnet feed of the fights below:

Mar 222009
 

“Over 82 games, sometimes these things are going to happen, but this was a missed opportunity for us,” said Canucks coach Alain VIgneault. “It was there and everybody knew about it, but our game wasn’t good enough. They got a bounce or two but were the better team.”

- Alain Vigneault after last night’s loss

Given the Canucks have lost every 5 games or so, I suppose it wasn’t a surprise that they lost to the Phoenix Coyotes last night. They were, after all, coming off 4 consecutive wins and they can’t be expected to win every game.

Given that Canucks fans have been conditioned to expect the worst, I suppose I’m not surprised either that some feel that this is a sign of things to come. Personally, I think the team has learned from last year’s debacle and there’s no way the leadership of this team will allow a repeat of it.

I do agree with AV though that this was an opportunity lost. The Blues and the Oilers gave the Canucks a gift on Friday – they beat the Flames and Blackhawks, respectively – and the Canucks failed to take advantage.

That said, there are 5 more games to this road trip, and if there’s anything the Canucks need to get back on track, it’s their road game. After a 5-2-0 road run after the All-Star Break, they’re now winless in their last 4 road games (0-3-1). They’ve been outscored 15-6 in those 4 losses.

*****

Somehow, I don’t think Shane O’Brien pictured his 1st goal as a Canuck to look like this:

There’s no doubt SOB had a rough night, though to be fair, almost every other Canuck did.

The fact is, he’s been solid since his much ballyhooed spat with Mike Gillis and Alain Vigneault. If you remember SOB sat 4 games between January 31 and February 10. He returned to the lineup on February 12 and his play since is one reason Ossi Vanaanen has yet to play his first game in a Canucks jersey. Including the 3 goals against he was on the ice for last night, SOB has been on the ice for only 8 goals in 18 games (244:00 total TOI, 13:33 average TOI/game) since February 12 – a ratio of 1 goal against on ice every 30.5 minutes.

Feb 052009
 
Feb 042009
 

Like any good relationship who has just had a fight, they talked it over and cleared things up. And after the game-day skate yesterday, Shane O’Brien apologized.

From Ben Kuzma (Vancouver Province):

Instead of driving his career into the ditch, Shane O’Brien took the high road Tuesday.

The Vancouver Canucks defenceman clarified his comments over the frustration of being a healthy scratch Saturday and not understanding the message that he must play tougher and not necessarily fight. O’Brien met with general manager Mike Gillis on Tuesday morning to map out the right route for his eventual return to the lineup. It’s a far cry from Monday when O’Brien indicated that this might not even be the right situation or place for his career to flourish.

“I feel bad about saying that,” said O’Brien. “I didn’t want to make it seem like I’m quitting on my team or anything like that. I still believe I can be a solid defenceman in this league and every player has to think that or you don’t have a chance. Maybe they don’t think that now, but I’m going to prove that I can play the minutes I can play.”

In a meeting with management last week, O’Brien was told that he must cut down on bad penalties and be more willing to play physical. Something was obviously lost in translation because O’Brien believed the message also indicated that he didn’t fight enough.

“I’m frustrated right now with the way things are going,” added O’Brien, who is 5-0 in scraps this season, has only taken eight minors in the last 14 games and is a plus-7. “It gives me no right to say something that was said in a private meeting. The way I said it or the way you [media] took it was incorrect. Mike Gillis never told me I have to fight. He was just talking to me about playing physical and maybe I took it the wrong way. I want to be in the lineup and nobody likes losing and it’s a tough situation. I didn’t help it by doing what I did and I apologized to my teammates because it’s selfish.”

Mike Gillis also accepted partial responsibility for the miscommunication.

From Brad Ziemer (Vancouver Sun):

Gillis said he met with O’Brien Tuesday morning to clarify last week’s meeting. Gillis said although he was disappointed that O’Brien discussed what was intended to be a private meeting with the media, he accepts partial responsibility because it is obvious O’Brien left that meeting confused.

“It’s partly my responsibility that he didn’t leave that meeting with complete clarity because that was the purpose of it,” Gillis said. “We were absolutely clear when he asked us if what we wanted him to do was fight, we said no. What we want him to do is get committed to conditioning, get committed to moving his feet and we want him to be a better player that we can trust. He took that somehow to mean we wanted him to fight and it’s absolutely baffling to us.”

Time to move on.

Feb 032009
 
Feb 032009
 

My friends will attest that I’m a big Shane O’Brien fan. I think he’s a solid guy, considering his third-pairing role. I think he’s a tough guy that doesn’t hesitate to defend his teammates when he needs to. (Mason Raymond probably agrees with me as well.)

Today though, one night after being a healthy scratch for the first time since being acquired by the Canucks, he spoke out about his role (Hosea Cheung, Canucks 24/7):

After Monday’s practice, it was Shane O’Brien’s turn to speak out.

“I’m not asking to be first unit powerplay, 25 minutes a night,” said the big blueliner, who was scratched Saturday. “I like for them to trust me and put me on the ice and if you can’t put a guy out in the third period, then maybe he shouldn’t even be here.”

The 25-year-old was venting after being told during a player-coach meeting that he needed to drop the mitts more, something he has not done since Dec. 14.

“They asked me why I haven’t been fighting and I didn’t think that was really as big of an issue here,” he said. “I thought I was a good enough player to play and help the team win but I’ll fight when the situation is right, and sometimes it just doesn’t happen. I was just surprised that fighting was an issue. I thought they thought I was a player and I guess they don’t anymore, they’re confused, I don’t know what’s going on.”

Not surprisingly, Mike Gillis has a quick response (Matthew Sekeres, Globe and Mail):

Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis has denied claims by defenceman Shane O’Brien that he was asked to fight more often.

Gillis, head coach Alain Vigneault and two other Canucks executives met with all of the team’s players last week to address a prolonged losing string — now eight consecutive games and nine in a row on home ice.

O’Brien, fresh off a benching during a 4-3 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild last Saturday, said that in his meeting, the GM instructed him to fight.

“In no uncertain terms was he told he had to fight,” Gillis said last night. “How he ever got that message is unbeknownst to me. He clearly misinterpreted the message that we were trying to send, that each player has to be accountable and work hard individually.”

Gillis said O’Brien was told he had to play more physically with and without the puck and not take as many minor penalties, but added “we don’t ask players to fight.”

Normally, I would consider an incident like this to be a minor one. Was it a miscommunication between GM, coach and player? Perhaps so, but in the midst of a 8-game losing streak and other extra-curricular activities, it’s become big news. In the past couple of days alone:

  • A minor altercation broke out between players in practice.
  • Pavol Demitra spoke out against Alain Vigneault’s line juggling.
  • And now this.

I realize everyone’s frustrated but it’s frightening to think that the team’s recent lack of on-ice success may have spread to off-ice problems. If setting a new club record in futility is not reason enough to make some changes, maybe a possible divide in the dressing room is.

Back to SOB for a second.

Here are some stats from the Canucks top-5 defensemen in the month of January (I left out Sami Salo on purpose because he only played in 3 games):

[Table=8]

SOB had the lowest average ice-time of the group, but also, opposing teams scored a goal every 12:35 minutes SOB was on the ice, easily the worst ratio of the group.

Now here is the breakdown of goals scored against by situation. First in even-strength situations:

[Table=9]

And while shorthanded:

[Table=10]

It would seem that SOB is decent in even-strength situations. Granted, he doesn’t face opposing teams’ first lines on most nights, but when he’s on the ice, it would seem that he’s not that much of a defensive liability. His play on the penalty-kill isn’t as good, but his 1:13 average ice-time tells me he gets sent out in a shorthanded situation only to give the other penalty-killers a breather.

Now, let’s go back to the 1st table. In January, SOB had the best plus-minus rating of the 5 defenseman. He was a +7 on a team that went 2-5-5. But think of this too (and please correct me if I’m wrong on calculating this) – if he was on the ice for 8 ES goals against, that means he was on the ice for 15 ES goals for. Considering the Canucks only scored 26 ES goals in January, that means SOB was on the ice for more than half of them.

Not bad, huh?

Now I’m not saying Vigneault wrongfully benched SOB on Saturday night. I’m just saying SOB is probably right to feel a bit frustrated. He’s not the team’s best defenseman, but he’s also not the worst. At the very least, he’s shown that he’s capable of playing defense and not just dropping his gloves.

Jan 302009
 

Depending on who you talk to, yesterday’s flare-up between Mason Raymond, Willie Mitchell and Shane O’Brien was a positive or a negative sign.

It’s a positive if you consider that the players are at least showing some emotion. It’s a negative if the bad blood carries into the dressing room and during games. Not too long ago, the players themselves were commenting on how truly tight-knit this group of Canucks are so I’m sure the former is true. I hope that’s still the case.

Some coverage from the scrap:

Global TV has some video. Click on this link to watch it – Mason runs into Willie at about the 1:30 minute mark.

And Kristin Reid from Canucks TV has reaction from the players and the coach.

Jan 292009
 
Dec 222008
 
Dec 032008
 
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