Mar 152012
 

[Inspired by Arsenio Hall's "Things That Make You Go Hmmm…", Clayton Imoo talks about Canucks-related things that make him go hmmm… You can follow Clay on Twitter at (@canuckclay) or on his website, Clay's Canucks Commentary.]

I’m back from a week in Ottawa; a week that saw the Canucks lose games to Dallas and Montreal but win against Winnipeg.   It was tough to stomach two out of three losses, especially when staying up until 12:30am or so just to finish the games.  Unfortunately, me being back in Vancouver didn’t change anything as the Canucks continued their slumping ways with a 5-4 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes…and there were a couple of Things That Make Me Go Hmmm:

1.  Outfought and Out-willed. Shane Doan’s goal with just under four minutes left in the first period concerned me.  I tweeted at the time “That 2nd goal was disturbing to me: it wasn’t so much about patience as it was Doan out-willing and outfighting the #Canucks to score.”  The scoring chance started as the Sedins and Zack Kassian (who was hit by an undetected high stick) were caught behind the Coyotes net leaving Phoenix to break out three-on-one.  Antoine Vermette passed the puck to Doan who proceeded to cut across the slot past a sliding Kevin Bieksa.  Doan then deked out Roberto Luongo but couldn’t shoot it because Vermette was blocking his shot path.  So Doan charged towards the side of the net and tried to jam in it while Bieksa, Henrik and Luongo tried to stop him.  As this was going on, Hamhuis tried to join the fray but was accidently clipped with a high stick courtesy of Vermette.  After almost a full four seconds of chaos, Doan was able to muscle it in.

This play concerned me because it was indicative of the Canucks’ half-hearted play of late.  Much like the Canucks are cruising towards a second-place finish (the Blues are six points ahead and Dallas is nine points behind), they certainly “cruised” toward the end of that play and didn’t show enough will, determination or strength to keep the puck out of their net.  Granted, it was only one goal, but it was one that shouldn’t have gone in.  Let’s hope the Canucks regain some of their will and determination before the playoffs begin; they have exactly a month to figure it out.

2.  Mayday for MayRay. There are enough jokes going around regarding Mason Raymond’s inability to stay on his skates during a game.  I think an even more disturbing trend is how many times I hear John Shorthouse say something like “Raymond is checked off the puck” or “Raymond turns the puck over”.  Raymond simply isn’t effective right now as he’s pointless in his last seven games and has just three points in his last 22 games.  Whether it’s giving the puck away or having the puck stolen, Raymond won’t get any points without the puck.  He seems mismatched with the Sedins who are puck-possession type players.  Case in point: Raymond did not factor in either of the goals that the Sedins got points on (one was a powerplay goal).

3.  Jason Spezza owes me a burger. As mentioned up above, I was in Ottawa last week.  While there I was able to watch the Ottawa Senators defeat the New York Rangers 4-1.  I detailed my experience in my blog here, including the male helmet-wearing ice cleaners and one of the most confusing mascots I’ve ever seen.  Most importantly, I detailed just how Jason Spezza deprived me and 18,000 fans out of a hamburger.

With just a few minutes left to play, the PA announcer told us that if the Senators scored in the final minute of regulation, then every one of the 18,854 people in attendance would receive a free Wendy’s Baconator.  With the score at 3-1 for Ottawa at the time of the announcements, we began licking our chops literally and figuratively.

Then, it happened.  On an icing call against the Senators, Rangers coach John Tortorella pulled goalie Martin Biron out of the net with a full 2:37 left on the clock.  Our anticipation turned into fear as we realized that our only hope of winning the burger would be if New York scored to pull within one or if Ottawa somehow missed the empty net for a minute and a half.

Alas, our fears were confirmed with Jason Spezza put the puck in the empty net with 1:27 remaining making the score 4-1 Senators.  Biron came out to finish off the game and the rest was history, despite our desperate chants of “Burger! Burger!”

We were only 27 seconds away from a free burger.  At an annual salary of $8,000,000, Jason Spezza can have a Baconator whenever he pleases.  In fact, he could have bought everyone in the arena the burger and it would have cost him only 0.943% of his annual salary.  That’s right: not even 1%!  But no.  He chose to do the selfish thing and score too early, depriving his faithful fans of a delicious and unexpected meal.

Thanks again for reading.  I’ll be away on vacation for next week, so my next Things That Make You Go Hmmm column will be on March 29.  The Canucks play seven times during the next two weeks so I’m sure I’ll have plenty to talk about.  In the meantime… I’m going to Disneyland!

Mar 142012
 

Yes, this is the week of returns in the NHL, with Sidney Crosby playing against the Rangers on Thursday and all signs pointing to Alex Radulov returning to the Predators in the near future.

And yet if you take a step back, what you’ve really got in the NHL right now is an epic race for the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.

As of Wednesday morning, there were five teams separated by a single point in the standings for the final two playoff spots in the West.

Which of these teams will make the playoffs? Which of these teams is most likely to face Vancouver in the first round? Let’s take a closer look at each team:

7th place: Phoenix Coyotes (70 games: 34-25-11)

  • Last 20 games: 12-4-4 (.700)
  • Goals per game in their last 20: 2.45
  • Goals against per game in their last 20: 2.05
  • Home record: 18-12-6 (5 games left)
  • Road record: 16-13-5 (7 games left)
  • Shootout record: 5-8
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .555 (2nd easiest)
  • Record against teams in remaining scheduled: 17-13-4 (.558)
  • Games against teams in race: 4 (Calgary; Colorado; San Jose, San Jose)

Notes: Phoenix has won three of four games against San Jose this year and plays them twice more. However, they also play St. Louis twice more, who they’re winless against. The Coyotes were excellent in February but have cooled slightly since. How they do on this next road trip (at Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Dallas) could go a long way to sealing their playoff fate.

Prediction: 6-3-3 in their final 12 games, to finish with 94 points.

8th place: San Jose Sharks (69 games: 34-25-10)

  • Last 20 games: 5-11-4 (.350)
  • Goals per game in their last 20: 2.35
  • Goals against per game in their last 20: 3.20
  • Home record: 19-11-3 (8 games left)
  • Road record: 15-14-7 (5 games left)
  • Shootout record: 6-5
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .570 (2nd hardest)
  • Record against teams in remaining schedule: 13-9-3 (.580)
  • Games against teams in race: 6 (Los Angeles; Phoenix; Colorado; Phoenix; Los Angeles; Los Angeles)

Notes: Of all the teams in the race, it’s the Sharks who have their fate in their own hands. They have six games against teams also fighting for the final two spots, including three against the rival Kings. Only one of San Jose or Los Angeles is making the playoffs, and it’s quite possible neither will make it. The Sharks have had a brutal 2012 thanks to some sour goaltending (although the team’s not scoring either). Can their much maligned core (Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau in particular) save the season? The betting here is no, leading to an off-season of change.

Prediction: 6-6-1 in their last 13 games, to finish with 91 points.

9th place: Calgary Flames (70 games: 33-25-12)

  • Last 20 games: 10-4-6 (.650)
  • Goals per game in last 20 games: 2.75
  • Goals against per game in last 20 games: 2.55
  • Home record: 19-10-5 (7 more)
  • Road record: 14-15-7 (5 more)
  • Shootout record: 3-7
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .543 (easiest)
  • Record against teams in remaining schedule: 19-7-6 (.689)
  • Games against teams in race: 4 (Phoenix, Colorado, Colorado, LA)

Notes: Not only does Calgary have the easiest remaining schedule, but they have dominated the teams they will play against. The Flames have been scoring more goals per game over their last 20 games than any other team in the race, which bodes well. However, that awful shootout record could shoot them in the foot.

Prediction: 6-4-2 in their last 12 games, to finish with 92 points.

10th place: Los Angeles Kings (70 games: 33-25-12)

  • Last 20 games: 10-9-1 (.550)
  • Goals per game in last 20 games: 2.30
  • Goals against per game in last 20 games: 2.15
  • Home record: 18-13-4 (6 games)
  • Road record: 15-12-8 (6 games)
  • Shootout record: 5-7
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .558
  • Record against teams in remaining schedule: 13-9-3 (.580)
  • Games against teams in the race: 4 (San Jose; Calgary; San Jose; San Jose)

Notes: Not only will their games against San Jose go a long way to defining how the Kings finish, but their road record will as well. The Kings and Coyotes are the two strongest teams in this race on the road. The concern – as it has been all year – for Los Angeles has to be whether they will score enough to win games down the stretch. They’ve had a pedestrian last 20 games record-wise, scoring fewer goals during that stretch than any of their playoff race opponents.

Prediction: 4-4-4 in their last 12 games, finishing with 90 points.

11th place: Colorado Avalanche (71 games: 37-30-4)

  • Last 20 games: 11-7-2 (.600)
  • Goals per game in last 20 games: 2.70
  • Goals against per game in last 20 games: 2.20
  • Home record: 21-15-1 (4 more)
  • Road record: 16-15-3 (7 more)
  • Shootout record: 8-1
  • Strength of remaining schedule: .583 (hardest)
  • Record against teams in remaining schedule: 5-14-2 (.286)
  • Games against teams in race: 4 (Calgary, Phoenix, San Jose, Calgary)

Notes: The Avalanche clearly have the toughest schedule down the stretch, and have a terrible record against the teams they are to play. Having said that, they are one of the hottest teams in the NHL over their last 20 games, and their goals for and goals against have greatly improved in 2012. Like Los Angeles, Colorado’s destiny could be decided on the road, with seven more road games to play. Unfortunately for Avs fans, Colorado’s road record is only average.

Prediction: 4-5-2 over their last 11 games, finishing with 88 points.

My final predicted order of standings:

  • 7th place: Phoenix Coyotes (94 points) – They’d likely play Vancouver in the first round.
  • 8th place: Calgary Flames (92 points) – Momemtum + schedule = Feaster miracle.
  • 9th place: San Jose Sharks (91 points) – And not a few weeks ago, I called them a contender.
  • 10th place: Los Angeles Kings (90 points) – A lack of scoring probably costs Lombardi his job.
  • 11th place: Colorado Avalanche (88 points) – A great stretch run brings optimism for 2012-13.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • Kudos to the Penguins for managing Sidney Crosby’s minutes and deciding to play him on the point on the powerplay. It will be fascinating to see how long this protection lasts, especially once the team gets to playoff time. Hard to see the Bruins or Rangers not trying to knock Crosby off the ice.
  • Let’s not get ahead of ourselves regarding Alex Radulov. If KHL production is roughly 62% the equivalent of NHL production, then his Russian stats this season translate as follows: 26 goals, 39 assists over 82 NHL games. That’s not bad, but it’s not necessarily superstar worthy. You have to expect a learning curve as well going from the KHL to NHL stretch-drive/playoff action.
  • Nonetheless, kudos to David Poile for pulling the wool over the eyes of other general managers. Make no mistake – the Predators are gunning for the Stanley Cup.
  • Biggest reason why the Leafs are still in a freefall: It’s training camp all over again in Toronto. The team is learning to play Randy Carlyle’s structured style, which in many ways is the opposite to how they’ve played all year. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Leafs finish with a lottery pick.
  • Speaking of the Leafs, Damien Cox’s tweet earlier in the week suggested that Toronto will try and target Jaroslav Halak in the off-season. Naturally, the question begs – why would St. Louis want to make that trade?
  • How good has Steven Stamkos been? He’s the NHL’s leading goal-scorer currently by 12 goals. The biggest goal differential between the league’s top-two goal-scorers since the lockout was 13 goals in 2007-08 when Alex Ovechkin scored 65 and Ilya Kovalchuk had 52. Before that, it was a 14-goal differential in 1999-00 when Pavel Bure had 58 and Owen Nolan had 44. And prior to that, it was a 16-goal differential in 1991-92 between Brett Hull’s 70 goals and Kevin Stevens’ 54.
  • Marty Turco has looked awful in two appearences with Boston. Their divisional lead over the Ottawa Senators is in serious jeopardy if Tim Thomas doesn’t play the bulk of Bruins games down the stretch.
Mar 132012
 

[Every week, Caylie King previews the Canucks week that was and reviews the Canucks week ahead.  You can follow Caylie on Twitter (@CayKing).]

The Canucks have lost 3 of their last 4 games and 5 of their last 7 games. Last Tuesday, potential first-round opponent Dallas Stars came into Rogers Arena and easily took two points away from the Canucks in a 5-2 win. On Thursday, the Canucks played one of their better games in a few weeks won an exciting 3-2 affair against the Winnipeg Jets. And then on Saturday, the Canucks started off well enough against the Habs before collapsing completely in the third period and losing 4-1.

Canucks Record

69 GP, 42-19-8, 92 points (1st in Northwest Division, 2nd in Western Conference)

Who’s Hot

Chris Higgins seems to have gotten over his battles with staph infections and has easily been one of the Canucks’ best and most consistent players in the last few weeks. He has 7 points (2G-5A) in his last 7 games and has been noticeable in every game. His hard forecheck and never-give-up attitude gives opposing teams a lot to handle. His hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. Last week, coach Alain Vigneault reunited him with Ryan Kesler and David Booth, and he’s rejuvenated that line.

Who’s Not

The real question is, who hasn’t struggled recently?

Henrik Sedin has 0 points in his last 8 games and is a minus-3 in that stretch. Daniel Sedin has 1 assist in his last 8 games and is also a minus-3 in that stretch. The Sedins have been largely invisible, and while they seem to produce the odd good shift, they haven’t been nearly as consistent and are clearly struggling to find the back of the net.

Among the forwards, Alex Burrows has 1 goal in his last 11 games, Mason Raymond is goalless in 6 games, Jannik Hansen is goalless in 12 games, and Max Lapierre is pointless in 9 games.

In the back end, Alex Edler may have 2 goals in his last 3 games, but he’s really struggled on the defensive side of things. Against the Habs, he was running around and couldn’t settle down defensively. His play has considerably declined since the All-Star break and his mistakes on the ice have become evident and visible.

Who’s Next

Wednesday, March 14, 2012 vs. Phoenix Coyotes (7:00 PM start, home)

After posting a 10-0-1 record for the month of February, the Phoenix Coyotes have struggled in the month of March with just 1 win in 7 games (1-4-2). That said, they’re still holding on to the 7th place in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, and if the playoffs started today, they would face the Canucks in the first round.

This will be the fourth and last meeting of the regular season between the two clubs with the Canucks having won 2 of the first 3 meetings. In the season series, Keith Yandle leads the Coyotes with 2 points (1G-1A) and Ryan Kesler leads the Canucks with 3 points (1G-2A).

The Canucks have a 7-3-4 record against Pacific division opponents.

Radim Vrbata is tied for second in team scoring with 56 points (30G-26A) and has a team-best, plus-24 rating. He’s already set a career-high in goals and has tied his career best in points. He also leads the NHL with 10 game-winning goals for the season. However, like the rest of the Coyotes, he’s been cold recently and only has 1 assist in his last 5 games.

Saturday, March 17, 2012 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (7:00 PM start, home)

Considering the Blue Jackets are in last place in the Western Conference, this could be a good game for the Canucks to get 2 points and regain some traction.

This is the two teams’ last meeting of the season with the Canucks holding a 2-0-1 record against the Blue Jackets in their first 3 games against each other. Cory Schneider was in net for both Canucks wins; Roberto Luongo recorded the shootout loss.

Rick Nash leads the Blue Jackets in goals (24) and points (47) for the season.

Feb 282012
 

[Every week Caylie King reviews the Canucks week that was and previews the Canucks week ahead. You can follow Caylie on Twitter (@CayKing).]

The Canucks end a 6-game road trip in Phoenix tonight and then head back home for a 7-game home-stand. This isn’t the same team we saw a few days ago in Dallas. With the addition of Zack Kassian, the Canucks addressed their need for a big, physical bottom six forward. Unfortunately, the Cody Hodgson era is over here in Vancouver, but veteran center and Stanley Cup winner Sami Pahlsson will slot into the lineup and help in a defensive shutdown role.

Hopefully Canucks fans can put aside their emotional attachment to Cody and give Kassian and Pahlsson the chance to blossom here in Vancouver. Remember, Kassian is not here to replace Cody. He is here to address the need for size, grit and toughness. He has the potential to fit nicely into this lineup and prove that he belongs in this league.

Canucks Record

63 GP, 40-16-7, 87 points (1st in Northwest Division, 1st in Western Conference)

Who’s Next

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 vs. Phoenix Coyotes (6:00 PM start, away)

The Coyotes have been one of the hottest teams in the league recently; they have had a remarkable February so far, going 10-0-1 in their 11 games. They currently lead the Pacific Division and sit in 3rd place in the Western Conference.

This will be the 3rd meeting between the two teams. The Canucks have won both previous games by a combined score of 6-1. In the season series, Ryan Kesler leads all skaters with 3 points (1G-2A) and a plus-3 rating; Keith Yandle has been the only Coyote to score a goal against the Canucks so far this season.

Ray Whitney, who may be small in stature but plays big and with so much heart and determination, leads the Coyotes in assists (39) and points (57). He also has the team’s best plus/minus rating (+24). Whitney has recorded at least a point in 15 of his last 17 games; he has 21 points (4G-17A) in that span.

Thursday, March 1, 2012 vs. St. Louis Blues (7:00 PM start, home)

At the start of the season, few thought that the St. Louis Blues would be leading a tough Central Division and be sitting in 2nd place in the Western Conference with 19 games to go. The Blues are currently riding a 3-game win streak and have won 10 of their last 14 games.

This will be the last game of the regular season between these two clubs; the Blues have won 2 games and the Canucks have won 1.

Goaltender Brian Elliot backstopped the Blues in both of their wins. T.J. Oshie leads the skaters with 4 points (2G-2A) and a plus-4 rating.

Patrik Berglund has been an assist machine recently recording with 7 assists in his last 7 games. He also sits 4th in team scoring with 30 points (13G-17A).

For the Canucks, Alex Burrows has 3 goals and a plus-3 rating against St. Louis. Also, Daniel Sedin recorded the overtime winner back in January.

Saturday, March 3, 2012 vs. Buffalo Sabres (7:00 PM start, home)

At the start of the season, Canucks fans had this came circled for the return of Christian Ehrhoff. Little did we know it would also mark the return of Cody Hodgson. Hodgson was traded to Buffalo for Zach Kassian on trade deadline day. Canucks Nation wishes Cody well in Buffalo and hopes that he gets the opportunity to shine in a top-6 role. Buffalo is currently 6 points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and hope that Hodgson’s addition will help as they make one, final push for the postseason.

This is the first and only meeting between the two clubs. The Sabres have had some success against Northwest Division opponents this season, going 2-0-0 so far).

Captain Jason Pominville has been hot with 12 points (6G-6A) in his last 11 games. He also leads the Sabres in goals (23), assists (36) and points (59) this season.

Appreciating Schneider

In only 3 games played in the month of February, Cory Schneider continues to show why he is one of the best – if not the best – backups in the league today. He’s won 12 of his last 14 starts.

He was also the main reason the Canucks left New Jersey with 2 points last Friday. After an emotional, streak-breaking win against the Detroit Red Wings last week, the Canucks came out flat and didn’t have much left in the tank against the Devils. All Schneids did was stand on his head and stop 30 of 31 shots he faced.

This season, Schneids has an impressive 14-5 record this season along with an equally-impressive .930 save percentage, which is good for 4th > best in the NHL. He also has a 2.19 goals against average, which is 8th best in the league.

Prior to the trade deadline, there was much speculation about whether or not Mike Gillis would deal Schneider. Thankfully, GMMG made the decision to keep him despite his RFA status next season. Schneider and Luongo were the best goalie tandem last year, winning the Jennings award, and they have continued on with their success this season. It gives the Canucks a lot of confidence knowing that Schneider has shown now too that he can step into high-pressure, hostile situations and handle big games.

Feb 222012
 

One game does not represent an entire NHL season.  

But Washington’s 5-0 loss to Carolina Monday night was another of the growing number of nails being hammered into the coffin laying rest to the Washington Capitals – 2011-12 edition.

Make no mistake, this Washington team is taking after Monty Python’s dead parrot – it’s bereft of life, destined to rest in peace.

And to think just 24 months ago this was a team destined to transform and dominate the NHL landscape.

There are two reasons why the juggernaut Washington Capitals of 2009-10 have transformed into a Cinderella-sized pumpkin.  

The Little Reason: Injuries to their core players

Mike Green had 76 points in 75 games in the 2009-10 season. In the two seasons since, Green has played just 61 regular season games total. He is the straw that stirs the Washington attack, and he’s been MIA for most of the last two seasons.

This year, the team’s number #1 centre – Nicklas Backstrom – has missed significant time due to a concussion. The drop-off in talent from Backstrom to Marcus Johansson is the equivalent of leaving Charlize Theron to date Mayim Bialik.

Other than Alex Ovechkin, these are the team’s two best, most dynamic players. Without them it’s a no brainer the Capitals have struggled more.

The Big Reason: GM George McPhee abandoned his plan

The 2009-10 Capitals were having fun tearing up the league on their way to a 121-point season. They were the “go-go” Capitals, featuring seven 20+ goal scorers.

Flash forward to today, and the Capitals will be lucky to have four 20-goal scorers.

2009-10 Capitals 20-goal scorers:

Ovechkin 50
Semin 40
Backstrom 33
Knuble 29
Laich 25
Fleischmann 23
Fehr 21

2011-12 Capitals 20-goal scorers (on pace):

Ovechkin 34
Semin 22
Brouwer 21
Chimera 21

Where did the offense go?

It was left in Montreal during the Spring of 2010.

That seven game loss to the Canadiens was devastating to the Capitals front office, who expected nothing less than a championship run that year.

Looking back, it’s easy to see how the Capitals lost the series after being up three-games-to-one:

1) They were a young team (younger than the team that lost to Pittsburgh the year before). Inexperienced playoff teams are extremely suspect to the whims of momentum (both positive and negative).

2) Confidence is a major factor in the success of special teams, and the Capitals just didn’t have it in their powerplay (1-for-33 in the series). This meant the Habs could take penalties without punishment.

3) Montreal employed a passive trap when they had the lead, which confounded coach Bruce Boudreau.

4) Montreal paid extra-special attention to Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom defensively, challenging the rest of the Capitals to create offense.

5) Montreal netminder Jaroslav Halak put on the greatest playoff goaltending performance since Patrick Roy in 1992-93, if not longer.

Given the above, the steps that had to be taken to get the Capitals to the Stanley Cup Final were clear:

1) Find some playoff experience to add to the dressing room.

2) Count on better luck (Halak-esque performances don’t happen every year).

3) Support coach Boudreau in figuring out how to beat the trap.

4) Find an impact second-line centre to take the pressure off of Ovechkin and Backstrom.

Instead, General Manager George McPhee went in the opposite direction, abandoning the style of play he’d built the team on for one that put a priority on defensive accountability.  

It’s been downhill ever since.

The 2010-11 Capitals racked up 107 points but their goals per game rate fell more than a full goal (-1.09). A distance emerged between the team’s run-and-gun – and best – player (Ovechkin) and its coach. Talented Tomas Fleischmann was shipped out for the blueline carcass known as Scott Hannan.  

Come playoff time, Washington was swept by another trapping team, this time the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round. But unlike during the Montreal series (where Washington generated scoring chances to no avail), the Capitals went meekly into the off-season, and with little offensive push back.

This past summer, GM George McPhee doubled-down on his defensive bet. He added Tomas Vokoun to play goal, and brought in Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer and Roman Hamrlik to bring size and grit to the team. 

What none of these players do is create offense on their own.

And, for the first part of the 2011-12 season, they couldn’t stop a puck either. Vokoun got off to a poor start, and despite his team out-shooting and out-chancing the opposition, Bruce Boudreau was fired.

The hiring of Dale Hunter was the last bit of “defensive desperation” to come out of the Washington front office. As discussed last week, Hunter’s hard-nosed, no-nonsense approach has stifled what creativity has remained in the Capitals attack.

The transformation of this team from “go-go” to “no-go” is now complete.

Today the Washington Capitals are in a desperate fight for their playoff lives. It didn’t have to be this way.

If Capitals fans should blame anyone, it’s GM George McPhee.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • No big surprise – this interview suggests the man behind the Seattle arena bid could care less about the NHL.
  • Meanwhile, it looks like the NHL would like to sell the Phoenix Coyotes to the bid that includes Jeremy Roenick.
  • Speaking of the Coyotes, it’s been quite the season for Radim Vrbata. He’s cracked 30 goals for the first time, and at least one person thinks he should be a Hart candidate.
  • Don’t look now but Tyler Myers has found his game in Buffalo. He’s got 2 goals, 7 points and is a +7 in his last 10 games.
  • Here’s a Detroit reaction to acquiring Kyle Quincey. Here’s more analysis from Colorado’s Mile High Hockey blog. From here it looks like a trade that helps out all three teams.
  • A great Maclean’s piece on the rise of hockey in the United States. Maybe moving into the sunbelt regions wasn’t such a bad idea for the game after all.
  • As much as there is to like about David Booth on the second line for the Canucks, they still need one more offensive piece and a defenseman, if they plan on making another Cup run this year. Mason Raymond hasn’t looked like a top-six player all year, and the blueline remains inconsistent.
  • Since the free advice is flowing, here’s some for Nashville GM David Poile – there might not be a better year to make a run at the Stanley Cup. Who knows if you’ll ever have Ryan Suter and Shea Weber under contract again, you’ve got the young assets to move, and you’re one of the toughest teams to play against in the league. Ales Hemsky, Ray Whitney, Derek Roy, etc. etc. – go get some deadline offense and push your chips into the middle of the table.
  • In case you missed it, Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts.
  • I know Antoine Vermette is struggling, but this return for him certainly doesn’t give anyone confidence Scott Howson is the type of GM who can maximize the return in any Rick Nash or Jeff Carter trade. It also doesn’t address their goaltending issues either.
Feb 132012
 

[Every week, Caylie King reviews the Canucks week that was and previews the Canucks week ahead.  You can follow Caylie on Twitter (@CayKing)]

The Canucks go home for a few games after taking 7 out of a possible 8 points on their recently-concluded 4-game road trip. From the outside, the record is great, but as a fan, I know as well as you do that some things are still not clicking. They put in a solid 60-minute effort against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night, but were otherwise mediocre and reliant on fantastic goaltending in the other 3 games. The Canucks are back at Rogers Arena for a 3-game home stand this week and then head back on the road for a 6-game trip, their last extended road trip of the season.

Canucks Record

55 GP, 34-15-6, 74 points (1st in Northwest Division, 2nd in Western Conference)

Who’s Hot

It’s safe to say that Roberto Luongo was a big – the biggest – reason for the Canucks’ successful road trip.

Perhaps surprisingly, he actually looks more confident in the shootout. His last 4 starts have all gone to the shootout, and although he only won 2 of them, he seems more comfortable in his approach to each shooter.

So far in 2012, Bobby Lou has helped the Canucks gain points in 10 of his 12 starts (6-2-4). This is especially commendable considering the team in front of him has struggled to find its consistency and all-around effort in the last month or so.

Who’s Not

Remember Jannik Hansen’s December to remember? Me neither.

After recording 6 goals and 6 assists in December, Hansen’s offense has tailed off. In his last 16 games, he has but 5 points (2G-3A), and he hasn’t scored since January 10.

Now, Hansen normally isn’t known as a scorer so his scoring drought isn’t exactly world-breaking news. However, he hasn’t been consistent either in doing the little things – the tenacious forechecking and tireless work in the corners – that earned him a 3-year contract extension this summer.

Who’s Next

Monday, February 13, 2012 vs. Phoenix Coyotes (7:00 PM start, home)

The Coyotes are holding on to 8th spot in the Western Conference and will come into Vancouver riding a season-high, 5-game win streak, which includes wins over the Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks and the suddenly-struggling Chicago Blackhawks.

This will be the second meeting between the two clubs. The Canucks won their earlier meeting on November 25 by a 5-0 score. Ryan Kesler led the way with a goal, an assist and a plus-2 rating. Cory Schneider posted the shutout and Sami Salo recorded the game-winner.

Ray Whitney has been red-hot for the Coyotes. He’s currently on an 8-game point streak and has recorded at least a point in 10 of his last 11 games (2G-13A-15P). He’s also leading the team in assists (35), points (51) and plus-minus rating (+19).

Wednesday, February 15, 2012 vs. Colorado Avalanche (7:00 PM start, home)

With points in 4 of their last 5 games (2-1-2), the Colorado Avalanche have moved back into the playoff race, sitting just 2 points back of the 8th place Coyotes.

The Canucks have won all 3 meetings between the two teams so far this season, including a 3-2 shootout win just 8 days ago.

Gabriel Landeskog is having a solid rookie season in Colorado. He is currently on a 3-game point streak (2G-1A). While only 19 years old, he has made a smooth transition into the NHL and currently sits 6th in rookie scoring with 30 points (13G-17A), while boasting a rookie-best plus-15 rating to date.

Saturday, February 18, 2012 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (4:00 PM start, home)

The Toronto Maple Leafs are among a group of 4-5 teams battling for about 3 playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Currently, they’re holding on to the 8th playoff spot. This is the second and final meeting between the Canucks and the Leafs this season. Alex Burrows potted the game-winning goal back in December when the Canucks won 5-3 in Toronto; in that game, Tyler Bozak lead the Leafs with 3 points (1G-2A).

After a couple of injury-riddled seasons, Joffrey Lupul has recovered and has a found a home with the Leafs. With 58 points (22G-26A), he is already having a career year and is currently tied for 4th in the NHL in scoring. Similarly, linemate Phil Kessel, with 60 points (30G-30A), is on pace to exceed his career-highs.

Sunday, February 19, 2012 vs. Edmonton Oilers (6:00 PM, away)

In a season filled with highs and lows, the Oilers find themselves sitting in 14th place in the Western Conference and 13 points out of a playoff spot. After a great start to the season, they’ve been hit hard by the injury bug and are currently missing rookie-sensation Ryan Nugent Hopkins.

The Canucks and the Oilers have already met 4 times this season with the Canucks winning 3 of the 4 meetings and Roberto Luongo in goal for all 3 wins. In the season series, Alex Burrows leads the Canucks with 5 points (3G-2A) and a plus-4 rating; on the other hand, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle lead the Oilers with 6 points each (2G-4A).

Sam Gagner, who had a historic 8-point night a week ago against the Chicago Blackhawks, hasn’t cooled off. He has 14 points (8G-6A) and a plus-7 rating in his last 5 games, and he now sits 4th in team scoring with 36 points (13G-23A). It wasn’t that long ago that Gagner was the frequent subject of trade rumors and it will be interesting to see if his recent play has changed the minds of Oilers management.

RIP Grandma Kesler

After scoring against the Avalanche last week, Ryan Kesler pointed up to the sky. As Dan Murphy explained later, Kesler did that because his grandmother had just passed away. In an emotional interview after, Kesler said that he will dedicate the rest of the season to the memory of his grandmother.

Despite being held off the score sheet against the Calgary Flames on Saturday night, Kes has been one of the more consistent Canucks in the last month. Prior to the Flames game, he was riding a 7-game point streak (6G-1A-7P). Since the calendar turned to 2012, he has points in 10 of 16 games (8G-2A-10P).

Jan 172012
 

At the end of the 20-game mark, I took a look at the “real” NHL standings in the East and West.

Now that every team has played their 40th game, it’s time to even the playing field once again and see what’s really been going on in the NHL.

Last time, I made special mention of a team’s special teams, goals for and goals against performance for the season.

This time, to learn a bit more about an individual team’s strengths and weaknesses, each squad was ranked in six categories*:

  • Goals for (GF) and shots-for (SHF) were chosen to evaluate a team’s offense;
  • Goals against (GA) and shots-against (SHA) were chosen to evaluate a team’s defensive play;
  • Five-on-five (5-on-5) was chosen to evaluate a team’s even-strength/system play;
  • Save percentage (SVPCT) was chosen to evaluate the team’s goaltending performance.

Teams were then ranked and put into groups of five, with those ranking 1-5 in each category designated “great,” 6-10 “good,” 11-15 “above average,” 16-20 “below average,” 21-25 “poor,” 26-30 “awful.”

(* – Stats were taken as of Thursday, January 12th, once all teams had played their 40th game.)

The Western Conference After 40 Games:

1. San Jose Sharks (53 points)
Games 21-40: 3rd in Conference (26 points)
Games 1-20: 1st in Conference (27 points)
SVPCT: Good / SHA: Great / GF: Above Average / GA: Good / 5-on-5: Great / SHF: Great

Notes: One of the most complete teams in the NHL and one of the toughest teams at 5-on-5 (tied with St. Louis for 3rd overall). Surprisingly, Michal Handzus (1 goal, 10 assists) had almost as many points as Joe Thornton (3 goals, 11 assists) in the second quarter. Martin Havlat, who found a way to hurt himself hopping the boards onto the ice, has been a bust.

2. Chicago Blackhawks (52 points)
Games 21-40: 5th in Conference (25 points)
Games 1-20: 3rd in Conference (27 points)
SVPCT: Poor / SHA: Above Average / GF: Great / GA: Below Average / 5-on-5: Good / SHF: Good

Notes: This is a team getting it done with offense, as the penalty kill and goaltending have been inconsistent all season. Marian Hossa (20 pts in the second quarter) looks like he’s five-years younger. Secondary scoring was absent in games 21-40. Dave Bolland (3 goals), Viktor Stalberg (4 goals) and Michael Frolik (2 goals) struggled.

3. Vancouver Canucks (51 points)
Games 21-40: 1st in Conference (30 points)
Games 1-20: 11th in Conference (21 points)
SVPCT: Good / SHA: Above Average / GF: Great / GA: Good / 5-on-5: Good / SHF: Good

Notes: A dominant second quarter revealed the Canucks look ready again for a long playoff run. Ryan Kesler was almost a point-per-game player in December (14 points in 15 games). For all the fan criticism, Keith Ballard was +10 in the second quarter.

4. Detroit Red Wings (51 points)
Games 21-40: 4th in Conference (26 points)
Games 1-20: 5th in Conference (25 points)
SVPCT: Good / SHA: Great / GF: Great / GA: Good / 5-on-5: Great / SHF: Great

Notes: Those of us waiting for the Red Wings to collapse into a rebuild will probably wait forever, as it looks like Valtteri Filppula (9 goals, 18 points in the second quarter) and Jiri Hudler (9 goals, 16 points) have finally established themselves as scoring threats. Meanwhile, Pavel Datsyuk (24 points) and Henrik Zetterberg (just 4 goals but 20 points) keep rolling. Interestingly, Nicklas Lidstrom had a pedestrian games 21-40 (2 goals, 7 points).

5. St. Louis Blues (51 points)
Games 21-40: 2nd in Conference (29 points)
Games 1-20: 9th in Conference (22 points)
SVPCT: Great / SHA: Great / GF: Below Average / GA: Great / 5-on-5: Great / SHF: Good

Notes: It didn’t take long for the Blues to play Hitchcock hockey did it? Sure, St. Louis still has trouble scoring, but the powerplay’s improving (9.2% in the first quarter, 18% during the second quarter). Meanwhile, the Blues goalie tandem was dynamite in games 21-40. Both Brian Elliott (7-4, 1.91 goals against, .931 save percentage) and Jaroslav Halak (6-0-3, 1.95 goals against, .929 save percentage) played like all-stars.

6. Minnesota Wild (48 points)
Games 21-40: 11th in Conference (21 points)
Games 1-20: 2nd in Conference (27 points)
SVPCT: Great / SHA: Awful / GF: Awful / GA: Great / 5-on-5: Below Average / SHF: Awful

Notes: It seems pretty clear that amazing start to the season was built on a house of cards – there’s a lot not working in Minnesota. After a hot start, Niklas Backstrom has been average lately (.908 save percentage in December), while the team’s goals against in the second quarter was almost a full goal higher than the first quarter (from 1.98 to 2.75).

7. Dallas Stars (47 points)
Games 21-40: 8th in Conference (23 points)
Games 1-20: 7th in Conference (24 points)
SVPCT: Above Average / SHA: Awful / GF: Above Average / GA: Below Average / 5-on-5: Good / SHF: Below Average

Notes: The Stars will be one of the teams in the Western Conference fighting tooth-and-nail for a final playoff spot. After a great start, Sheldon Souray was cooling off in the second quarter prior to his injury (3 assists, -1 in 14 games). Meanwhile, Stephane Robidas was a -6 during games 21-40. In Kari Lehtonen’s absence, Richard Bachman was solid (2.56 goals against, .917 save percentage) while Andrew Raycroft was not (3.49 goals against since November 23rd).

8. Nashville Predators (46 points)
Games 21-40: 10th in Conference (22 points)
Games 1-20: 6th in Conference (24 points)
SVPCT: Above Average / SHA: Poor / GF: Above Average / GA: Above Average / 5-on-5: Below Average / SHF: Awful

Notes: Another team trending downward thanks to disappointing goaltending play. Pekke Renne was rather human for games 21-40 (2.95 goals against, .904 save percentage). Rookie Craig Smith had just 1 goal in the second quarter, while Patric Hornqvist had 2.

9. Los Angeles Kings (45 points)
Games 21-40: 9th in Conference (22 points)
Games 1-20: 8th in Conference (23 points)
SVPCT: Great / SHA: Good / GF: Awful / GA: Great / 5-on-5: Poor / SHF: Good

Notes: During the second quarter, the Kings only scored three or more goals four times. Stats like that are why coaches get fired. Simon Gagne went goalless for December (2 assist in 12 games), while Jack Johnson was -6 during games 21-40. The team desperately needs a sniper – do they have enough to put into a package for Zach Parise? Goaltender Jonathan Bernier would have to be in the mix.

10. Colorado Avalanche (43 points)
Games 21-40:6th in Conference (24 points)
Games 1-20: 12th in Conference (19 points)
SVPCT: Below Average / SHA: Good / GF: Poor / GA: Below Average / 5-on-5: Awful / SHF: Above Average

Notes: For being a young, skating team, the Avalanche sure have a tough time scoring. Youngsters Matt Duchene (3 goals, 8 points), Paul Stastny (5 goals, 8 points) and David Jones (2 assists) all struggled in the second quarter.

11. Phoenix Coyotes (42 points)
Games 21-40: 12th in Conference (17 points)
Games 1-20: 4th in Conference (25 points)
SVPCT: Good / SHA: Poor / GF: Poor / GA: Good / 5-on-5: Above Average / SHF: Below Average

Notes: Pretty easy to see why they fell so far in the second quarter – Mike Smith returned back to earth (13 games, 5 wins, 3.38 goals against, .894 save percentage). Key forwards Shane Doan (3 goals, -7) and Martin Hanzel (2 goals) were MIA during games 21-40.

12. Calgary Flames (41 points)
Games 21-40: 7th in Conference (24 points)
Games 1-20: 13th in Conference (17 points)
SVPCT: Above Average / SHA: Below Average / GF: Awful / GA: Above Average / 5-on-5: Poor / SHF: Poor

Notes: It hasn’t been a great season in Calgary, but the Flames were a playoff team during the second quarter. One of the reasons was an improved powerplay, which helped the team score enough to win games. Naturally, Jarome Iginla was at the centre of this improvement (9 goals, 21 points, +7 in 20 games), although Olli Jokinen was right behind (7 goals, 19 points, +2). In the absence of Mark Giordano, Derek Smith stepped up (9 points), leading all Flames defensemen in scoring in the second quarter.

13. Edmonton Oilers (35 points)
Games 21-40: 15th in Conference (13 points)
Games 1-20: 10th in Conference (22 points)
SVPCT: Above Average / SHA: Below Average / GF: Above Average / GA: Above Average / 5-on-5: Poor / SHF: Awful

Notes: Introducing the worst team in the Western Conference during the second quarter. Yes, their defense is AHL-caliber, but some blame on the Oilers’ collapse should fall on the shoulders of the team’s veterans. Shawn Horcoff (4 goals, -8) and Ales Hemsky (2 goals, -4) underperformed, while Ryan Smyth (4 goals, 12 points, +2) was only marginally better.

14. Anaheim Ducks (30 points)
Games 21-40: 14th in Conference (14 points)
Games 1-20: 14th in Conference (16 points)
SVPCT: Awful / SHA: Below Average / GF: Poor / GA: Awful / 5-on-5: Awful / SHF: Awful

Notes: The fabulous core of the Ducks got rolling in the second quarter. Teemu Selanne (7 goals, 20 points), Corey Perry (11 goals, 21 points), Bobby Ryan (10 goals, 16 points) and Ryan Getzlaf (3 goals, 15 points) sparked the offense. However, a lack of depth and poor goaltending (Jonas Hiller had a 3.32 goals against and .892 save percentage in games 21-40) has kept Anaheim near the bottom of the Western Conference.

15. Columbus Blue Jackets (27 points)
Games 21-40: 13th in Conference (15 points)
Games 1-20: 15th in Conference (12 points)
SVPCT: Awful / SHA: Good / GF: Awful / GA: Awful / 5-on-5: Awful / SHF: Above Average

Notes: At the time of this study, Columbus was one of only six teams with a team save percentage under .900 (they were at .894). For what it’s worth, league average at the time was .912. Players playing their way out of town: Antoine Vermette (3 goals, 2 assists in the second quarter); Derick Brassard (2 goals, 5 assists); and Vinny Prospel (2 goals, 10 points). Could someone explain how keeping Ryan Johansen in the NHL (2 goals, 4 assists during games 21-40) is helping him develop into a top-six NHL forward?

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