Sep 302013
 

On the eve of the start of the 2013/2014 NHL regular season, I preview the 30 teams, one division at a time.

Kings vs Sharks

Photo credit: Sportsnet

Anaheim Ducks

The Good

With newly-acquired Jakob Silfverberg, Kyle Palmieri, Nick Bonino, Emerson Etem, Cam Fowler, Luca Sbisa and Sami Vatanen, the Ducks have a lot of good, young players in their system.

The Bad

These kids will be good, but the Ducks may be expecting them to take on a lot more and much too soon.

The Outlook

After a strong start to the 2012/2013 season, the Ducks faded down the stretch and lost to the no. 7 seed, the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs. If the kids can perform over an 82-game season like they did in the first 30 games of the shortened season, they’ll make the playoffs. But that’s a big if.

*****

Calgary Flames

The Good

After years of confusion – should they go for it or should they go on a rebuild – Brian Burke, the Flames’ new President of Hockey Operations, should now give the organization some sense of direction. And that direction is a rebuild.

The Bad

It’ll be a long year in Calgary. Sven Baertschi, Mikael Backlund, Max Reinhart and Sean Monahan provide some hope up front, but the cupboard is otherwise barren. It’s the same in the back end where they have Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie, but not much else.

The Outlook

By the time this season is all over and done with, the Flames may well be in a position to draft Max’s brother, Sam, who currently sits no. 1 in the 2014 NHL Draft rankings.

*****

Edmonton Oilers

The Good

Aside from the injuries to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner, there’s a lot to like in Edmonton these days. Taylor Hall should make Team Canada in Sochi. Jordan Eberle should return to 30-goal form. Nail Yakupov is, quite simply, a helluva player. Meanwhile, David Perron and Boyd Gordon give the Oil some veteran help up front, and newly-minted captain, Andrew Ference, provides some much needed leadership and grit from the back end.

The Bad

Adding Ference and drafting Darnell Nurse was a start, but overall, the Oilers are still a small bunch. Incredibly skilled and talented, but small.

The Outlook

The Oilers’ speed and skill rank up there with the best in the league. A bit more tinkering and it’s not inconceivable that they make the post-season for the first time in 8 years. They’re that close.

*****

Los Angeles Kings

The Good

Like the Blackhawks, the Kings have enjoyed much post-season success recently and have managed to retain their core. With Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Justin Williams, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick all at their prime years and signed for a few more seasons, life should be good in La-la-land.

The Bad

Sadly for Canucks fans, I can’t think of any.

The Outlook

Sadly for Canucks fans, the Kings are positioned to remain one of the best in the West.

*****

Phoenix Coyotes

The Good

There’s finally some stability in the Coyotes’ ownership situation – or at least there is until they lose their first $50 million. Goaltender Mike Smith re-upped long-term, and so did defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Signing Mike Ribeiro will help the league’s 25th-ranked PP.

The Bad

Besides Ribeiro, and perhaps an improved Mikkel Boedker, the ‘Yotes don’t have a lot of offensive pop up front.

The Outlook

Smith will keep the Coyotes in most games, but unless they can improve on the NHL’s 21st-ranked offense, they’ll miss the postseason for the second consecutive season.

*****

San Jose Sharks

The Good

Logan Couture may have slowly surpassed Joe Thornton as the Sharks’ no. 1 center. And it’s saying something when Joe Thornton is your no. 2 center. Add Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, and promising rookie, Tomas Hertl, and the Sharks have some enviable depth up front.

The Bad

The defense isn’t as deep, and neither is their goaltending. In fact, it’s scary to think what would happen if goaltender Antti Niemi ever suffered an injury.

The Outlook

This could very well be the last kick at the can for Thornton, Marleau and Dan Boyle – long-serving Sharks who are all unrestricted free agents at season’s end.

*****

Vancouver Canucks

The Good

After 7 years of hearing the same message from head coach, Alain Vigneault, the Canucks fired AV and replaced him with the much more abrasive, John Tortorella. Torts vowed to play a more aggressive system and to make the Canucks a harder team to play against, which would be a welcome change to those of us who witnessed the passive and predictable system from the last couple of seasons.

The Bad

Besides the coach, the biggest change was in goal, where Roberto Luongo is, by virtue of Cory Schneider being traded to the New Jersey Devils, once again the Canucks’ no. 1 goaltender. Elsewhere, the Canucks simply tinkered and Torts will have to make lemonade from pretty much the same group of lemons AV had.

The Outlook

Despite the resounding pessimism present in Canucks Nation, the Canucks should be able to compete for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.

Jun 072013
 

In the 8th episode of CHB TV, Clay, J.J., Ed, and I drown our sorrows while breaking down the Canucks early exit. We also chat about our thoughts on the coaching situation… well… the fact there isn’t a coach let alone the situation.

I may have also been pretty darn depressed.

Notice – sorry for the Game of Thrones spoilers at the very end!

May 142013
 

With the first round of the 2013 NHL playoffs behind us, it’s time to talk about more important things, like who’s leading the CHB playoffs prediction pool – that would be the Victoria, who correctly predicted 5 of the series winners.

Here are our round two picks:

Western Conference

(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings

Clay: Chicago in 6. The Blackhawks have too much firepower and their forwards will overwhelm the Red Wings’ defence. Chicago may come out a bit rusty (given the 6 days between games) but they will shake it off quickly.

Victoria: Chicago in 7. It’ll go to 7 games because Jimmy Howard is the better goalie, but he’s not good enough to steal a series from a bunch of younger, hungrier Hawks.

@cherry_grant: I want to say Wings in 7, but I will instead say ‘Hawks in 6. Part of me hopes the Kings and the Wings win their series and eventually have to face off just for rhyme’s sake.

J.J.: Chicago in 5. I should know better than to underestimate the Wings, especially Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in the playoffs, but the Blackhawks just have way too much depth and firepower.

Matt: Chicago in 6. Three of Detroit’s wins over Anaheim came via OT. What does that tell you? It could be that this is a team that never gives up, but it can also tell you the Wings are a team that just barely made it to the second round. They’ll put up a good fight but this is the end of the road for Detroit.

(4) Los Angeles Kings vs. (6) San Jose Sharks

Clay: Kings in 6. While the Sharks dispatched the Canucks quickly, the Kings had a tougher first-round series yet also won four straight games. The Kings will be able to match the Sharks’ depth at forward and they have a stronger blue line. Look for the Kings to exert their will over the Sharks in this battle of California.

Victoria: Kings in 6. I’ve been attending a lot of Kings games and really can’t say enough how focused and calm they’ve been playing. Canucks laid down and gave up. Kings will not.

@cherry_grant: Kings. With genuinely no bitterness from being swept in the first round by the stinkin’ Sharks (okay, maybe a tiny bit of bitterness). I would rather see the Sharks win over the Kings (I think), but I just don’t see it, even though my last batch of picks proved my lack of psychic ability. (I won’t be sad to be wrong here.)

J.J.: Kings in 7. Kings started playing better as the playoffs rolled on. Who’ll dive more – Joe Thornton, Tommy Wingels or Dustin Brown?

Matt: San Jose in 7. My gut tells me that this is essentially a coin flip. Jonathan Quick has reemerged as the best goaltender in the playoffs after a woeful first two games, but this is a San Jose team that dispatched a bad Vancouver club with depth and terrific defense. Sound familiar?

Eastern Conference

(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (7) Ottawa Senators

Clay: I mentioned in the last round that Marc-Andre Fleury didn’t have to be awesome; he just had to be good. Well, it seems like he might not even be good enough to start this series. Regardless, the Penguins have too much firepower for the Senators and they will dispatch of the lone Canadian team left.

Victoria: Pittsburgh in 4. Pittsburgh in 4. The Senators just don’t have the talent depth of the Penguins. And also Gary Bettman will want to get rid of that last Canadian team quickly. ;)

@cherry_grant: Pittsburgh in 5. I feel like a traitor going against the Canadian team, but not QUITE enough to not go against the Canadian team. Pens > Sens.

J.J.: Pittsburgh in 6. I would love it if Ottawa made it through, and if Fleury was still in net for the Pens, I totally would have picked the Sens. As it stands, the Pens have gotten enough good goaltending from their backup, Tomas Vokoun, to allow the Pens’ offense to do their thing.

Matt: Pittsburgh in 7. I want badly to say the Senators can win this series, but unless the duo of Tomas Vokoun and Marc Andre Fleury have a meltdown between the pipes, I can’t see even this gutsy Sens team overcoming the Penguins’ power up front. It’ll be a war though.

(4) Boston Bruins vs. (6) New York Rangers

Clay: Rangers in 7. The Rangers are playing good hockey right now while the Bruins had to squeak into the second round. The Bruins’ blueline is beat up, and I expect this to be a low-scoring series, with Henrik Lundqvist out-dueling Tukka Rask in the end.

Victoria: Rangers in 6. My call here is based on the fact that Lundqvist is better than Rask, and the fact that I hate the Boston Bruins more than anything else in the universe.

@cherry_grant: Bruins in 6. I hope they pound each other terribly and the winner of this series gets swept in the next round. Just kidding. Ok, no I’m not. I’m still picking the Bruins.

J.J.: Rangers in 6. Hmmm… to pick the team that beat the Canucks in the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals or the team that beat the Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals? In the first round, the Rangers showed they have some damn good balance throughout their lineup; meanwhile, the Bruins got a bit beat up, especially back on d.

Matt: Rangers in 7. Boston should’ve handled the Leafs in five or six games but took all seven plus a miraculous comeback to put them to rest. New York is riding strong defense and hot goaltending and if that trend continues, the Rangers have reason to be optimistic.

May 082013
 

In this last TGATT of the season, we recap the Canucks’ final game of the season – a 4-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks.

Are you disappointed? Mad? Sad? Glad?

Some people drink to drown their sorrows, some eat salad. D’fferent strokes, I suppose.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

May 072013
 

The Vancouver Canucks are down three games to zero to the San Jose Sharks in their first-round NHL playoff match-up.  As they try to stave off elimination in this must-win game, I turned to my kids for their predictions.

Sean and Kayla are optimistic that the Canucks will still make this a competitive series, and they pulled out every sports cliche possible in expressing their optimism.

Meanwhile, Jacob took a more cynical approach as he worked in a few cliches and a bunch of thought-provoking questions regarding the Canucks’ future.

 

May 062013
 

Photo credit: Christian Petersen via NHL.com

So the Vancouver Canucks have lost the pivotal game two and the must-win game three.  Looking ahead to a pivotal must-win game four, there are a few Things That Make Me Go Hmmm.

The Goalie Conundrum

Well, wouldn’t you know it?  We’re possibly one game away from the end of the season and the story that became a story at this time last year is still a story.  Whether you agree with management’s (GM and coach) handling of the situation or not, you can’t deny that it’s been the number one story with the team this year.  So much so that people are talking more about the goaltending then they are about the team’s primary reason for being pushed to the brink of elimination: their inability to create enough good scoring chances.

Facing elimination, the Canucks need to start the goaltender that gives the skaters the most confidence that they can win the game.  And without a shadow of a doubt, that goaltender is Roberto Luongo.  He was solid in the first two games of the season before Schneider’s shaky return to the line-up.  Go back to Luongo and hope that the team plays lights-out in front of them.  And who knows, a strong playoff showing (even in defeat) wouldn’t hurt his trade value.  That is, if the Canucks are still trying to trade him.

Flipping the Switch

Many people have asked me over the last week, “What’s wrong with the Canucks?”  After lamenting the team’s scoring woes and my desire to see Keith Ballard in the line-up, I always say that it’s not as simple as just looking at the Vancouver Canucks.  You need to look at the San Jose Sharks as well.

It was ludicrous to think that the Canucks would simply “flip a switch” in the three days between the end of the regular season and the first playoff game and be back to a dominating team that would steamroll the competition.  This logic is mostly flawed because it doesn’t account for the team lining up across from the Canucks.

San Jose is a good team.  They have strong depth at forward, a solid (if non-descript) defense, and a strong goalie.  Also, they are well-coached and have strong special teams.  So Canucks fans can talk about flipping a switch all they want.  Just remember that San Jose has a switch too – and it seems to be working very well.

Staving Off Elimination

Get ready to hear the word “stave” dozens of times over the next couple of days.  While the Canucks look to stave off elimination, I wonder why more people don’t use the word more in every day conversation.  I think it’s a cool word…and it shouldn’t be reserved just for sports playoffs.  After all, there are so many other ways you might use it:

  • I wonder how many ladies I will have to stave off this week.  After all, I’m happily married
  • Will Christy Clark be able to stave off Adrian Dix in this month’s election?
  • How does Keith Ballard manage to stave off thinking of ways to hurt Alain Vigneault?

 

Looking ahead to game four on Tuesday night in San Jose, I simply wasn’t interested in any of the post-game quotes from AV and the players – especially the clichéd ones.  All I care about is the Canucks laying it all out on the ice as they try to stave off elimination.  Then perhaps they’ll have a chance to play in another pivotal must-win game on Thursday night.

May 052013
 

The Canucks played better in game 2 than they did in game 1, though – and let’s be honest here – that’s not really saying much.

Roberto Luongo played great. And so did Ryan Kesler, who unleashed his beast mode in the third period and damn well near stole the Canucks a win.

Yup, that sounds about right.

Read more #TGATT goodness past the jump.

May 032013
 

As fans, we’re almost always optimistic about how good our team is. When they have bad games, we just know they’ll bounce back with good games. After good games, we don’t expect any team to beat them.

This unfailing loyalty was in full display going into game 1 of the Canucks’ first round match-up against the San Jose Sharks. Despite an uneven season – they played some good games in spurts and bad in others – the prevailing thought among the Canucks faithful was that the team would switch the proverbial switch in a favorable match-up against the Sharks.

Somehow, we convinced ourselves that the Canucks’ 0-2-1 record against the Sharks this season doesn’t mean a lick.

And expected the 20th ranked offense in the NHL in the regular season to light the lamp against a top-10 goaltender in Antti Niemi.

And believed that all they needed was the return of Ryan Kesler to the lineup to provide an emotional lift.

Well, as we know, the Canucks failed to score a goal on Wednesday (remember it was the Sharks’ Raffi Torres who put the puck in his own net to give the Canucks a 1-0 lead), and couldn’t muster any semblance of offensive pressure with the score tied in the third period.

For the last week or so, I’ve been referencing the Canucks’ 3-1 win against the Chicago Blackhawks from April 22nd. I said all along that this team could be a true contender if they played like they did against Chicago that night. As if, in this shortened season, that was the norm.

But looking back at it, how many of the Canucks’ games this season resembled that Chicago game?

And how many resembled game 1 against the Sharks?

The honest truth is, game 1 was probably like most Canucks games this season – a disjointed offense, very little pressure and a lack of finish.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m still a fan and am still eternally optimistic that the Canucks will bounce back tonight. But what if what we see is what we get? After all, we’ve seen them play like this all season long.

Maybe we’re wrong and there is no switch to flip. Or maybe there is one, and the Canucks are still fumbling around looking for it.

Quickies

May 032013
 

Who wants to win some Canucks tickets? Well, lets play a game, shall we?

Vancouver Canucks "This is What We Live For"

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com


Rules are simple, you solve the puzzle, you have a shot at the Canucks tickets. Feel like testing some of your Canucks knowledge? It isn’t going to be easy! Have at’er and let me know what you come up with!

Ready?

Step 1: Lets crunch some numbers.

Quick example of how this is going to work – If I gave you the clue: “You take Mario Bliznak, and take away Dan Hamhuis. Next, throw in Rob Davison.” Then your answer would be 604. Mario Bliznak (62) take away Hamhuis (2) is equal to 60. The answers to each of the clues in the following bullets is a number. Do you follow?

First, lets play with some jersey numbers, shall we?:

  • Divide Alex Burrows in two.
  • What number did Gary Lupul, Dan Quinn and Barry Pederson have in common?
  • Imagine Trevor Linden being half the man he is.
  • Throw in that cheeky best-shootout-goal-ever goal scorer, Marek Malik.
  • Divide Cam Neely into three.
  • Then add together Charlie Hodge, Keith Carney and Pat Quinn.
  • John Arbour and John Schella shared more than a first name.
  • Anyone remember Fred Speck?
  • Oh, and lastly, a current player in the San Jose Sharks organization has a dad that played for the Canucks – what was daddy’s number? (The one he shared with another ex-Canuck, fondly called by some as the “Finnish MacInnis”.)

Step 2: How’s your math?

Write down the numbers in the order you got them. If you’ve figured it out, you might be looking at a phone number. Before you do anything with it, add these ten numbers up.

The number you get should be one of the jersey numbers a former San Jose Shark and former Sedin linemate wore just before he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks.

Who was this player?

Step 3: Text us your answer.

Remember that code you cracked, Mr/Mrs. Da Vinci Code?

Text your answer (from step 2) to that phone number (from step 1) by 3:00 PM today – make sure you include your name or Twitter handle so we know who you are – and you could two lower bowl tickets to tonight’s Game 2 playoff matchup between the Canucks and the San Jose Sharks.

It’s that simple.

And… go!

May 022013
 

Photo credit: Jeff Vinnick via NHL.com

After an abbreviated season, the Vancouver Canucks opened up the postseason with a 3-1 loss to the visiting San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night. Looking back at the game and looking ahead to the next one, there are a few Things That Make Me Go Hmmm:

Searching for the Right Line Combinations

The Canucks forwards simply did not create enough shots or scoring opportunities. This continues a trend of low-scoring games as the Canucks have not scored more than 3 goals in a game since their 4-2 win over Nashville on April 15. I must admit that I was a tad befuddled when I learned the line combinations on Monday for last night’s game.

We know that Burrows with the Sedins is pretty much a given (for now) and that the fourth line will consist of any combo of Ebbett, Weise, Sestito, Pinizzotto, and sometimes Lapierre. The Canucks started game one with a second line of Kesler between Higgins and Kassian, and a third line of Roy between Raymond and Hansen. While Roy and Kesler were likely separated to spread the Canucks’ centres over three lines to counter Thornton, Couture, and Pavelski, I was surprised that Higgins was placed on Kesler’s wing and not Roy’s. In the few games that they played together, Higgins and Roy looked like a dangerous combo. Instead, they found themselves on different lines to start the series.

We all know that coach Alain Vigneault has no problem with juggling his lines. I’d like to see Roy between Hansen and Higgins leaving Kesler to centre Raymond and Kassian. Who knows – if AV is confident in Lapierre, we might see Kesler and Roy reunited on a second line to give the Canucks more scoring potential. Moving Lapierre up would likely mean Kassian moving down to the fourth line… a position he found himself in by the end of game one.

Home Ice Disadvantage

With the Canucks loss, they have now lost 5 straight playoff games at home – a stretch dating back to game 7 on June 15, 2011 against the Boston Bruins. Obviously, a lot has to do with the quality of opposition, but for whatever reason Rogers Arena is not a difficult place for opposing teams to win in during the playoffs.

The Canucks’ regular season home record was decent at 15-6-3 while San Jose’s road record was a pathetic 8-14-2. By contrast, San Jose’s regular season home record was a sparkling 17-2-5. Thus, you can see just how important it will be for the Canucks to triumph in game two and tie the series up. If they lose, they won’t be able to beat this strong San Jose team 4 times out of 5 (with 3 of the games in San Jose).

Canucks fans need to get a lot louder and a little more rowdy (much to the chagrin of Rogers Arena employees). After all, isn’t this what we live for?

Every Game is a Pivotal Game

Get ready to hear about how much game two is a “pivotal” game. Captain Obvious here would like to point out that going to San Jose tied one game apiece is a lot better than going in down two games.

Then, game three will become pivotal as it will either create an almost insurmountable deficit at 3 games to 0, or one team will at least take a stronghold in the series. Game one was intuitively pivotal as both teams wanted to get off to a good start.

The point being that every single game in the playoffs is a pivotal game. Now the Canucks need to start playing like it.

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