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.

Apr 302010
 

You can’t wait for Saturday can you. You’re pulling your hair out because you had your whole week planned around a Friday start and then the Habs and Capitals just had to go to seven games and change everything.

Well it’s Friday, and you’re a little over 24 hours away from puck drop of game one between the Canucks and the Blackhawks and you need just a little something to tide you over till tomorrow. Try this trailer. This video says it all. It’s got the best of the first round, the best of the season versus Chicago, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t get me amped. Saturday can’t come soon enough, and there’s nothing like watching Mitchell absolutely destroy Toews, again and again, to pass some time until tomorrow.

Apr 262010
 

As reported by the Vancouver Observer, City Hall has announced tomorrow, April 27th 2010, as “Canucks Day”!

The media is being invited tomorrow to join Mayor Robertson and Council, Canucks Sports and Entertainment owner Francesco Aquilini, President and General Manager Mike Gillis and Chief Operating Officer Victor de Bonis to an event commemorating the day.

The Mayor will read a proclamation for Canucks Day, and the Canucks flag will be raised for the day at City Hall. The Canucks mascot, Fin, will hand out white towels to help the public cheer on the city’s home team.

As if Canuck fever needed anything more to propel it, I hope someone takes the time to head down to City Hall and take some pictures. It’s an off day before the Canucks second round date in the Stanley Cup Finals so have fun, wear your colours loud and proud, and Go Canucks Go!

Apr 262010
 

If there was one thing the Canucks learned in the regular season that we’ve seen pay dividends in the NHL’s second season, it has been the Canucks ability to stay calm and composed in the latter part of a game, specifically the third period, when in a tie game or down a goal or two. The Canucks lead the NHL in regular season third-period-come-from-behind-wins with eleven, and after last night’s third-period-come-from-behind-win the Canucks won the series four games to two with the win being their second come from behind of the series.

Despite the score in any game we’re seeing a Canucks team that believes in it’s system, in it’s players, and in it’s goaltender. Roberto Luongo stole the show and stole the game last night, but despite being down 2-1 going into the final frame last night the Canucks look composed and collected the entire time. The Canucks for the time being seem to have mastered the effect of pressure. They didn’t panic once through the pressure put on by the Kings and building off the momentum of each save from captain Roberto Luongo, they came together as a team.

The Canucks could have a blistering offense, the world’s most outstanding goal tender, and a rock solid blue line, but it would mean nothing if they didn’t keep composure. Better yet, the Canucks seem to thrive when going into the third period down by a goal or tied. They save their best for last every night and that subtle confidence in their own abilities and each other’s play is what’s going to take the Canucks deep. A lot of teams fall apart if they go down early or if they get frustrated by a hot opposing goal tender. This year’s edition of the Canucks however, seems to have learned an all important lesson about staying confident and keeping their composure. It’s something that’s helped them battle back from adversity multiple times before and it’s a trait that will go a long way towards ensuring a deep playoff run this year. As they say, it’s not over till it’s over.

Apr 222010
 

As fans we get to see both the physical and the mental side of hockey. They phsyical side is one thing, but the mental side of the game has an impact that grows exponentially at times. It’s something that can affect the psyche of the home or the away team, and it’s something that can turn on a single play. It’s driven by adrenaline, it’s amplified by luck, and it’s the most fragile of factors in any game at any point in a series.

After the roller coaster game last night the mental game becomes more important than ever. The Canucks have seen just how hard the mental game is through their recent penalty kill trouble. There comes a point where the penalty kill becomes more of a mental battle than something controllable that the players can deal with. With more and more Kings powerplay goals going in you could see the Canucks deflate more and more with each power play goal against and you could see them panic. Then they killed a penalty. Then they scored a key goal. Then they won the game. All of a sudden things have changed.

The Canucks game four was a roller coaster emotional and mental affair for the players and for the fans, but as things changed in that game, so changes this series. The Canucks biggest mental obstacle was the penalty kill, their second biggest obstacle the road game. They Canucks head home in a 2-2 series, they’ve managed to settle their penalty kill, and all of a sudden the emotions are positively charged and the Canucks head home to familiar territory.

The Canucks managed to win a see-saw affair which was the hardest thing they’ve had to do so far. Winning that back and forth affair all of a sudden puts them in the right mindset to take on game five. The series goes back to Vancouver putting home ice advantage back in the Canucks court and they now have three chances to win two games. The Canucks have been a force to be reckoned with at home and with the benefit of the crowd behind them, a Luongo that’s making the big saves when he has to, and a tie game to start things from square one, this series is theirs again to win.

Apr 222010
 

If there’s one thing we can take away from this playoff run, win or lose, it’s that Mikael Samuelsson held up his end of the bargain. The former Red Wing who in just four playoff appearances had 69 career playoff games played has been a force for the Canucks and has scored some clutch goals to either keep the Canucks alive, or spark them to something better, both in the regular season and now the post season where it matters most.

Last night after getting put with the Sedins, Samuelsson scored a huge goal to tie the game up and the goal gave him his fifth of this playoffs and sixth point in the series. Now that does a couple things. That sets new personal bests for Samuelsson in goals scored in a series, and it ties his career high of points in a series which he set back in 2007 when the Red Wings played the Ducks in the Western Conference Final. Samuelsson leads the Canucks in playoff goals this season and is tied with Daniel for the most points with six.

It looks like Samuelsson’s nine years of play in the NHL, and his last four trips to the NHL playoffs are starting to pay off on more than just the scoresheet though. Earlier in the season, in an attempt to stir up the Sedins, Vigneault bumped Burrows off the top line and let Samuelsson take a spin with the Twins. It worked wonders as it not only lead to Samuelsson’s huge goal outburst but it lifted the Sedins out of their funk. Last night in a desperate attempt to get the Sedins some traction, Vigneault went back to juggling things as badly as he was juggling back in 06-07 and it worked. Samuelsson’s huge goal to tie the game not only sparked the team but it seemed to get the Sedins re-energized and back to playing their game.

The Canucks have 542 playoff games played throughout the roster, but of those games 358 belong to seven players (Demitra, Samuelsson, Salo, Henrik, Daniel and Ehrhoff). Of those players, only Samuelsson’s gone past the second round and it looks like his effect is rubbing off. Samuelsson’s been in back-to-back cup finals, he’s grown the most viking-like of playoff beards, and he’s seen almost everything you could expect in the post season. He knows what it’s like to be on the brink of being eliminated and winning, he also knows what it’s like to be on the brink and lose. It’s just that reason which allows him to be a calming influence on the ice despite the desperation present in the play.

Samuelsson’s leading the Canucks goes far past the offensive numbers he puts up. He’s able to score those clutch goals because it’s going to take a lot more to rattle him, there’s nothing he hasn’t seen. Salo’s a calming influence on the blue-line, Henrik and Daniel have a lot to learn even though they both went into the first round with over 50 playoff games played, and Ehrhoff played with the Sharks, enough said. Demitra proved to us last night that he’s still got some of that “clutch” left in him and together the vets have to lead this team. Samuelsson knows what it takes to not only get out of the first round, but to get to the final round. His role and presence is going to go a long way to helping this team on the ice, in the dressing room, and throughout the post season.

Apr 212010
 

Before this series started a lot of people expected a flaky Luongo and a Jonathan Quick who caved under the pressure of his first playoffs. If that’s what you expected you were like surprised to find Jonathan Quick lead the Kings to a 2-1 series lead heading into game four, and Luongo throw some respectable numbers up on the board. Throw away the debate that Don Cherry stirred about about whether or not Luongo is fit to be captain because there’s definitely no change happening any time this season.

Luongo had us all worried with his play after the Olympics and his play down the stretch but while Canucks look to find excuses for entering game four down 2-1 to the LA Kings, Luongo shouldn’t be one of them. They say statistics can prove anything and that’s certainly the case because if you look at Luongo’s line through three games his .880 SV% and 3.20 GAA average are not flattering in the least. What’s worse is those numbers don’t truly reflect the way he’s been playing. I don’t blame him for any of the goals save the soft one he allowed before getting pulled last game.

Take a step back to game two where coming out of the game Luongo had a .915 SV%. Luongo’s been on his game and he’s playing better than any of us expected, but certainly like we hoped. His save in game one on the goal line was the Roberto Luongo we wanted to see in this series and it’s the Luongo we got. Unfortunately, his stats have been a victim of poor penalty killing. While they say your best penalty killer has to be your goalie, there’s no doubt that he is not at fault for any of the goals allowed when down a man. He’s paid to be that guy but he needs the team in front of him to do their job too. Luongo’s only fault was the fourth goal he gave up to LA in game three before being pulled and even that isn’t a bad sign. The pull in my mind was a mercy pull, something to let him take a rest so that he can come back and win game four.

Looking at Luongo’s opposition, Quick in game three looked the most beatable he has of the three games so far. He’s not invincible, and he showed signs that his heroics from games one and two are fading. The Canucks can beat him and they have to use a combination of screens, an abundance of shots, and their power play to do so. The Canucks need to win this game, make it a three game series, and go back to Vancouver with home ice advantage. If they’re going to do it, they’re going to have to tighten up in other areas because Luongo (for the first time in a while) isn’t the issue. Luongo’s stepped up to bat for his team, now it’s time for the team to step up to bat for him. The Canucks are going to come out flying tonight and he’s going to be standing tall.

Apr 192010
 

With Alberts throwing the Canucks under the bus multiple times Saturday night at GM Place in the Kings and Canucks second game of the series it’s no surprise that he’s getting benched tonight in favour of either Rome or Baumgartner (Baumer if Rome isn’t ready to play). Now there’s no excuse for his penalties, they’ve been stupid, undisciplined, and untimely. They’ve been a result of laziness and hopefully the benching gives him the reality check that he needs to fix things should he see ice time again in this series, let alone the playoff run. Alberts is a big guy and he can be a monster physically, unfortunately his lack of discipline hurts the team much more than anything else.

Now I’m not condoning Alberts’ play, but one thing concerned me just as much as his penalty taking on Saturday. While the Canucks have dominated the play through games one and two, they’ve run into Jonathan Quick who’s surprising everyone. The Canucks quality of chances has been high, but Quick has stood on his head to keep the Kings in this series when they should have been blown out in game one and heading back to LA down 2-0 in the series. What’s worrying is that in game two the Canucks had four shots in the first period and five shots in the third period of the Western Conference Quarterfinal game. The Canucks were lucky to come out of the first with a two goal lead on only four shots, but in a first period where you need to set the tone, and in a third period where you’re gunning to break a tie game, you’re not doing yourself any favours by missing shots and coming away with shot totals you can count on the fingers of one hand.

Quick’s proven that he’s brought his A-game to the series and it’s in cases like this that you’re going to have to go with quantity over quality. Cliche’s are around for a reason and when they say “throw things on net, good things happen” it’s because it’s worked. Now the Canucks have had some outstanding chances, they should have walked away with a game one victory, but instead they won a close affair in OT. They key to tonight’s game is going to be more than Alberts being benched and staying out of the penalty box. The Canucks need to get more pucks on net. They have an explosive offense that seems to be in the right place at the right time most of the night, it’s just a matter of tiring Quick out and trying to force a large rebound to capitalize upon.

Apr 192010
 

It’s nice to see the NHL finally pick up on the Sedins. It’s not like they’ve been invisible, yet so far in may respects they’ve been downplayed or gone unnoticed. The most recent time being their uncharacteristically slow time to recognize Henrik in any way for the Art Ross. They were quick on the uptake to track Stamkos, Ovechkin and Crosby, but Henrik seemed to fall by the wayside. I can understand the NHL spending much of it’s focus on promoting non-Canadian teams because that’s where they need to increase market penetration, but it was nice to see the Canucks get some spotlight, especially the Sedins.

Saturday night at the Canucks game they aired the latest “History Will Be Made” spot they NHL’s put together and it couldn’t have been done around a better play than the goal Daniel Sedin scored against Calgary for his hat trick in the last game of the season. If you haven’t seen it yet, enjoy.

Apr 192010
 

It’s no surprise that Canucks fans were up in arms Saturday after the Canucks were beaten by the referrees that night to send the series down to SoCal with the Kings and Canucks tied at one. TSN had a great piece analyzing the call and after there was similar poor refereeing in the Phoenix/Detroit Game-3 there’s certainly some frustration from a lot of people with the zebras.

NHL Rule 74.1 states that if a player is within 5 feet of the bench and they do not play the puck then it shall not be called a penalty. It’s pretty clear that Bieksa is trying to get out of the way and it’s hard to argue that. You don’t see Vigneault criticize the referees in his post game presser too often, certainly not with such specificity to one call. He had due cause and it cost Vancouver the game

All that said, it was a blown call and at this point there’s no much we can do to go back and fix it. You can be sure that the Canucks will get more than a few calls going their way all night, but at the end of the day that does nothing to make up for a call that cost Vancouver a 2-0 series lead. The change in the psychological effect it has on the players alone is enough to feel robbed. The Kings feel they’re in it still and it’s Vancouver’s job to put that to rest in the next two games at the Staples Center.

The referees cost Vancouver the 2-0 series lead, but in the long run it could end up being a good thing. with all eight series seeing the first two games of their respective duels split 1-1, it’s not improbable that several of these series are going to go long. The Canucks have struggled on extra days rest all season so if they had swept the series that could have worked against them for the start of the second round. That being said, there’s a positive side to all of this (end even a YouTube Video worth watching). While the loss in game two means the Canucks will not get their second ever series sweep, it allows Vancouver to potentially win the series at home in game five. Not a terrible trade off I suppose.

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