May 102009
 

It’s hard not to be down about the game. It’s hard not to get negative and fall into this downward spiral in regards to the team. You invest so much time emotionally in the game, in the team, and when it’s so close and down to the wire, you can’t help but get dragged down. It’s part of the game, it’s what loving this team is all about. They’re like a bad girlfriend, they love to break your heart. But, it’s not over yet. There’s still one more game to go before this series is decided, and if the Canucks have anything to say, they’re going to make sure there are at least two more.

Being a Canucks Fan comes with a heart attack and a defibrilator. It’s the customary package you have to acquire when you don the jersey of a fan. The Canucks love to make it interesting. If we know one thing about the Canucks, they never say Die, and they bring their best when their backs are against the wall.

The Canucks played their best game of the series in game 5, they were throwing bodies around like they were getting style points from a UFC fight, but again came up short because they just weren’t able to get enough shots on Khabibulin. It looks like the Canucks are getting better and better with each game so as it follows, game 6 should be better than the 5 before it. At this point, the bandwagon hasn’t emptyed, it’s been stunned. The shock is slowly wearing off, but no one expected a free ticket through to the third round. The best team in the league didn’t make it through, and even the best team in the East is having troubles.

Believe in blue. It’s not over til the Lord of the the Cumberband sings, and Mark Donnelly will sing in Game 7 on Thursady. Be there.

May 102009
 

Maybe surprisingly – and even blindly – I still feel good about the Canucks’ chances of coming back and taking this series from the Chicago Blackhawks. Last I checked, you need to win 4 games to move on to the next series, and even after last night’s game, the Blackhawks have only won 3.

The Canucks have dealt with far worse situations than a 3-2 series deficit this season. They lost Luc and Carly tragically and too early. They lost Lui for a quarter of the season and Salo for more than that. They went through a franchise-low losing streak and they responded with a franchise-high winning streak. They went from 12th place in the Western Conference to the Northwest Division lead. They briefly lost the Northwest Division lead and then regained it with 3 wins and 2 shutouts in their final 3 games.

All season long, the Canucks believed in themselves and what they do. To a man, they faced adversity head on and came out fine each time. The guys in that dressing room believe, so why can’t we? After all, it’s not asking too much to think that they can come up with 2 – just 2 – wins in a row, is it?

May 092009
 

Are the Canucks out matched by the Blackhawks at even strength? Can we really only win when we get the chance to take advantage of their penalty kill? The Canucks have proven they have the offensive aresenal to take advantage of a bad turnover, poor change, or odd man rush, but in game 4 the distinct discipline of both teams proved that this series is just getting started.

The Canucks shifted from an offensive minded juggernaut, to a defensive machine that was looking to hang onto a one goal lead. I’d said earlier, the Blackhawks ARE going to get more disciplined. They ARE going to start taking less individual penalties and the Canucks need to be able to respond. If the Canucks could take advantage of the Blackhawks while they were 5 on 5, their speed and offensive prowess would eventually force the Blackhawks to take some careless penalties. When you play the trap and are a defensive clam though, you’re playing their game, not your own game.

In the first 3 games there were 34 PP opportunites between the two teams. In game 4, there were just three PP opportunities between the two teams. It seems that with all the powerplay time the Canucks were able to settle into an offensive groove, but with the lack of them they collapsed into a defensive shell which we haven’t seen since these 2009 playoffs started.

The key to game 5 is going to be taking advantage of the home ice and speed. If the Canucks can force the Blackhawks to play their game, and come out flying, they can force bad penalties and subsequently take advantage of what has so far been a red hot power play. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be hustling to create those even strength opportunities, but the Canucks cannot afford to go back to the United Center facing a do-or-die situation. They need to take advantage of a Khabibulin that struggles when he faces lots of shots. Apart from the point-blank OT save by Khabibulin, he’s looked shaky at times and if the Canucks can get sustained pressure and a high number of shots on him they will expose one of the Blackhawk’s weaknesses.

I expect big games from Mitchell and the Sedins tonight and certainly expect Bieksa and Sundin to step things up a notch and provide some more of that offense tonight.

Blog Song: Cloud Connected – In Flames

May 082009
 

The playoffs are all about stats. Whose stats line up better against the opposition determines who everyone thinks is the favourite, so on and so forth. I’m sure Kevin Bieksa doesn’t like stats though. In 18 playoff games with the Canucks he has a whopping 3 points, all assists. The only positive stat is that he’s a +2 so far in this year’s post season. In the regular season he broke the 40 point mark notching 11 goals and 43 points, but as of late all he’s been able to muster is a couple of helpers.

Bieksa’s play as of late has been timid. He’s not playing with that edge and fiest that saw him posterized after a brawl with Ben Eager, and he’s certainly not playing with the offensive prowess he was during the season. Lately it seems like most of his shots are going wide, and the few shots that are on net are either not making it through, or are bad shots to take.

When Gillis kept Bieksa at the deadline choosing to bail on a last minute package deal for Bouwmeester that would have seen “Boom Boom” join ex-Canuck Bryan Allen on the Panthers, he showed that faith in Bieksa because Bieksa is the offensive defenseman this team sorely needs. Salo and Mitchell are a pair of stay at homers and aside from Salo’s game 1 heroics and game winner, most of his points and goals are PP tallies from the point and I wouldn’t consider him an offensive defenseman. Edler, and O’Brien certainly don’t fit the bill, and Vaananen, or Davison will certainly not cure any offensive blue line woes.

Bieksa’s role is expected to be similar to that of Jovanovski’s without the bad penalties of course. He’s expected to be offensively aggresive, while able to maintain his defensive responsibilities and right now he’s dropping the ball. The playoffs are the big dance. It’s where teams are made, where character is shown, and where the big boys come to play. Bieksa’s lack of playoff performance is a little worrying because, well, lets just say I expect Bieksa to score a playoff goal before both Ryan Johnson and Darcy Hordichuk manage to pot one each. Perhaps Bieksa should listen to this blog’s song to get himself a little pumped up. He’s not scoring, he’s not hitting, he’s not doing much of anything at the moment and we need him to be playing a lot better hockey right now. Bieksa has the potential to be a game changer, and with how close this series is, a series changer. We need him now more than ever especially with Salo sidelined and his return game by game still questionable.

Blog Song: Ashes in the Fall – Rage Against the Machine

May 082009
 

After seeing the sheer venom coming from the mouths of people that call themselves “fans” on the CDC boards, I had to dig up an old post I wrote before I joined CHB. A lot of people have sounded off on Willie Mitchell for costing us game 4 and a stranglehold lead in the series, but he’s human too.

Mitchell had a horrible game. He knows it more than anyone else. You can be sure he’s going to come back and do everything he can to make up for it in game 5 on home ice. I wanted to remind people of certain things – Keep in mind this was written with a month ago.

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Steamboat Willie

Of all the Canucks to be having career season this year, Henrik having just hit a career high for goals in a season, Burrows hitting new career highs in goals, assists and points, and Kesler having a breakout season on top of last year’s break out season, everyone seems to have forgotten about Willie Mitchell. The 32 year old is having a breakout season of his own and he’s “shattered” his previous career high for points which used to be 14. Granted that as of late Mitchell has been in the spotlight for his attempted assault on the Canucks club plus/minus record, (currently shared by Marek Malik and Pavel Bure at +35) everyone seems to be missing the real effect he’s been having on this team.

When Dave Nonis signed Mitchell, one of the first questions the media asked him was “What can you bring to this team?” or words to that effect. His response was puzzling, and even after justifying it I thought he was just another cocky player. He said, “I’m like a 30 goal scorer”. I was left scratching my head until he attempted to justify himself, but it’s not until this season that I’ve really seen the effects of what he meant. Growing up in a Jacques Lemaire system he said “I consider myself a 30 goal scorer not because I can score 30 goals, but because I can prevent the other team from scoring at least 30 goals a season”. Makes sense right? Having been bred into the defensive trap system that Lemaire preaches Mitchell was a very conservative D man when he first joined Vancouver, but now it seems that all the work Lemaire put into him has really paid off because he’s been able to amalgamate his stay at home defenseman abilities, with his part time offensive defenseman capabilities and established himself as one of the best defenseman we have. This is in a lineup that boasts the likes of Mattias Ohlund and Sami Salo.

I think it’s fairly safe to say that amidst all the hype surrounding everyone else that Willie’s play has gone unnoticed. Burrows’ stats get preached every night, he was the center of the deadline rumours. The twins almost always are the center of news, be it contract negotiations, spinorama goals, or lackluster play, and Kesler is either in the hot seat, or the hero. Mitchell however in his time in Vancouver has flown under the radar. He’s not a big fighter, he’s not the big show stopper, and he’s never up to any antics, just a Port McNeil boy in the big leagues helping his team out night after night. His constantly increasing plus/minus is a testament to that too. In a time when Mike Green is stealing headlines with his 30 goal season as a defenceman on a team that boasts Semin, Ovechkin and more, and when Phaneuf and Weber are considered the leaders of the defense of tomorrow, even on a team where the focus is on Boom Boom Kevin “Juice” Bieksa, “Ohlund Junior” Edler, and long time Canuck veteran Mattias Ohlund, Mitchell sometimes doesn’t get a second look. Here’s a guy that has slowly been helping this team out and apart from his toothy grin or blade-tape, goal line, puck saving antics hasn’t been the center of media.

He’s arguably this year’s unsung hero. The fan favourites continue to please and as a result their names are in spotlight all the time. A true testament to his character is that he doesn’t care. He’s not a spotlight hog; he doesn’t even care about the spotlight. He’s just a guy that comes to play every night. He’s passionate, but smart in choosing his battles. He’s playoff tested and you know that in the off season he’s going to bring his best. He’s a workhorse in a game that is shifting towards a defensive orientation, and he’s smart with his plays. Were it not for the Mitchell saves and smart plays be they on the back check or handling a tricky 2 on 1, or 3 on 1, the errors of Bieksa, Edler and the rest of the team could look that much worse. Giving him one of the as this season was an excellent decision simply because of the way he leads through example. He silently shows the rest of the team that he’s doing his job and the rest of them follow. He’s not flashy, he’s not in it to be a big shot, he plays the game how it’s meant to be played and with him nearing the Canucks plus minus record, he’s still modest about his main concern being winning, and moving forward towards a cup.

So when he says “I’m a 30 goal scorer” I think I know what he means now. The fact that he’s gotten new career highs just illustrates how he’s adapted his style of play to fit in with a fast Canucks team that has finally moved on from a defensive mindset. He’s taken a few years to find his groove on the Canucks blue line, (I can only imagine what it’s like to go from Minnesota’s trap, to our system. It must feel like the Mighty Ducks and the flying V) but is certainly amongst this team’s leaders and deserves much more credit than he really gets.

May 082009
 

After Game 4 the series is tied and it looks like this is going to go the distance, and if not, it’s going to come close.

1 - The number of Power Play opportunities the Canucks had in Game 4. While the Powerplay has been hot, as I said earlier, if the Blackhawks become more disciplined, we’re going to need to win playing 5-on-5.

2 – Number of penalties Bieksa had last night. Also the number of points (2 Assists) Bieksa has in 18 career playoff games.

3 – Number of games in this series in which the Canucks have blown a lead completely.

4 – Number of Blackhawks (Brouwer, Walker, Byfuglien, Seabrook) that combined for the same number of total hits as the Canucks had as a team last night. Blackhawks outhit the Canucks 41-22.

5 – Number of shots Havlat had on the night. The Canucks as a team only had 6 in the second period.

6 – The most shots the Canucks managed on Blackhawks ‘tender Nikolai Khabibulin in any one period. In the first and third they were only able to muster 4 shots each.

7 – Points by Edler in 8 games. He’s flown under the rader and is 3rd in team scoring with 1G and 6 Assists.

8 – Willie Mitchell’s number. He played over 29 minutes and something we rarely see, he played his worst game of the season. Missing his check on Ladd completely led to the OT winner for the Blackhawks. People forget though, even he is human.

9 – Faceoffs taken by Mats Sundin last night. In 9 Faceoffs taken, he lost 7.

10 – Ryan Johnson’s number. His consistency continues. In Game 4 he had another 2 blocked shots. He also was +1, had one assist, and went 7 for 11 in the faceoff circle.

11 – Shifts played by Rypien and Hordichuk the two who combined for the Canucks lone goal. The next fewest shifts by any Canuck was 18.

12 – Number of Blackhawks that recorded at least one shot in last nights game. The Canucks only had 9 players with at least one shot.

13 – Sundin’s number. His statline read 0 SOG, 0 Points, 1 Blocked Shot, 1 Giveaway, 7 FOL, 2 FOW in 15:20 of ice time

14 – Total missed shots in the game. Not surprisingly Vancouver’s lack of shots led to only 2 shots being missed. Chicago had a total 12 missed shots which if on net would have brought their shot total up to 40.

15 – Shots by the Canucks in game 4. You can’t win games with only 15 shots.

May 082009
 

It’s hard to fathom that one play might prove to be the difference in the Canucks’ Western Conference Semifinal series against the Blackhawks. Willie Mitchell’s attempted clear of the puck with under 3 minutes left in the third period and the Canucks nursing a 1-0 lead was intercepted by Marty Havlat; Havlat then scored to send the game to OT and Andrew Ladd scored in OT to win the game and tie the series.

But while it’s true that Willie’s play led directly to Havlat’s goal, I think the Canucks had it coming. After Darcy Hordichuk scored midway through the second period, they suddenly got away from what made them successful in these playoffs. They sat back on a 1-0 lead and spent almost the entire last half of Game 4 at least 60 feet away from Nikolai Khabibulin. Seemingly, their approach to the game changed – instead of playing to win, they started playing not to lose.

In Game 3, the Canucks did a very good job of the former. Yes, they placed an emphasis on their defensive play and controlled the tempo of the game, but when given the opportunity, they also challenged the Hawks. When they had the puck, they actually tried to do something with it instead of giving it up faster than Paris Hilton does in a Vegas club full of douchebags. Because the Canucks took some smart chances on offense, they forced the Hawks to play defense. Because they forced the Hawks had to play defense, they also kept the puck away from them and stalled their offense.

I thought the Canucks would have that figured out by now. In Games 1 and 2, they sat back on leads, gave up the puck (and thus scoring opportunities) too easily, let Roberto Luongo do all the work and it cost them. In Game 1, they built a 3-0 lead and sat back; the Hawks then scored 3 third period goals to tie it up. In Game 2, they built a 2-0 lead in the first 7 minutes of the game and sat back; the Hawks then scored 5 unanswered goals.

I don’t doubt that the Canucks need to play good – scratch that, great – defense to succeed in the playoffs, but they can’t forget the offense part either. It’s called playing not to lose, and when teams that play like that, they generally lose anyway.

May 082009
 
May 072009
 

What started as a best of 7, went to a best of 5, and then tonight after being tied up again is now down to a best of 3. The Canucks have home ice advantage playing two of the potentially remaining 3 games in the friendly confines of GM Place, but the Blackhawks have proven that no matter where they’re playing they have the comeback down to a science.

While the Canucks fixed one problem area in their game, they let up in another. I think back to the game tonight and am left scratching my head as to what actually happeened. The Canucks didn’t play badly, they didn’t play phenomenally either. They were just there… skating back and forth. In a season where Filet Mignon abandoned trap hockey and utilized his offensive weapons to capture the Northwest Division, tonight, out of nowhere, it was as if Jacques Lemaire had taken over control of the bench and the game hinged on boring.

Rypien’s heads up play was like an injection of adrenaline as the game picked up significantly after his second period tally, but neither team had any chances. Luongo was rarely tested, but when he was he seemed on top of his game. Neither team spent much sustained pressure in the offensive zone and apart from the desperation by the Blackhawks late in the third resulting in their tying goal with about two minutes left, the game seemed emotionless and empty; Even the United Center seemed strangely deflated, for no real reason.

With the series tied, it’s back to square one. Equal series wins apiece, the only difference being the two teams know a little more about each other’s play. Two at home, one on the road. The Canucks cannot afford to go back to the United Center facing a do-or-die game with their backs against the wall which makes taking advantage of Saturday’s home game 5 that much more pivotal. Saturday’s game could make or break the series and they have a lot to work on from now till then.

Blog Song: Sleepyhead by Passion Pit

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