May 042009

Amidst the chaos and stampede caused by the bandwagon emptying on Saturday, one thing was overlooked. It’s something that has killed the Canucks in the first two games and has subtly been a difference maker in the series so far. Hits.

One of the main reasons that the Blackhawks are coming back from 2 and 3 goal deficits is largely due to their hits, but it starts with their forchecking and playing of the body. The Canucks by no means boast a small roster, Hordichuk, Salo, Mitchell, Bieksa, and Rypien all know how to throw those big bone jarring heavy hits, and yet they’ve been quiet. Where has Shane O’Brien’s body been? On Saturday the biggest hit by a Canucks player was by Mason Raymond. Think about that for a second, then think about how horribly wrong that is.

The Canucks are playing a finesse team that they should be able to take the body to, yet they’re letting the liks of Burrish, Byfuglien and Eager push and throw them around. The Blackhawks are coming back because they’re able to win the battles to the puck (because of their forechecking and hitting) and they’re able to break the Canucks off the puck. The Canucks just aren’t asserting themselves physically at all and it’s hurting them.

Where’s Rypien been? After coming back full of energy and throwing his body into people like a runaway car, he’s been silent. Horidchuck was brought in for the rough stuff, and he’s quieter than the Sedins back when they were regularly referred to as the Sedin Sisters. Burrows who usually also catapults his body into players against the boards has been pretty tame. They have got to start beat Chicago up a little. I’m not talking about going head hunting, or taking lessons from Brashear, Downey, or Mike Brown on how to perfectly line up your elbow with the temple of someone’s head, but I do expect the Canucks to start playing some solid physical hockey. If that means subbing in Davison for Salo instead of Vaananen then so be it. The Canucks need to set the tone in the first period in Game 3 and it’s going to start with some hard hits.

And as pump of for game 3, nothing better than the song which aptly fits the title of this post. Get Amped! –

Side Note: Guts McTavish takes on the Chicago writers.

May 042009

The Vancouver Canucks flew to Chicago this morning; Sami Salo wasn’t on the flight.

The Vancouver Canucks made the trip to the Windy City without defenceman Sami Salo.

He remained in Vancouver for treatment on a lower-body injury suffered in Game 2 of the Canucks’ Western Conference semifinal series versus the Chicago Blackhawks.

Salo came off the ice after he scored the first Vancouver goal in Saturday’s 6-3 loss. Afterward, coach Alain Vigneault would only say that it’s a lower-body injury and that Salo was listed as day-to-day.

If Salo is out for any extended period of time, it’s a tremendous loss to the Canucks. Including Saturday night’s game when he left in the 1st period, the Canucks are 39-18-7 with Salo in the lineup and 10-10-3 without him.

Simply, he’s their best overall defenseman. He plays with Willie Mitchell on the team’s shutdown pairing and he moves the puck better than any Canuck defenseman. He plays on the 1st unit powerplay, and in fact, 14 of his 25 regular season points and all 5 of his goals were on the powerplay; 2 of those goals were game-winners. He has 6 points so far in the playoffs and 4 of them were on the powerplay; he has 3 goals, including 2 on the powerplay and 2 game-winners.

Needless to say, the Canucks will need the rest of the defense to step it up. In all likelihood, Ossi Vaananen will replace Salo in the lineup. Vaananen played some big minutes alongside Kimmo Timonen earlier in the season so he should be able to play Salo’s minutes. (He logged 17:54 minutes of ice-time in game 4 of the St. Louis series.) He’s also a more defensively-minded defenseman which should free up someone like Kevin Bieksa offensively.

Now speaking of Bieksa, I think he needs to step up his game the most. In the regular season, he led the defense with 43 points in 72 games (0.60 points/game). So far, he has 2 assists in 6 playoff games and he plays the second-most powerplay ice-time of all Canucks defensemen (4:00 PP minutes/game). (Alex Edler leads the team averaging 4:01 PP minutes/game). That’s not to say he hasn’t been productive because he’s contributed in other ways, but with Salo out, they need him to start contributing offensively again as well.

May 032009

The Canucks CAN win in Chicago. It’s not a matter of if they win. It’s a matter of how they win.

The Canucks sit in a position in which they haven’t been in, well ever. They have depth. After Salo scored his power play goal in first period the defense imploded. That was the turning point in the game. The Canucks defense fell apart, they collapsed in on themselves and before you know it, Kane was walking in on Luongo and the game was out of the Canucks control at that point.

During the season after games in which they collapsed and were handily beaten, their next game they rebounded. After falling to the Coyotes 5-1, they came back with a 5-2 win against Turco and the Stars. After losing 4-2 to the Blues in a game where the kids on St. Louis dismantled our defense, we came back with two convincing wins against the Avalanche (4-1) and the Blackhawks (4-0). Even after the 5-1 loss to the Capitals at the beginning of the season, the Canucks came back and beat the Red Wings.

Sami may be out, but Gillis’ heads up forward thinking is about to pay dividends. Insurance acquisition Ossi Vaananen who’s already seen playoff time to replace Salo at the end of the Blues’ series, has proved he can play as a replacement and be defensively responsible. The Canucks have depth on all levels. Stop to think about the fact that if Pyatt were to return, we are so deep he would/could be a 4th line player. Jannik Hansen has been scratched for the better half of the last 20 games, and if we were to lose another defenseman, we have the services of Rob Davison sitting in the press box.

The Canucks suffered a minor setback Saturday night. That shouldn’t affect how they do on Tuesday. They have an extra day to lick their wounds, and while the shot of Salo will be sorely missed on the point, the Canucks have the pieces in place to continue without major hiccups caused by injury. They rebounded during the regular season, and after facing their first post season loss in this year’s playoffs, it’s time for them to bounce back again.

May 022009

As the bandwagon spills over the edges there are several things which were a bit worrisome in game 2, but there was one or two things to take away from the game.

Luongo can now say he’s had his bad game. Get that out of the way, I’m positive he’ll come back stronger and make a statement on the road at the United Center in Chicago. What worries me the most is that with the loss of Salo the defence collapsed quickly. That being said, we’ve seen the Canucks play well during the long stretch he missed during the regular season, and with the veteran play of Mitchell they have the depth to pull together and move on until he returns.

Salo, the Canucks 2nd leading scorer in this year’s playoffs proved how important he is to the power play’s success again tonight and there’s no doubt Khabibulin is hoping he doesn’t have to face that shot in game 3. Lets be realistic though. The Canucks (as much as we’d like and hoped for) were not going to go 16-0 through the playoffs. The Blackhawks weren’t going to take the series lying down, and the Canucks had to lose at some point. I’m glad they lost when they did. There’s never a good time to lose, but losing the first game would have put them in a hole deep. The fact that they’ve split the first two puts them at square one with this now becoming a best of five.

Certain things were inevitable in this series. The Canucks were going to lose at least once. Khabibulin was going to win and finally break his 11 year losing streak versus the Canucks. The Canucks were going to falter.

Now that the reality check has set in, it’s on, it’s a new series. The fact they won game one despite blowing a 3 goal lead didn’t do the trick. They looked flat and the loss of Salo (who is day-to-day with a lower body injury) seemed to hurt. This year though, we’re not as bad off as we would otherwise be. Edler is stepping up nicely, Ossi Vaananen has proved he can be a consistently solid defensive replacement, and this is exactly what Gillis brought him in for.

While it looks like there’s not a lot to take out of this, the fact that we lost is like getting a monkey off our back. It lowers the bar of expectation which was getting a little high, and taking the Canucks a notch down which is never a bad thing. They weren’t getting cocky and overzealous, but they needed to stay down to earth and keep things in check. If nothing, that’s one of the biggest things to take out of this game. While a loss is never something you want, it can be a blessing in disguise. The Canucks don’t want to be Cinderella this year and losing that first game is one of the steps to making sure that doesn’t happen.

The ship’s not sinking, it’s just leaving port. The series is starting fresh, and we should have some great hockey ahead.

Mar 242009
Feb 282009

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know too much about Ossi Vaananen, but the more I read about the guy, the more I like the pick-up.

A fair number of Philadelphia fans on HFBoards don’t like the fact that Vaananen was waived in the first place. IMHO, that says a lot. Up until about a month ago, Vaananen was playing with Kimmo Timonen as the Flyers’ top-pairing and logging an average of close to 20 minutes per game. He was also popular in the team’s dressing room. For whatever reason however, he found himself lower on the depth chart and in the press box.

From Brad Ziemer (Vancouver Sun):

Vaananen, a 28-year-old native of Finland, has played nearly 500 NHL games and is a former second-round draft pick of the Phoenix Coyotes.

“He’s a sixth-seventh defenceman on a good team, so he gives us depth in that area,” Canuck coach Alain Vigneault said Friday. “He’s a big stay-at-home D.”

The six-foot, four-inch Vaananen is on a one-year contract worth $1 million US. He becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Canuck defenceman Sami Salo has played with Vaananen on Finnish national teams in the past.

“He’s a good guy and a really solid defensive defenceman,” Salo said. “He doesn’t back off any physical play and plays hard every game. I think he going to fit pretty good in this locker room.”

The Kurtenbloggers have this to add:

Here’s what we know about Vaananen – he’s big (6-foot-4, 215lbs), cheap ($1 million) and, based on his career numbers, can play around 18 minutes per night. He’s a physical defenceman (led all rookies in hits in 2000-01 with 190) who’s not much of an offensive threat (career-high 16 points), but a career plus-25 mark is indicative of his responsiblity in his own zone. Apparently, he’s also quite injury prone, which is another reason he should get along with Salo.

Regardless, it certainly sounds like Vaananen is quite a serviceable defenseman. He gives the Canucks some much-needed depth on the blueline. Assuming the Canucks’ d-men all stay healthy, he would be their number 6/7 guy with Shane O’Brien and behind Ohlund, Salo, Mitchell, Bieksa and Edler. If any of them get injured, he would be able to play more than the 10 minutes per game Rob Davison plays.

More importantly, Vaananen’s acquisition cost the Canucks nothing more than a roster spot. Considering what the team had given up for depth defensemen in previous years – i.e. 2nd and 4th round draft picks for Brent Sopel, Brent Skinner and a 2nd round pick for Keith Carney (and Juha Alen), Tomas Mozjis and a 3rd round draft pick for Eric Weinrich, a 4th round draft pick for Sean Brown, and a 7th round draft pick for Marc Bergevin – getting Vaananen without giving up an asset is a treat.

%d bloggers like this: