Jan 122011
 

The Canucks don’t have a tough guy on their roster. They haven’t had one since trading Darcy Hordichuk in the summer. They’ve relied on team toughness and different individuals stepping up at different times, but at least when it comes to dropping the gloves, no one has stepped up more than Tanner Glass.

In the second period of last night’s 2-1 shootout win over the New York Islanders, Glass obliged Matt Martin and, well, knocked the bigger Martin down.

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 042011
 

[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 came into San Jose to play their third road game in four nights. Unbeaten in five, and expected to be dog-tired, there was a sense among Canuck nation that a loss to San Jose was as inevitable as the extraplanar robots that chase down lawbreakers. The Sharks came into this game fourth in the Western Conference, and with their continued employment of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, and Dan Boyle, looked to be formidable foes.

They were formidable foes. That said, they still got beat, by a Canucks team that has seemingly forgotten how to lose. As a born loser, I’m here if they need the help, but I don’t think they’ll call. In the meantime, I guess Daniel and I will just have to sit around watching them win, like we did tonight when we watched this game:

  • The Second Law of Sedinery: if the Sedins find themselves alone behind the defense, you may as well go line up at center ice. They will score. The opening goal (above), off a turnover by Joe Thornton (and not Jason Demers, as crazy old John Garrett insisted), is a classic case of Wizardous Sedinerie. Antti Niemi made a common mistake and got Daniel confused with Henrik. Had he realized that Henrik had the first touch, he might have realized Daniel was about to get the second. Instead, he anticipated a shot from Henrik Sedin. Rookie mistake. Also a rookie mistake? Letting Gary Busey date your mom.
  • Speaking of Rookie of the Year, let’s talk about casts. The second-line featured a rotating one, as Jannik Hansen, Jeff Tambellini, and Mason Raymond all saw time as Ryan Kesler’s wings. When Tambellini and Raymond were together, they showed the potential to be the fastest duo since Northstar and Aurora. (Other similarities: both duos are Canadian, and spend an inordinate amount of time in dark blue. Differences: Raymond’s not gay, and Tambellini’s not a woman.) Anyway, Raymond and Hansen finished the night on that line, and Hansen may have re-won his spot there with this game-tying goal late in the second period. Early in the second, I grumbled about Hansen spending time on the second line–normally he finishes his checks, but not his scoring chances. That said, like a piece of furniture haunted by the ghost of a carpenter, Hansen has magically developed finish. #WorstAnalogyAward
  • What was going on during the Canucks second goal? Ehrhoff and Edler apparently switched places with Daniel and Henrik, briefly becoming the forwards on the rush. They didn’t do too badly, either. Perhaps Edler felt slighted when Skeeter suggested he didn’t have the stuff to play center, or perhaps the Sedins felt pigeonholed as offensive wizards and wanted a chance to play defense. Third option: the Sedins forgot that the teams switched ends for the second, and were thrilled about being in behind the defense for a second time.
  • Tanner Glass played 8:25 tonight, which is about on par with his usual minutes, except that he spent ten minutes in the box for two fights (a full one-sixth of the game). The fourth line in general was noticeable tonight, spending a lot of time in the offensive zone. Chalk this up to the return of Mason Raymond, which has banished a top-nine player to the bottom three. And, while the line may not have seen an increase in minutes, they saw a definite increase in third period minutes, as Alain Vigneault trusted them with late shifts in a close game.
  • Part of this might have been a desire to play fresh guys on the back-to-back games, but another part might have been that Alex Bolduc was winning faceoffs when Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler weren’t. For the third straight game, the Canucks lost the faceoff battle, although this time by a very narrow margin. Manny Malhotra was his usual stalwart self, winning 14-of-18, including all six in the defensive zone. Just Manny being Manny. The other two big drawmen were kind of crummy. Kind of really crummy. Kesler was 35% in the circle. Henrik was 27%.
  • Continuing the negativity, on San Jose’s first goal, Rome needs to cover Clowe in front of the net, not the random patch of ice to Schneider’s left, which he so ably defended. On San Jose’s second goal, Henrik needs to not be in the box. Captain Hook strikes again. On San Jose’s third goal, Schneider needs to remove all banana peels from his crease prior to the start of the period. Open letter to Rollie Melanson: get on that.
  • Christian Ehrhoff was good tonight. He facilitated breakouts like working at McDonald’s, had 5 shots, blocked 4 shots, and picked up two assists. I’ve heard fans saying that, now that Bieksa’s playing well, we should trade Ehrhoff instead. Tonight, Ehrhoff showed San Jose why they never should have let him go; let’s not wish that same regret upon ourselves.
  • Like Evangeline Lilly in a Live Links commercial, Mason Raymond draws a lot of calls. It’s good to see him buzzing around the offensive zone, falling down like Cory Schneider.
  • Not to rag on Cory Schneider too much. Despite his shaky moments, such as collapsing like a Jenga tower in a rowboat, he made some incredible saves, and also let in less goals than Antti Niemi. These are both positives. The Canucks are now 7-0-2 when Schneider starts.
  • Worst outfit of the night goes to Dan Murphy, who wore an ugly tie that looked like it was made of dried beef broth. Someone needs to get him on What Not to Wear immediately. Seriously, where did he get it? The toilet store?
  • Observation: every time the puck goes over the glass, pro hockey players become children stargazing with their fathers. They point with such enthusiasm it’s embarrassing. Look, Dad, a shooting star! Didja see it? Didja?
  • Word was Kesler might sit this one out after taking a shot to the foot in the game prior, but he wound up playing twenty-three very effective minutes. He put up four shots, as well as attempting another six, one of which hit the crossbar after a beautiful tip.
  • Speaking of shots, the Canucks put up 47 and attempted 70. They peppered Niemi like a flavourless steak. A ton of those shots ended up in Niemi’s glove, which the Canucks apparently hate as much as the shooter in The Jerk hates oil cans. The Canucks won the last game against the Sharks with considerable hittiness, but tonight, shootiness was their primary asset.
  • And finally, let’s give major credit to Alex Burrows, who took it upon himself to win da turd by scoring the game-winner halfway into da turd. The refs reviewed it for something that isn’t reviewable but, since many officials still sort of hate Burr for that thing that happened, it makes sense.
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 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 262010
 
Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks Team Store had their annual Boxing Day Sale today. Here are a few (unneeded) items they had available for sale:

  • Jannik Hansen’s hands of stone – In the past 6 games since moving to the second line with Ryan Kesler and Jeff Tambellini, Hansen has 3 points (1 goal – 2 assists). I know it’s a modest 0.5 points per game average, but consider he had 7 points (2 goals – 5 assists) in the previous 28 games – a 0.25 points per game average.
  • Tanner Glass’ plane ticket to Manitoba – The fourth line has seen a revolving cast of characters; no less than 11 players have suited up on the fourth line this season. About the only constant has been Glass.
  • Ryan Walters’ motivational posters – Sure didn’t help Steve Bernier’s confidence.
  • Cases of Eggo Waffles – The Leafs don’t come to Rogers Arena again until next season.
  • Kyle Wellwood’s game-worn jersey – Comes in size XL (but some smaller sizes available).
  • Robero Luongo’s goalie mask – Some markings. Looks like a ‘C’ under the cage.
  • Ryan Walters’ powerplay playbooks – The Canucks’ powerplay improved steadily with Walters behind the bench, but it’s really taken off this season with Newell Brown.
  • 40-Year Old Virgin DVDs – Because it hurts too damn much to watch. (Located next to the Canucks at 40 books – you know the one that reminds us that we’ve had a couple of good runs but haven’t won the whole thing yet.)
  • VIP passes to the Roxy – Previously belonged to Shane O’Brien.
  • Jeff Tambellini’s plane ticket to Manitoba – Kid’s got 14 points (8 goals – 6 assists) in 20 games and the Canucks are 16-1-3 with him in the lineup.
  • Floorball equipment – Must keep away from Sami Salo.
  • Green spandex tights – Surely The Green Men’s 15 seconds of fame is up, right? Right?
Dec 212010
 

[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.]

This was one of those games the Canucks had to win. No, it wasn’t a must-win (I hardly believe in them), but it was a road game against a beleaguered and bruised Blues team, for whom three of their top three offensive weapons weren’t playing. And, sadly for St. Louis fans, the injuries to David Perron, TJ Oshie, and Andy Macdonald have made the St. Louis offense about as threatening as the Disney Channel. It was apparent early in tonight’s game that the only Blues to watch out for were Alex Steen and Blu Cantrell (who is totally due for a comeback).

Even motivation wasn’t a factor, as the same basic Blues team had come to GM Place two weeks ago and handed the Canucks their only regulation loss in December–a game Vancouver probably had no business losing. These are the games you should win, and thankfully, the Canucks did win. And, just like the time my friend was getting picked on by bullies, and I probably should have stepped in except that I’m a coward, I watched:

  • Congratulations to Aaron Volpatti on his first NHL goal (above). You know he’s stoked about it, primarily because of the high-pitched squeal he emits after potting it. Listen for it at the 0:07 mark–Whitney Houston wishes she could still hit that note.
  • The Canucks are now 6-1-1 since the blessing of Head Poke Kid. This is an unprecedented display of supernatural power. Despite being blessed by a superior deity, even Adam and Eve couldn’t stay good for this long.
  • I thought the fourth line played a solid game tonight. Tanner Glass is always solid (except in Scrabble, where he will soon be soundly trounced), but Alex Bolduc and Aaron Volpatti were on their game as well. The line generated a goal, a couple other scoring chances, and played defensively solid enough that Alain Vigneault was comfortable giving them icetime while protecting a one-goal lead in the third period. In fact, no member of the trio had less than eight minutes. I’ve been especially impressed with Volpatti’s restraint in his two games. You know he’s licking his chops for his first big NHL hit and/or fight, but the Canucks have been playing with leads since he got here. Good on him for knowing when isn’t the right time. I have a theory that it’s a constant message from the bench, but you still need mature players to buy into a message of composure, and the Canucks appear to have a roomful of such players.
  • While you would be correct for attributing much of the opening goal to the thunderous hit of Tanner Glass, let’s be sure to give full credit to Alex Pietrangelo for confusing himself with the Venus De Milo. Had he remembered that, unlike the Venus De Milo, he is neither protected by a velvet rope, nor without arms, I imagine he would have moved the puck a little faster. Unfortunately for him he didn’t, and like the Gummi Venus De Milo, he was an irresistible target.
  • Blues fans might be forgiven for being a bit upset with the referees. The fans were on the zebras all night for missed calls, especially after St. Louis was hit with a steady stream of penalties in the first. Then, on two separate occasions, referees ran beautiful pick plays for Vancouver–one leading to a scoring chance for the Canucks, and other negating one for the Blues. I predict lingering animosity towards anybody in refereeing stripes. If I lived in Missouri and worked at a Foot Locker, I’d call in sick tomorrow.
  • Ryan Kesler, whose wife gave birth to a baby boy just the other night, claimed he’d be playing on adrenaline and Red Bull. Well, nuts to any theory of exhaustion: he scored the game-winner on a wrist shot so quick Jaro Halak didn’t even have time to fan on it, and he had a game-high seven shots on net. Kes, how many Red Bulls did you drink? Don’t be surprise if his post-game interview is reminiscent of a Corky Romano press conference.
  • I love Jannik Hansen. He can play on any line, and his forechecking is more Crazy/Beautiful than the Kirsten Dunst movie of the same name. I’m always amazed at the way he fools opposing puckhandlers into thinking he’s coming in the wrong side. He’s constantly knocking pucks off sticks. On one penalty-kill, he ate up valuable time poking the puck away from multiple Blues, then when they finally got away from him, he turned on the jets and was there to break up their entry into the offensive zone. Hansen is so hot right now.
  • If you’re wondering why Henrik and Daniel Sedin went pointless tonight, I’d take a look at the faceoff numbers. Henrik had a mediocre 6-for-13 night, but he went 2-for-8 in the offensive zone. On the plus side, Manny Malhotra had another strong night, winning 13-of-20. Alternate Captain Mal is now the NHL’s top faceoff guy, one-tenth of a percentage point better than Washington’s David Steckel. By the by, Alexandre Bolduc went 3-for-3 in the faceoff circle for the second game in a row. He may have found a way to earn more icetime.
  • It’s time we gave some credit to the second power play unit. The Canucks have scored 10 power play goals in the month of December, and four of them have come from the second five. Considering how heavily the Canucks lean on the first unit, those are pretty decent numbers. Their goal tonight was a nice piece of insurance, as Jeff Tambellini broke his minor slump on a nice feed from Mikael Samuelsson. Also a nice piece of insurance? J-Lo’s 27 million dollar policy on her own butt.
  • Speaking of the second power play unit, Keith Ballard is no longer on it. In fact, the return of Christian Ehrhoff has spelled a major reduction in minutes for Hips. He played only 14:47 tonight, but don’t feel bad for him: considering what he gets paid for under fifteen minutes of work, his hourly salary should make you feel bad about yourself.
  • Shifting our focus to the enemy, let’s give some credit to Eric Brewer, who had seven blocked shots tonight. Those are Dennis Rodman numbers. The way he was amassing blocks, you’d have thought he was going for a Tetris.
  • And finally, did anyone else catch the furious lasagna eater right behind Alain Vigneault at the beginning of the second? Obviously, nobody looks particularly classy when they’re eating, especially as captured by Sportsnet’s HD camera, but this guy was going to town on his stadium meal. Clearly, he was confused about which Italian staple food he was eating, because he was devouring his lasagna like a slice of deep-dish pizza. I’ve seen less voracious eating from the extras in zombie movies.

Skeeter’s thoughts:

  • Kesler didn’t just have 7 shots tonight; he had an additional 5 shots blocked and 1 missed shot. That’s a whopping 13 attempted shots, dwarfing the next closest Canuck, Mikael Samuelsson, who had 9 attempted shots, 4 of which missed the net. Additionally, Kesler has now tied Daniel Sedin for the team lead in goals with 16 and he has more goals this season than Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla, Ryan Getzlaf, and, of course, Ilya Kovalchuk. That $5 million dollar contract doesn’t look so bad right now.
  • The Blues had over twice as many hits as the Canucks, but it never seemed like the Canucks were losing the physical battle. It helps when the hits the Canucks did make were super-effective, like Tanner’s emasculation of Pietrangelo that led to Peppermint Volpatti’s first ever NHL goal.
  • Speaking of, Volpatti needs some lotion immediately to soften up those hands. He had the entire right half of the net to shoot at and was extremely lucky to slide his shot under Halak’s pads. He had another golden opportunity in the third period off a slick pass from Alexandre Bolduc, but the puck clanked off his stick like it belonged to Curt Blefary.
  • Raffi Torres continues his slide. He may have logged a point on Kesler’s goal, but let’s face it, that goal was all Kesler. He played a mere 10:55, barely more than the fourth line, and didn’t see any time on the powerplay. It appears that Burrows has taken his spot on the second powerplay unit while continuing to kill penalties. If it wasn’t for Raymond being out with a broken thumb, Torres would be on his way to the press-box.
  • I love Jannik Hansen. If I had lady-parts, I would want to have his babies.
Dec 192010
 

[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.]


Leading up to this game, the 4pm start time was a bone of contention among Canucks fans. Ever afraid of The Eastern Bias, an elusive swamp monster (pictured) that feeds on national inequality, many claimed the afternoon puck drop gave the Maple Leafs an unfair advantage. But thankfully, the Canucks reasserted their own advantage: having better players. I’d rather that.

It’s always a chippy game when the Leafs come to town, perhaps because Burke’s boys are armed with truculence in place of hockey ability. Unfortunately, the Canucks played down to the Maple Leafs at times, and the game stayed closer a little longer than it should have. But, when the final whistle blew, all was right with the world, as Vancouver skated away with yet another decisive victory the hapless Leafs. And I watched this game:

  • Lost in a very physical contest was the fact that it didn’t have a single fight, and very little in the way of post-whistle pugilism. In fact, despite all the slashing and chirping during play, it never even looked like the rough stuff was on the horizon. Considering that Aaron Volpatti was in the lineup (and you know he was looking to make an impression), I’m going to go out on a limb and surmise the team asked him and everyone else not to drop the gloves. Why? The Canucks had no reason to fight; most of the night, they played with the momentum. The Leafs are a team built on toughness and they were playing in front of an away crowd littered with supporters. A fight would have given them life. Instead, the Canucks saw that their opponents were playing frustrated (Kris Versteeg, especially), and instead of supplying an outlet for that frustration, they simply let the Leafs come apart. If someone ever complains the Canucks don’t fight enough, point to this game as an example of why they might refrain.
  • Speaking of Aaron Volpatti and Toronto fans, I found it a little classless for the jackanape sitting next to his parents to be shouting “Go Leafs Go” while Elliotte Friedman tried to interview his proud parents, down from Revelstoke to attend their son’s first ever NHL game. But, for a fanbase known for booing the home team, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by new evidence that they’re dumber than the saliva on a postage stamp.
  • Am I the only one who thinks that Colby Armstrong looks like a young Monty Burns? What a beak on that guy. Shades of Cyril Sneer.
  • On the empty-net goal: I recognize that Alain Vigneault put Henrik out for the last shift as faceoff insurance, what with Kesler taking the shift before, but part of me wonders if his experience as a parent coloured his decision. Daniel had already gotten a point–Henrik hadn’t, and it’s important to have equality between siblings. The last thing you want is Daniel teasing Henrik on the plane. I find it adorable that Henrik wanted to pass this puck and the Maple Leafs forced him to score. If you wonder why Toronto’s fans are so grumpy all the time, it’s because these are their minor victories.
  • Big props to the Green Men for their props, the waffle-throwing especially. It was a thrilling return to form for them after some concerns that their time in the very lime limelight was nearly over. That said, I have to wonder what happens when these guys go through security. You could see them finding their seats early in the telecast, carrying a backpack. Now I’m not allowed to keep the lid from my water bottle, but the masked vigilantes can carry a sack full of projectiles? I have questions.
  • If we were ever unclear what makes Christian Ehrhoff invaluable to this team, his return to the lineup tonight was a pretty indicative of his regular contributions. In twenty minutes of icetime, Ehrhoff scored the crucial insurance goal, added a threat to the powerplay, (although it still went 0-for-5), and directed 10 shots on goal. He’s got this hockey thing down cold.
  • You’ve gotta feel for Luke Schenn on the second goal (above). First, Jeff Tambellini gets around him. Then, he overplays Tambellini and uselessly puts himself behind the trapezoid for when the puck hits Kesler, the trailer. You could hear him calling for the puck before he even came into the frame. At this point, Francois Beauchemin’s been hung out to dry. He knows Kesler’s a shooter, so he leaves his man (Hansen) and goes down to block the shot. Kesler steps around him and finds Hansen instead. It’s a brilliant bit of playmaking from a guy who might have earned the label “superstar veteran,” but ladies and gentlemen: Luke Schenn is your goat.
  • We watched last night’s game with a Maple Leafs fan. He began the night hurling expletives at John Mitchell. By the evening’s end, he had cried himself to sleep.
  • While I agree our star pests have indeed matured somewhat, I like that Alex Burrows, like the OMG Cat, remains incapable of keeping his mouth shut. He’s the Joe Biden of the Canucks–prone to nonsense, but always smiling. I hope he never changes. I also like the way he crashes a crease.
  • Some other guys who played well: Tanner Glass and Jannik Hansen, who have become fantastic defensive players. Hansen is most definitely the team’s best forechecker, and Glass has become an expert shot-blocker and penalty-killer. For obvious reasons, I think my next purchase will be a Tanner Glass jersey. Kevin Bieksa also had another great night, finishing with two assists, a game-high plus-3 rating, and third star honours. Secret shame: I’ve come around completely. I like Kevin Bieksa.
  • And finally: In Edmonton, Roberto Luongo was robbed of a much-deserved shutout because the guys in front of him quit playing ten seconds early. Last night, the goal that broke the goose egg was his fault. When shots come up at him, Luongo can get a little overeager, and when he does, he gets stabby, like Norman Bates or Patrick Bateman. He stabs at the puck when he doesn’t need to. The Blackhawks have exploited this flaw in the past, putting shots glove side and then attacking the crease if Luongo knocks it down instead of making a clean catch. Against Grabovski, he should have been able to catch the puck, but an impatient jab puts his glove out of position and it finds a way past him. Like a stray dog, this is something that needs to be caught and fixed.
Dec 092010
 

[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.]

My favourite thing about come-from-behind victories is the following day’s media coverage. Despite a Canucks’ victory, articles are still overwhelmingly negative, because the journalists have pre-written pieces about a Canucks loss. When it becomes a win, they hold their tone. They’ll claim it’s because the Canucks shouldn’t be in a position to need a desperate comeback, but I suspect it’s because their workload just doubled with all the late revisions, and they’re pissed. Late comebacks of this sort force them into a corner where they have to majorly overhaul their story and still meet their deadlines. As Iain MacIntyre tweeted, last night’s outcome forced him to hammer out 800 words in about 35 minutes. Good thing he’s a pro.

I’d like to take this moment to welcome our new readers from Canucks Hockey Blog, where PITB’s popular I Watched This Game is now being cross-posted. Here’s how we do it:

  • Putting aside my massive Canuck bias, I do think the universe screwed Curtis McElhinney out of what would have been only his 11th career win in 5 NHL seasons. He played well enough to get it, and I’m pretty sure the rule in the NHL is that the play is blown dead when a goaltender gets hit in the mask, especially when he’s bleeding all over the place. I felt like Daniel Sedin’s goal, which came after Christian Ehrhoff’s high slapshot broke the McElhinney’s face, shouldn’t have counted. That said, and this is in poor taste, it can now be safely said that Daniel Sedin is literally out for blood.
  • Ryan Kesler was the night’s first star, and for the second game in a row, he was clearly the best Canuck forward. His powerplay goal supports my controversial theory that he’s the engine of the Canucks’ top unit. His game-tying goal (above) was ugly, but it exhibited the high level of effort Kesler puts out every night. No wonder he made a baby.
  • Let’s talk about Jeff Tambellini, the plucky, manic, little Port Moody forward. Tamby scored his 5th goal of the season last night, along with the shootout winner on a beautiful, sudden snapshot. It goes without saying that Tamby is a goal-scorer; his goals per game average is 0.42, which puts him third on the Canucks behind Ryan Kesler and Daniel Sedin. Tambellini contributes defensively, too. He had five hits to lead all Canucks forwards, the fourth game in a row that he’s done that. One of those hits was a brilliant backcheck, an Anaheim rush where Tambellini came all the way from behind the goal line to knock the Duck forward off the puck before he even reached the Canucks’ blue line. I’m with Iain MacIntyre; Tamby’s an NHLer.
  • The Ducks had about six or seven just crazy, blatant offsides, most courtesy of an overeager Bobby Ryan. Seriously, it was like he built a crappy time machine, and was living about three seconds in the future. Not since Bob Saget’s NSFW rendition of the Aristocrats has a man been so consistently offside.
  • The penalties in this game wreaked brief havoc on Canucks units and my fragile psyche in the third, as Tanner Glass took shifts on both the first and second lines. I broke a lamp. I nearly called 911. But, thankfully, he never got on the third line, so it all worked out.
  • I think the Canucks really miss Andrew Alberts. He averages 15:30 of physical, hitty hockey, and without him, the Canucks just aren’t as big. Consider that, after he missed the game against the Blues–the first game he’d missed all year–we suddenly started hearing about the Canucks lack of grit. It might have been an issue last night as well, but thankfully, Anaheim/Vancouver games are always bloodthirsty, physical affairs. These teams hate each other like cats hate dogs. Or other cats. Or humans. You know what? Cats are jerks.
  • Daniel and I often argue about Kevin Bieksa, but there’s no dispute over Bieksa’s fighting ability. He can chuck ‘em. He is the last Canuck I would ever fight. I suspect Aaron Voros now feels similarly.
  • The best Shorty & Garrett banter moment follows. Garrett, dubious of a Christian Ehrhoff penalty call: “Ehrhoff’s saying, ‘who’s holding whom?’” Shorty: “You really think Ehrhoff is saying that?” That’ll teach you to put words in Ehrhoff’s mouth. Whom? English is his second language!
  • Keith Ballard’s minutes finally went up, as he played 17:19, including a tasty 1:45 of powerplay time. Let us congratulate Alain Vigneault for having both Kevin Bieksa and Aaron Rome in the lineup and resisting the temptation to give them a single second of powerplay time. You’ve turned a corner, AV.
  • Correction: Aaron Rome got 15 seconds. I trusted you, AV.
  • Anyway, I thought Keith Ballard had a great game. I especially liked the way he was skating the puck out of his own end. Remembering how sluggish his legs were in the preseason, it was great to see him beating forecheckers with his speed.
  • This one should have been a laugher (the Canucks outshot the Ducks by 40 to 20), but there were two factors that kept this close. First, Anaheim blocking shots (they blocked 21), and second, Luongo not blocking shots. Both trends were unfortunate. But after you rag on Luongo for a few softies, remember to give him credit for his shootout performance. Before last night, he hadn’t stopped a shootout attempt all season, leading to two skills competition losses. Last night, he stopped them all, and we won. Coincidence? No. It’s a causal element.
  • Ryan Getzlaf played just under thirty minutes last night. That’s a ton of ice time, considering he’s a forward. I’ll tell you why Ducks coach Randy Carlyle has to do this: his defense-corps are not very good at starting the rush, and only the Ducks’ star forwards can create offense from their pitiful zone starts. The Canucks did a good job of exploiting this, too. They were turning the puck up ice faster than I’ve ever seen them, even gleefully dumping it in because the Anaheim d-corps was just going to turn the puck over anyway.
  • How do I know the puck spent an inordinate amount of time in Anaheim’s zone? Offensive zone starts. The Canucks took 21 offensive zone faceoffs, and only 13 in the defensive zone. Kesler and Malhotra won 8 of 11 in their own zone, but Henrik Sedin won the night, breaking his brief faceoff funk with a 15-for-24 showing.
  • And finally, a word about Henrik Sedin. His inclination towards passing the puck in traffic has made him fairly predictable, don’t you think? He needs to be a little more surprising. Here’s what you do, Henrik. Next time you’re in a fight along the end boards, lick the defender’s cheek. No one will expect that.

(Editor’s note: We here at CHB would like to thank the Pass It To Bulis boys for sharing this feature with us. There are more posts like this on their site: http://passittobulis.blogspot.com.)

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