Dec 112010
 

[Every weekend, Canucks Hockey Blog goes out of town as Tom Wakefield (@tomwakefield88) posts his thoughts on what's happening around the NHL.]

Bob Gainey, Montreal Canadiens

It’s hard to imagine Bob Gainey laughing.

A Google image search confirms even smiles are hard-fought, often-lost battles in the corners of his mouth.

Yet Bob Gainey has a lot to smile and laugh about.

This Montreal Canadiens team – a team he essentially re-built in the summer of 2009, then handed off to current GM Pierre Gauthier – is a pretty good one.

Making things all-the-more sweet is that Gainey essentially built this team in the face of constant criticism. Critics said his team was too small; that it wasn’t French enough; that Jacques Martin couldn’t coach offense; and that Carey Price could never find permanent success. Gainey said thank you very much, weathered the media storm and built a quick, counter-attack team full of character.

Today, this is a team that believes in each other, its system, and its coaching staff. They honour the great teams of Montreal’s past through their sacrifice, resilience and tempo of play. Mike Cammalleri’s Cup contender assertion is simply another indication that there’s a confidence amongst Habs players that hasn’t existed in some time.

Whether Cammy’s right or not remains to be seen. The team could use another game-breaker, and the loss of Andrei Markov is a significant one.

But there are some championship qualities to be found here if one looks closely enough.

And those are qualities Bob Gainey brought to the team before he stepped away.

THOUGHTS ON THE FLY

  • You would think the return of Mario Lemieux to the ice, even if it’s for an alumni game, would be exciting. But does anyone else remember how boring the Oilers-Habs alumni game was in the original Heritage Classic? After the initial player introductions and the magic of playing outdoors subsided, all we were left with was rusty retirees scrimmaging duly. Anyways, the Penguins and Capitals alumni are squaring off the day before the 2011 NHL Winter Classic. With Paul Coffey, Bill Guerin, Ron Francis and Bryan Trottier all playing, put your money on the Pittsburgh home team.
  • Puck Daddy reports 23 busloads of “Nordiques Nation” fans are making the trip from Quebec to New York to see the Islanders host the Atlanta Thrashers.
  • It will be interesting to see how losing Mark Stuart for 4-6 weeks will impact the Boston Bruins. He’s an underrated blueliner.
  • Yet another reason why the Leafs are struggling. Tomas Kaberle’s next goal will be his first of the year. If he’s not contributing offense, he’s not contributing anything.
  • The Buffalo Sabres are alive and well after a slow start to the year. One reason: Thomas Vanek’s found his A-game.
  • Speaking of the Sabres, Shaone Morrisonn is out for awhile with concussion symptoms. This is another opportunity for Chris Butler to show he belongs.
  • Word in Chicago is that injured players Marian Hossa, Fernando Pisani and Patrick Kane could all be back sooner than expected. To possibly fill the void until they return, the Blackhawks have signed former Canuck Ryan Johnson to a tryout contract.
  • Speaking of the ‘Hawks, why did they sign Marty Turco again? Corey Crawford is two wins away from tying the team record for most consecutive wins by a goaltender.
  • Slowly but surely, David Booth is coming around for the Florida Panthers. The thing is, for a team dedicated to rebuilding, is it smart to make a player with a history of concussions a franchise centerpiece?
  • No surprises here: the oft-injured Kari Lehtonen is having back trouble in Dallas. Good thing for them Andrew Raycroft has played pretty well this year.
  • Matt Duchene has created a Twitter account to generate interest in the team. Not to be cynical, but there’s a 50% chance that’s code for “meeting girls on road trips.”
  • Quietly, Jeff Woywitka has been a solid, defensive presence for the Dallas Stars.
  • If ever there was a time for Edmonton’s Sam Gagner to take the next step forward and demonstrate he can be an elite player in the NHL, it’s now, with Shawn Horcoff out for an extended period.
  • Excuse me, Part 1: What type of goal was that again, Craig Laughlin?
  • Excuse me, Part 2: Remember, you can’t actually buy waffles at the Air Canada Centre. You have to smuggle them in. Please let this become a tradition.
  • In honour of CBC’s 3D coverage this weekend, Down Goes Brown provides a technology guide for hockey fans.
  • Why the Ottawa Senators are a mess, reason #346: Tough to move under-performing, over-priced veterans in today’s salary cap era. Even if the team can find a buyer for Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Gonchar isn’t going anywhere soon.
  • The loss of Andy McDonald (concussion) probably kills the St. Louis Blues chances of making the playoffs. Reports suggest the team is looking to salvage the season through a trade, with Travis Zajac, Stephen Weiss and Matt Moulson the potential targets.
Feb 122010
 

Where to start with this guy. I for one was his biggest fan to start the season, and still would gladly get a Johnson #10 jersey but the man’s stock has been falling and on a bottom six that is under the microscope of every arm chair GM and Canucks fan his play has stood out even more, for the wrong reasons. Granted due to his shot blocking antics he has missed games due to injury, there’s something else up with RyJo this season.

I think simply put RyJo has lost some of his mojo. I’m not sure how else to word it. He’s looked out of sync now for the better part of the season and with the bottom six getting so much attention from everyone due to their inconsistent and sub par play when he has been in the lineup he’s not standing out as the 4th line center he stood out as last year.

For a guy who doesn’t bring a lot of offence, as a role player he becomes even more important because if he’s not playing his role he’s not doing very much for the team. On a penalty kill that Ryan Johnson was once the staple of has now been identified as Kesler and Burrows’ and on that same penalty kill that has struggled the role of Ryan Johnson has stood out even more due to his lack of, well anything.

Since coming from St. Louis he’s seen his offensive numbers dip considerably, and this season through 40 games has a whopping 10 shots. He’s looked out of sync on a fourth line that has been host to under achievers like Hordichuk, and a rotating Bernier who’s seen time on both lines in the bottom six. Johnson’s still trying to block shots, but you have to imagine that the 33 year old’s body is catching up to his game. With the likes of Burrows and Kesler who are becoming regular shot blockers, Johnson’s got to try and fall back into sync. He just doesn’t look like the same player he did last year and after about 60 games it’s time to start noticing.

Johnson’s gone from 80+ shots a season but two years ago, to exactly 10 this year. He takes the second most faceoffs on the team. His faceoff number are up, but that’s of little consolation when he’s expected to be one of the more consistent players on the bottom six. Johnson, as a package, comes as a shot blocking, grinding, gritty, penalty killing specialist. So far apart from his faceoffs won this year he’s struggled and the only plausible conclusion seems to be that his body is finally catching up with him. It’s pretty clear that this season is going to see a revamped bottom six and with the guy a free agent this off season I wouldn’t be surprised if he was gone.

RyJo plays a risky kind of hockey, he’s gutsy, ballsy, and plain stupid with some of the blocks he makes (I watched him at GM Place dive head first to block a shot in an earlier game this season against Detroit). He’s a player that has little else to offer the team and and out of step Johnson, on an underachieving and under performing bottom six is reason for second thought.

Apr 202009
 

In these playoffs it’s clear that the Canucks need to be firing on all cylinders. Everyone talks about the Sedins needing to step it up. They talk about Luongo needing to be on top of his game, but there’s one thing that can really be the X-Factor for this year’s Canucks playoff run and it is the play of 4 players. Particularly it is the 3rd line and Ryan Johnson.

Coming off game three where the Canucks faced their biggest challenge in a first period throttling that saw them spend half the period on the penalty kill. That’s where the X Factor shone brightest. Johnson in particular was key to shutting down the Blues and literally surviving a first period that could have broke the game wide open and let St. Louis back into the series.

If the Canucks plan on going far in this year’s playoffs they are going to need something that they haven’t had all season, that X Factor, the third line. In the first 3 games of the playoffs so far it’s been overwhelmingly clear that the Canucks have come to play. With a handful of Canucks playing in their first career playoffs the excitement hasn’t dried up yet and that’s really paying off for the Canucks.

Bernier has been showing hustle and speed that no one thought possible from him due to his play in the regular season. Raymond who we all knew could skate like the wind has been winning most races to the puck, especially on the penalty kill, and Wellwood’s play has improved exponentially since the Canucks played game one. Also, Rypien who’s been energized from his first game back is silently doing his thing. This third line is playing better than it has all year and I think that’s showing because Vigneault isn’t splitting them up very much.

Bernier’s quick reflexes got him a goal last night against the Blues as he handled a sweet, quick pass from Sedin to put it behind Mason who had no chance at all. Raymond and Wellwood along with Bernier are the key to a long run. When you look at the way the Sedins have made a statement, the way Kesler and Burrows have played as of late, and the leadership in the tending of Luongo, the last piece of the puzzle is if that third line of Bernier, Raymond and Wellwood can pull it together and play as consistently as they have recently. Wellwood’s itching for a goal and with the way he’s playing it’s only time before he gets one in the back of the net.

With primary scoring all figured out, Luongo looking more amazing than ever, and a defense that has once again regained its edge, we’re looking at a Canucks team that is more dangerous than this city has seen in years. With the energy and speed the 3rd line has been playing with, and the clutch play of Ryan Johnson both in the faceoff dot and on the ice (shot blocking) right now the Canucks look to be without flaw as they head into tomorrow night with a chance to sweep the Blues at home and record their first every best of 7 series playoff sweep.

The Canucks will go tomorrow for their 7th consecutive win, and have never swept a best-of-7 playoff series. They have one sweep in their franchise’s history and that was back in ’82 when the Canucks beat the Flames 3 games to none.

Apr 202009
 
Jan 092009
 
Nov 262008
 
Sep 242008
 

The Crazy Canucks podcast crew were guests of the Vancouver Canucks in suite 519 last night. Needless to say, it was an excellent experience and it gave John, Rebecca, Dave, Alanah and I all an opportunity to meet the team’s marketing group and brainstorm on potential partnerships this season. (Plus, the popcorn was damn good.)

It also gave me a chance to form some first impressions on the Canucks.

  • I don’t know if it’s the players or their system, but the Canucks looked faster in their first two preseason games. They made a lot of plays off the rush – quite impressive really.
  • Jannik Hansen should make this team. A lot of the hype has been on Cody Hodgson and Michael Grabner thus far this preseason, but after a couple of seasons with the Moose, Hansen looks like he’s ready for full-time NHL duty. Good speed, good two-way play, decent hands and very versatile. If you remember his brief appearance in the 2007 playoffs, he did fine on a checking line with Ryan Kesler. Last night, he was on a scoring line with Henrik Sedin and Michael Grabner and didn’t look out of place. He also made a helluva move to get the puck to Grabner on Grabner’s game-winning goal.
  • Michael Grabner showed a lot of top-flight upside. He has speeds, he has hands and great offensive instincts. Really, the only question mark on Grabner is if he can showcase those, not only on a game-by-game basis but on a shift-by-shift one.
  • It’s easy to see Cody Hodgson’s upside. He sees the ice well and has very good poise for an 18-year old. I’m sure I’ll have more on him as the preseason goes on.
  • Yann Sauve reminds me of where Luc Bourdon (RIP) was in 2006. He obviously has some upside but just has to learn to put it together. He was regularly out of position tonight and would benefit from going back to junior plus a couple of years in the minors.
  • I was really impressed with the Alex Burrows-Ryan Johnson-Darcy Hordichuk line. Not just because of Hordichuk’s goal but also because they did well as a checking line. This bodes well for the Canucks if Ryan Kesler somehow manages to work his way to one of the top two scoring lines.
  • Steve Bernier put in a Pierre McGuire monster performance. If he plays big and aggresive every night like he did last night, the Canucks may have the power forward they’ve been looking for for the last two years.
  • I liked Lukas Krajicek’s play. Very solid kinda like before his injury last year. If he keeps this up, the Canucks will have some big decisions to make on defense.
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