Apr 272010
 

There’s a different aura around the Canucks this season. I can’t place my finger on it, but if you listened to the guys after dispatching the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday, you can hear a quiet confidence from them.

Last year, the Canucks, fresh from a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues, faced a young and (supposedly) inexperienced Blackhawks team and lost their composure. They faced a Blackhawks team that they beat up – on the scoreboard and during a line brawl – in their last regular season meeting, and then lost the last three games of their second round series. They headed into the second round full of confidence back then, but perhaps a bit too overconfident.

Here in Vancouver, the consensus is that the Canucks have learned their lesson from a year ago.

From Iain MacIntyre (Vancouver Sun):

When Vigneault said his group can get it done, he wasn’t talking only about the Kings.

A year ago, the Canucks gagged in Game 4 in Chicago, broke mentally and never recovered. When the Kings’ inflicted some adversity, there was no panic among the Canucks. Vancouver just needed to kill a penalty and get a save.

That makes these Canucks different. Hope is at the end of the Fraser Valley. This team is planning to win, and that started at training camp.

From Jason Botchford (Vancouver Province):

How times have changed. Then, it felt monumental. Now, a first-round win feels like a step, one that will be rendered meaningless if the Canucks can’t find redemption in their second round sequel against Chicago which begins Friday.

To understand Vancouver’s changed approach, check out the video of Vancouver’s locker room “celebration” after eliminating the L.A. Kings Sunday.

Featured on canucks.com, it shows a quirky Ryan Kesler dance, a Shane O’Brien headlock, a high five and a series of restrained fist bumps (aren’t they always?).

It is staid and familiar. It could be a team after a win in January or October. It belies the fact the Canucks just made it to the NHL’s elite eight. That quiet restraint spoke volumes. It was a business-like approach for a team that has unfinished business.

To a man, the Canucks seem hell-bent on atoning for their failures of a year ago. While some Canucks fans were plotting out a way to avoid the Blackhawks (and the Wings and Sharks for that matter) in the playoffs, this year’s Canucks welcome the opportunity for sweet revenge.

Here’s Alex Burrows:

“It should be a pretty interesting matchup,” said Canuck winger Alex Burrows. “There are a lot of guys on their team that we know and we have rivalries against. We’d like to play them again and beat them.”

And Ryan Kesler:

“Chicago is a tough oppponent and it would be nice to have another crack at them,” added Ryan Kesler. “I think we’re a more complete team this year.”

And Kyle Wellwood:

“We’re back to the point to where we were last year. For us, it’s a starting point. We have something to prove.”

But perhaps the most telling quote comes from Kevin Bieksa:

“We approached that series different than we approached L.A.,” defenceman Kevin Bieksa said. “I think we invested a little too much emotionally in that series. That definitely affected us, yeah. Did we learn from it? Hopefully.”

After the LA series, it sure looks like they have. The Canucks have something to prove – to themselves and their fans – and beating Chicago would go a long way in doing just that.

Apr 252010
 

It’s not always easy being a Canucks fan.

Sometimes it take a little something more to provide guidance when the going gets rough. While some choose to turn to liquid cheer, I simply crack open the good book – the dictionary – and remind myself of:

faith /f’eɪθ/
noun: loyalty or allegiance to a cause or a person (“Keep the faith”)

It is faith that gives me the strength to accept…

… that Andrew Alberts will not be the downfall to the Canucks.
… the Canucks penalty kill will be measured in actual kills and not seconds.
… Gary Bettman doesn’t have it out for the Canucks.
… I actually believe the last point I made.
… that a distinct kicking motion isn’t always distinct.
… the Stanley Cup won’t be stolen from the Canucks because a puck hit a skate before heading into the net.
… the Canucks don’t need to lead the first two periods as long as they win the game.
… the end is not near when the Canucks are down two games to one.
… that I probably lied about the 3rd point after all.
… all the losses that may happen each round, so long as they only number 3.
… that I’m really not wrong about the 1st point.
… that Game 6 will be the end of round one.

Although it may seem that I don’t always agree with what I see from the team, I remain focused and continue to Believe in Blue. I cheer just as loud and continue to hope until the final whistle that the Canucks will overcome adversity. I remember that We Are All Canucks.

And trust me, that takes a whole lot of faith.

Apr 252010
 
Henrik Sedin and Mikael Samuelsson celebrate another goal.

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

The Canucks can close off their Western Conference Quarterfinal Series against the LA Kings tonight. Can they go for the jugular? Or do they allow the Kings a chance at Game 7 on Tuesday? Can the Kings stop the ‘S-Train’? And if they do, can they also stop the Canucks’ secondary scorers?

Here are today’s game day links:

Apr 242010
 
Rick Rypien tunes Rich Clune.

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

The Canucks, left looking for their swagger after Game 3, seem to now have found it in spades. I don’t know what happened or what was said in their locker room during the second intermission of Game 4. Whatever it was, the players have responded positively and are playing great hockey. They’ve scored 11 goals – 8 ESG, 2 PPG and 1 empty-netter – in the last four periods. Even their penalty-kill has been a bit better. They’ve allowed just 1 PPGA in the last 7 Kings powerplays, and even killed a brief 5-on-3 against them last night. Most importantly, they’ve put the Kings on the brink of elimination and searching for some way to counter the Canucks’ attack.

After Game 3, Alain Vigneault challenged his best players to be his best players. Consider the challenge accepted. In the last two games, the Sedins and Samuelsson have combined for 13 points (5G-8A) and a plus-12 rating; Demitra (2G-2A-4P), Kesler (1G-1A-2P) and Bernier (2G) have all chipped in; in the back end, Salo, Ehrhoff and Edler have combined for 6 points (3G-3A); and despite letting in 6 goals in 52 shots, Luongo has made key saves at key times. For the last couple of games at least, the Canucks have looked like the Canucks from December and January, rather than the Canucks from March.

The Canucks so thoroughly dominated the Kings last night that, by the end of it, the Kings were left looking for something to motivate them for Game 6. Ryan Smyth, Wayne Simmonds, and that little puke, Rich Clune all took turns running around and taking their shots at Luongo and everyone else. The Canucks – especially Shane O’Brien and Rick Rypien – answered this challenge just fine. If Simmonds and Clown getting their asses kicked counts for motivation, then I suppose the Kings can take something out of this game.

This doesn’t mean that Sunday should be a cake walk. Far from it. The Kings will make sure it’s not; the Canucks need to make sure they’re ready.

Other post-game links:

Apr 232010
 
Henrik Sedin and Canucks celebrate game 4 game-winning goal.

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

Apr 212010
 

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault laid down the gauntlet to his best players yesterday. Roberto Luongo, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Sami Salo, Alex Edler, Ryan Kesler were all called to the forefront, and in no uncertain terms, challenged to get it done. Have they truly learnt from previous playoff disappointments? Will they rise up to the challenge this time around?

Obviously, we hope it’s the latter.

Statistically-speaking, teams overcome a 3-1 first round series deficit only 20% of the time. On the other hand, if the series is tied 2-2, the team with home-ice advantage ends up winning the series 60% of the time.

Here are today’s game day links:

Apr 202010
 

With all the controversy around the Canucks too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty in game two, and the disallowed goal which was “kicked in” by Daniel Sedin, a lot of people are crying conspiracy and losing sight of the real fact, the Canucks penalty killing has been atrocious. We can look at numbers and everyone already knows just how many goals have been allowed while down a man but everyone’s missing the other red flags raised by all of this. I’ve been saying that the Canucks PK could really benefit from the likes of having Willie Mitchell and his long stick back in the lineup, or Ryan Johnson who’s out with his third broken foot of the season, but we can’t keep looking off the ice for excuses to our on ice woes.

For context, here are the powerplay numbers from the first 3 games of the series:

PP StatsGame 1Game 2Game 3
VAN1/4 (6:33 PP time)1/3 (5:40)0/4 (6:57)
LA2/3 (5:33 PP time)2/6 (10:59)3/3 (1:50)

With a total of 18:22 minutes of powerplay time, the Kings converted on 7/12 of their opportunities; the Canucks, with 19:10 minutes of total powerplay time, converted on only 2/11 of their opportunities. This is probably pretty obvious at this point but prorated over 60 minutes, the Kings have the best PPG/60 minutes of all playoff teams (22.9) and the Canucks (6.3) have one of the worst. (Only Colorado, San Jose and Nashville are worst.)

They say on the penalty kill your best player has to be the goaltender, and through the first three games I have no grounds to fault Luongo. Even after the soft goal he let in he’s still been playing substantially better than he was post-Olympics and through the end of the regular season. The question is: where is Boy Wonder and his Sidekick? What on earth has happened to Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows? That dynamic duo have been the Canucks two best penalty killers all season. They’ve been absolute machines on the PK, and between them, have six shorthanded goals.

Now I’m not expecting Burrows and Kesler to score a shorthanded goal every game, but I’m at least expecting our best penalty killers to show up. Last night Burrows was on the ice for all three of the Kings PP markers and Kesler was on for two of them. It’d be one thing throwing these guys under the bus after one game, but when the penalty kill has been nonexistent for three of the most important games of the season, and in consecutive games no less, you need to find a solution quickly before this is all over.

The Canucks PK lacks a lot of confidence and as a default they’re collapsing to the net. Ryan Johnson was instrumental in pressuring the opposing team’s point shot but this Canucks PK is giving the Kings blue line way too much respect. All their PP goals are coming off rebounds from shots at the blue line, or well outside the hash marks. Kesler and Burrows seem to have lost their aggressive PK edge, the very same one that pressured the point, created turnovers, and in Burrows’ case lead to five shorthanded goals this season. The Kings are taking the point shots to create the chances and if the Canucks want to have any chance of killing a full two minutes in game four they’re going to have to get more aggressive.

Luongo’s proved he’s brought his game to this series, they don’t need to worry about him (maybe just his knob). If the Canucks are aggressive on the point, if they pressure the Kings blue line they’re going to at the very least clear the puck, and otherwise could get the short handed break or at least cause them to take a penalty trying to prevent one. The Canucks have a wealth of speed and they need to use that to their advantage. This series is far from over, but if they’re going to make it to the second round they need the PK to shine.

Apr 192010
 

The Canucks take their show on the road with the series tied at 1-1. Can they play better than their 19-20-2 regular season road record indicates? Without the benefit of last change, how can the Canucks contain Drew Doughty? Can Demitra prove that he’s no Justin Williams? Can the Canucks stop taking stupid penalties?

Apr 182010
 

I’m not one to believe in conspiracy theories, though I have to admit Tony Gallagher’s piece in the Vancouver Province this morning made me think a bit about them. Because the Canucks often seem to get the short end of the NHL officials’ stick, I can’t help but feel that, maybe, there’s some validity to what Tony is saying.

Then Saturday night the Canucks jump to a 2-0 lead and appear to be all over the Kings threatening to make short work of a market some important people in the league would love to come back to hockey after eight years of missing the playoffs and an eternity since Wayne Gretzky made the sport pop in the second largest market in North America.

Suddenly, a couple of questionable calls, one to Andrew Alberts for apparently tripping Dustin Brown and then a hold on Pavol Demitra, when it’s abundantly obvious to most Canuck fans that the Slovak who shone so brightly at the Olympics is having trouble holding on to anything. Nothing too outrageous, but the team with all the momentum and threatening to finish this series quickly suddenly runs into a couple of questionable ones.

Third period in a 2-2 tie, another Alberts penalty when Wayne Simmonds cut into the middle generating what seems like the first stick foul called in the series although somehow the stick which stuck in Henrik Sedin’s visor was missed in Game 1.

Henrik appears to win a third-period race to prevent an icing but the refs don’t see it that way. Ryan Smyth’s high stick in overtime and no call? Just a follow-through? Good thing the overtime penalty given to L.A. to give them four out of their five goals scored in this series on the power play wasn’t contested by the Canucks.

I’m not sure I’m ready to subscribe to Tony’s conspiracy theory, though at the very least, I do believe that the NHL officials need to call the games more consistently. Too often, they miss calls and then call make-up ones. Sometimes, the bad calls are inconsequential. At worst, they directly affect the results of playoff games, which is exactly what happened last night.

The Canucks lost the game in OT last night after they took a 2-minute minor for having too many men on the ice and the Kings scored on the ensuing powerplay.

But what about that penalty? Here’s what Alain Vigneault had to say after the game (via Jason Botchford, Vancouver Province):

“The rule is the player coming on the ice can not play the puck,” Vigneault said. “Well, that puck touched one of our players. It touched Kevin Bieska coming off the ice because he was cut. You got two referees with red stripes on their sweaters. They should make the call if they think it’s a penalty, not the linesman.”

TSN also talked about it on their panel tonight:

To be fair, this game probably wouldn’t even have gone to OT if Aaron Rome was healthy enough to banish Andrew Alberts back to the press box. (The Kings had 9:45 minutes – almost an entire half of a period – of powerplay time in regulation.) That said, it doesn’t absolve the officials from making a costly, bad call at the most crucial time of the game.

[update: 04/18/2010, 10:00 PM]

Don Cherry also weighed in on this on tonight’s HNIC Coach’s Corner. Click here for the video – he starts talking about the blown call at the 4:45 mark.

Apr 182010
 
Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks scramble as LA Kings win in OT

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

When Vancouver narrowly lost to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 2 on Saturday night, it was clear that the seed of doubt has been planted in the hearts and minds of Canucks fans.

After all, the Kings have plenty to be proud of. They entered a building where the Vancouver Canucks boasted a league-best 30 wins in the regular season and not only took the second game, but took both contests to overtime. In essence, Anze Kopitar’s crew could easily have been flying back to California with a 2-0 series lead in their back pockets.

Thankfully, this isn’t the case. But while Mikael Samuelsson stated the team knew it wasn’t going to be a four-game sweep, there’s no questioning now that the Kings have the team’s attention.

Poorly timed penalties were once again the story of the game on Saturday night, and the Canucks paid for it through the nose. Two of the Kings’ three goals came on the man advantage, giving them four powerplay goals in just nine of their opportunities. That is a lethal 44.4% ratio, enough for even the most diehard of Vancouver fans to throw up some red flags.

But by the time this blog post hits cyberspace, it’s likely the Canucks are putting Games 1 and 2 past them. It’s a brand new series; like many other top-seeded teams in the postseason, Vancouver is facing a tough task of trying to take back home ice advantage from their playoff opponent. If the Canucks can manage to take one (but two sure would be nice) games in California in the next few days, the team has a chance to pull ahead for good.

Even though it’s tough to base assumptions simply by looking at the regular season, the Los Angeles Kings had the fewest home wins of the Western Conference playoff teams. Conversely, the Canucks were the only Western playoff team to finish with a below .500 record on the road. Something will have to give on Monday night.

And Canucks fans, rejoice! We’ve likely seen the end of the Andrew Alberts experiment. In 17:32 of ice time in the two games, Alberts registered 23 penalty minutes, had no shots and was even. Despite the fact the Canucks didn’t surrender a powerplay goal with Alberts in the box, the trade deadline acquisition certainly did no favours to himself by taking three penalties in game two. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but the Canucks could really use Aaron Rome.

Like I said, the seed of doubt has been planted. But if the Canucks can be a hit at the Hollywood box office on Monday and/or Wednesday, fans will have reason to cheer again.

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