Jan 172011
 

[Every Monday, Katie Maximick takes your questions and gives her take on the Canucks in her own cantankerous style. If you have any questions about the Canucks, send it to her via Twitter (@canucksgirl44)]

Mikael Samuelsson, Raffi Torres

Photo credit: Yahoo Sports

Everyone put on their blue and green hardhats! Because after last night’s 4-0 shut-out loss in Minnesota, the sky is falling for a percentage of fans who sit on the tailgate of the Canucks bandwagon.

Yes, the team got its butt kicked, and yes, the Canucks now have three injuries in addition to Salo (Bolduc, Rome and Alberts), but hey, here’s the silver lining –- at least at this rate we won’t have to worry about making room for Salo when he comes back! In fact, many of us are ready for his return riiiiighhht about now.

But, aside from the injuries and last night’s sky-is-falling loss, there are a couple other questions floating around there in Canuck Nation.

Will the 3rd line score again?

This was asked before last night’s game against the Wild, so I was hoping for some positive reinforcement to answer this with… and then nobody scored. To be brief, if the 3rd line’s January record says anything, it’s looking dismal.

The last time the line produced any goals was the week from December 23rd to December 31st; they had 10 points that week. Samuelsson last scored on December 26th, and only has one assist since. Torres had a 2-goal night on December 23rd, hasn’t scored since December 31st, and has had 3 assists since. Malhotra last scored December 28th and has only 1 assist (onTorres’ goal on the 31st) since.

So what the hell happened, and why has it been so long since any member of the 3rd line has scored a goal? Is it a line slump? (Wait, am I asking Katie questions now?)

Who knows. The fans’ guesses are as good as mine, and Canucks fans are pretty smart. I just hope the 3rd line breaks their slump soon. With 3 d-men and Bolduc out, we can use all the offensive help we can get.

Tanner Glass or Jannik Hansen – who has surprised you more and why?

I’m going to give this one to Jannik. I’ve always known Hansen had the potential to be a great player, reminding me a bit of Mason Raymond three seasons ago: a young playmaker whose hands haven’t quite caught up to him yet (I think I’ve heard “hands of stone” thrown around on Twitter). But he seems to be progressing  and maturing very nicely this season, which has surprised me and a lot of Canucks fans. Halfway through the season he’s at 15 points and is a plus-8 (despite the loss in Minnesota). His career record is 21 pts in 55 games, which he’s definitely on pace to meet (and pass) and he had a very strong game against Washington, earning first star for the game. He’s the underdog and, like Tanner Glass, doesn’t get as much recognition as he deserves for his role on the ice.

Hansen has the ability to move between lines rather smoothly at the whim of Vigneault’s line juggling, and he consistently generates smart plays for whoever he’s on the ice with. He works tirelessly when he’s on the ice, forechecking, hitting (he leads the team with 99 hits) and isn’t too bad in the faceoff circle either.  If he could just find his hands and grow a bit more confidence (he tends to hesitate in front of the net a little), I think we could see a 25-to-30 point season from Hansen, and thus a lot more #36 jerseys around Vancouver to give @mozy19 some company.

J.J. Guerrero (@canuckshockey) asks: What’s up with all the New Kids tweets?

How is this related to the Canucks again, J.J.? The New Kids on the Block was the most amazing boy band to come out of the 90s (no offense to your precious Backstreet Boys, J.J.). My roommate and I like to youtube New Kids videos over a glass of wine and talk about the god ole days of fluorescent fanny packs and crimped bangs… Wait, was I supposed to reveal that information? And five bucks says Shane O’Brien knows all the words to “The Right Stuff” and the dance moves to go with it.

By the way, I was tweeting way more about BodyBreak commercials lately than New Kids. Who doesn’t like a great push-broom ‘stache and big hair in 80’s tracksuits? I rest my case.

Have a great week, Canucks fans. And don’t worry about the loss. We can’t win all 82 games. No one’s that good.

Jan 112011
 

(Contributions from J.J. Guerrero and Katie Maximick.)

Now that the Canucks have reached the official halfway point of the 2010/2011 season, we take a look back and give the players their midseason marks.

Manny Malhotra and Jannik Hansen, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

Manny Malhotra: Malhotra has fewer points than Raffi Torres, which is odd for a lot of people. But he’s the king of the faceoff circle, ranked second in the NHL at 63.4%. With 17 points, he’s on pace to match last season’s 33-point output in San Jose. So has he exceeded expectations? Not really, but he hasn’t exactly underperformed either.

Grade: B

Raffi Torres: Torres started the season red-hot with 5 goals in 3 games at the beginning of November, but the fiery left wing has cooled off with only 9 points since the end of November. However, he’s still third on the team for goals at 11 and has 8 assists. For a one year, $1 million contract, have the Canucks got what they paid for? I say yes – he has 19 points, throws hard hits and freight-trains his way to the net. I think Vancouver fans have been pleasantly surprised by their Baby Beluga.

Grade: C+

Mikael Samuelsson: Mikael “go eff yourself” Samuelsson is perhaps receiving the most flack of any player on the roster right now. He has the lowest shot percentage of all the Canucks forwards at 7.1%, even lower than Kevin Bieksa. Is it bad luck or are they bad shots? His point production isn’t horrible, with 8 goals and 16 assists, but he is currently pointless in his last 7 games. So, does the media have reason to pick on Samuelsson? Hard to say. Maybe he just needs someone to hurt his feelings and he’ll start putting up points again.

Grade: C+

Alex Bolduc: Bolduc’s been good at times and unnoticeable at others. Against the Sharks last Monday, he won 4 of 6 faceoffs; he followed that up by losing all 8 of his draws against the Flames last Wednesday. The revolving door on the team’s fourth line center position is due in large part to his inconsistency.

Grade: C-

Tanner Glass: No less than 11 Canucks have played on the fourth line all season; of those 11, Tanner Glass has been the most consistent. Coach AV trusts him enough to play a regular shift on even-strength and on the penalty-kill. Halfway through the season, he’s only 1 goal, 2 assists and 3 points short of his career-highs in those categories.

Grade: C

Jannik Hansen: His stat line (41 GP, 5 G – 8 A – 13 P) doesn’t reflect it, but Hansen’s play has improved from previous seasons. He’s a fast skater, excellent forechecker and versatile winger who’s proven through the first half of the season to be able to move up and down the lineup with relative ease.

Grade: B-

Aaron Volpatti: Volpatti was called up a month ago and quickly made his mark. He scored his first goal in his second game and got into his first fights a week after that. For what it’s worth, he’s better suited for the fourth line than Jonas Andersson and the since-departed Peter Schaefer, and has played better than the likes of Joel Perrault, Guillaume Desbiens and Mario Bliznak.

Grade: C-

Jan 082011
 

[I Watched This Game is a recurring feature at Pass it to Bulis, the hockey blog that knows who needs the puck. It chronicles the insights and observations of two guys who watched a hockey game. To view all the other wonderful stuff PITB does, visit Pass It To Bulis.]

I don’t think there was ever really any concern that the Oilers might win tonight. There was, I guess, a nagging concern that the Canucks might lose, but seriously, this Oilers team isn’t built to win hockey games. It’s built to accrue picks, like Questlove’s hair or Tenacious D.

My favourite thing about this year’s edition of the Vancouver Canucks (apart from all the winning, naturally) is that they don’t seek revenge through fighting. They just embarrass you by scoring more goals. Seriously. This is the team we have. No retaliatory fighting, just retaliatory goals. We saw it tonight as the game began to go pear-shaped for Edmonton, and they tried to salvage some measure of respect by picking on Tanner Glass. The Canucks’ response? Bury them in goals. Get hat tricks. Bury them like Beatrix Kiddo. It’s fun to watch. And I did watch. Yes sir, I watched this game:

  • Like a high school Home Ec. class, the Canucks created a lot of turnovers tonight. The Oilers really struggled to get the puck out of their zone. You’d have to think the absence of Ryan Whitney accounts for this sudden transitional ineptitude, as the only puck-mover on the Oilers’ defense continues to miss games with a bad ankle. You’ll recall that he played nearly thirty minutes in a game between these two teams on December 10th.
  • In Whitney’s absence, we saw a lot more of Theo “Huxtable” Peckham, who continues a storied tradition of black Theos who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. Among his comedy of errors: tripping Mikael Samuelsson; needlessly punching Mikael Samuelsson in the head; hitting Ales Hemsky in the face with a puck. He’s lucky Bill Cosby isn’t his dad, because he’d get a real talking to about responsibility.
  • The Oilers came out flying, seeming to think if they won the first ten minutes, they wouldn’t have to play the rest of the game. Despite not winning the first ten minutes, they stuck to their game plan.
  • There are games when the Sedin twins are unnoticeable, except on the scoresheet. There are other games, like tonight, when it’s apparent from puck drop they’re going to make their opponents look silly. Both Daniel and Henrik finished with 3 points–Henrik his customary 3 helpers, and Daniel 2 goals and 1 assist. Their first goal was a lesson in how to hit an open net (Mason Raymond, take note). Their second goal (above) was classic Wizardous Sedinerie. It also showcased the Third Law of Sedinery: if one pass is customary, the Sedins will make two. On a breakaway, Henrik makes one pass when others would make none. On a two-on-one, Henrik and Daniel make two passes where others would make one. In school, teachers hated the way they would hand in the same test twice.
  • Also of note on Daniel’s second goal, Alex Burrows’ savvy flip pass to spring the Sedins. The line has been pulling this play all season, and it tends to catch defenders sleeping. It’s safe to say the Sedins are the only players in hockey cribbing plays from Dwayne Robertson.
  • A word about Daniel Sedin, who makes a living getting upstaged. Daniel scored two goals before Kesler did. This was rightfully his hat trick. But, just like Henrik took all the credit during his Hart-winning season, Ryan Kesler stole all the glory tonight, winning their impromptu hat trick fight.
  • Sidenote: I imagine a hat trick fight to be two magicians pulling various weaponry out of their top hats. In the climax, the first magician pulls a grenade, and throws it at the second, who catches it in his top hat. Then, the second pulls out a bouquet of flowers. It explodes in the first magician’s face, killing him instantly. Flawless victory.
  • Anyway, Daniel even had his chance to match Kesler’s hat trick, but his power move to the net was stopped by Khabibulin, and Alex Edler, the snake, ruined everything by scoring. Dick move. Daniel’s subsequent fist bump looked a little aggressive to me. Out for blood.
  • Kesler’s hat trick was really something, huh? He scored three times, no lie. Thrice, in fact. His first goal came on a wrist shot so hard it broke both the Bulin wall and the fourth wall, turning to the audience and soliloquizing. His second and third goals were both tips. It was like the debit machine prompted him for a tip, and he felt obligated and tipped too much. At 2 of 3, that’s a 66% tip, which is a drastic overtip.
  • The best moment of Kesler’s hat trick goal comes sixteen seconds into the video, as a dude wearing a hat suddenly realizes what just happened. Wait! I’m wearing a hat!#HatTrickKid
  • The real story, of course, is that the Canucks continue to put in 59-minute efforts. They blew yet another shutout tonight, as Cory Schneider lost his post on a scramble at the end of the second. Ales Hemsky got the goal with 0.3 seconds on the clock. This is unacceptable. Were I at the game, I would have booed vociferously. It is my right as a ticket buyer and I’m an idiot.
  • Anyway, apart from that Cory Schneider was good. He usually is. Whatever. We could talk about how the Canucks are 8-0-2 when he starts, but it’s getting boring. The Canucks just win a lot. You could make up an absurdly positively stat and it would probably be half-true. The Canucks are 13-0-1 when Raffi Torres eats a pregame ham and swiss sandwich. This is a Tru Fakt.
  • In his inaugural game as the fourth-line center (a promotion he clearly relished) Tanner Glass went 4-for-6 in the faceoff circle. He also had a game-high six hits in 11:38 of icetime. He looked pretty good.
  • His positive faceoff numbers would have been quite the accomplishment had the Oilers not forgotten that the purpose of a faceoff is to try to gain possession of the puck. The Canucks won 37 of 54 faceoffs, led by 14-for-17 and 8-for-10 nights for Kesler and Henrik, respectively. Kesler won all 7 of his defensive zone faceoffs, and that, Reid’s friends, is why he takes them.
  • Ales Hemsky is a giant shovel. After being obliterated on a clean Glass hit, Hemsky proceeded to chase the Canucks’ fourth-line center across the ice, hooking and cross-checking all the way. Glass, the zennest of zen Canucks, ignored this antagonism, likely reciting Scrabble’s allowable two-letter words as a mantra.
  • And finally, Daniel (Wagner, not Sedin) pointed out early on that this game would get chippy, as the referees missed some early warning signs and didn’t manage the game well in the first. By the third period, the Oilers were clearly frustrated, and began taking out their frustrations in a frustrating way. In the funniest moment of the night, Tanner Glass was assaulted by Hemsky and Jason Strudwick, only to have Raffi Torres leap to his assistance from the top rope ala Randy “The Ram” Robinson, horse collar him, and then fall down. Torres, you lovable fool. Thankfully, he provided a goofy-looking cushion for Glass to land on when he was tackled.
Jan 032011
 

[I Watched This Game is a recurring feature at Pass it to Bulis, the hockey blog that knows who needs the puck. It chronicles the insights and observations of two guys who watched a hockey game. To view all the other wonderful stuff PITB does, visit Pass It To Bulis.]

With a gritty, hard-fought win against the Avalanche, the Canucks have won 5 straight, haven’t lost in regulation in 12 games, and have the best goal differential in the NHL. And, oh yeah, they’re first place in the entire NHL right now. Now, there are plenty of spoilsports out there who will complain that being first place in January is meaningless, or that no one cares about the President’s Trophy, just the Stanley Cup. To them I say, “Boo! Boo! Boo!” I, for one, am a Canucks fan and I will take pleasure in the Canucks doing well, whether you like it or not. I take pleasure in watching the Canucks win, and I watched this game:

  • Alexandre Bolduc got his first NHL goal (above), added a particularly savvy assist, and finished a game-high +2, but let’s not lose perspective. He still played only 5:52 in the game and didn’t see a single shift after Paul Stastny narrowed the lead to one. That said, he made the most out of his limited time tonight. His heads up play on the odd bounce that led to Mason Raymond’s goal was very nifty. I suspect he got a brief lecture on knowing where his teammates are on the ice after confessing in a 1st intermission interview that he had no idea where Glass was on the 2-on-1 that led to his goal.
  • The scorekeeper for tonight’s game was apparently feeling generous, as somehow Kevin Bieksa received an assist on Mason Raymond’s goal despite about 5 different players, including a couple from the Avalanche, touching the puck between his last touch and the goal. Unless Bieksa’s giant forehead gives him telekinetic powers, there’s no way he should get an assist, although that would explain the bizarre bounce that puck took off the seamless glass.
  • Unsurprisingly, Mason Raymond got the most ice-time for the fourth line as he saw some penalty killing duty and briefly skated 4-on-4 with Jeff Tambellini. He still played under 10 minutes in his return to the lineup, but it seemed clear that his hand wasn’t impairing his shot, as he fired 3 on net including the snipe from the slot for the gamewinning goal. Welcome back, Raymond, we missed you.
  • While the fourth line did all the scoring, Roberto Luongo did all the saving. He was fantastic in net, making 31 and a half saves. He battled hard through traffic to make saves and didn’t give up many rebounds, unless he clearly meant to, like when he sprung Glass and Bolduc with a great kick-save pass. Seriously, he got credited with an assist on that one. I honestly was not aware that they gave assists for giving up a rebound. That’s like saying the wall in Shaolin Soccer was passing the ball to Mighty Steel Leg Sing.
  • Ehrhoff and Edler were solid as a tandem. The duo played the most minutes for the Canucks and made nice plays at both ends of the rink. Ehrhoff was connecting well with his passes, had 3 shots on net, and was smart with his stickwork in the defensive end, getting credit for 2 takeaways. Edler was the more physical of the two and was credited with 3 hits, including this destruction of T.J. Galiardi. If that video doesn’t work, try this one, it’s a bit of a better angle.
  • In a show of solidarity for the Make it Seven campaign, the Avalanche played the dying moments of the game with 7 skaters on the ice. J.J. Guerrero from Canucks Hockey Blog has the picture to prove it. The refs were getting a fair amount of criticism from Canucks fans during this game and that gaffe won’t help their case.
  • For my part, I think it’s just nice to see the Canucks winning in spite of the difference in powerplay time. The Canucks penalty kill was perfect at 5-for-5 and didn’t even give up a single shot on net for the latter 3 powerplays. Lost in the hubbub of their record and powerplay has been the steady work of the penalty kill which jumped up to third in the league with their performance tonight. They are far better at being shorthanded than Dr. Curt Connors.
  • Despite not recording any points, the top three lines did not play particularly poorly. The Sedins had several shifts where they penned the Avalanche in with strong possession and the second line shifted the momentum several times with their speed. It was a solid shift by the third line that led to the possession on which Mason Raymond scored his goal. Part of the problem was all the penalties that prevented them from icing their normal lines for large chunks of the game. It’s incredibly encouraging, however, to see the team pick up a win without any points from their top offensive contributors: balanced scoring is the key to playoff success.
  • Part of the reason the normal offensive contributors didn’t show up on the scoresheet tonight was faceoffs. Manny Malhotra was the only centre above 50% and even he had a relatively pedestrian 53%. It’s troubling because the Avalanche are a sub-50% team on faceoffs. On the plus side, they were 5-for-8 shorthanded, which aided their killing abilities like a golden gun.
  • During the broadcast, Shorty promoted an interview with Alison Sweeney, host of The Biggest Loser, on Breakfast Television. Garrett: Alison Sweeney is on “Days of Our Lives.” Do you watch that? Shorty: No.
  • Mikael Samuelsson apparently had 5 shots on goal. Did you even notice him tonight? Because I didn’t. Torres, on the other hand, was very noticeable, unfortunately for the wrong reasons. He took two very dumb penalties. You can criticize the officiating if you want, but the 4 minute difference in powerplay time can easily be pinned on Torres.

And on that critical note, congratulations to the Canucks for moving to the top of the NHL. Continue being awesome, boys.

Jan 012011
 

[I Watched This Game is a recurring feature at Pass it to Bulis, the hockey blog that knows who needs the puck. It chronicles the insights and observations of two guys who watched a hockey game. To view all the other wonderful stuff PITB does, visit Pass It To Bulis.]

The Canucks closed out 2010 the same way they opened it: with a win over the Dallas Stars, but don’t let the 4-1 score fool you into thinking this was just another rout of a good team. Vancouver outscored Dallas, but that’s about the only stat category they won. Thankfully, it’s the only one that matters after sixty minutes, but they were lucky to escape Dallas with a victory. I’ve been skeptical of the Stars, especially after hearing about their astronomical shooting percentages and their litany of one-goal wins and overtime points. Ignore the cynics: Dallas is good.

The Stars have evolved into the prototypical Marc Crawford team. At their best: highly-skilled, offensively strong, and gritty. At their worst: unpoised, defensively suspect, and undisciplined. After living through Vancouver’s ultimately failed Marc Crawford era, it was great to see his team have its weaknesses exposed by a smarter team without it meaning a Canucks loss. I watched this game, and it was cathartic:

  • There are two ways to look at the massively lopsided shot totals: You could say, with forty-five shots to Vancouver’s 22, Dallas outshot the Canucks by a margin of 2 to 1. Or, you could say, with 44 saves to Kari Lehtonen’s 10 or Andrew Raycroft’s 8, Cory Schneider outsaved both Dallas goaltenders by a margin of 4 to 1. I choose the latter.
  • Yes, Cory Schneider was incredible tonight. He had a bit of luck and Dallas hit a couple of posts, and he got himself into a bit of trouble (including the lone goal against) with his indecision with the puck, but he was still incredible. His lateral movement was as strong as I’ve ever seen, he was square with the shooter every time, his rebound control was sound, and he was strong along the ice. If the Canucks are hoping to showcase this kid for an eventual trade, I’d save tape of this game. He soundly outplayed twoNHL goaltenders and was rightly named the game’s first star.
  • My only quibble with Schneider: his nickname. In the blogosphere, folks are calling him Ginger Jesus. I don’t like it. I’ve been racking my brain for a better nickname, but the only redheaded goalie I remember is Archie Andrews, who played goal for Riverdale High in many a strip. (In a classic, Betty & Veronica go to see him play, not knowing he’s the goalie, and when they can’t find him–due to the mask he’s wearing and because they’re dumb girls–they leave.) Anyway, Archie’s nemesis Reggie often called him Frecklesnoot. Let’s go with that.
  • As the calendar year ends, it was nice of Marc Crawford to remind us that one thing will never change: he will always, always have the worst hair in hockey. He looks like he killed a hedgehog and glued it to his scalp. Someone needs to find the stylist who keeps dying only the top and not the sides of his hair, then gingerly feathering it, then slicking it back, and convince them to pick a new career.
  • It’s no surprise that Alain Vigneault’s shutdown pairing munched the big minutes against an offensive machine like Dallas. Bieksa and Hamhuis skated for over twenty-three minutes each. In that time, Hamhuis had 1 assist, 3 shots, 3 blocks (including one that surely saved a goal), and 2 hits; Bieksa scored a goal and added an assist to go with 2 blocks, a hit and a takeaway. The pair was shaky at times (Hamhuis had 3 giveaways), but the Canucks don’t win without their contributions.
  • It was a rare rough night in the faceoff circle, as the Canucks lost 35 of 58 draws, and only Ryan Kesler finished at 50%. Henrik Sedin, who really is hot or cold in the faceoff circle, was colder than supercooled beer, at a frosty 3-for-12, including 0-for-6 in the defensive zone. If you’re wondering why you hardly noticed the Sedins at even strength, it’s because they spent the whole game scrambling to get the puck out of their zone after Henrik lost the draw.
  • I heard Grumpy Old Man Gallagher on the Team 1040 today complaining about the Sedins, as he often does. He grumbled that Henrik and Daniel are points machines, even when they don’t play particularly well. He was probably pulling his hair out tonight when the Sedins did exactly that, by putting up a goal and an assist each while playing badly, for the most part. Somebody needs to remind him that points are awarded when your team scores goals, and the team with the most goals wins hockey games.
  • That said, the Sedins helped Vancouver put this one away early by engineering two very similar power play goals (one above, the other here). Along with Torres’s solo rush, they came suddenly, and were major momentum killers. On the opening goal, Henrik whiffs on the pass, but Karlas Skrastins is so busy fighting with Ryan Kesler he doesn’t even see the puck until it trickles to Daniel. Vancouver’s power play went 3-for-6 tonight.
  • Poor Kesler. Though his work in front of the net on the two power play goals might have deserved an assist, he didn’t get one. His streak came to an end tonight, but that’s why they call it a streak: because, eventually, it stops. A streak that never stops is called a nudist colony.
  • Kesler will have to settle for the other streak of which he’s a major part: Vancouver’s 4-game win streak, which sees them finish 2010 with an NHL-best .708 win percentage.
  • In typical Raffi Torres fashion, he had a so-so night, but scored a goal on a sudden burst of skill against the flow of the play. He fought off a can opener from Karlas Skrastins and deked out Kari Lehtonen forty-seven seconds after the Canucks had opened the scoring.
  • Brad Richards had a message for the homers saying Kesler is the best player in the Western Conference. Something along the lines of: I am also good. He had 6 shots tonight, with another 5 missing the net and another 5 blocked. He looked dangerous every time he was on the ice, which was quite often. He played 23:41, more than any Canuck player, save Kevin Bieksa.
  • Keith Ballard had a strong game, finishing with 4 hits and 2 blocked shots. He had a respectable 16:29 of ice time, but consider the Canucks were up 4-0 going into the third. Vigneault also gave nearly ten minutes to the fourth line. Tanner Glass had 11:04.
  • Awesome Glass moment: after Jeff Woywitka horse-collared Alex Bolduc, Tanner Glass was the first man into the scrum, and can be seen quietly wailing on Woywitka before becoming lost in the mess of bodies.
  • What, exactly, was Jannik Hansen doing tonight that was making the Stars so mad? Stephane Robidas gave him two gloved punches with no regard for the penalty he was about to take. I can’t imagine Hansen chirping. He’s got the highest voice on the team. It’s like getting chirped by Kristen Schaal.
  • And finally, PITB would like to wish every Bulie from here to Australia a happy new year.
Dec 312010
 

Daniel and Henrik Sedin are fourth and fifth in league scoring, and Ryan Kesler is on pace for a 40-goal, Selke Trophy season. But superstars alone don’t win Stanley Cups. Champions need depth, and especially a dominant third line.

Consider the five Stanley Cup winners since the lockout, and their third lines.

Chicago: Dave Bolland, Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg
Pittsburgh: Jordan Staal, Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke
Detroit: Kris Draper, Dan Cleary and Dallas Drake
Anaheim: Travis Moen, Rob Niedermayer and Samuel Pahlsson
Carolina: Doug Weight, Mark Recchi and Ray Whitney

All five teams had hard-working third lines that could shut down the opposition and pop in clutch goals — pretty much everything Wellwood, Demitra and Bernier failed to do last spring.

Let’s pause for a moment’s gratitude those three are gone, and then meditate on their replacements.

Alain Vigneaut’s current incarnation of that third line has Malhotra between Torres and Samuelsson. Are they good enough?

Manny Malhotra

Manny Malhotra is a quietly effective two-way player, and the league’s second-best faceoff man at 63.5%. That skill is even more important in the playoffs, where winning a defensive-zone faceoff with 30 seconds line can mean the difference between pulling out a win or heading to the golf course.

And Manny has some offensive flair as well. Remember that shorthanded breakaway goal against Detroit?

Raffi Torres

Raffi Torres has been fondly described as a bowling ball, scattering defenders as he works the boards. Torres was named the NHL’s first star of the week on November 8 after five goals in four games. Since then, he’s fallen into a slump, and his -2 is the worst plus/minus of any Canucks who’s played over 25 games.

Mikael Samuelsson

Mikael Samuelsson may be this season’s greatest disappointment. After a 30-goal performance, he was a monster against the LA Kings, sniping 7 goals in the first round.

Despite starting the season with the twins, he was unable to capitalize and sunk to the second, and then the third line. (He may be the team’s fourth-leading scorer, but only because Burrows, Raymond and Tambellini have played fewer games.)

Even worse, Samuelsson’s been prone to making brutal giveaways, like this one leading to Daniel Briere’s goal on Tuesday.

Then again, Samuelsson has the greatest upside of the third line members. If he ever finds his shot (and his brain) again, he has the ability to take over a game and even a series.

Is the third line good enough? It can be. It all depends on two streaky players coming into their own at the opportune moment.

Let’s hope Torres and Samuelsson are banking the magic for springtime.

Dec 272010
 

[I Watched This Game is a recurring feature at Pass it to Bulis, the hockey blog that knows who needs the puck. It chronicles the insights and observations of two guys who watched a hockey game. To view all the other wonderful stuff PITB does, visit Pass It To Bulis.]

A couple days ago on Puck Daddy, Justin Bourne wrote about the dreaded post-Christmas game, and suggested that hockey fans “be sure to set [the] DVR for ‘anything but NHL hockey’ on Dec. 26 and 27″ as players work off their Christmas hams and turkeys with lethargic play. Instead, both the Canucks and Oilers came out flying in a fairly wide-open hockey game. The Canucks carried the bulk of the play, out-shooting the Oilers 33-21, but Khabibulin put up a wall, the Oilers were opportunistic with their chances, and the Canucks had to come from behind to win this one.

I wasn’t worried for an instant: as everyone knows, the two-goal lead is the worst lead in hockey. As soon as the Oilers went up 2-0, I knew the Canucks had this game in the bag. Despite such foreknowledge, I watched this entire game:

  • Last Boxing Day, Jeff Tambellini sat in the press box at Madison Square Garden, a healthy scratch while his New York Islanders eked out an overtime victory against the Rangers. Three nights later, he would get 12:27 of icetime in his first game in three weeks before heading right back in the press box for the next game. In the new year, he would play one game in January, two more in February, and finish the season in and out of the press box, without a goal since November 23rd in Toronto. That offseason, the worst team in the NHL let him walk without much consideration, and they’re probably the only ones who are even remotely sore about it. Tamby got picked up by his hometown team, and his luck changed dramatically. Tonight, he scored a vital goal on his patented high wrister, had another waved off, and buzzed around the offensive and defensive zones making big plays (including a huge backcheck on a 2-on-1). Give the kid credit for an incredible turnaround.
  • The Biggest Idiot Ever award goes to the two fans sitting behind the Oilers’ net in the 1st and 3rd period who couldn’t seem to refrain from banging their hands on the glass ALL. NIGHT. LONG. Pro Tip: when you do that, your team does not get a brief turbo boost.
  • The First Law of Sedinery: if a game is tied late in the third period, and the Sedins have not yet factored into a goal, they’ll soon factor into the game-winner. Both Sedins had strong games, creating multiple scoring chances, including a perfect setup for Andrew Alberts in the slot. Unfortunately, it was a perfect setup for Andrew Alberts in the slot.
  • The fourth line had only one shift after the complete collapse that led to the Oilers’ first goal, leaving both Aaron Volpatti and Alexandre Bolduc with under 5 minutes in total time-on-ice. The only reason Tanner Glass had more is because he was used once in a penalty killing role in the third period. Most, if not all, of the blame has to be given to Volpatti, who completely mishandled a pass from Glass, giving it away to O’Marra at the blueline, then failing to follow O’Marra to the net to prevent him from putting the puck in the open net. We’re only a few games removed from Volpatti scoring his first NHL goal and the fourth line being praised for finally existing, but that is the kind of play that could see Volpatti on a plane to Manitoba.
  • Cory Schneider only made 19 saves tonight, but made several tough stops off of odd-man rushes. It’s dangerous to give a young, hungry team like the Oilers so many odd-man rushes. It’s also dangerous to give slightly older, well-fed players like Ryan Whitney an odd-man rush: Schneider had less of a chance on his goal than Brian Herzlinger with Drew Barrymore.
  • Manny Malhotra had his usual strong defensive game, going an astonishing 83% in the faceoff circle and logging almost 2 minutes of time on the penalty kill, but he also showed some offensive flourish, with 3 shots and an assist. His most impressive moment came towards the end of the second period, just before Tambellini scored, as he split the defense and forced Khabibulin to make a solid save. He just needs a browncoat, pistol, and a more accurate shot to upgrade from Alternate Captain Mal to Captain Mal.
  • With an assist on Tambellini’s goal, Kesler extended his point streak to 7 games. He has 11 points in that span. Only 17 more games and 35 more points to catch Crosby!
  • That said, did Kesler forget how to turn right on the Tambellini goal? After cutting across the blue line to drop the puck, he does a full spin to get back into position for a return feed. A simple right turn would have sufficed. Does he think he’s Derek Zoolander? Perhaps.
  • Speaking of Kesler, both he and Henrik were terrible on faceoffs tonight at 33% and 32% respectively. Against a better team, that could have been disastrous. Meanwhile, Alexandre Bolduc was 100% on draws; too bad he only took 3 of them. Still, Ducer (pronounced “dük-er” and yes, that’s apparently what his teammates call him) is a solid 55.9% for the season.
  • Remember when it was safe to go to the outside on a Canucks defenseman? Remember that? It’s no longer the case. I am happy about that.
  • I’m often hard on Raffi Torres for his poor puck decisions and bizarre pass attempts, but his assist on Samuelsson’s goal was pretty fantastic. Also pretty fantastic? Dr. Doom riding a unicorn. Missing from that replay is Keith Ballard’s excellent work at gaining the blue line and going hard to the net. After getting the puck to the corner, he rotates back to the point, where Mikael Samuelsson was covering him. Samuelsson stealthily glides into the slot and no one thinks to pick him up because of the rotation between he and Ballard. Shorty even yells “There’s Samuelsson!” as if he had no idea where he was either. He was probably hiding under an invisibility cloak.
  • Speaking of Ballard, it’s tempting to yet again question AV’s decisions with time-on-ice as Ballard yet again played under 14 minutes. But when Edler, Ehrhoff, Hamhuis, and Bieksa are playing so well ahead of him and eating up big minutes…well, there’s only so much time to go around. Bieksa-haters may want to argue that Ballard should get his minutes; this wasn’t the game to make that argument.
  • Bieksa’s game-winning goal, seen above, comes unsurprisingly off some fantastic work below the goal-line by Henrik Sedin. Despite being “hauled down” by Taylor Hall, he manages to hook the puck behind the net to Alex Burrows from his back. Burrows smartly waits for Daniel to crash the net before feeding the puck to Bieksa at the point. Bieksa does not have the heavy shot of Edler or Ehrhoff, but he consistently gets his shots on net and manages to thread the needle through the haystack of bodies in front of Khabibulin. It’s a perfect shot: about a foot and a half above the ice, just off the inside post.
Dec 242010
 

[I Watched This Game is a recurring feature at Pass it to Bulis, the hockey blog that knows who needs the puck. It chronicles the insights and observations of two guys who watched a hockey game. To view all the other wonderful stuff PITB does, visit Pass It To Bulis.]

Less than twenty-four hours after a high-octane skillfest with one of the NHL’s elite teams in one of the NHL’s elite hockey markets, the Canucks were sentenced to an evening in Columbus. There was concern that this game could be something of a trap game, as Vancouver realistically couldn’t have much left to give after yesterday’s tilt, and also because it’s literally impossible to be excited about a trip to Ohio. Yet somehow, the Canucks came out like gangbusters, making crisp passes and scoring seemingly at will; they had this one sewn up before the end of the first period. It was refreshing to see the Vancouver crush an opponent, especially after we saw what they were capable of a day earlier in Detroit–and Columbus ain’t Detroit. The Canucks put on a clinic last night and, much like the Blue Jackets, I watched this game:

  • We’ve talked about the Sedins’ frustrating ability to put up 4 points between them without controlling the game, so it’s always nice to see them decimate and demoralize an opponent with with their Wizardous Sedinerie. They were unrelenting last night, and the Blue Jackets looked downright hapless defending them. The opening goal was an excellent example, as Henrik Sedin lost the draw, but still managed to poke it to Daniel in front of the net. The Blue Jackets never got organized, and while Daniel’s shot didn’t go in, the line was already onto Plan B. This is something I love about the Sedins: once they have a team on their heels, they just push and push until the puck’s in the net.
  • I love Shorty’s call on the second goal: “Somebody start singing Sweet Georgia Brown, it’s 2-0!” If you’re wondering, Sweet Georgia Brown is the Harlem Globetrotters theme, but it was first recorded in 1925 by bandleader Ben Bernie. Somedays, I wonder how Bernie would feel knowing his tune had been adopted as the theme song of a swarm of emasculating, glory-hogging showboaters. I tell you, if my music ever becomes synonymous with bad sportsmanship, let me die.
  • Raffi Torres is an enigmatic dude. He’s talented enough to score 20 goals in a season, despite being not smart with the puck. Raffi got halfway to 20 on Thursday night with a two-goal performance, both on fabulous tip plays, and I’ve said it before: Torres tips like the waitress is pregnant. He tips like he’s the star of It Could Happen to You with Nic Cage and Bridget Fonda. Raffi’s the best tipper on the team–maybe one of the best in the league–and if you give him a waist-level puck, he’ll prove it in a hurry. Because of his goofy puck decisions, Torres lost his spot on the second unit powerplay to Jeff Tambellini awhile back, but he’ll win it back every time he reminds the coaching staff how good at redirecting pucks he is. I suspect, after Christmas, he’ll be back on the unit.
  • While we’re talking about the second Torres goal, let’s take a moment to realize how little Columbus cares at this point. When it lands in the back of the net, it’s like one of those improv flash mobs that freezes at a train station. Nobody moves, and nobody seems to care. Mason’s a butterfly goaltender and he’s standing straight up like Kirk McLean. Marc Methot looks like he’s still waiting for the referee to drop the puck. Did someone slip these guys a roofie? If someone’s sitting on a stash of Rohypnol, now might be a good time to give one to every fan still in the stadium.
  • Before I forget, the Henrik and Daniel combined for two more goals, (this one and the crazy one above) finishing with 4 and 3 points, respectively. What’s incredible to me is that they only played 15 minutes of the game. Even more interesting, though, is that their icetime wasn’t severely reduced in the third. They played about five minutes of every period, meaning Vigneault was already resting them by the first.
  • If I have one gripe, it’s Shorty and Garret’s broken promise: on the third goal, Garrett begs Shorty to use the Sweet Georgia Brown line again, and Shorty says he’ll use it later. Then, later, the Sedins give him the perfect opportunity with their fourth display of wizardous sedinerie. Instead of doing what he said, Shorty just laughs incredulously. You promised.
  • Even despite the gimme game, Vigneault found a way to make some curious decisions with his icetime. As a result of the game’s lopsidedness, Keith Ballard played eighteen minutes, but before you applaud the extra minutes, realize Andrew Alberts played over twenty. Vineault’s just rubbing his nose in it! Now, some of this had to do with resting his top players, as Christian Ehrhoff and Alex Edler were the game’s low-minute pairing, finishing with eighteen minutes and seventeen minutes, respectively. But nothing makes sense when realize Kevin Bieksa still skated for a team-high 22:05. If somebody can tell me why Vigneault hates Keith Ballard and loves Kevin Bieksa so much, I’d like to know, so I can emulate it. Perhaps it’s a fragrance? We’re often very unaware of the ramifications of our odours. Someone tell Keith Ballard he smells.
  • Maybe Vigneault was just showcasing Bieksa for those people in the crowd who looked identical to him. The one guy looked like he could be Kevin’s twin brother. He must have been a scout.
  • Dan Hamhuis had four shots in the first period, and holy cow, has this guy suddenly come alive. Hammy was flying in the opening frame, pinching like a madman, keeping the puck in the offensive zone, and stepping in off the blueline to wire shots. Every time Columbus thought they were about to alleviate the pressure, Hamhuis sent them wheeling back into their zone. He finished the night with one assist, but if he plays like that, he’s got a pretty good chance to get two assists.
  • Ryan Kesler’s point streak is now at 6 games, and he’s got 10 points in that span, and 15 points in the month of December. He’s scoring like every night is prom night. Kesler had 1 goal, 2 shots, a game-high 5 hits, and 2 takeaways (i.e, an awesome stat line), and if we’re being realistic, he’s the reason this team has the best win percentage in the Western Conference. The Sedins are so good that any opponent’s game plan is to stop them (hence, when the team gives up, the Sedins score a billion points). But if you do stop Daniel and Henrik, you’ve got a point-a-game center coming on the ice afterwards. That’s tough to stop, and it’s a luxury fans should celebrate. Vancouver has two of the best centers in the NHL; the best center in Toronto, on the other hand, is the YMCA.
  • Let’s give credit to Jannik Hansen, who appears to have stolen somebody else’s hands. I saw this episode of Futurama. More than likely, somebody took Daniel’s advice and gave him some lotion for Christmas, which he used it to soften up his hands. Impressive; that’s not what I would have done with it.
  • Cory Schneider played well, but who cares? Chris Levesque could have won this game. Hey, has anybody ever seen that movie The Big Green? Doesn’t Schneider kind of look like the goalie in that?
  • And finally, Bulie @beninvictoria pointed this out: Jeff Tambellini needs 3 more points to break his career season high. it took him 65 games last year, 18 so far this year. Not since the Micro Machines guy have I seen a man burn through points at such an accelerated rate.
Dec 122010
 

[I Watched This Game is a recurring feature at Pass it to Bulis, the hockey blog that knows who needs the puck. It chronicles the insights and observations of two guys who watched a hockey game. To view this post and other foolishness insightful takes on the Canucks and the NHL, visit Pass It To Bulis.]

So I don’t think the Tampa Bay Lightning realize they were supposed to treat this game like a ceremonial faceoff: show up, smile for a photo, then stand back while Henrik Sedin picks up the puck and hands it to the Queen. It should have been fairly simple. Instead, the Lightning came out trying to win, and did, which I found completely classless. Somebody needs to delicately tell them they ruined a fabulous night. I watched this game:

  • A lot of people are going to want to pin this loss on Cory Schneider. Let them.] Ignore the pundits eager to criticize his infrequent usage, eager to pin this on coaching and continue to innocently plant the seeds of a goaltending controversy. The Canucks outplayed the Lightning and needed a few stops to make sure the final score reflected that. If Luongo never gets a pass (and he never does), then let it be so for all Canuck goaltenders. Schneider didn’t look so good on a few of these goals; he needs and has the capability to be better. So what if it had been nine games since his last start? He was slotted, at the season’s outset, to start every fourth or fifth game. With a nine-game break, he actually only missed one start. Players miss starts. They’re still expected to be good when they get back in. Schneider did make a couple of very impressive saves, including a brilliant toe kick early in the first period that made me think, maybe, he was going to have Stamkos’s number. It was not meant to be.
  • Steven Stamkos is pretty good at hockey, don’t you think? If I was picking teams, and he was one of the guys waiting to be picked for some reason, I’d pick him pretty early on. Stamkos had 3 points last night, including the game-winner on an incredible one-timer. The last time I saw a shot that unstoppable, I ignored the desperate pleadings of everyone at my intervention and I drank it.
  • How to explain this loss? I’ll tell you what happened: The Lightning saw Brian Burke in attendance, and assumed this was a winnable game. Zing.
  • How badly did the Canucks miss Christian Ehrhoff? Ehrhoff facilitates more breakouts than the grill at McDonald’s, and Vancouver could have used him on more than a few clunky-looking rushes. Realizing the importance of his contributions for the first time, I spent the whole night humming Big Yellow Taxi. The Hoff was especially missed on the powerplay, where the five-man unit was sorely lacking in a guy who does what he does. Dan Hamhuis, his replacement, did different things, and unfortunately, those things were counterproductive.
  • Alain Vigneault would be forgiven for bumping Kevin Bieksa to that top special teams unit. Bieksa is a good puckhandler, and nobody on the Canucks pinches along the boards better. But I wouldn’t recommend it. Bieksa’s shot isn’t overly threatening; his presence would allow defenders to shade off of him and attack the open passing lanes this unit exploits so well. Rather, this might be Keith Ballard’s best opportunity to show what he can do. His end-to-end rush that resulted in the game-tying goal was, while a bit of a softie, an impressive display of offense and skating from a defenseman who has yet to fully convince his coach of his skill level. Ignore the terrifying fact that Cory Schneider has as many points as he does; Ballard’s been exploding out from behind the net for a few games now in a way that only Christian Ehrhoff could emulate. What other Ehrhoffian traits does he possess?
  • Andrew Alberts’ return to the lineup coincided with a suspicious upstick in team hittiness. The Canucks had 23 hits to Tampa’s 13. My theory: Alberts is an instigator of violence, akin to Mookie from Do the Right Thing. Keep him away from Brooklyn, trash cans, and Italian restaurant windows.
  • The Markus Naslund retirement ceremony was a thing of beauty, and done with penultimate class, but who expected Nazzy to talk for that long? We’ve come to expect brevity from him. Instead, we discovered that Markus Naslund is, like any other retired father, prone to rambling. That said, his reunion with the Vancouver fans still seemed much too short. We needed a left winger last night. He should have just played.
  • Best tie of the night goes to former Canuck goaltender Dan Cloutier. Daniel suggested Alain Vigneault was sporting some pretty spiffy neckwear as well, but my wife insisted, “Cloutier never won anything; let him have this one.”
  • Mason Raymond’s absence was felt yet again. Even when he’s not scoring, he’s a threat to do so, and it gives Ryan Kesler a bit more space to work with. Kes was going full tilt in the opening frame, but once the Lightning realized he was doing it alone, they smothered him like an only child. Related: Kesler never gets through with those bullish sprints up the middle, but I hope he never stops.
  • The Canucks won 64% of faceoffs, led by Manny Malhotra winning 14 of 19, including 9 of 10 in the neutral zone. Henrik went 11-for-19 and Kesler 11-for-16. The dirty underbelly of this stat? The Canucks only won 5 of 12 in the defensive zone, thereby failing to take advantage of their faceoff superiority by giving up possession on their defensive zone starts too often. Alex Bolduc lost all three faceoffs he took, by the way.
  • Food for thought: Manny Malhotra finished minus-1 and only won 1 defensive zone faceoff. As the Canucks’ defensive center, you’d have to call this a bad game for him. Despite scoring a goal, he didn’t do the things he’s in the lineup to do.
  • Spend a shift or two watching Raffi Torres. He makes some bizarre decisions with and without the puck. He makes cross-ice passes that suddenly end promising odd-man rushes. He puts himself out of position to make needless (albeit sweet) hits. In one instance, he tried to one-time a puck that was bouncing like Li’l Bow Wow on roller skates. My favourite Torres moment: when he sat down in the box after a first period penalty, the camera caught a nearby lady in a Bertuzzi jersey (with a Degrassi haircut) give him an amorous eyebrow raise. You know what they say about a guy with big eyes.
  • Ron Maclean still thinks it’s Mardi Gras. During the first intermission, he talked about how Guy Bocuher doesn’t focus enough on threesomes. Not everyone is into your kink, Maclean.
  • I actually really enjoyed the broadcast team last night. Mark Lee’s vocabulary was incredibly entertaining, and Weekes is steadily improving as a commentator. My wife: didn’t Kevin Weekes used to play goalie for the Canucks? Us: Kind of.
  • Before you lament the lost point, consider that the Canucks made an impressive comeback to get one. Furthermore, consider that comeback was led by two distinct instances of Wizardous Sedinerie. As the broadcast team showed Henrik’s goal (above) is scored on a shot so accurate it bent the space-time continuum.
Dec 042010
 

This is Luongo’s BEAUTIFUL poetry that appeared on TSN in the intermission of last night’s game.

He then shutout the Hawks in a mesmerizing performance.

It brings a tear. Maybe he should write a whole book of poetry right before the playoffs. Maybe that’s what has been missing in the Canucks dressing room the past couple of seasons.

The guys should have a poetry night before they hit the ice.

Sami Salo: “Yearning for a titanium body”

Alex Burrows: “1 Sedin 2 Sedin 3 Sedin GOAL!”

Mikael Samuelsson: “G is for goalie F is for forward Y is for yonder Sweden”

Raffi Torres: “I Really Hate That Baby Beluga Song”

Hank Sedin: “Shall I compare you to a shiny trophy?”

Ryan Kesler: “Underwear model to Selke Trophy winner”

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