I Watched This Game is a recurring feature on Pass it to Bulis!, chronicling the observations and insights of some guys who watched a hockey game.
After two games featuring a paucity of veterans so complete that Darcy Hordichuk wore an A on his sweater, the Canucks sent out a more legitimately NHL lineup against the Oilers tonight. The Sedins lined up with last year's preseason wunderkind, Sergei Shirokov, while Raymond, Kesler, and Samuelsson skated as a unit on the second line. The bottom six featured a plethora of potential bottom-six forwards battling to be noticed by Canucks coaching and management: Schaefer, Bolduc, Desbiens, Volpatti, Perreault, and Oreskovich. The defence was a solid combination, with Edler and Hamhuis skating together as the top pairing, a pairing that we might see often throughout the regular season. Ehrhoff was paired with Alberts, who has done quite well for himself in the preseason. The defensive corps were rounded out by Sweatt and Connauton, who may end up being the top pairing in Manitoba. Luongo and Schneider shared the goaltending duties.
Here's what I saw:
- The first goal came early, as Luongo gave up a juicy rebound out to Ben Ondrus, who buried it in the open net. Hard to blame it on Luongo, however, when three Canucks skaters (I believe it was Connauton, Oreskovitch, and Volpatti) followed the puck carrier, Whitney, and no one took Ondrus, who was wide open.
- Sergei Shirokov looked pretty comfortable with the Sedins over the first couple shifts and made a simply gorgeous between the legs pass to Daniel at the blueline towards the end of the first period that was positively Sedin-esque, but he didn't do enough to set himself apart. He'll need a couple more good performances in the preseason where he clearly outplays his competition in order to stick with the team to start the year.
- Connauton and Sweatt looked good as a tandem; Sweatt especially made some beautiful passes and showed his Rafalski-like tendencies. He also made a great defensive play on a Horcoff breakaway, catching up to him and poking the puck away without taking a penalty. He's making an argument to be the first call-up from the Moose. Connauton seemed to simplify his game from Monday and was significantly better.
- Volpatti acquitted himself nicely during the first fight of the game, but he hasn't been as impressive in the NHL preseason as he was with the prospects. He's in tough competition with a sizeable guy like Oreskovich in the running for the fourth line. Oreskovich has wheels to go with his size and hits with conviction.
- Henrik was out on the penalty kill in the first period, which is an odd choice in the preseason; most teams would want to keep their Hart and Art Ross trophy winner away from situations that might cause an injury...
- Both goals on Luongo were a bit ugly; the rebound on the first goal wasn't great, even if Ondrus shouldn't have been open in the first place, but even though the puck was deflected on the second goal, Luongo came off his post too early. Other than that, he was solid. He played confidently, challenged the shooters, and moved swiftly from post to post. No panic about the goals; it's the first game of the preseason.
- Desbiens likes to throw hits and he plays well on the boards, but there were times he looked confused on the ice, like he had no idea where to go. Still, he destroyed Eberle with a solid hit halfway through the third.
- Hamhuis and Edler looked great together. Edler's slapshot was in mid-season form and he rung a laser off the post with one beauty. Hamhuis looked like he was everywhere on the ice, jumping into the rush effectively and responsibly.
- Kesler, Raymond, and Samuelsson looked like what they are: one of the best scoring lines in the NHL. No results, but the forechecked effectively, swarming the Oiler's defence like bees around Nicolas Cage's head.
- Bolduc just doesn't seem strong enough to play at the NHL level, especially on the fourth line. He got muscled off the puck far too many times in this game. Still, he made some effective plays on the penalty kill, especially on the 5 on 3 in the third period.
- At one point during the broadcast, Shorty goaded Burrows into saying "slewfoot." Awesome.
- Giroux targetting Daniel's knee in the third: ugly. Shirokov attempting to stand up for Daniel: admirable. Daniel coming right back out for the next shift and scoring a goal: relief.
- Speaking of Daniel's goal, that was a fascinating powerplay. It looks like Newell Brown has brought some new powerplay strategies with him. It was essentially an umbrella formation, but every player on the ice was constantly in motion, with the defencemen cycling down low and forwards replacing them at the point. This style really seems to play to the Sedin's strengths. Henrik made a great play to keep the puck alive, then Edler slipped a diagonal pass through the penalty killer's box to Henrik, who flipped it in front for Daniel to bat in.
- Schaefer's short-handed goal was an odd one, a slapshot from the point that evaded Dubnyk. Just prior to the goal, Shorty and Burrows were talking about the curve on Schaefer's stick, that it can cause a curve to his shot. It looks like that's what happened here. Schaefer's hard work on the penalty kill is what caused the goalscoring chance to begin with.
- Unfortunately, the prototypical Canucks comeback was not to be, as Ehrhoff and Edler had a rare mental mistake after a change while on the penalty kill, allowing Gregory Stewart in behind them, who made no mistake on Cory Schneider, the only goal Schneider allowed.
Overall it was a decent game. The Sedins had moments of synchronicity, the Kesler line was solid all night, and the defence was generally very good, but something was missing. It's comforting to think that likely only two of the bottom-six forwards playing tonight will actually start the year with the Canucks. Judging from training camp and the preseason thus far, Oreskovich and Perreault are the likely frontrunners. Schaefer is in a tough spot as he needs to not only outplay the other potential bottom-six forwards but also Brendan Morrison, as the Canucks only have room for one more contract. His strong play on the penalty kill, decent speed, and short-handed goal show that he can still play, but there doesn't seem to be room in the Canucks lineup.