Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Keeping Track of Puck Battles: Can Puck-Strength Be Quantified?

I think Jannik Hansen wins puck battles, but I don't know if I can prove it.

Tuesday morning on the Team 1040, Scotty Rintoul and Ray Ferraro held their regular weekly interview with Mike Gillis. These interviews tend to range in their entertainment value, depending on whether Gillis feels like needling Scotty for the inanity of his questions or not, but there was one particularly interesting moment. Because Gillis attended the Moose/Heat game on Saturday, he was asked about what he looks for in a young prospect in terms of bringing them up to the NHL. He didn't hesitate to answer1: "the one most telling test is their puck-strength and their ability to win puck battles...that's what really separates guys from the American League and the NHL." He talked about strength in protecting the puck and winning puck battles as being the number one thing he looks for on the ice. Not skating, not shooting, not defensive positioning, not stickhandling - puck-strength.

I was intrigued by this, as puck-strength is one of those qualities of a player that seems to defy quantification: there are no statistics that track how strong a player is on a puck, yet it is one of the foundational abilities that leads to success at the NHL level. It's also one of the most easily discernible differences between a rookie and a veteran in the NHL: rookies tend to be knocked off the puck easily and lose puck battles along the boards, while veterans do not. They've got old-man strength. I'd like to look at the one particular area of puck-strength that Mike Gillis mentioned: winning puck battles.

What's the Story With Mason Raymond?

Canucks fans rejoiced this summer when Mike Gillis avoided arbitration with Mason Raymond, the speedy winger that had broken out with a career-high 25 goals. Optimists said that Raymond was a future 30-goal scorer and that he would reach the next level this season.

His renovated ceiling and a new echelon of comparable players led to offseason chatter (or, at the very least, rumours mongered by superagent J.P. Barry) that Raymond was looking for somewhere north of 3.5 million dollars in arbitration. On the steps of the courthouse, however, the Canucks and Raymond agreed to a deal worth 2.5 million for two years. Here's what I said at the time:

I love [this signing]. Gillis gets Raymond at a reasonable cap hit for two years. This is brilliant, because if he turns out to be a one-season wonder as a genuine top-six forward, he's still got a ton of value as a speedy checker. Even if his scoring numbers dip a little bit, Raymond is worth 2.5.

It was and is a reasonable contract, which might be the only reason he's yet to be seriously called out for his slow start to the season. He isn't overpaid, and in a cap world, that seems to be all that matters to people. Furthermore, he's still contributing as a checker (fore- and back-); he doesn't take penalties (only 1 minor all season); he's an important part of Canucks special teams; and his speed backs off defenders 5-on-5, giving his linemates space and time to work. He's got 9 assists for his efforts, only one point back of his point totals through 22 games last year.

But he's not scoring. It's problematic, and it's tough to know what the problem is. Through 22 games, he has 4 goals. The season is still young, but last year, through 22 games, he had 8. A year after scoring 25, Raymond is on pace for nearly half that, at 14. So what's the problem? It's hard to say. He could simply be a one-season wonder. He could also be playing hurt. Was that last year an anomaly or is there something else wrong?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Aaron Volpatti Crushes Mitch Wahl; It is Decidedly Not Awesome

It's not the best quality video, but this hit on the Mitch Wahl was perhaps the scariest moment of Saturday's game between the Manitoba Moose and Abbotsford Heat. Wahl comes across the offensive zone and takes a shot, but he spends a fraction of a second too long watching the puck. In that time, Moose forward and Canucks prospect Aaron Volpatti catches him with a devastating open-ice hit (on the right side of the screen).

Volpatti is immediately challenged by Heat defenseman Joe Piskula. Unfortunately for Piskula, Volpatti is good at fighting; preliminary observations indicate Piskula is not.

I was at this game, and the hit was a particularly scary moment. Wahl didn't move for quite some time, and was eventually stretchered off the ice. After removing him to the ambulance, the ice crew scraped away a large pool of dried blood.

The only good news was that the stretcher didn't leave the arena right away, indicating Wahl's injury wasn't as serious as it initially looked.

According to Cam Tucker's Twitter account, Heat coach Jim Playfair said today that Wahl suffered a cracked cheekbone and a cut on his eye, and may require surgery. Playfair also said the hit wasn't malicious or dirty.

But who cares about the legality of the hit? The real issue is that a guy was left motionless on the ice, bleeding from the head. Delivered within the rules or otherwise, head injuries are a do-not-want situation. It's a damn shame when something like this happens.

PITB's sentiments are with Mitch Wahl. Here's to a full recovery.

I Find This Photo Odd: Some Dude's Leg Edition

This image is from the season-opener (that's a Kings' leg Sammy is strangling). I'm not really sure what to say about it.

I feel like this photo is already photoshopped, like something else was in place of that leg before. Maybe originally, Samuelsson was posing with a horse, or a puppet, or a great big number seven, or a novelty candy cane, and some joker came along and spliced an upside-down leg in there. Maybe Samuelsson is really angry and he's actually in the process of contorting this Kings player so he can go eff himself? My brain is trying to make sense of this, but it can't. What the crap is going on here?

I find this photo odd.

A Gift of Five Babcocks

Yeah, the Canucks are a great team, but let's not get too excited. They may have the league's best power-play, be among the best in penalty killing, and have rediscovered their even strength game, but that's still no reason to get too worked up. In fact, I apologize to all those fans mashing the panic button for writing this article trying to talk them down. Those fans are still wrong, but at the same time, maybe they're oh so right.

Look at what Mike Babcock said to the Detroit Free Press: "I want to be real careful that we don't sound that excited. I've found over the years coaching in this league, as soon as you think you get excited about your team, then you lose four in a row."

The man is a prophet. Wait, prophets see things before they happen--let's check the date. Okay, that's fair, he's not a prophet, so much as somebody who is able to talk about events after they occur, like a televangelist. Remember when the Canucks had won seven of eight? People were talking Cup, and then BAM! Four-game losing streak. Was he talking about the Canucks specifically? We can't be sure. All we know for sure is he definitely was. Clearly, we got excited about the team. That's where we went wrong.

So what's his method? "I find that being a little scared is a good way to live." Great, but easier said than done. His team has the best win rate in the league, is at the top of the conference and has at least one game in hand on everyone else. What could they possibly be scared about? He's got the answer:

Saturday, November 27, 2010

PITB Continues to be Almost Famous

Solid video from The Score exploring the Blogger vs. Mainstream Media Battle Royale that Pass it to Bulis was briefly embroiled in for approximately 3 days earlier this month. Damien Cox is featured as the spokesman for the mainstream media, which is a shame, as he spews his usual rhetoric regarding how bloggers can't be held accountable because they don't use their real names, yada yada yada. He does more damage for his own position in the interview than I could ever do taking him to task on our piddly little blog.

But are we so piddly? What is that I see at 2:01 in the above video? I do believe that's a certain article written by our own real-named Harrison Mooney. Sure, they blur out our name so we can't benefit from being featured on The Score, but we still can pat each other's backs and feel good about ourselves.

Seriously guys, this is big. This is being featured in your local newspaper as the "Smile of the Day" big. This is getting re-tweeted by Iain MacIntyre big. This is World's Largest Maple Leaf big. Okay, maybe not that big, but it's still big.

Quarter Poll: Which is the Best Hit by a Canuck This Season?

After Dan Hamhuis obliterated Douglas Murray last night with a crazy hipcheck, I got to thinking about the Canucks overall hittiness and the number of big checks we've already seen this season. I asked, in this post, if that was the best one? Some of you answered in the comments, reminded me of a few I'd forgotten about, and led me to this post.

We have seen six pretty excellent hits seen from the Canucks this season: Raffi Torres on Tyler Myers, Raffi Torres on Andrew Cogliano, Alex Edler on Matt Duchene, Andrew Alberts on Pavel Datsyuk, Keith Ballard on Evgeni Malkin, and Dan Hamhuis on Douglas Murray. It's a quarter of the way through the season and it's a good time for a poll. You'll find that poll to the right of this post in the sidebar. Which hit was the best one?

All six bone-rattling candidates after the jump.

I Watched This Game: Canucks vs. Sharks, November 27, 2010

Canucks 6 - 1 Sharks

Often times, we react to a Canucks game as though Vancouver was the only team on the ice. By this, I mean that, for Canucks fans, the final score of the game only reflects how the Canucks played. If they win, it's because they played well. If they lose, it's because they played poorly. We tend to ignore factors like, for instance, the play of the other team. I bring this up because while the Canucks played well enough to win last night, it was the piss-poor effort of the San Jose Sharks that turned this one into an exercise in heinousness.

Yes, last night's game was heinous, but since the Canucks won it, I can't complain. It was a beautiful atrocity, like when you hit the seagull that stole your sandwich with a rock, mid-flight, and you see both plummet into the ocean. The part of me that appreciates fine things (hockey, sandwiches) groans a little, but the part of me that enjoys seeing the enemy drown in a sea of fail cackles with glee. Oh my, yes, I watched this beautiful atrocity:

  • Let's talk about good coaching. In the third period, Alain Vigneault switched up his lines. He wasn't line-juggling for fun, or just to get something started; he was shrewdly reacting to the desperation of the opposing coach. When Todd McLellan starting whole-hogging it and put Thornton, Marleau, and Heatley together, Vigneault reacted by creating a checking line of Samuelsson, Malhotra, and Glass. It was a smart move. The Canucks' new trio scored the next two goals and negated any offensive pushback from the Sharks. The insurance goal (above) came after a blocked shot by Tanner Glass and some brilliant individual work by Mikael Samuelsson.

  • That said, how many times do I have to say Tanner Glass should not be on the frakkin' third line? Seriously, do I have to write a song about it? Do I have to write a sonnet in perfect iambic pentameter (apart from occasional "feminine endings") with an ABBA structure right up to the concluding couplet? Because that's what I'll do.

Tanner Glass should not be on the third line,
For his offensive skills, at best, do want,
And thus, it leaves Vancouver's forwards gaunt
Of scoring punch among their topmost nine.
That Tanner Glass has value, yes, is true,
At checking, and supplying grittiness.
The fourth line profits from his hittiness,
But third-line shifts are shifty through and through.
Defensively, he's sound, and that's a plus,
But both teams will find scoring threats abated.
His fourth-lineness is greatly underrated,
So why, Vigneault, wouldst thou promote him thus?
A third-line shift doth crown a list of wrongs.
Let's keep him on the fourth, where he belongs.

  • Here's hoping that was Samuelsson's breakout game. Two goals, and both of them a candidate for what we like to call Sam's Surprises. It's incredible what a multi-goal game can do for a guy, especially just in terms of projected stats. Samuelsson is now on pace for 22 goals. It's less goals than last year, but he's also on pace for 59 points, which would be a new career-high. Bet you didn't know that. Samuelsson's first goal was absolutely brilliant, as he totally bamboozled Niclas Wallin with the shot fake, and timed it perfectly so that Wallin stepped aside right when Niemi was being screened. That was a highly intelligent play from a highly intelligent player.

  • And before we move on, poor Dan Boyle. I'm not sure what happened there, but here's my theory: Seven years ago, Boyle entreated Satan for his excellent hockey skills, and the dark lord sent Samuelsson, one of his secret minions (which is why he looks kinda goatlike), to grant the wish. Samuelsson arrived in a plume of wickedness and fulfilled the request. "But one day," he said, fiendishly, "I will call on you for a favour, and you must perform it, no matter the cost." Then in a wisp of devilfire, he returned to the lap of the damned. Anyway, he totally just wasted that favour.

  • I thought Alex Burrows was excellent, even before he scored. He's been one of the Canucks best forwards the last two games, and it he appears to be rounding back into form. Also rounding into form? A potter's wheel.

  • How terrified are opposing teams of Henrik Sedin when he's camped behind the net? Watch the Burrows goal and check out how much time Henrik has back there. Furthermore, check out how oblivious they are to Burrows smartly sliding into a scoring area. Everybody in the world knows Henrik is looking for him (I was watching Burrows from the moment Henrik got turned around). But the Sharks are so concerned with what he's going to do that they forget to take anybody else.

  • A word about Keith Ballard. He was solid, playing 17:52, scoring a goal (bit of a fluke, that), and leading the team with 4 hits. He played on a pairing with Dan Hamhuis that I quite liked, and finished the night a plus-2. Here's hoping he's beginning to turn a corner and getting comfortable here. Leave the discomfort for people that buy mattresses on Craigslist.

  • Many people attributed the lopsided victory to the absence of Kevin Bieksa. I hate to be the voice of reason (not true, I love it), but Bieksa was the best defender in the last game. The Canucks may have won without him, but they didn't win because they were without him. Give your head a shake, person who thought otherwise.

  • Dan Hamhuis should have been a waiter, because boy oh boy can he deliver a check. I'm especially impressed with the heavy shrug he gave to ensure Douglas Murray got maximum airtime.

  • While we're talking about checks, it should be pointed out that we saw the Canucks' new defensive additions pay off in spades last night. Typically, San Jose pushes the smaller Canucks around. This game was a different story. Hamhuis destroyed Douglas Murray, Alberts crushed Logan Couture, and Keith Ballard led the hit parade with a game-high 4. The stat counters claim both teams delivered 20 hits. To that I say, bah. The Canucks won the physical game handily, largely on the strength of the newfound hittiness of their top-six, as well as the total slumber party from a typically strong San Jose team.

  • I owe Jannik Hansen an apology. Last IWTG, I said his hands were like the hands of the Swedish Chef, a classic Muppet show character, but on the pretty pass that led to this goal, they were more like Rowlf's.

  • The Canucks have talked about being able to roll all four line. How's this? No Canuck played under ten minutes last night.

  • And finally, let's talk, as we often do, about faceoffs. In a battle of the two best faceoff teams in the league, the Canucks won 57% of the draws, led by a 10-for-14 showing by Henrik Sedin. This is awesome, in that Henrik is the third-best of the Canucks three faceoff guys. When he's going, the team is going to win in the circle. Henrik won all 5 of his draws in the offensive zone, too. That'll help. Manny Malhotra had a rare sub-50% night, winning only 9 of 20 draws. Of note: the Sharks were without their best faceoff guy in Scott Nichol, and you can bet he would have helped.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Dan Hamhuis Brings the Zowie, Douglas Murray Brings the Zoinks

Apparently unaware that Keith "Hips" Ballard is the guy who hipchecks, Dan Hamhuis gets hip on Douglas Murray. There's little to say to this but, uh, that's pretty neat. I love a good hipcheck. How can you not love it? I think it's safe to say the only guy who didn't enjoy this hit was this guy.

You thought I meant Douglas Murray, right? Wrong. Murray probably totally enjoyed that. People love flying through the air, hence the invention of the airplane.

Question for the Bulies: we've seen Andrew Alberts level Pavel Datsyuk and Keith Ballard lay a pretty nice hipcheck on Evgeni Malkin, but is this the best hit by a Canuck this season?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Rick Rypien Granted Leave of Absence For Personal Reasons

The Canucks announced today that they granted Rick Rypien an indefinite leave of absence for personal matters. This is the second time in three years that Rypien's been granted a leave for personal reasons. It could be a completely separate issue; it likely isn't.

People are wondering what it is, and I hope it stays a secret. If it's substance abuse (as rumoured last time, and only rumoured), it's nobody business but his own. Most of us have a family member or friend that's struggled with substance abuse and it's Hell; there's no need to add a public element to it. And if it's something else, it's still nobody's business but his own.

PITB's prayers go out to Rick Rypien during what must be a very difficult time. Get what you need, Ryp.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I Watched This Game: Canucks vs. Avalanche, November 24, 2010

Canucks 4 - 2 Avalanche

Last night was an excellent return to form for Vancouver, who did something they haven't done in ages: they won a game with sound defensive play and sustained offensive pressure. The stat sheet tells us that Colorado outshot Vancouver 23-19, but it doesn't tell the whole story: the puck spent far more time in the Avalanche zone than it did the Canucks' end. The Canucks were leaps and bounds better 5-on-5. It was nice to see the Sedins cycle return, and it was nice to see all three members of the second line looking dangerous and sharing some chemistry. The line juggling appeared to be a success, as the new-look trios all did a good job of maintaining momentum and keeping the puck out of their zone. Here's hoping they stay together awhile.

But enough looking ahead. This series is about dwelling on the very recent past. You see, not too long ago, I watched this game:

  • The sustained offensive pressure meant diminished pressure on the defense corps, which played better, but still looked shaky. Hammy and Hips are still trying to find their legs, but everyone else was solid last night. Edler was jumping into rushes smartly, Ehrhoff was carrying the puck out of his zone and starting them with regularity, and Andrew Alberts' work on the penalty-kill was top-notch. In one late 2nd-period kill, he blocked two shots, hit everything in sight, and downright picked on Matt Duchene and John-Michael Liles. AV justified sitting Rome over Andy Alby by pointing to Alberts' penalty killing, and we saw it on display last night.

  • That said, the best defenseman on the ice was Kevin Bieksa. It's strange to say, especially in a game that featured two potential Western Conference all-star d-men in Edler and Liles, but Bieksa really was at the top of the heap. He scored his first goal of the season on a beautiful tip-in after smartly going to the net on a delayed penalty. He made some other dangerous offensive rushes as well, and he always seemed to be the first man back when the Canucks got into a spot. If he played like this every game, he'd be a fan favourite.

  • Through his first ten games, Alex Burrows had looked a little off. He scored a goal (above), factored into another, and caused his special brand of positive disarray in the offensive zone all night. Last night he looked a little on. This is a good sign, and it is entirely possible that he will soon be a lot on. Eventually, with a little luck, he might be full on, all the way across the sky.

  • Yes, the triple rainbow line was, as it should be, the Canucks' best line. A spoonful of wizardous sedinerie led to 2 points for each linemate and a plus-6. A good recipe for success: score twice and don't get scored on. I've personally found that if you score and the other team doesn't, you'll win most of the time. When won't you? Collecting abstinence pledges.
  • That said, Burrows' second assist was bogus. Daniel centered the puck for him and he missed it. Henrik pick it up on the half-wall, then pulled off the slap-pass play with his brother. During that give-and-go, Burrows never touched the puck. So why does he get an assist simply for being nearby? I'm happy for the guy, but, let us please try to protect the sanctity of the second assist before some idiot suggests we abolish it. This ain't no Russian hockey league.

  • It's not always readily apparent what Jannik Hansen brings to this team. We know it's not hands, which are a bit like the Swedish Chef's in that they're never quite in sync with the rest of him. Upon hearing that he was bumped down to the fourth line, opinion vacillated between Good, he's only got four points this season, and Why Hansen? He was playing really well. The truth is that Hansen's best asset is his skating. Often we talk about skating like it's just top-end speed, but there's more than that. Hansen is a master at puck tracking--he skates fast, but he can also change directions and get back to a high speed better than anybody else. Since nobody expects the fourth line to score, Hansen's team-best skating ability can stand on its own while he's down there.

  • During one of the intermissions, the Sportsnet ticker told us the final score of the FC Kobenhavn vs. Rubin Kazan UEFA game. It read: RUB -1 FCK - 0. Take from this what you will.

  • My favourite moment: Jeff Tambellini, waiting for the referee to reverse the decisions on Ryan Kesler's disallowed goal. Tamby was visibly pumped when the puck went in, and you could see him waiting breathlessly for it to count. When the referee came away from the booth, the camera catches Tamby mouthing "Come on, you motherf... come on." Hilarious and sweet. I love his elation when the call goes his way.

  • That was, by the by, Ryan Kesler's 100th career goal. Congratulations are in order. And now, here they are: congratulations.

  • But seriously, the fact that his goal was legal is ridiculous. Here's why the puck goes in: Tambellini whacks Budaj in the side of the head with his stick. As Budaj recoils from being bludgeoned, he actually butts the puck with the other side of his head and it falls into the net. Apparently, you're allowed to do that. Tamby, on the whack: “I pulled a Keith Ballard there [...]" Hilarious.

  • Reason to sigh: now some people are complaining that the Canucks powerplay is bad. Oh, shut up, some people.

  • And speaking of Budaj, poor Craig Anderson. For the second straight game, he had to leave the game with an injury suffered in the warm-up. Anderson can't catch a break, save the part of his body that does exactly that whenever he comes to town. Even the NBA is laughing at his problems with Vancouver.

  • Joel Perrault is a forgettable guy, ain't he? I forgot he was even playing last night, and apparently, so did Alain Vigneault. Perrault logged a team low 5:15, and I don't remember hearing his name once. I don't think I've ever missed Alex Bolduc so much and, all things considered, I likely never will again.

  • In the faceoff circle, the Canucks were very good and the Avalanche were a gallon of fail. Vancouver won 34 of the game's 52 draws, led by an 11-for-15 showing by Manny Malhotra that included 6 out of 6 in the defensive zone. Faceoff goat? Paul Stastny, who only won 6 in 21 tries. Sidenote: having coined the term "Faceoff goat" I am now envisioning a live goat who takes faceoffs. And now, I'm envisioning the classic John Woo movie, Face/Off. But with goats.

  • I really like the way the Canucks do the Ring of Honour tributes. Short, sweet, and classy. Apart from a terrifying moment where the tarp professed its love for the plaque beneath it and refused to leave it behind, it was a perfect pre-game ceremony.

  • And finally: I thought today about what a ridiculous idea Fin is. An anthropomorphic killer whale who playfully tries to murder fans by biting their skulls open? Not awesome. You know if his teeth weren't made of foam, Brody, Quint, and Hooper would be looking for him.

But Seriously, Thanks for Everything, Peter Schaefer

Peter Schaefer, artist's rendering.

Ben Kuzma reported this morning that checking winger Peter "Soul Patch" Schaefer, recently put on waivers by the Canucks, will not report to the Moose. He will likely retire (or go to Europe, which is, for North American hockey fans, usually the same thing).

Poor Schaefer never really got a fair shake from the Vancouver fans. Maligned as the reason we couldn't stay friends with Brendan Morrison (when, in reality, Schaefer fit the team's needs so much more, at least coming out of the preseason), he was compared to B-Mo from day one, even though their roles and skillsets were very different. Critics are waist-deep in hindsight right about now, but keeping Peter Schaefer made a lot of sense in September. A former 20-goal scorer that missed a full NHL season, Schaefer won a job out of training camp on the merit of his excellent penalty-killing. The good faith was that he would recover his historically strong skating ability after a handful of games, and the Canucks would have a cheap, speedy, defensively responsible, veteran with some decent hands in the bottom-six. You can see why it was a valid gamble; it simply didn't pay off.

That said, rather than shake our fists at what he couldn't do, let us shake his hand for what he did: Schaefer's comeback was genuinely remarkable, as it takes real talent to spend a whole season out of hockey and then step right back into NHL duty )just ask Cody Hodgson). Schaefer truly was an excellent penalty-killer. His last NHL goal was a hugely important tally against tonight's opponent, the Colorado Avalanche. Not to mention Schaefer was a quality topic for PITB comedy for a solid two months. He earned his own, specialized hashtag (No Second Line For Schaefer), and he's been the target of more than a few one liners. Let's close with some of our favourites:

People were taking shots at Henrik for being a poor captain tonight. Is this fair? Here's my thinking: if we're seeing evidence that wearing the C for the Canucks makes you play worse, we should give it to Peter Schaefer. Nobody will notice. -- IWTG, Nov. 20

Poor Jeff Tambellini has already been sent to the Moose, and I'm sure that his first mediocre game with the Sedins didn't help. Still, that sucks, because he can play. I recognize that it's a strategic move, but Peter Schaefer [is] still in the lineup; that is to say there is a better strategy. -- IWTG, Nov. 1

Schaefer's doofy little fist pump after the goal was far less beautiful. What the heck was that? He looks like he just got the right answer on Bible Jeopardy. -- IWTG, Oct. 26

The Dead Puck Era created more offense than Peter Schaefer does. -- IWTG, Oct. 22

[If] I see Peter Schaefer start on the second line again, I will straight-up murder a beanie baby. -- Armchair Cynic...

Last night, the 2nd line consisted of Ryan Kesler between Peter Schaefer and Jannik Hansen, a duo that has combined for zero points this season and will likely improve that number very slowly over the next six months. -- Kesler Is Struggling...

But seriously, thanks for everything, Peter Schaefer. We wish you nothing but the best.

Note: for additional Schaefer-based comedy blogging, check out Stanley Cup of Chowder's A Day in the Life of Peter Schaefer from 2008 (wherefrom I pilfered the photo at the top of this page).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

5 Reasons Harrison Mooney Loves the Canucks

"Five Reasons I Love the Canucks" is a feature at Nucks Misconduct, inspired by Puck Daddy's "Five Reasons..." series. It features Canucks fans explaining, in their own words, the reasons for their passionate support of the team, and offers readers a chance to contribute their own stories to the site.

Here are five reasons I, Harrison Mooney, co-founder of Pass it to Bulis, love the Canucks.

1. The Worst Jelly Beans I've Ever Had
I have a family friend to thank for the seeds of my Canuck fandom. A huge fan who just wanted to spread the disease, he gave me a Canucks-themed gift for Christmas when I was six. The gift was a massive beer glass with the Canucks logo on it, full of jelly beans in Canucks colors. At first glance, it was a sweet gift. It would hold, like, a gallon of chocolate milk, and in order for me to drink out of it, I had to mine the metric ton of candy within it.

I later realized the gift had more to do with trying to convert me than with whether or not I would enjoy it. Consider that the Canucks colors, at the time, were yellow, orange and black, which meant that one-third of the jelly beans were black. Who gives a kid that many black jelly beans? Ask any person the worst flavour of jelly bean, and they'll tell you: black. Black jelly beans are the worst thing in the world.

The problem was that I loved candy so much that I loved the principle of candy more than I loved specific candies. Once I had worked through the scrumptiously tangy yellow and orange jelly beans, I realized I only had two options: eat, like, fifty black jelly beans, or throw perfectly good candy away. So I ate those jelly beans. I sat there for one committed afternoon, eating some awful candy, telling myself, you will eat and enjoy every last terrible one, and you'll be the better for it. I believe that some of this forced enjoyment transferred over to the team that was implicit in my self-torture, and through that afternoon of anguish, I trained myself to like the Canucks. How else to explain my love for a team that never wins anything?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tanner Glass: Scrabble Champion Apparel is the New Hotness

I've heard a lot of talk today about what the problem with the Canucks is, but here's what it boils down to: they're playing badly. In nearly every facet. That is my analysis. Here's my prediction: it won't last and they'll get some traction again soon. Keep in mind that they won eight of nine before losing four in a row. Neither streak was indicative of their overall skill level.

But that's not why I'm posting. I'm posting because reader @plusfelonesse, one of our favourite Bulies, has designed the above image for potential t-shirts and the Tanner Glass Open Scrabble Challenge. I just wanted to share it with you. Let me just say that it's downright exciting to have such a cool readership. We've only been doing this since April, but the community we're seeing develop is really, really exciting. Here's hoping it only gets better. We'll keep writing as long as you keep reading.

Question: if we got some of these shirts made up, would you pay money for one?

An Open Challenge to Tanner Glass, and Other NHL Scrabblers

Last week, in an interview on the Team 1040, Canucks winger Tanner Glass disclosed that he and teammate Aaron Rome often play Scrabble on team flights. This stunning revelation immediately grabbed me. Unfortunately, nobody else cared. Scrabble is a niche game. Either you love it, or you hate it, and to love it, you have to be a wordplay sort of guy. Guys like this are few and far between, namely because they die young, their survival skills sorely lacking.

I am that sort of guy. I love Scrabble. In fact, I hereby issue an open challenge to Tanner Glass: let's scrabble. You and me, pal. I will throw down on you like you're a triple-word score. Your scrabble is wack. My scrabble is the radness. You think you can handle my scrabble? Then scrabble me, Tanner.

And now we wait. In the meantime, I did some research and asked around, looking for other NHL personalities who dabble in the scrabble. Coming up, 20 NHL personalities who have a weakness for the world's greatest crossword-building game.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Happy Reminders in Lieu of Excuses

So the Canucks are on a losing streak.

As far as streaks go, anyone will tell you I'm more of a fan of the winning ones than the losing ones. Both are bound to happen in an 82-game schedule, and honestly, you can say before the season starts that the Canucks will win between 45 and 55 games this season, and lose between 27 and 37. It shouldn't bother us particularly when the losses come in a row.

Still, I like winning streaks better than losing streaks because I know the Canucks are a solid team, and I like hearing sportscasters and the like recognize them. It's cool to see them near the top of the power rankings, it's cool to hear people talk about how great their power play is. And the forums are always full of crazy, but it's happy crazy rather than panic crazy. I like happy crazy. It's more fun to say, "that's cool, but come on guys, Edler won't really win the Norris," than to say, "that's a drag, but come on guys, there are worse players out there than Bieksa."

I don't believe in excuses. I don't like making them, I don't like hearing them. I've always believed in owning up to your failures, acknowledging your mistakes, and truthfully assessing how likely they are to continue. "I've screwed up. I shouldn't have screwed up, but I did. I'll do my best in the future, and hopefully won't continue to screw up, because that's not acceptable." The Canucks don't seem to take to excuses, either, and I like that. I like that, when Canucks media suggest that maybe jet lag or fatigue or minor injury or bad officiating or the like may play a factor, the best they can hope for is "Maybe that's a factor but that's part of the game, and we need to do better." That's the truth about this losing streak.

The Canucks haven't been playing up to their potential. Sometimes they're still finding ways to win, but they aren't playing consistently, and they've won games they deserved to lose more often than they've lost games they deserved to win. They need to play better than they are, and it's likely that things will start to click.

Until then, we need to keep our spirits up. This is a temporary apocalypse, not a permanent one (like Z-day, but with a cure). While we wait, take a deep breath, and remember the following:

I Watched This Game: Canucks vs. Coyotes, November 21, 2010

Canucks 2 - 3 Coyotes

Crud. We watched this game, and crud.

  • For the fifth game in a row (!!!), the Canucks dug themselves a two-goal hole before they generated anything. This is a problem. They dig more holes than Dig Dug. Word of advice to the Canucks: I have personally found it is easier to win games when, at some point, I am winning.

  • We at PITB feel like the topic has been a little played out, but the Canucks defense corps is a shoddy six-man unit right now. There is a corpse-ness to their defensive game, and the holes that they dig for themselves are becoming graves. Wasn't defensive depth supposed to be a strength going into this season? I've never missed Sami Salo so much, and he once spent a wonderful summer living in my backyard, teaching me lessons about life.

  • Has anyone seen the Sedins cycle, maybe in a lost and found box somewhere? If so, please return it to Rogers Arena, care of Daniel and Henrik. They continue to avoid sustained offensive pressure like it was housework assigned by their wives (say, doing laundry or taking out the trash--they avoid cycling and recycling). Tonight we noticed that the crummy defense is also playing into this problem, as pucks sent to the blue line have a tendency of sitting on a defenseman's stick long enough for opposing defenders to recover and take away shooting lanes. We request quicker decisions and puck movement.

  • We saw hot and cold from the fourth line tonight. I was just beginning to rag on them for playing ungood when Tanner Glass scored on a heads-up setup from Peter Schaefer, briefly nullifying the statement. Then they gave up the game-winning goal, so... yeah. Note: we were going to link to TVTropes.com's "So yeah" entry here, but it appears to be gone. In it's place, let's try: Sorry, I'm Gay.

  • Anyway. Tanner Glass pounced on that loose puck like it was an unpluralized word dangling over a triple word score (#ScrabbleMeTanner). He read that play like it was 1984.

  • In case anybody thought Joel Perrault was going to accomplish anything, he had 8 shifts tonight and a team-low 4:49 of ice time. He won zero draws, which is notable, as he took two. Who else is left to play center? Bryant "Big Country" Reeves is a natural center looking for a contract, and he's already got some ties to Vancouver.

  • Unfortunately, the 4th-line center role is no longer the Canucks key concern. They have more worries than Simba the lion king, pre-Hakuna Matata.

  • Mason Raymond is simply struggling with his confidence. He hasn't scored since the fluke in Toronto, and that's his only goal in November. His last tally came on October 26 versus Colorado. You could see his lack of confidence tonight on a shorthanded 2-on-1, when he passed the puck off to Alex Burrows, despite having a step on the lone man back. Mason Raymond is a speed demon, not a passing demon. Maybe he should watch every goal he scored last season to get his confidence back?

  • On a positive note, this was a better game than the game which shall not be named, otherwise known as the Voldemort game. Our theory is that the Canucks played the Voldermort game against the Blackhawks in honour of the new Harry Potter movie, which they obviously all saw when it opened the night before.

  • Though it didn't lead to a tying goal, the Canucks' urgency in the game's final minute was something to be praised. They should do that fifty-nine more times each night.

  • I feel like the sun might be setting on Alain Vigneault's heavily-criticized faith in Aaron Rome. It appears all roads are being diverted away from Rome, having previously led to him exclusively, at least in a common idiom. He played 10:30 tonight, and still managed to find time to take a minor penalty and finish the night minus-2. How does he fit it all in?

  • That's what she said.

  • Lucky for Aaron Rome, the team is sucking collectively, like they're all on a date at a malt shoppe. Andrew Alberts wins the participant ribbon for his non-play on Scottie Upshall on the game's first goal. Take the stick, NHLberts, or we'll send you down to AHLberts faster than you can say, "Please don't do that."

I Watched This Game: Canucks vs. Blackhawks, November 20, 2010

Canucks 1 - 7 Blackhawks

Vancouver played tonight with a degree of poorness that I can only partially explain. Apparently misinformed about what was supposed to happen tonight, the Canucks showed up for a slumber party. Then, undeterred by the fact that their guests were playing ice hockey, our boys decided to go to sleep anyway. When they awoke, they were being soundly embarrassed by a Chicago team you'd think they would have gotten up to play.

But they did not get up; they slept. And unfortunately, both PITB and the Chicago Blackhawks were wide awake the whole time, thinking they must be dreaming when it became apparent how easily the Canucks were going to let this one go. Ugh. Yuck. Blech. We watched this game:

  • I've talked in the past about how the Canucks' defense is in complete disarray, and it showed tonight. Bieksa was getting all the blame at the Forum Sports Bar (where we watched the game with fellow bloggers), but this monstrosity was a team effort. Every defenseman finished minus-2 or worse. I was remarking, on the drive home, about how nobody on the back-end is playing in their established position of strength from last year. Everybody's playing the wrong side, with the wrong type of partner. It's maddening.
  • An example: in the absence of Sami Salo, Christian Ehrhoff has been asked to become the Sedins' third passing option, but he's much better playing off the rush with Kesler and Raymond. His blueline pinching isn't as heady, and his choices aren't as sound. Furthermore, he's not receiving the twins' passes cleanly even when he does it right. In the Every Goal series, I detailed how many of his goals came with the second line. He's better there. This is just one of many examples of how the defense can't seem to find a groove.
  • The problem with Ehrhoff's struggles is that they affect everyone else--most notably, Kevin Bieksa, who has effectively become our no. 2 defenseman. He began the game paired with Alex Edler. Bieksa is better at pinching and keeping the Sedins' cycle game alive, and since Ehrhoff isn't scoring, Vigneault's been using Bieksa as the defenseman on the ice with Hank and Danny. The problem is that Bieksa isn't a two-way defenseman; he's a one-way defenseman that can go both ways. If he's focused on defense, he doesn't play offense, and if he's focused on offense, the puck is going into somebody's net. He seems to be playing unsure of how he's playing. But that goes for most of the defenders.
  • Even Dan Hamhuis is playing poorly, and he started off the year playing so well. His foot injury came at a terrible time, and it's clearly still bothering him. It's frustrating because it's been long enough now since he's been playing well that fans are beginning to wonder if he ever was. He was. He's no has-been. He might again.
  • It's hecka easy to complain after a night like tonight, so let's rag on the Sedins. Shocking pronouncement: they're underperforming. Don't let their impressive point totals, uh, impress you. The Sedins are scoring, but they're not getting any sustained offensive pressure. The problem with that is that if you can't hem your opponent in the offensive zone, the party's coming to your house. The Canucks' strength over the past few seasons has been 5-on-5 play (remember the LA series, where they outplayed the Kings 5-on-5 drastically) , but that strength is borne from two lines that cycle the puck and retain possession. The Sedins used to do it the best. Not so much lately. They're still scoring, but the puck is coming back to the defensive zone far too quickly, and that's putting too much pressure on a defensive unit that can't handle it right now. People said the Sedins were invisible tonight, and they were. But they're invisible on nights when they score if they can't establish their cycle game and eat the clock with sustained pressure.
  • People were taking shots at Henrik for being a poor captain tonight. Is this fair? Here's my thinking: if we're seeing evidence that wearing the C for the Canucks makes you play worse, we should give it to Peter Schaefer. Nobody will notice. Or better yet, give it to the other team's captain, so he'll play really terribly against us.
  • I was relieved when Luongo got pulled and Schneider played just as poorly. Thank you, Cory, for your part in mitigating the potential goaltending controversy. That's just teamwork. When nobody's playing well, it's best to go with the flow.
  • The good news is that Luongo usually plays fabulously in the game after he gets pulled, so we should expect a win tonight in Phoenix. I was thinking to myself: if he plays so well after getting yanked, the Canucks should yank him in games before big games, so he'll win them. In fact, they should just yank him all the time, even when he's not playing. On off days, Vigneault or Melanson should call him and tell him he just got the hook so he'll play well next game.
  • You know things are going awfully when people's expectations have been so tempered they're just praying the Canucks don't get shut out. Samuelsson's goal was a little like salvaging three hubcaps from a totalled car. It's completely meaningless, but it's something. And good on Ryan Kesler, the only Canuck who didn't finish the game in the minuses, for the inside-outside move he made to get that scoring chance. He was the best Canuck tonight.
  • I wrote myself a letter before the game asking my future self to come back in the time machine he invents (that's happening), to warn me if the Canucks were going to get whooped. I thought we were going to win tonight because I didn't show. That said, it was probably for the best that Future Harrison stayed away. I was actually planning to murder him and steal the credit for his work. Know thyself.
  • There were green children at tonight's game. The green men have reproduced, and this merits a discussion. We know there are green women after one appeared on CBC last postseason and Ron Maclean told her to take her top off. But, despite being gendered, green people are without sex organs, so how do they reproduce? I suggest asexually. Green men are like earthworms. It's possible, in fact, that one of them is actually Earthworm Jim and the green spandex is actually his next generation robotic suit.
  • There is good news: the garbage play from the whole team meant Alain Vigneault could play his fourth line more. That's a minor victory, right? More ice time for Tanner Glass?
  • Poor Joel Perrault was probably sitting on the bench thinking, Oh man, I am so gonna get blamed for this.
  • More good news: a loss like this, at home, might be the wake-up call the Canucks need. They were bad on the road trip, but they were also playing poorly before that, when they were winning. The excuses (road trips, winning) have been quietly filtering out the evidence that they're in a genuine slump. It's patently clear now. Let's hope they get things turned around before we find ourselves in a situation where they're playing well and losing.
  • And finally: how many goals do you think Alex Burrows is capable of netting this season? He has one so far. Richard Loat (@mozy19) believes he won't even hit 20. I'm not sure either. My concern is that Burrows spent two seasons in a golden zone, and this shoulder injury might knock him back to earth. My concern is that injecting a bum shoulder into the equation is a little bit like when Earth, Wind and Fire brought elements of disco to the funk.
  • That last joke, translated for a non-black audience: my concern is that injecting a bum shoulder into the equation is a little bit like when John Lennon brought Yoko Ono to the Beatles. Also, The Mentalist. White people like The Mentalist, right?

Ron MacLean Gets It

Watch the above video starting from 3:28 on through. Pay special attention to what Ron MacLean has to say about the Colin Campbell situation. Now read this fantastic article from our very own Qris. Ron MacLean gets it. The biggest issue in this whole Campbell controversy is not Campbell calling Marc Savard a "little fake artist," though that is also completely inappropriate. The biggest issue is the head of NHL discipline speaking to an employee about situations involving his son. It's an abuse of position and, as Ron MacLean says, "it's a conflict of interest."

We at Pass it to Bulis have been pointing this out from the beginning: there is a bigger issue here than Marc Savard. Most of the mainstream media have been asking the wrong questions. Last night on the Hockey Night in Canada Hotstove, Ron MacLean asked the right ones.

An Alibi is Born: Photos From the Nucks Misconduct Tweetup

From left to right: Richard Loat (@mozy19), Sean Zandberg (@nucksmisconduct), Harrison Mooney (@passittobulis), Yankee Canuck (@nucksmisconduct), Daniel "Skeeter" Wagner (@passittobulis), Chris Golden (@lyteforce), Brian Wawryshyn (@CanucksCorner), a guy, Katie Maximick (@canucksgirl44), J.J. Guerrero (@canuckshockey), Tony Smolock (@smoboy), and fellow person of colour Chuckles Canuckles. Maybe. I'm terrible with names. If you are mislabeled, please let me know in the comments. Please. I feel really bad about this. Thanks to the very kind Ian Walker for snapping the shot. No thanks to him for saying I look like Carlton Banks from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

In case you missed it, tonight's Canucks game was a real turd, perhaps even a festering one. The Canucks stunk up the place, falling to the Blackhawks 7-1. They literally stunk up the place. I imagine Rogers Arena had that hideous sleep smell that bedrooms have on clammy Sunday mornings, because a wave of narcolepsy swept over the Canucks during the first intermission. They continued to play while they slept (somnambulism), but it was apparent to all concerned parties they were riding a flying sleigh bed to slumbertowne.

Ian Walker says he once saw Bret "The Hitman" Hart plays the genie in a theatrical version of Aladdin. That sounds atrocious, but I figure I would have been more impressed with his play than I was with Vancouver's play tonight.

Thankfully, the evening was salvaged by the Nucks Misconduct tweetup, which brought together a litany of Vancouver's finest blogging talent. As well as the abovementioned hosts, folks from Canucks Corner, Canucks Hockey Blog, Canucks Army, and Nucks Misconduct were all in attendance. Also, the Vancouver Sun's Ian Walker for some reason, yours truly, and fellow Bulie Skeeter, my hetero blog wife. We crammed into our designated corner of the Forum Sports Bar and proceeded to bond over our common affliction: Canuck Badness Madness. The Canucks were bad, and we were mad.

It's bizarre to get together with a bunch of strangers you feel like you already know. I was reminded of that scene in the X-Files when Scully meets all those women who had also been abducted, and they all recognize one another, and discover they have microchips implanted in their necks. That's what this was like, except with bloggers and, for some reason, Ian Walker.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun and everybody was great. I look forward to the next time we can all get together.

Of note: if you're waiting around for tonight's I Watched This Game, it's not coming, sugar. It'll go up tomorrow afternoon when I am much less yawny. My yawns are three minutes apart, which means my bedtime is about to crown. I go now to birth sleep.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I Find This Photo Odd: Kyle Wellwood Edition

Sometimes we write good, insightful articles about topics that are important to us. Other times, we just post photos that make us titter. And say words that make us titter. Like titter.

Anyhow. Above is a photo of Kyle Wellwood with what appears to be a green dot on his face. Click on it to make it bigger (the photo, not the dot).

Incredibly, this is not the weirdest photo of Kyle Wellwood I've ever seen. This one's pretty good. This one's a gem. This is a solid piece of mockery. I've always found this one charming. I remember this one making the rounds. It's safe to say that Kyle Wellwood is a weird dude who is photogenic in a weird sort of way (a way in which he isn't). Like our new friend Raffi Torres, Welly has a tendency to look a bit goofy.

But the photo above is definitely in the top ten. It's hard to get a green dot on your face, believe me. So what's going on here? I have multiple theories:

Maybe Wellwood is the Hulk, but in keeping with his character, he's really lazy about it and he needs to bear down when becoming incredible; maybe Wellwood eats crayons to get himself pumped up for the game; maybe Wellwood loves Russia because they still have Squeez-it fruit drink; maybe Wellwood doesn't know how Movember works; maybe Kyle Wellwood is about to be assassinated, and laser sights for sniper rifles are green in Moscow; maybe Wellwood saw our post on Raffi Torres and made sure we came across this wacky photo of him with a green dot on his face somehow, so as to make sure we never forget him, and commenter and Twitter person @plusfelonesse, who tipped us to this momentous snapshot, is actually Kyle Wellwood.

Or a different thing. Whatever. I'm posting this because I miss Kyle Wellwood, and I find this photo odd.

Raffi Torres is Goofy-Looking and I Love Him

Raffi Torres is quickly worming his way into my heart as one of my favorite Canucks this season. His heart-worming ability is partly due to absolutely heart-warming pictures like this one of Torres with his daughter (seriously, that's adorable), but mainly because he is an extremely goofy-looking guy. I find it incredibly difficult to resist liking goofy-looking guys. It's one of the reasons Kyle Wellwood and Jan Bulis are PitB favorites.

Raffi Torres continues that tradition in a big way. Witness the headshots of the Canucks' third line as recently posted on the Kurtenblog:

As Sesame Street taught us, one of these things is not like the others. Torres looks like he just saw a ghost and it's in the process of eating all his Apple Jacks. He's surprised and morose all at the same time. But it's not really his fault: his eyes perpetually look like they're trying to escape from his head, as if he had a literal brainfart1 and they can't stand the smell. This gives Torres a certain wide-eyed craziness at all times (though this wide-eyedness doesn't seem to help his vision on the ice).

Couple that overall goofiness with a penchant for goal-scoring and the occasional massive hit that seems to break the laws of physics and he's well on his way to filling the oddball-shaped hole in my heart that has been empty since Kyle Wellwood went to Russia. Don't worry, Kyle, you can settle down in one of my lungs: like Jello, there's always room for Wellwood.

After the jump, a brief celebration of Raffi's goofiness, which I love. Don't ever change, Raffi, don't ever change.

Canucks vs. the 4th line Center, Level 6: Joel Perrault

Get well soon, Bolduc.

Word broke yesterday that the Canucks had called up Joel Perrault from the Manitoba Moose and sent Mario "The Shiznit" Bliznak down the minors. It's a minor move (get it?), but it speaks to a larger issue: the Canucks' fourth-line center position is becoming a major problem. Worse, even a good showing from Joel Perrault won't completely resolve it; the problem isn't completely with personnel. The Canucks don't know what they want.

The issues with the Canucks' fourth-line boils down to the ongoing need for a consistent fourth-line center. A line without a center is not a line, and the Canucks haven't had a fourth-line since Ryan Johnson wasn't the answer.

In the offseason, with limited knowledge of the players coming to training camp, I outlined six potential pivots for Vancouver's much-maligned fourth unit. Each had their strengths, and each had their weaknesses (such as Schneider, whose weakness seemed to be a lack of strengths... save perhaps, at his size, strength), but there was, at that time, a case to be made for any one of those guys. Alex Bolduc won the job out of training camp in what seemed a fait accompli. Granted, what originally started out as a six-horse race turned into a zero-horse race (otherwise known as not a race) when none of the fourth-line centers stood out, but it appeared the coaching staff went in with an eye on Bolduc, and nobody changed their mind. It's possible Rick Rypien might have, but he got hurt.

Despite winning the job, however, the coaching staff's faith in Bolduc wasn't clearly not that high. He was given 13 shifts in the opener for just over six minutes of total icetime. He took 1 faceoff. He won it, if you care, but it hardly matters? It's a sample size of 1. For context, consider that Mason Raymond won a faceoff that night. Not only is Raymond a winger, he's the winger who typically doesn't take the faceoff when his centerman gets waved out.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I Watched This Game: Canucks at Penguins, November 17, 2010

Canucks 1 - 3 Penguins

After a bit of a tumultuous day for Pass it to Bulis, the Canucks played a hockey game. I watched it. It was a sloppy game filled with turnovers, bad bounces, and a certain degree of boneheadedness. There were, however, some positives. Not many, but some, as in an unknown, unspecified, or undetermined unit. One of those positives? I'm wearing new jeans! They're pretty sweet. Another positive: Modern Family is on! What a great show.

  • Let's start with a negative. One of the themes of this eastern road trip has been bad first periods. The Canucks have failed to score the first goal in every game of the road trip except against Ottawa, where they still weren't particularly good. This game was no different, as they were outshot 11-6 in the 1st period and found themselves down 2-0 early in the 2nd period. It's unhealthy for both me (as it does my heart no good to get that stressed out), and the Canucks, as it causes a lot more wear and tear to keep trying to come from behind game after game.
  • Another continuation on a theme: bad turnovers in the defensive zone as, once again, the Canucks had a lot of trouble escaping their own zone.
  • This may seem obvious, but it's probably a bad idea to give Sidney Crosby a breakaway. Just sayin'. Kevin Bieksa will likely get blamed for not keeping the puck in as the Canucks' first powerplay was ending, springing Crosby for the Penguin's first goal, but I'd rather ask why Mikael Samuelsson thought it was a good idea to throw the puck back to the point on the wrong side of Bieksa's body for him to play it. To be fair to Samuelsson, every single other Canucks defenseman shoots left-handed. Still, you have to be aware when it is a bad idea to throw a hard pass to the point on the powerplay. One of those times is when Sidney Crosby is coming out of the penalty box. Another is when the point man is Byron Ritchie.
  • Speaking of Kevin Bieksa, the post-game show on the Team 1040 claimed that he was the best defenseman for the Canucks tonight. I'm inclined to agree. He KO'd Craig Adams with a sharp right to the jaw early in the first period, reminding everyone that he is scary in a fight. He played a solid defensive game and led all defensemen with 8 attempted shots, 3 of them on net. Then, with the net empty at the end of the game, he made a stellar diving play to stop a breakaway. Dan Hamhuis and Alex Edler also had decent games and Keith Ballard managed to be the only defenseman to finish the game as a plus player. Heck, even Alberts made the most of his minutes, finishing the game with 6 hits. Hit of the game, however, was definitely Keith Ballard's open-ice hipcheck on Evgeni Malkin. Absolutely beautiful.
  • You might have surmised from the fact I mentioned five defensemen as playing decently, that one defenseman did not. Christian Ehrhoff had an awful game. The Penguins' third goal was especially egregious, as Ehrhoff attempted to catch the puck in his hand and drop it down to his stick; instead, he dropped it directly between his own skates. It doesn't matter if you shoot left-handed or right-handed, that's not where you want the puck.
  • The Canucks will get slammed for a listless powerplay, as they went 0-for-5, but both units actually looked reasonable and were able to create a number of scoring chances, which they just weren't able to turn into shots on goal. It was odd. Unfortunately, one of those missed scoring chances cost the Canucks a shorthanded goal.
  • The Canucks' only goal of the game, as seen above, came on a fantastic play by Alex Burrows, as he took two Penguins players out of the play on the rush with an incredible display of patience before feeding it out to Daniel Sedin out in the slot. Frustratingly, Daniel chose not to shoot it, instead trying to feed it to Henrik, who was covered by the only other Penguins' player in the zone. His choice not to shoot robbed Burrows of a well-deserved assist. If it wasn't for a fortunate bounce and a heads-up push pass from Henrik to Dan "Hammy" Hamhuis, then the Canucks would have been shutout tonight. Just look at this picture:
  • Imagine you're Daniel Sedin. You are 4th in NHL goalscoring and you have an obscene 22.2% shooting percentage. You have the puck all alone in the slot without a defender anywhere near you. Now imagine you pass up that shooting opportunity to pass it to someone who is covered by Kris Letang, who leads the Penguins in +/- and is their best defenseman. Now imagine kicking yourself. Yes, it worked out for the best, but it is killing me to see the Sedins passing up prime scoring chances for worse scoring chances. Even a pass to Dan Hamhuis would have been a better option. Last season, the Sedins frequently passed up a possible scoring chance because they wanted to create a better one. This season, it seems that they're passing up great scoring chances for mediocre scoring chances. It's bugging me.
  • AV switched up the lines a bit in the second period, moving Samuelsson up with the Sedins and Burrows down with Kesler and Raymond. That second line looked good, creating a lot of chances with strong skating and a hard forecheck. We'll see if AV goes with the same lines again on Saturday.
  • There was some crazy shot-blocking in this game. In the second period, the Penguins could have had a fourth goal when Luongo tripped behind the net, but Dan Hamhuis sprawled out to block the shot. The entire team seemed to get into the act with the net empty and only a few seconds left, preventing Sidney Crosby from padding his goal total. It was rather meaningless, but it was still nice to see that commitment from the team.
  • Solid work on faceoffs continues to be a theme, as the top-three centers were all at 60% or above. Malhotra was 7-for-8 in the defensive zone, which ended up not mattering too much as all three Penguins goals came more-or-less off the rush.
  • Finally, the ice quality needs to be talked about. The puck was bouncing like crazy and there seemed to be little piles of snow everywhere. Apparently BizNasty2Point0 gets more ice time than the operations crew at the Consol Energy Center. It's not an excuse for the Canucks losing, as both teams needed to deal with it, but it is an excuse for this being such a sloppy un-entertaining game. A game between the Penguins and Canucks should be a lot more exciting than this one.

Yeah, not a great game. But I was actually encouraged by the performance of the Canucks defensemen, save Ehrhoff. They clearly had some trouble with the ice surface and there were a few too many turnovers in the defensive zone in the first period, but they seemed to play better overall than on the rest of the road trip. Ballard certainly had a decent return to the lineup and clearly made the argument that Rome should stay in the press-box for a few games. In addition to being a plus player and upending Malkin, he was entrusted with ice-time on a key powerplay and penalty kill in the third period. Hopefully that increased trust from AV will translate into results.

Scoring from the Back-End

Hey guys, remember when this blog was about hockey?

I promise, that's not a euphemism. Instead, I want to talk about our defencemen and the lack of scoring we've seen from them so far this season. It seems like an odd time to bring this up, considering Alex Edler is tied for 8th in scoring amongst defensemen with 13 points in 17 games, a 62-point pace. The Kurtenblog wrote a piece today praising Edler for his play thus far, and rightly so. Christian Ehrhoff is not far behind, with 10 points so far this season. But what I want to talk about is goal scoring.

Through 17 games, the Canucks defense has scored a grand total of 6 goals. This puts them on pace for 28.7 goals in 82 games. Last season, the Canucks defense scored 42 goals, 14 of them from Christian Ehrhoff. After 2 goals in the first 3 games of the season, Ehrhoff hasn't scored since. The second-leading goalscorer from the blueline, Sami Salo, may not even play this season. Those 42 goals were a big chunk of the Canucks' Western Conference leading 268 goals-for.

Fortunately for the defense, the forwards have stepped up in a big way to pick up the slack. Indeed, despite the lack of goalscoring from the defense, the Canucks are still on pace for 261 goals-for this season, with Daniel Sedin leading the way. His 12 goals in 17 games puts him on pace for 58 goals this season, which would shatter his career high of 36. Last season, Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby shared the Rocket Richard trophy with 51 goals.

Still, this lack of goalscoring from the defense is a concern. As much as we hope that Daniel Sedin will continue his goal-scoring prowess and that the Canucks' leading goal-scorer last season, Alex Burrows, will round into form as he gets settled into the season, the Canucks need scoring from the defense in order to remain a well-rounded team that is difficult to shutdown.

So why hasn't the defense been scoring? Ehrhoff's stall at the beginning of this season and the lack of Sami Salo are definitely the main contributors, but neither Dan Hamhuis nor Keith Ballard have been able to improve their offensive game upon coming into Vancouver and have been hampered by injuries. Kevin Bieksa has clearly been told to focus on his defensive abilities rather than scoring and was only able to score 3 goals last season in any case. Quite frankly, the defense has been a bit of a mess over the last couple weeks. I am confident that this will change. This is why I'm not too worried yet, even though they're on pace for 13 fewer goals than last season.

Ehrhoff is capable of being better, Edler is showing steady improvement while playing 25 minutes per game, and Hamhuis and Ballard can only improve as they complete their recovery from injuries and, in Ballard's case, off-season surgery. With more steadiness surrounding him, Bieksa will have room to open up his offensive game and, while I doubt he will return to 40 points, could certainly score a few more than the 3 goals he managed last year.

As always, I am optimistic about the Canucks and their abilities, but I do not want to be blindly optimistic. The Canucks defense has been shaky defensively on this road trip, but they also have been questionable offensively. I am confident the goals will come (Edler and Ehrhoff are in the top-15 in the league in shots), but if the trend continues throughout the season, it will be troubling come playoff time. A team that relies too heavily on scoring from forwards is more easily shutdown.

McKenzie, Cox, and the Difference Between Bloggers and Journalists

Harrison touched on Damien Cox's recent words regarding Tyler Dellow and his blog. These comments received some backlash, as many thought he was being somewhat harsh. Cox has since deleted the tweets and issued a retraction. Still, his comments managed to stir the pot with the tired, old debate about a blogger's role in the hockey writers' community. The debate, as I said just a second ago, is tired and old, but recent events have required that the dead horse be given one more hard kick in the name of holding "real" journalists accountable.

The story about the Colin Campbell e-mails has shown not only bloggers' potential for great journalism, but actual "journalists'" potential for shoddy disappointment.

Bloggers haven't been given a fair shake. We're more than "web/twitter groupies," as Damien Cox called us. While it'd be fair to say individual bloggers reach fewer people than individual sportswriters, bloggers do have a great deal of influence, as Tyler Dellow's blog showed. The reaction to his blog was instantaneous. He essentially broke a story that TSN, CBC and others had to comment on. That's big. No one can realistically say that Greg Wyshynski isn't a big voice in the hockey world. Still, even he doesn't give himself enough credit. He said this a couple hours ago on his live chat:

"I think we're more like entertainment writers. That isn't to say we're not journalists. It's to say the guys who roll up their sleeves and start preaching about hard-nosed reporting are talking about covering a form of entertainment -- not Afghanistan."

He's right on both counts -- he's writing about a form of entertainment, and that doesn't mean he's not a journalist. While his blog is more editorial than news, he still holds himself to a standard of factual consistency. He's been known to fix any mistake he makes. This is what journalists are supposed to do.

Journalists are supposed to be better than bloggers. I can see right now a bunch of comments telling me that isn't necessarily true, and they'd be right, but it's supposed to be true. I can happily say that I think over 100 people read my comments on the Colin Campbell emails. Bob McKenzie and Damien Cox have thousands upon thousands of readers. They should be held to a higher standard.

Damien Cox and the Surprise Sneak Attack on the Blogosphere

We've already talked, at length, about the Colin Campbell e-mail controversy that broke two nights ago on Tyler Dellow's blog, mc79hockey. Qris already discussed how he felt that there was a poor media response to this story, that the wrong questions were being asked. I don't have much more to say on the subject. I do have something to say, however, about the even poorer response of Toronto Star reporter Damien Cox, who last night attacked the blogosphere on his Twitter account for no apparent reason.

I'll admit that I haven't bothered to catch up on Cox's ongoing war with the blogosphere, as it doesn't seem worth the time. While some bloggers are simply fanboys that like to run their mouths, many (Greg Wyshynski, or locally, Mike Halford and Jason Brough) are now valuable voices in the hockey community. Even we here at Pass it to Bulis were one of the major voices in the Atlanta Thrashers/black players controversy, and we're proud of that.

I feel that anybody who can't see the value of a good blogger is blinding himself on purpose. I try not to let people like that get to me. Last night, Damien Cox really got to me. Late in the evening, totally out of the blue, he tweeted:

Yup. Just checking. Mc79 somebody's 15 minutes of fame just ran out. Buh-bye.

Huh? When this popped up on my Twitterfeed, I was baffled. Yes, the Campbell story was beginning to peter out, but why revel in it? Tyler Dellow did excellent work in bringing this to light, and it's a shame it isn't getting a longer look. To me, Campbell's credibility should be zilch, and we should have Dellow to thank for the finishing move.

But it appears the story is going to come and go, hardly denting Campbell's reputation, and Cox seems pleased the blogger didn't have an larger impact. In his tweet, he sounds like a cat with a bird in his mouth. Why so tickled?

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