Canucks 1 - 3 Predators
Yesterday, someone told me that, considering Vancouver's injury troubles, the Canucks had to try for a 6-5 or 8-7 victory, but that was never realistic. The Canucks' defencemen aren't just counted on for defense; they also facilitate breakout passes and jump into rushes. They're also the linchpin of the Canucks' offense, sending the team through the neutral zone with speed, then trailing the play and jumping into the rush. It's more than just defense Vancouver's lacking right now--it's guys that can play their system. Unfortunately, the Nashville Predators have a full lineup of guys that play their system, and that system involves clogging up the neutral zone. Effectively, The Nashville Predators are the Shawshank State Penitentiary of the NHL: the only way to beat them is to make a perfect breakout. I watched this game:
- When Mike Gillis acquired Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard, it was to provide Alain Vigneault with a full stable of horses for Vigneault's defense-powered system, effectively guaranteeing that all three pairings could play it. It's an obvious statement, but you don't want guys on your team that can't play your system, because you don't want opponents getting a break from it (ask the Chicago Blackhawks' coaching staff about the downgrade to their bottom-six forwards). Unfortunately, icing a full lineup, especially in the face of injuries, often necessitates dressing less-skilled guys. Vigneault typically alternates between two pairings, guaranteeing that one puck-mover is on the ice at all times, but he didn't have that luxury last night. Sami Salo's not quite ready to hit the ice every second shift, and Christian Ehrhoff can't be on the ice all night. That means the other four guys are getting more icetime than they should, and the effect is plenty of vacation time for Nashville.
- Speaking of Christian Ehrhoff, he's neither a number one defenceman nor a generator, and tasked with powering the Canucks for the entire evening, he showed he didn't quite have the juice (and speaking of not having the Juice, the team missed Kevin Bieksa something fierce). Ehrhoff's an interesting guy. He's a D-man, yes, but he's much more concerned with making breakout passes than winning defensive puck battles. He's not interested in being the man back. Often, if hemmed in the defensive zone, he'll get impatient and take a sloppy penalty or make a sloppy play, especially when he knows he's the only guy who can facilitate a breakout rush. We saw this yesterday, as Ehrhoff was on the ice for two of Nashville's three goals, and made a sloppy ring around the boards that led to the third. He also took the only two Canuck penalties on the night. Poor guy's spread a little thin.
- The Sedins struggled as well. Granted, they scored a powerplay goal (above), but they had a tough time getting into the offensive zone and setting up. This isn't surprising. The Sedins don't much care for the neutral zone, which is why they have so many plays to bypass it, such as sending the puck the length of the ice for someone to skate onto, or flipping the puck way up in the air, over everyone. Typically, Vigneault plays Ehrhoff and Edler with the Sedins to ensure they have someone who can send them into the offensive zone with speed. They're having a hard time playing their game when they have to go back to the defensive zone to get the puck.
- Loved Garrett's misspeak on the Daniel Sedin goal: "Did that sh*t hit O'Brien's stick?" Garrett's so street. I wanted Shorty to answer, naw. That's Daniel Sedin's 30th goal of the season, by the way. He appears to have quite a knack for that sort of thing.
- Mason Raymond continues to frustrate. He had 5 shots, which is something, but most were from the outside. Furthermore, he wasn't utilizing his speed through the neutral zone. In a game where the defenders aren't capable of making the expected passes, your speedy wingers have to help cut through some of that neutral zone pressure. Instead, Raymond disappeared, like a midget into a cabinet.
- Chris Tanev and Yann Sauve both had nice, quiet games. Sauve, especially, was doing a great job of putting forwards into the boards when they tried to step around him and gain the zone. He had a game-high 4 hits. Tanev continues to be calm under pressure. These two guys look like future NHL regulars. Evan Oberg, on the other hand, was the first defender the Canucks have utilized this season that didn't look like he belonged in the NHL. For a guy whose nickname is Obi, he didn't look much like a Jedi to me. Not once did he turn a forechecker away with a mind trick, for instance. This isn't the zone you're looking for. Oberg looked small and jittery. Pucks jumped off his stick, and he was caught out of position a few times. He steadily lost his coach's trust as the game went on, dipping to a team-low 4 shifts in the third period, when Tanev and Sauve had twice that number.
- The Aaron Rome trip n' fall that led to Nashville's second goal (seven seconds after the Canucks tied the game) was unfortunate, but I can't decide if it was more or less fortunate than Chris Tanev's face deflecting the puck to Mike Fisher on the same one. After Rome Tanev played the surprise 2-on-1 so nicely, and took away the pass expertly. Unfortunately, his face had other plans. Suffice it to say, if the Canucks thought the hockey gods might give them a little bit of good luck back, they were sorely mistaken. Like Ryan Kesler said after the game, that goal was a back-breaker.
- For the third straight game, the Canucks' third line had the most jump. But they still had nowhere near as much jump as Kris Kross.
- I liked Tanner Glass and Victor Oreskovich's shift after Nashville took a two-goal lead. As we've observed in the past, it really isn't smart to fight when you're up by two, but it's a desirable time to fight if down by two. Glass and Oreskovich made some massive hits in an attempt to goad a Nashville player into a scrap, but unfortunately, the Predators were wise not be swayed. Another thing that's wise not to be swayed: summer footwear. Wait, my mistake, that's suede.
- And finally: give the Canucks a ton of credit for generating the amount of shots that they did. They put 36 on Pekka Rinne, and attempted another 28. Mikael Samuelsson and Ryan Kesler had 9 shots blocked between them. Unfortunately, Rinne was able to see the shots that got through, so he stopped them. I hate when goalies do that.
- I was impressed with the boisterousness of the Nashville crowd. They had an announced attendance of 15,337, just under 2000 below capacity, but it felt like a sellout. They were loud and they were proud. It's too bad they weren't also black, because that's a James Brown hat trick.