Thursday, March 31, 2011

It's Okay to be Optimistic

I understand some Canucks fans are wary of the playoffs: with only two Stanley Cup Final appearances in the team's 40 year existence and no victories, most Canucks fans have a pessimistic outlook, just waiting for something to go wrong. And certainly things have gone wrong in the past. We've seen a dream playoff run ended by a goal post. We've seen an Art Ross trophy and a division championship choked away. We've seen Nicklas Lidstrom score from center. We've see Luongo lose focus. We've seen them lose in the second round to the Blackhawks. Twice. In a row. And that's just recent history.

So I get it, I really do. For many years the pessimism has been a realistic and fair reaction to the performance and history of the team. So I want to let you know, because it's completel atypical and likely goes against everything you've ever believed about the Canucks: it's okay to be optimistic.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Aaron Rome's Teammates Help Him Shave

PITB is all about classic, old-school, screwball comedy, so you know any time someone takes a gob to the gob, we're gonna be all over it. Here's an Aaron Rome postgame interview that comes to an abrupt halt when Kevin Bieksa, Tanner Glass, and Raffi Torres, doing their best Ryan Kesler impressions as they peer from behind the curtain, successfully conspire to smear shaving cream all over Rome's cheeks. It's a well-executed prank, probably because Keith Ballard isn't involved.

The irony is that this is probably the only time the media will ever be interested enough in Aaron Rome to interview him, and his teammates just ruined it. Later, they went out to Red Robin, told the waitress it was Rome's birthday, then threw the free sundae on the ground.

So what's the occasion for such jubilation? In his 100th game with the organization, Rome finally tallied his first goal as a Canuck, a 200-foot empty netter to seal a win in Nashville. This is only the second NHL goal of his career, and clearly, it's been a long time coming: the gleeful response from his teammates as the puck drifts over the goal line is classic. You'd have thought they were in the audience for Oprah's Favourite Things.

While Rome has all the makings of a lifelong NHL journeyman (he flies under the radar, his effort exceeds his talent, he's nearly bald at 27), he's found a home in Vancouver for the meantime. He's made some big contributions to this historic season, spending a substantial chunk of it playing a top four role because of the injuries the Canuck have suffered on the back end. All things considered, Rome probably deserves a look for the year-end unsung hero award, but most of the attention he's received for his tireless effort has been flack for getting so many minutes. Shame on you, everyone.

Anyway, it's nice to see him get a little positive recognition.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I Watched This Game: Canucks at Predators, March 29, 2011

Canucks 3 - 1 Predators

The two of us have differing views on goaltender's duels. Keep in mind: Harrison enjoys basketball; Skeeter enjoys soccer. Our opinions regarding tight-checking, low-scoring affairs echo these tastes. This is also why, during games, Skeeter often screams more slide tackles! and Harrison often screams more black people! But we digress. [We] watched this game:

  • With tonight's victory, the Canucks improved their record against the Predators to two wins and two losses, sewing up the Western Conference in the process. With five games yet to play, this leaves plenty of time to finish up other, neglected sewing projects. Henrik promised Daniel that he would sew Anna a new pair of booties. Mikael Samuelsson's lucky underwear needs patching. Alex Burrows is making a snood.
  • It's official. Aaron Rome has his first goal as a Canuck (above), which could either be used as evidence that he doesn't deserve the icetime he's been getting, or maybe as an explanation for why he's been getting it: Alain Vigneault's been determined to get him that goal all season. Apart from Rome, nobody was more excited to see him score than Keith Ballard, whose minutes will finally skyrocket to seventeen.
  • It's been awhile since Alex Burrows took it upon himself to win da turd. Tonight, he scored two goals in the final frame, doing just that. Like Seth Rogen in Knocked Up, Burrows only has one move. That's the umpteenth time he's gone backhand on the breakaway. Burrows is predictable, yes, but goalies can't afford to predict and shade left. He sucks at skating, so they have to respect the possibility that he might fall down and have the puck roll to the opposite post.
  • The game-tying goal--Burrows' first goal of the night--comes on some positively Wizardous Sedinerie. For the unobservant, this is a no-look bank pass to a one-timed no-look backhand saucer pass to a mid-air one-timer. Nothing but net. This is Bird/Jordan stuff; Burrows wins the Big Mac. Mind you, in Örnsköldsvik, they learn this in peewee.
  • Like Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows and Shane O'Brien are clearly besties. In a previous version of the plan, O'Brien and Burrows moved to London together and shared a flat. Instead, the plan changed, and they were separated by forces beyond their control. They spent the whole night fighting hat-wearing agents to retake control of their own destiny. (This is the movie we're referencing. Yeah, we don't recommend it.)
  • To explain: Burrows and O'Brien engaged multiple times in post-whistle scrums. The most entertaining moment was the time they were separated by both linesmen, and still waved at each other, smiling and chirping like the birds that circle Uncle Remus in Song of the South, the most racist Disney movie ever. Having seen Pocahontas and Aladdin, that's saying a lot.
  • In the first period, the Sportsnet crew showed a graphic with pictures of Alain Vigneault and Barry Trotz, their impressive win/loss records, and the caption, "Hottest in the NHL". That is not a caption that goes above pictures of those two guys, for what should be obvious reasons.
  • Roberto Luongo was really good, huh? He's been doing that lately. Despite having to make only 16 saves, Luongo earned third star honours, because a lot of them were tough saves, like Alice Cooper or Brian "Head" Welch. Of note: Head Joins the Body is the greatest headline ever.
  • 5 of Nashville's 17 shots came from Jordin Tootoo. So really, they took 12 shots. Ha, just kidding, Tootoo's not too, too bad. Zing. Anyway, Daniel wants everyone to know he's ashamed of this bullet point.
  • Despite looking absolutely dominant at several stages of the game, Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond were the only minus players on the Canucks. The line of Kesler, Raymond, and Chris Higgins gave the Nashville defenders fits with their speed, board play, and rugged manliness, but couldn't generate a goal. They did, however, combine for 13 shots. They took more shots than Roy "Speedy" Harper.
  • Frankly, a lot of their excellent work died on the stick of Aaron Rome, who can only hit the net when shooting from the opposite end of the ice, but he scored a goal tonight, so we'll save our grumbling for another night.
  • Shocking stat of the night: Ryan Suter and Shea Weber both finished the game minus-3. Not so shocking stat: they both played over twenty-seven minutes. I guess when you're on the ice all night, there's a large chance you'll be on the ice for the opponent's goals.
  • Upon seeing Sami Salo on the powerplay, Harrison commented that the Canucks weren't really missing Mikael Samuelsson. Then Victor Oreskovich jumped the boards with the Sedins.
  • In truth, Oreskovich has been playing solid hockey since his call-up, and his turn on the first line while Alex Burrows rested, post penalty-kill, was a nice reward. While he only finished with 9:55 of icetime, that's almost three minutes more than Jeff Tambellini. When Tanner Glass returns, Oreskovich may be pleased to learn that he's earned a playoff roster spot. Pleased, that is, unless he thinks top line duty will be a regular occurrence.
  • And finally, we've already mentioned Aaron Rome's goal, but we left out the best part: watch Henrik Sedin show true leadership by stretching out his arms to ensure nobody derails Rome's 200-footer. Granted, there's no one around him, but Kevin Love would be proud of this boxout. It's been said that the Canucks have nothing left to play for, but look how excited everyone is when this puck goes in. Other motivations aside, this team simply enjoys playing together.

The Awful Human Being Quiz Will Suss Out the Awful Human Beings

Most Canuck fans are good people. They just want to see their team win, and they're pretty used to that not happening. As a result, they're resigned, they're relaxed, and they have a tendency to keep their heads. Unfortunately, they are only the majority of Canucks fans, which means that, somewhere, there is a minority of insane, violent, awful human beings who happen to share a love for Vancouver's hockey team.

A word to this minority: we don't want you. You're bad. Go elsewhere.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: am I bad? Am I an awful human being? Perhaps. But we at PITB don't just want to leave you in the dark. We would like very much to help identify you. And then shun you.

With that in mind, we spent the weekend creating this very scientific quiz, which should help to evaluate how awful you are. It's only three questions long, so you should know if you're an awful human being within five minutes:

Monday, March 28, 2011

20 Reasons Daniel Sedin Is Bad at Penalty Shots

"I suck at this."

With Daniel Sedin's failed penalty shot attempt Friday, the NHL scoring leader is now 0-for-4 in his career on penalty shots, and it's never really been close. He's bad at it. He's so bad at it that Alain Vigneault used this most recent non-goal as an example of why Daniel never gets a chance in the shootout. It's a strange anomaly, really, especially considering that Daniel Sedin is a pretty fabulous scorer. Furthermore, he's in possession of one of the NHL's most accurate shots. You'd think he'd be money in these situations, but it would seem penalty shots and shootouts just aren't particularly suited for his game. Here are 20 possible explanations:

I Watched This Game: Canucks at Blue Jackets, March 27, 2011

Canucks 4 - 1 Blue Jackets

What's the remedy for a team that has very little left to play for? Pit them against a team that never has anything to play for. The Canucks coasted through yesterday's Sunday matinee game, and probably deserved a loss for such lackadaisical play, but it's pretty tough to outcoast the Blue Jackets, or, as Rick Nash knows them, the World Hockey Championships preseason tuneup squad. To the passive observer, this one looked like a battle of who could care less, so the outcome shouldn't surprise; Columbus has steeled themselves on many such battles. The Blue Jackets played their game perfectly, which means the Canucks won the game. And I watched this game:

  • How can you tell that spending even a short period of time in Columbus absolutely crushes the human spirit? Check out Scottie Upshall's absentee stat line. When we last saw the man they call "Updog" (okay, they don't, but they should), he was playing his first game with the Blue Jackets, the day after a trade from the Phoenix try-hards. As of yet unspoiled, he scored a goal to go with six shots, two hits and a blocked shot, and was named the game's second star. A month later, Upshall's only contribution to the stat line was a won faceoff. You probably didn't even realize he was playing, and apparently, neither did he.
  • Okay, seriously though, the Blue Jackets peppered the Canuck net with shots most of the afternoon. Unfortunately for them, Cory Schneider was in the net the whole time. He made a bevy of amazing saves, rightly earning first star honours and picking up his 15th win in his 20th start. He also pitched a shutout for over fifty minutes, before surrendering the prerequisite Snack Goal, just to remind his teammates that there's literally no difference when he tends goal instead of Luongo. That marked the 9th time a Canuck goaltender has lost the shutout within the last 10 minutes. They're addicted. How much of a problem is this? I don't even mean the last 10 minutes of games. I mean literally the last 10 minutes.
  • I've heard a lot of praise directed at the Canucks organization for coming through on a promise to start Schneider for 20 games. It's undeserved. First, they never made any such guarantees; the media only inferred it. Furthermore, Schneider played lights out almost all season, and that merited 20 starts. If he had even been average this season, he wouldn't have cracked 15. Really, the only person who deserves kudos for hitting this benchmark is Schneider for earning it.
  • I'll tell you who didn't have to muster any motivation for today's game: Chris "Kiss Huggins" Higgins. Safe to say, after seeing this photo, Higgins likely said to himself, I want me some of that. He spent the afternoon doing everything in his power to necessitate group hugs between he and his cuddly linemates. Higgins successfully created three such occasions, finishing with two goals and an assist. He was fantastic. His first goal was the most impressive, as he outskated the aforementioned Scottie "The Drifter" Upshall, picked up the Ryan Kesler pass at a sharp angle, and roofed it. His second goal was a snoozy, late-game powerplay tap-in, but you know Alain Vigneault's pretty excited at the prospect of a second powerplay unit that creates tap-ins. The secret to invigorating any unit, apparently, is to put Chris Higgins on it. He'll do anything for the post-goal hug; Kiss Huggins just wants to hold you.
  • Higgins has looked excellent on the second line since his promotion to it a few games ago, but this is the first game where it showed on the scoresheet, as his line finished with a combined eight points. The success of the Higgins/Kesler/Raymond trio means that Mikael Samuelsson is likely going to get bumped to the third line when he returns from injury. With this in mind, and considering the third line already has two wingers, Alain Vigneault toyed yesterday with moving Hansen to center. It will be interesting to see if Hansen's pokecheck-rich game thrives with a bit more freedom, or if skating in the middle is akin to knocking Pokey's head off.
  • Was anyone else suspicious of this Mayorov character? He claims to be a Blue Jackets' defenseman, but his name sounds made up. Adding "ov" onto established English words is how North Americans mimic Russians. This guy is clearly a deposed Ohio mayor who's gone into hiding under the guise of being a Russian hockey player. Thinking about it, the Columbus roster seems like a pretty good place to hide. If this works, expect the ploy to go mainstream, yielding such exilees as Senatorov and Chairmanofthehousov. And if it goes international, expected Derek Brassard to eventually find himself skating between Mubarakov and Gaddafov.
  • Mason Raymond finished this game with 3 assists. To celebrate, he set an alarm and got up early to watch that famous Ohio sunrise.
  • Early in the game, Dan Hamhuis suffered a concussion after both he and Kevin Bieksa tried to check Rick Nash at the same time. This is Hamhuis's second concussion this season and fourth of his career. That's scary stuff. Last time he was concussed, Hamhuis admitted he'd consider retirement rather than threaten his ability to enjoy life, post-hockey. Let's hope it doesn't come to that. On an ironic sidenote, this is the second time this week Hamhuis and Bieksa have collided while going for the cheque. The first time was yesterday at dinner. Dan "Community Man" Hamhuis always pays.
  • The Canucks had 25 blocked shots in the game. That's 25 blocked shots too many this late in the season. Get the Hell out of the way. The worst was a first period penalty-kill where Ryan Kesler took a Jan Hejda shot off the left ankle and, while wincing in extreme pain, popped up and took a Jan Hejda shot off the right ankle. Were he in possession of a third ankle, you got the sense he would have blocked a shot with it. Kesler blocked four total shots in the game. Someone remind him that, if he breaks an ankle before the playoffs, no one will let him cut his feet off and play centre in a sledge.
  • Keith Ballard blocked six shots, in direct disobedience to Alain Vigneault. For his misdeeds, he was punished with two minutes less icetime than Aaron Rome.
  • Christian Ehrhoff blocks a lot of shots too (he blocked three yesterday) but it's worth noting he blocks most of them with his stick. Ehrhoff gets his stick in front of everything. Insert Charlie Sheen joke here. I won't stoop to Sheen. Insert porn star joke here.
  • Speaking of Christian Ehrhoff, his goal (above) is created with some impressive vision and quick thinking. The moment Chris Higgins touches this puck, Ehrhoff notices that the Columbus checker up high has turned his back to him. In that instant, he sprints in from the blueline, where Raymond finds him with a nifty little backpass. Ehrhoff now has 48 points. Two more, and he'll be the first D-man to collect 50 since Jyrki Lumme. Hopefully he doesn't get there, though, because I'd like the Canucks to be able to afford him.
  • Speaking of bad defensive zone breakdowns, why was nobody covering Henrik Sedin on the power play? Yeah, Henrik seems like a guy you'd want to watch in front. Who's got the reigning scoring champion? Meh. What a backhand, too. Henrik went top shelf, where Buzz keeps his life savings.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

I Find This Photo Odd: Raymond & Kesler Are Besties

Mason Raymond and Ryan Kesler are such good buds--true besties--that they regularly engage in intense tickle fights, even at extremely inopportune times. Case in point: this photo was taken while the Canucks were trying to kill a penalty. If Dan "Community Man" Hamhuis wasn't such a good guy, he might have given them a piece of his mind.

Yeah, we find this photo odd. It kind of looks like they're tobogganing. Can you see it? Maybe you could see it better if we photoshopped it to look exactly like that. Here you go:

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Some Canuck Fans Are Awful Human Beings

Canuck fans, upon hearing negative opinions regarding their team.

In the past few weeks, Kyle Wellwood, Mike Babcock, and Theo Fleury have all come under fire for some pretty offensive comments. Yes, unforgivable utterances, these. The things they said were so vile that it apparently became acceptable to forgo proper human decency and, instead, return their brutal statements with the worst slander, bigotry, and hatespeech Canucks fans could muster.

Just what did they say? Well, brace yourself. You see, each of them expressed skepticism that the Canucks' regular season dominance would extend into the playoffs.

Wellwood suggested the Canucks were too immature to handle playoff adversity. Babcock suggested Luongo might not have what it takes to lead the team to a Cup. Fleury suggested that, after coasting through the regular season, the Canucks were ripe for a first-round playoff upset. In truth, it was pretty harmless stuff, but the response from many Canuck fans was much less so.

I Watched This Game: Canucks at Thrashers, March 25, 2011

Canucks 3 -1 Thrashers

Seemingly lacking in motivation, the Canucks were not what you would call "good" against the Thrashers. They were, however, good enough, which is all that was necessary. With the victory, the Canucks set a franchise record for points in a season, with 7 games still left to play. Unfortunately, Daniel Sedin had his point streak halted at 9 games and 16 points, but secondary and tertiary scoring stepped up to fill the void. And, despite the two-goal lead being the worst lead in hockey, the Canucks sat back, rolled their lines, and dared the Thrashers to come back. The Thrashers did not. I watched them fail. I watched this game:

  • It should be awfully clear by now that the Sedins are terrible at penalty shots. With his first period failure, Daniel Sedin is now 0 for 4 in that situation in his career. You just know that Daniel wished he could decline the penalty shot in favor of the two-minute powerplay: Please can I have some teammates and opponents on the ice? Please? Actually, that's not a bad idea: in football you can refuse a penalty and take the result of the play instead. You should be able to refuse a penalty shot and take the powerplay instead, especially when you have the number one powerplay and your opponent has the worst penalty kill in the league.
  • My theory on why the Sedins are ineffective in the shootout: one of their main weapons is their renowned patience. They constantly pass up what appear to be prime scoring chances in order to create better ones. A shootout is anathema to them: you get one chance, you can only skate in one direction, and there's no one to pass to. A Sedin with a penalty shot is a little like a mule with a spinning wheel.
  • After five games without a point, Mason Raymond scored the opening goal with an assist from Raffi Torres and Chris Mason's five-hole. Torres makes a great play to intercept a pass in the defensive zone, attracts the attention of an overeager Johnny Oduya, slips a perfect pass to the streaking Raymond, then drives hard to the net, creating a perfect distraction for Chris Mason. Mark Stuart did a poor job taking away the pass, meaning Mason (of the Chris variety) had to stay open to the possibility of the pass. People will call this a weak goal and, to a certain extent, it is, but blame has to be put on the defense as well for playing the situation so poorly.
  • Raymond's goal seemed to give him a shot of confidence with sugar on the rim. He seemed to be everywhere on the ice and seemed to be developing some chemistry with Chris Higgins, who was originally thought to be a potential replacement for Raymond. Instead, Samuelsson may find himself bumped down to the third line if Raymond and Higgins heat up. Higgins brings a very different set of skills to the second line, as he tends to work harder and play with more grit, where Samuelsson has more patience and vision. Vigneault may have a tough time valuing his options: should he go with the Black-Scholes model or the Heston model?
  • Keith Ballard has figured out the secret to getting more icetime than Aaron Rome: play on the same pairing as him and skate more slowly to the bench. Ballard had a great game, making several key defensive plays early, hitting Daniel Sedin and Victor Oreskovich with perfect outlet passes, and finishing, with Rome, a game-high +2. He played 16:41, a full 37 seconds more than Rome. Clearly a big step.
  • Victor Oreskovich showed tonight why Gillis wanted him included in the Ballard trade. He played a physical game, logging 2 hits and winning battles along the boards, but he also showed some deft hands, getting off 2 shots and making a number of nice passes. His setup of the Bolduc goal, however, was merely an okay pass, enabled by the perfect outlet by Ballard. Also an okay pass: Want to see my final four?
  • So that covers the second and first assist: now to the goal itself. Alex "Howard Moon" Bolduc scored the eventual gamewinning goal with a gorgeous backhand. I haven't seen anyone with a backhand that devastating since Eve Cleary. Bolduc looked his absolute Moon-iest in his postgame interview with Dan Murphy, as seen above, not to be confused with my co-writer at PITB, who is at his Mooney-est at all times.
  • Christian Ehrhoff had a bit of a rough game: his giveaway on the Thrashers' lone goal was thoroughly unfortunate. It did, of course, give Roberto Luongo another chance to put the Snack Goal Principle to work. While Mason Raymond came just short of a defensive play for the ages, Luongo instead decided to try falling over, an unorthodox goaltending technique to say the least. I don't think it will replace the butterfly anytime soon.
  • Evander Kane was remarkable, so here's a remark: like an overzealous mob boss, he was putting a hit on everyone. He was only credited with 4 hits, while Dustin Byfuglien was credited with 6, but Kane's hits were certainly more noticeable. Kane was easily the best Thrasher, making an impact every time he stepped on the ice.
  • Alex Burrows picked up his 22nd goal of the season with a shorthanded empty netter. Hurray!
  • The subject of the first intermission feature was Dan "Community Man" Hamhuis, who looked kind and approachable in his nice suit with a golden tie. The last time he drew that much attention to himself was as a volunteer rodeo clown for the American Junior Rodeo when he played for Nashville.
  • As pointed out by Harrison: this is the 12th time this season that a Canuck goalie has lost a shutout in the third period and the 8th time within the game's last ten minutes. It's the only reason Luongo isn't in the top 5 of every major goaltending category: he leads the league in wins and is third in GAA and SV%, but only has 3 shutouts. He made some simply unfair saves, as seen in the video above, some of them more absurd than a baby monkey riding backwards on a pig.
  • Finally, because I know everyone will want to talk about it: the refs weren't great tonight. The Canucks did not get a single powerplay, despite there being many potential candidates, some provided by the Byfuglienian one himself, Dustin Byfuglien. That said, there's no conspiracy: the referees were not instructed to avoid giving the Canucks powerplays so that a team in a non-traditional hockey market wouldn't be embarrassed by the best team in the league. It would be career suicide for anyone in the NHL front office to try something like that as it would surely be leaked by someone. I can't imagine Gary Bettman or any of his cronies taking that kind of risk. Sometimes refs just do a bad job. It happens, especially in a meaningless game like this one.

Friday, March 25, 2011

More of Keith Ballard's Worst Pranks

You might recall from an earlier PITB piece that Ballard is a noted prankster; he just happens to be terrible at it. It's true. He's worse than Jeff Bridges. You also might recall that Atlanta, where the Canucks play tonight, is the site of his worst prank ever: a two-handed baseball swing to the mask of Florida goaltender Tomas Vokoun.

Obviously, bludgeoning your goaltender in the ear is a pretty ill-conceived prank, and Ballard's had a hard time living it down since he came to Vancouver. Recall this bit of ribbing from earlier in the year:

On the wall in the visitors room there often is taped a sheet for players to sign up for tickets for friends or family in the road city. Among the handful of requests for tickets to tonight's game, someone wrote K. Ballard in the 'donor' column and T. Vokoun under 'recipient.'

With that in mind, it was a no-brainer that a return to the scene of the crime would mean an uptick in jokes at his expense. His teammates have been giving it to him all day, pretending to break their sticks on the goal post in warmup, and providing awesome quotes like this one, courtesy Roberto Luongo (via Brad Zeimer):

"I try not to make eye contact with him at all," Luongo said. "He might snap at any second. Hopefully, he won't be on the ice when we get scored on."

It's pretty clear that everybody knows Keith Ballard is the sort of guy who can take a joke. Yesterday, Kevin Bieksa described Christian Ehrhoff as serious, focused, and "basically the opposite of Keith Ballard." In other words, Ballard's got a pretty solid sense of humour. Not since Marc Bergevin have the Canucks had a guy in the locker room so dedicated to keeping things light, and please keep that in mind the next time you rip the Ballard acquisition. He's an invaluable team guy who should really help the team come playoff time, when things get uncomfortably serious.

Keith Ballard brings the funny. If his impeccable comedic timing wasn't already apparent, consider this line, dryly delivered by Ballard when asked about the infamous baseball swing: "I'm fast so I would have got a double out of that."

If you think he's taking a pretty serious situation lightly, keep in mind that, when you prank as regularly and woefully as Keith Ballard does, you're going to have more than a few go a bit pear-shaped. You get used to it. Here, for example are ten more crummy Keith Ballard pranks you might not have known about:

The Canucks Are So Good, Alain Vigneault Might Even Get The Credit

The great irony of the Jack Adams award is that being the coach of the league's best team often precludes one from talk of being the league's best coach. Truth is, when there's no other possible explanation for a team's success, then the coach gets the credit. If, however, it's possible to attribute that success elsewhere (such as the team's makeup or star players) you're likely to hear very little about the man behind the bench.

The Jack Adams trophy typically goes to coaches who have led unimpressive teams to impressive records. Impressive, that is to say, considering how little was expected of them. It's an award predicated on exceeding expectations, not excelling. You measure where expectations were when you started, and contrast this with where the team winds up. The coach behind the greatest unexplained upswing gets the award.

This is one reason chatter regarding Alain Vigneault's coach of the year odds has been relatively nonexistent this year. Everyone expected the Canucks to be good: they've been the safe pick to win the West since the summer, and you don't win the Jack Adams simply by meeting expectations, however lofty. Considering Mike Babcock has never won the award, largely because his team, too, is merely ho-hum excellent, you'd think it was nearly impossible for the coach of a top-tier team to win. The team would have to dominate every major statistical category.

Amazingly, Alain Vigneault has emerged as a late-season frontrunner for the Jack Adams, because that's what the Canucks are doing.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I Find This Photo Odd: Acuvue Edition

What is Marc-Andre Fleury doing in this picture? Unless one of the Philadelphia Flyers made good on a threat and literally rearranged his face, he's shooting himself in the eye. Was it a snowshower he's washing off? Or maybe he got something in his eye?

Actually, no. I've done some investigation on this* and it comes from a very reliable source** that Fleury wears contact lenses and keeps a gatorade bottle of saline solution handy just in case they dry out. Apparently, they tend to get very dry.

Truly, no one realizes that a key disadvantage to playing for the NHL is you never see the commercials during your games, which means Fleury missed out on the Acuvue commercials. Someone should let him know about them -- those Oasys lenses stay hydrated longer. Maybe he won't have to shoot himself in the eye so often. That kind of burst in the eye is dangerous. You can lose your contact lens, and then all the linesmen are down on all fours trying to help you find it.

Plus if he gets better contact lenses, he can have a gatorade bottle full of actual gatorade there. I'm told goaltenders can get thirsty and that saline solution doesn't help you hydrate.

*No I haven't
**No it doesn't

Who Do the Canucks Want to Face in the First Round?

With the Canucks having sewn up their spot in the playoffs via a clever combination of playing in the terrible Northwest division and being the best team in the NHL, the time has come to consider who the Canucks will face in the playoffs. With a comfortable 10 point lead on the Red Wings for first place in the Conference, the Canucks could safely go .500 over their remaining 8 games and still be guaranteed top spot. So let's look at the teams that could end up in the 8th spot and face the Canucks in the first round.

Mathematically, there are still 12 teams that could potentially finish in 8th. Still, it's safe to say that the Red Wings and the Sharks won't be taking such a drastic fall. Similarly, the Blues, Blue Jackets, and Wild are unlikely to make improbable runs to the playoffs over their few remaining games. That still leaves 7 viable teams who could wind up facing the Canucks in the first round: the Coyotes, Blackhawks, Kings, Predators, Ducks, Stars, or Flames. Which of those teams would be an ideal match-up for the Canucks? Obviously, the Canucks don't need to be afraid to face any team this postseason, but which team would be preferable?

I Watched This Game: Canucks at Red Wings, March 23, 2011

Canucks 2 - 1 Red Wings

Anyone hoping for another game of the year candidate between the two best teams in the Western Conference was likely a little let down by last night's affair, which saw both teams play hard--just not too hard. With only ten games to go in the regular season, the Canucks and the Red Wings have begun looking forward to the playoffs, which means approaching these final matches cautiously and ensuring everyone is healthy and ready for the next set of games that will matter. Unsurprisingly, then, this game was decided by who played and who didn't, as Pavel Datsyuk's absence rendered Detroit notably less dangerous, and Daniel Sedin's presence, after rushing back to join the team for reasons of his own, made the difference. Dank scored both Vancouver goals. And, just as Daniel was determined to play in this game, I was equally determined to watch it. The good news is that we both succeeded. I watched this game:

  • How can you tell the outcome of this game was secondary to injury avoidance while playing it? The piddly number of blocked shots. Detroit and Vancouver had a measly 13 between them. The Canucks had four. Two of those were attributed to Alex Bolduc, which makes a lot of sense. Bolduc is likely the only player in the Canucks lineup with any motivation to block shots. He'll be lucky if he gets many more chances to prove be should be part of the playoff roster; he's got no choice but to tempt fate and try to impress. Meanwhile, the Red Wings had nine blocked shots, but four of them were from Niklas Kronwall, who apparently didn't get the memo. This might be the only time of the year when coaches are begging players not to sacrifice their bodies, and guys are diving away from shots like synchronized swimmers.
  • Speaking of Alex Bolduc, do you think he should send Gord Miller a box of chocolates with a captioned photo of himself at the bottom? For the entirety of the night, Miller kept calling him Andre. That is incorrect. "Alex" is Bolduc's first name. "Andre" is a precocious baby sea lion.
  • Roberto Luongo was fantastic, as he has been for much of the season. After a slow start to the year, likely attributed to the adjustments called for by new goalie coach Rollie Melanson, Funny Bob has been fairly consistent all year. Courtesy Jason Botchford: he hasn't been pulled once in 2011, and he's let in 4 goals only one time. Luongo is now first in the NHL in wins, third in SV%, fourth in GAA, and leading the Canucks towards a first ever Jennings trophy. Put succinctly: he's good. In last night's affair, he made 39 saves, (several of the category amazeballs) and he kept the Canucks in the game during a one-sided first period and a few intense third-period assaults. He appears to be on his game heading into the playoffs, and this can only be a good thing, unless it turns out his game is shuffleboard.
  • Don't get me started on his lack of shutouts. It should be obvious to everyone that Luongo always purposefully lets in one, so the team won't be too hungry next time. It's called The Snack Goal Principle.
  • You'd have thought Daniel Sedin would be jet-lagged or something, but the in-flight movie was The Last Airbender, so he got a lot of sleep. One day after his wife gave birth to a new baby girl, Daniel scored both the opening goal and the game-winner, proving that witnessing the miracle of life makes you a better hockey player. Someone send Toronto a DVD of Knocked Up. With the two points, Daniel pushed his lead over Steven Stamkos to nine, impressed the Eastern Hart voters who only watch games in their time zone, and, more importantly, maintained the seven-point gap between he and that gloryhog Henrik. Daniel's first goal, banked off the skate of Niklas Lidstrom (akin to dunking on Lebron James), was the 12th time this season he's potted the game's first goal. No wonder he has more kids than his brother; he initiates more scoring.
  • The best goal of the game was the Canucks' powerplay game-winner (above). Take some time to watch what all five members do. Salo and Ehrhoff pass the puck back and forth, trying to open up lanes for a point shot. They both get a clear shot, but neither gets through. When the Wings look to get the puck out, Salo pinches, Ehrhoff takes off to the red line to cover him. Kris Draper gets to the puck, he sees Salo coming. Worse, Henrik has already gotten into his clearing lane, so he turns back, then makes a poor clearing attempt, which Henrik recovers anyway. While all of is going on, Ryan Kesler is causing absolute havoc in front. First, he topples over Jimmy Howard, causing Howard to lose his stick. No call, because Howard's way out of his crease and he initiates the contact by diving for the puck. Then, Kesler takes Brad Stuart's legs out with a subtle drive-by trip. No call again, because conspiracies against the Canucks are topped only by conspiracies against the Red Wings. Niklas Kronwall tries to shade over and take away a pass to Kesler, but this opens up a stupid amount of room for Henrik and Daniel, who just pound away with the same cross-ice pass and one-timer until there's simply too much chaos to overcome, and the puck goes in. Color me impressed. And Badd.
  • I wonder if there was ever a plan to ease Kevin Bieksa back into the lineup, because if there was, someone screwed up bigtime. Juice played the most minutes of any Canuck at 23:19, immediately returning to his top pairing with Dan Hamhuis. Bieksa played excellent, although he looked a little shaky on his skates, at times, including one icing call where Valteri Filppula gave him a late nudge and he fell into the boards. The best part of that incident was when the two linesman skated in to separate the men, and Bieksa, while standing right between them, slashed Filppula in the calf. Are you surprised? This is a guy who punched out a teammate during his first training camp. Kevin "Stagger Lee" Bieksa would shoot a man in a crowded saloon in a dispute over a hat. He's so badass.
  • Bieksa did get a reprieve from the night's toughest assignment, however, as Dan "Community Man" Hamhuis took Bieksa's regular job of battling with Tomas Holmstrom in front. He did an admirable job, too, twice alleviating Detroit zone pressure by taking Holmstrom off the ice with a penalty. It was nice of Hamhuis to give Bieksa the night off; he took a beating for him, much like the time he recovered that old lady's purse from that unruly street gang, or the time he saved that young woman from those pipe wrench-wielding thugs.
  • Victor Oreskovich had a good game, highlighted by one stellar 2nd period shift during which he set up three quality scoring chances from behind the net. First he muscled out in front for two shots. Then he made a beautiful centring pass. Then when the puck came back to him, he made a tape-to-tape pass to the point. This is likely the only time Oreskovich will ever receive this adjective, but it was positively Malkinesque. Nothing came of it, but it was nice to see flashes of NHL hands from the big man. That said, because they were under gloves, we don't know that they were actually his hands. They could have been the devil's hands. I've seen this before. Has he suddenly improved at playing the holophonor?
  • Ryan Kesler was the big faceoff winner, going 13-for-18 in the circle, including 11-for-13 in the offensive zone. Curiously, however, he didn't take a single draw in the neutral zone. Apparently Kesler, like sparkling wine, is only for special occasions. Of the 12 faceoffs between the blue lines, Henrik took six, and Lapierre and Bolduc took three apiece.
  • Raffi Torres had three hits, but you'd think he was out for the season too. I feel like I haven't seen him since Malhotra went down. He clearly drew a lot of confidence from playing with Manny, and now he's going to have to dig deep and discover it was inside him all along, or something. But Manny Malhotra died over thirty years ago...
  • With the win over Detroit, the Canucks only need to win three of their final eight to win the Western Conference. It seems a foregone conclusion at this point, especially since they still haven't dropped two consecutive regulation games since November, and even alternating wins and losses to keep this trend alive means they'll win four. May as well start stitching that banner.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

They Don't Let Keith Ballard Do Anything

Here's a little vignette for Fountain Tire and, featuring interviews with Keith Ballard and Ryan Kesler. The best stuff comes courtesy of Ballard, who gives us some insight into why he never gets any ice time. Turns out it's because:

1) He has
scoliosis and borderline osteoporosis.
Ballard has every ailment short of bulging discs. How much do you think Mike Gillis knew when he traded a 1st round pick and a Calder finalist for Mr. Burns?

2) He sucks at shooting.
His exact words: "They don't even let me shoot in practice in the shootout [...] Have you seen me shoot? You wouldn't let me shoot either." Wayne Gretzky, who coached Ballard in Phoenix, once said to him, famously, "You miss 100% of the shots you, Keith Ballard, take." Revisionists later replaced "Keith Ballard" with "don't", and made a buttload of money on motivational posters.

3) He thinks that being clutch means not falling down.
Suffice it to say, if you've watched Ballard for more than a handful of games, you know he's not clutch. He knows it too. Do you think confidence is an issue for Hips? I'd say so. His shootout strategy is as follows: "I'd just try to get a shot on net, put my head down and skate back to the bench." Here's a pro-tip for Keith Ballard: when hanging your head in shame is part of your move, you're setting yourself up for failure. Someone told me that on a date once.

Thanks to Play Me That Ballard for the tip.

Daniel Sedin One-Ups His Brother, Has Another Child

"I'm going to crush you." "Not if I crush you first."

As if it wasn't already perfectly clear that Daniel Sedin is using rage and envy over Henrik's career year last season to propel himself to an Art Ross and Hart trophy this season, we got further proof, Tuesday, when Daniel's wife gave birth to their third child.

That's one more child than sired by the Henrik Sedins, which means Daniel's competitive rage is so all-consuming, he's committed himself to outscoring Henrik both on and off the ice. This is now a literal blood feud.

And, if it weren't already apparent that Daniel is dead set on matching his brother's total Harts and Art Rosses solely out of spite, he'll be back in the lineup tonight when the Canucks face the Red Wings. Seriously, he shook his daughter's hand, kissed his wife goodbye, and caught the red-eye to Michigan. Considering Detroit and Vancouver are resting guys on a whim (Mikael Samuelsson's out with "the sniffles", and Pavel Datsyuk's missing the game with "ennui"), you've got to believe Daniel is determined to play. Why might that be?

Well, do you remember what happened last year when Daniel missed a few games?

During those five weeks, Henrik turned into Supergretzky, tallying 16 hat tricks and 2900 points. By the time Daniel returned, a statue of Henrik was under construction outside GM Place and Robson Street had been renamed Henrik & Only Henrik Boulevard. Daniel was like, "I'm back, everyone!" And everyone was like, "Oh hi, Henrik. I thought you went home for the day."

Clearly, Daniel Sedin is now petrified to let his brother play a game without him, and it's an understandable anxiety. When he misses time, people forget he exists and, after all the work he's put in to match Henrik's accomplishments this year, that would be a devastating blow. He's got a seven-point lead on Henrik in the scoring race, likely insurmountable because they tend to share the ice. But, if Daniel lets up for even a second, Henrik is free to gain ground, just like when when he briefly turned around in the womb, and Henrik darted past him towards the light.

You know Henrik's trying to put a stop to this revenge strategy. Remember that empty-netter from his own side of center the other night? That's out of character for Henrik--unless he's trying to gain ground in the scoring race. That goal was unassisted, except by sibling rivalry.

Daniel has to play tonight to protect everything he's worked for all season. If it slips away from him now, well, it would kill him. Not literally, of course. Daniel couldn't bring himself to do that, especially considering how many points his brother would score without him.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Injury to Malhotra Gives the Canucks Someone to "Do it For"

Yesterday, we learned that the Canucks will be without Manny Malhotra for the rest of the season due to eye injury. It was difficult to digest, and not just because Malhotra is a fantastic human being who doesn't deserve this terrible misfortune. Also, because Malhotra has been an invaluable member of the Canucks forward corps this season, and his contributions are irreplaceable. Since joining the team in the offseason, Manny has enlivened Vancouver's faceoff percentage, given their third line a cohesive identity, allowed the Canucks' offensive superstars to focus on scoring, and even reversed the Canucks' bad luck with bald players (after such winners as Eric Weinrich and Jan Bulis). Malhotra has done a lot, and his absence will be impossible not to feel.

But this doesn't mean the Canucks can't win without him, because they can. In fact, it's likely that they will win because of this unfortunate incident. I say this not to be insensitive or flippant, but because I've watched a lot of sports movies, and if there's one thing I know for sure, it's that no team can win the championship until a role player goes down with an injury, thereby giving the team somebody to do it for.

Evaluating Chris Tanev

With the news that Kevin Bieksa has started practicing with the team again, the next step will be his return to the Canucks lineup, maybe even as early as tomorrow's game against Detroit. This means that one of the Canucks' current defensemen will be hitting the pressbox, unless Sami Salo breaks again. It's almost a certainty that the odd man out will be Chris Tanev. The reasons are numerous: he's an inexperienced rookie, he's not yet used to the long haul of an NHL schedule, and Aaron Rome has kidnapped Vigneault's children and is holding them for ransom in a ploy to get more ice-time.

You will notice, however, that none of those reasons mention the quality of Tanev's play. Part of this is that it's been very difficult to properly assess Tanev: the word that keeps coming to commentator's lips is "poised", but poise is remarkably hard to quantify. It's hard to miss his lack of panic with the puck and his ability to make good outlet passes; mentally, he seems ready for the NHL and certainly has a higher ceiling than someone like Aaron Rome. But is he currently ready physically for the NHL, particularly the grind of the playoffs? Alain Vigneault has stated that Tanev won't be returned to the minors and that he has been impressed with his play, but he'll likely see significant time in the pressbox; come playoff time, with Alex Edler and Andrew Alberts returning, will Tanev see any playing time at all? Would his development be better served playing more significant minutes with the Manitoba Moose?

Monday, March 21, 2011

This Sucks

Manny Malhotra is done for the season and playoffs. I am just devastated right now. There are no words. If you want to know how important I think Malhotra is to the Canucks' success, read "Manny Malhotra is an Enabler." Right now I'll busy myself by building a massive panic button.

Please Do Not Flip the Pool

Sports fans go nuts when things don't make sense to them.

Have you looked at the Western Conference standings recently? If you're a Vancouver fan, you probably haven't, you smug bastard, so let me fill you in: there are 2 points separating the 5th-place team and the 10th-place team. This is where you gasp, or maybe here: of those six very good teams, only four will be making the playoffs.

If you didn't gasp, you obviously don't live in Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, Anaheim, Dallas, or Calgary. For fans and players of those teams, it's a stressful time; every game in the Conference has meaning, even the ones in which your team doesn't play.

However, for the time being, Canucks fans are taking it easy. It's a pleasant feeling, this--a rare feeling. When it comes to these late-season clusters, the Canucks are regularly in the thick of things. This year, however, where Vancouver is nine points clear of second-place Detroit, and seventeen points clear of the aforementioned thick.

Enjoy it while it lasts, Canuck nation. In ten games, everyone starts back at zero.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Is Gary Rocking a Jersey Foul?

This is Gary. We met him down by the glass in San Jose, before the Canucks came out for their warmup. You'll notice that Gary is wearing a Roberto Luongo jersey with the C on it.

Gary spawned a hearty debate amongst our group (a group which included myself, Skeeter, our wives, San Jose fan Art, and Kari, our Worst Contest Ever winner) over whether or not this was a foul. If you're wearing a player's jersey with a C on it, and that player never wore the C, that's a foul. There's actually a square on Jersey Foul Bingo for this exact foul. But Luongo is a special case, right? You see, while Roberto Luongo was the captain of the Canucks last year, he was forbidden by the NHL from actually wearing the C on his chest because he's a goalie. By the letter of the letter law, he never wore the jersey Gary is wearing, and that's a foul. That said, Luongo was the captain, and probably should have been able to wear the C on the ice. And, as Art pointed out, he actually did, once: in the 08-09 team photo. Is that enough to give this one a pass?

I've never cared for the practice of sneaking pictures of jersey fouls, because I don't like taking sneaky photos of people and putting them on the Internet in order to make fun of them. Doesn't seem right. With that in mind, I approached Gary for a fully honest pic, his opinion on the matter, and to find out whether or not he put the C on the jersey himself, perhaps as some sort of protest against a silly league rule. Unfortunately, he couldn't remember if he bought the jersey that way or not.

Gary was a good sport about the whole thing. He told me that he thought it wasn't a foul (he was biased). His friend Sandeep, however, agreed with me. "Dude," Sandeep said, "You're a foul."

Maybe he is. What do you guys think?

Friday, March 18, 2011

I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Coyotes, March 18, 2011

Canucks 1 - 3 Coyotes

A goaltender's duel is nowhere near as much fun as it sounds (just ask Rick DiPietro). Despite the picture you have in your mind, in reality, neither goalie draws pistols, nobody walks paces, and nobody is slapped with a glove. Furthermore, there is never any threat to the United States Secretary of the Treasury. Suffice it to say, there's really nothing thrilling about it. Instead, the two duellers stand 200 feet from each other the whole night (much too far to accurately fire a Wogdon Duelling Pistol), and conspire to prevent any action. Really, this was less of a duel, and more of a bad boxing match, in that the two competitors battled to a draw and eventually the officials had to step in and decide the match for them. A bit disappointing, this one. I watched this game:

  • Before I take a few more jabs at tonight's uneven reffing, let me be clear: the Canucks lost this game because their 5-on-3 couldn't capitalize and because Jason "The Barbera" LaBarbera was incredible. He made 46 saves tonight. Forty-six. The only Canucks that didn't have shots on goal were Keith Ballard and Aaron Rome, and eight players had three or more. Jason LaBarbera stopped all but one, and he would have had that one, too, but Dan Murphy made a point of saying shutout. Unfortunately for Dan Murphy, both goalies were pitching shutouts when he said that. Oh, you fool.
  • According to the stats page, this game only had 20 hits, 10 by each team. It didn't feel that friendly. Also, here's a curious name among the guys that registered zero hits: Alex Burrows. Zero hits? What about this one? Apparently, the stats guys didn't agree with the call either.
  • Let's talk about that controversial hit. Burrows definitely deserved a penalty, but Fiddler's trying to play the puck while avoiding the check, and he's not a good enough skater to do it. Instead, he goes into the boards at full speed and, while twisting away from the puck, tries to poke it in the other direction. That puts his back to Burrows, a terrible position for an inevitable check. Unfortunately, now when Burrows hits him, Fiddler's facing the boards, off-balance, hunched over and trying to stop at an awkward angle. In that moment, even with Burrows trying to let up, he sends him headfirst into the boards. You have to call that--it's a hit from behind--but there's no way that's a major and a misconduct.
  • You've got to think Burrows' reputation factored into the overreaction, which is why I found his postgame comments so interesting. After the game, I partly expected to hear him confess to going for another pregame skate with a begrudged referee. Instead, Burr made a point of saying he disagreed with the call, but that Kelly Sutherland, who made it, is one of the best referees in the league. Novel approach. As the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than by having Alex Burrows publicly malign them.
  • My real beef with the refereeing tonight was the astonishing degree of inconsistency. It always amazes me how, even when a game is called so strictly you'd think it was being refereed by the Women's Temperance Movement, the whistles disappear the moment the Sedins hit the ice. Daniel and Henrik were both tripped up or interfered with a number of times with no response from the zebras. The most egregious non-call came on a Daniel Sedin trip in the dying seconds, freeing up the puck and giving Phoenix a free path to Vancouver's empty net. It's baffling, but here's my theory: the things the twins do are so absolutely breathtaking that the referees, like all of us, can't help but gasp. Unfortunately, gasping with a whistle in your mouth is a surefire way to swallow your whistle.
  • With tonight's victory, the Coyotes become the only NHL team to win two games at Rogers Arena. It's not surprising. Considering the situation in Phoenix, it has to inspire the Coyotes to visit a building full of fans whose tickets didn't come free with a sandwich combo.
  • Sami Salo had a game-high 5 blocked shots tonight. He's blocked 24 shots in his 18 games back. That's a pretty impressive stat, but it's probably not as intimidating to block a shot when your body is full of metal plates. Salo had 23:08 and a game-high 31 shifts.
  • Meanwhile, Christian Ehrhoff played twenty-seven minutes tonight and Keith Ballard played twelve. Now, I agree that Ehrhoff > Ballard, but I feel that such a blatant discrepancy in icetime would have to be represented by four or five angle brackets, and I can't get behind that. For continuity's sake, let me express my opinion in angle brackets: > > >>>>>
  • I'm always amazed at the things Vern Fiddler gets away with. He drew Alex Burrows' 15 minutes in penaties, and he also drew a 2 minute roughing minor from Mikael Samuelsson when he high-sticked the feisty Swede in the face (missed), meriting a gloved punch (seen). I'm sure I'd love him if he played for my team, but he doesn't, so I don't.
  • If there's one criticism about the Sedins I can understand, it's that they often don't play with a sense of urgency. How do I know? Because you can tell when they are playing urgent, such as on Christian Ehrhoff's goal (above). They buzzed for that whole shift, motivated, no doubt by the bogus major penalty that wound up costing them two goals, before Ehrhoff finally banged the puck home in front. These guys have been the best players in the NHL this season, and you have to wonder how much better they'd be if they played with this intensity all the time. Mind you, I guess they're so good because they don't have to.
  • The absence of Manny "Alternate Captain Mal" Malhotra was felt. The third line simply lacked the presence it has in past weeks. Raffi Torres suffered especially, finishing with only 1 hit and 1 shot in 8:48 of icetime. In the faceoff circle, Maxim Lapierre did a great job with increased responsibilities, going 7-for-11 on faceoffs. Henrik, too, went a respectable 9-for-16. Ryan Kesler, on the other hand, went a somewhat disappointing 11-for-25, although his numbers probably suffered when he had to take a few more draws on the left side, where Malhotra is typically used. During the major penalty kill, however, Manny's absence really glared. There were seven draws during those five minutes, and the Canucks won only two of them. Worse, both goals came off a lost faceoff.
  • You had to feel for Dan "Community Man" Hamhuis after he took a shot in the leg on the penalty kill, and couldn't get back into the play to clear Radim Vrbata from Roberto Luongo's line of vision on the second goal. It was especially ironic that it would be a shot to the leg that slowed him down, especially after he spent the afternoon teaching the BC Teacher's Federation how to use an epinephrine autoinjector to treat anaphylaxis in students.
  • The Canucks remain one of only two teams that has not scored a five-on-three powerplay goal. The other is Edmonton. Clearly, the way to stop the Canucks' powerplay is to take another penalty. Or just only send out three guys to kill it. Maybe have him cherry pick around the red line or something.
  • After starting the game on the fourth line, Mason Raymond played well, earning his place back on the second line by the game's end. It had to be a real boost of confidence to MayRay to be skating there in the dying minutes of the third period as the Canucks tried to tie it up. Hopefully, he now fully recognizes the threat Chris Higgins poses. Yes, Higgins is his black swan.
  • And finally: Phoenix impresses me. They don't have the personnel to be this good, yet they continue to win. Granted, it helps when you're allowed to skate 9 players at a time, and dress four of them up like referees. Okay, that was the last one.

For a Coach, Mason Raymond and Mikael Samuelsson Require Completely Different Approaches

Ryan Kesler's wingers are polar opposites. It's like a sitcom on ice.

Early in Sunday's game versus the Calgary Flames, Canucks' winger Mikael Samuelsson turned the puck over in his own zone, allowing Flames' center Michael Backlund to walk in, uncontested, and score the game's first goal. It was painful. For this ill-timed and completely avoidable mistake, Samuelsson was summarily benched, and wouldn't return from fourth-line exile until much, much later in the game.

It was a kneejerk benching, albeit deserved, but it warranted an interesting observation from a few: Mason Raymond, Samuelsson's linemate, has a tendency to make similar mistakes, yet he's rarely benched in such a reactive fashion. Granted, Samuelsson's error was pretty terrible, and most certainly a valid reason to bench a guy, but the observation remains valid. Alain Vigneault does appear quicker to bench Mikael Samuelsson than Mason Raymond. Why?

Because they're very different, and one has an abundance of the selfsame confidence the other lacks.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I Watched This Game: Canucks vs. Avalanche, March 16, 2011

Canucks 4 - 2 Avalanche

With their win tonight, the Canucks now have 103 points, a mere 2 points from their team record, set in 2006-07. In addition, they clinched the Northwest Division title, meaning they are the first team in the NHL to clinch a playoff spot. Most remarkable, however, is that they have accomplished all of this with 10 games still remaining in their schedule. 10 games, people. If there was any lingering doubt that we are witnessing the greatest regular season in Canucks histroy, it should be completely wiped away. My only disappointment tonight was the the player number I got at the pub belonged to Alexandre Bolduc, so there was no chance for a free beer. Oh well. I watched this game.

  • This is the third time in the last five games that the Canucks have gone down by two goals in the first period and come back to win the game. That's significant enough to be called a trend. Last season, the Canucks were the comeback kings, winning 10 games when trailing after one period and 11 games when trailing after two period. This season's Canucks hadn't come back after trailing after one period until this recent spate of 3 wins. The issue, of course, is that they've had so little practice: clearly, the Canucks are secretly allowing the opposition to build an early two-goal lead (the worst lead in hockey) in order to practice coming from behind.
  • The Canucks weren't even really outplayed in the first period. They carried the play, particularly the Sedins, who created scoring chances like a Keys to the VIP winner. The difference came down to two hard luck shifts from Sami Salo, who took an interference penalty that led to the first Avalanche goal, then had the second bank in off his skate. The two-goal Colorado lead had little to do with how the Avalanche played, though they should be commended for their opportunism. Still, the Canucks were clearly unhappy with the results of the first period. They came out in the second like Kyle Wellwood men possessed, outshooting Colorado 15-5.
  • Manny Malhotra left the game after taking a deflected puck to the face early in the second period. He went to the hospital with blood in his eye and it's feared that he may have a broken orbital bone. Here's hoping that it isn't anything that serious, as Malhotra is essential to the Canucks' chances in the playoffs.
  • The fourth line was flying tonight, none moreso than Chris "Kiss Huggins" Higgins, who played 17:18 in the absence of Manny Malhotra, double-shifting with both the second and third lines throughout the game. Kiss Huggins just has a lot of love to spread around. The Canucks' first goal of the game, shoved home by Maxim "The Pierre" Lapierre, was all Huggins. He recovered from mis-handling the initial outlet pass from Keith Ballard by kicking the puck into the corner, where he embarrassed Ryan Wilson, took the puck behind the net, and drew Matthew Hunwick away from Lapierre before neatly slipping the puck in front. Kiss Huggins then gave everyone a heartfelt embrace: no word on whether it included a peck on the cheek.
  • Higgins played on the second line in place of Mason Raymond, who was hog-tied to the bench after the 6:32 mark of the third period. Although Raymond had a game-high 5 shots, his overall play was lackadaisical, negating much of the fire that Ryan Kesler played with all game. Instead of feeding off Kesler's fire, Raymond felt the need to stop, drop, and roll at every opportunity. Kesler, meanwhile, was held off the scoresheet despite his best efforts and went all Jason Voorhees on Shorty and Garrett to vent his frustrations.
  • Further evidence that Kesler played with a massive chip lurking just over his shoulder: he led the game with a whopping 6 hits. Considering he averages 1.57 hits/game, that's fairly significant, which shouldn't be confused with Puck, who is a significant fairy. Kesler also picked up the majority of the faceoffs in Malhotra's absence, taking 31 draws. The rest of the team, Malhotra included, took 42. And if anyone needs more evidence that Kesler has a heavy shot, witness how he took Adam Foote out of the game with a wristshot. Foote isn't exactly a shrinking violet (I consider him more of a Blok), so it takes a lot to send him to the locker room.
  • Mikael Samuelsson is back to his logo-sniping ways. He hates that logo! Stay away from the logo! Jeff Tambellini, meanwhile, seems intent on continually attempting to score from somewhere other than his Magic Shooty Spot. They need to go back to what works: shooting where the goalie is not and the net is.
  • Dan "Community Man" Hamhuis had yet another quietly effective game, posting a +3 rating in 23:55 of ice-time and making many excellent defensive plays. His loudest moment came when he picked up an assist on the game-tying goal with a wonderfully patient play after picking up his own rebound. It's remarkable how Burrows manages to create space for himself in front of the net despite being surrounded by three Colorado players when he chipped in the Daniel Sedin rebound. As for Hamhuis, he desperately wanted to help man the phones for the Canucks for Kids Fund Telethon during the intermissions, but had a prior commitment serving soup to the homeless at a local soup kitchen. Dan is a man of his word.
  • Speaking of the Telethon, it has raised $1,695,000 already. Holy monkey, that's a lot. It was cool seeing some of the people working the phones, including Stan Smyl, Francesco Aquilini, Victor de Bonis, and Filomena Nalewajek, who is the CEO of Canuck Place. Harrison and I got a chance to meet her at the Scrabble Battle and she is a delightful lady.
  • In the pre-game show on the Team 1040, Dave Pratt practically drooled all over his mic at the possibility of the Art-Ross-race-leading Sedins taking on the lottery-pick-bound Avalanche, while Ben Kuzma cautioned that such opportunities frequently don't result in much. Up until the third period, it looked like Kuzma was right; the Sedins were dominating the offensive zone, but were unable to finish their chances. Then, Burrows tied up the game and the door was open for some classic Wizardous Sedinerie. Ehrhoff held the line, Burrows out-battled a defender to hack the puck to Daniel, and Daniel decided that his best course of action upon receiving the puck with room to shoot at the right faceoff circle was to, of course, pass the puck blindly between his legs to his brother. As seen above, Henrik made no mistake, demonstrating a quick release akin to a weaker Joe Sakic.
  • Finally, Henrik took a major chance at the end of the game, risking an icing call to ice the game with an empty-netter that was the icing on the cake of this victory. As pointed out by Justin Bourne last month, it's generally considered selfish to take that risk, especially considering there was still over a minute left in the game. A faceoff in the defensive zone in a 6-on-5 situation is less than ideal. That said, it is Henrik Sedin, one of the most accurate passers in the NHL, and considering the force of the shot, it was really just a glorified saucer pass. The risk was a little less than if it had been, say, JaMarcus Russell. I'm guessing he just wanted to net the goal without an assist from Daniel. He needs to make up ground in the Art Ross race somehow.

Shorty & Garrett Just Got Keslurked

Have a gander at the 1:30 mark of this video. That's Ryan Kesler, dropping a nasty Keslurk on John Garrett and John Shorthouse at the end of tonight's postgame coverage. In a clever touch, Kesler does this while wearing Garrett's old-timey goalie mask. That takes some serious planning. I mean, those things aren't just lying around. Did Kesler break into Garrett's house?

This is a whole new ball of wax for Kesler. Prior to this, he's only been Keslurking teammates. Now he's moved on to members of the broadcast team, and potentially, B&Es. He's escalating, and he's broadening his scope. Where will it end?

Terrifying grandiosity. What happens when he Keslurks all there is to Keslurk in this realm? At this rate, that'll happen by Sunday. Then what? Extraspheric Keslurking? I hypothesize a scenario in which Ryan Kesler Keslurks everyone he possibly can think of, then invents a time machine, and goes back in time and Keslurks himself while Keslurking, creating a sort of Keslurkic recursion loop. What if Kesler's drive to innovate new Keslurks causes him to fracture his own psyche and develop a schizoid psychosis wherein his subconscious constantly Keslurks his conscious self? What if he cracks the laws of physics, expands the size of his atoms, then pulls a Galactus and starts Keslurking entire planets?

God help us. Actually, God should stay away. If he shows up, Kesler will probably Keslurk him.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wellwood's World, Chapter 10: Welly's Not Right, But He's Not Wrong

When we last left Kyle Wellwood, he was happy. Why wouldn't he be? Things are going swell for Welly. He's expecting his first child; his experience in Russia taught him a newfound respect for his home continent, as he no longer has to contend with dogs for the best links of sausage; he's fitting in beautifully in San Jose.

In 25 games, he's got 4 goals and 2 assists. Welly's also a +6, having only been a minus player once (two days ago). He remains an oft-kilter defensive stalwart. The Sharks are 18-4-3 since he joined the team. After Moscow, any NHL team would have sufficed, but Welly appears to have ridden the waiver wire to a mighty fine situation.

However, if Moscow has been happily banished to the past, his time in Vancouver remains a fresh memory. Interest in the Windsor native continues here, even though he now plays for one of the Canucks' stiffest rivals, and perhaps their most daunting potential postseason opponent.

That said, if he was hoping to put out some of the fires still burning for him in the Lower Mainland he certainly poured some water on them when he suggested the Canucks, season-long Stanley Cup favourites, didn't have the mettle to win it all this year. It was last week's most adorable heel turn.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Wild, March 14, 2011

Canucks 4 - 2 Wild

Like the opening scene of Carrie, this game was all about the 1st period. In the opening twenty minutes, the Canucks jumped out to a 3-0 lead after a quick one by Raffi Torres (above), and two debilitatingly effective powerplays. While Minnesota would regroup and take over the game in the second and third, it wouldn't be enough to overcome the big lead they spotted Vancouver in the first. Granted, a total effort would perhaps have been preferential, as the Canucks spent the last two periods on their heels, but seriously: Vancouver has 101 points. They win more than you do. Quit complaining. By the way, I watched this game:

  • There have been games this season where the Canucks' powerplay has taken blame for a loss, but really, it's only because of the high expectations they've garnered. Here's an example of what the unit can do: in the last two games, the Canucks have gone 5-for-5 with the man advantage, which is impressive, but even more impressive in that, of the ten penalty minutes alloted them, they've only used 2:36. They're almost as efficient as this loser.
  • Daniel Sedin's powerplay goal was gorgeous. It's interesting to juxtapose it with Ryan Kesler's goal from Saturday night, which is quite similar, but also very different. Kesler's wrist shot is pure force; he curls above the faceoff dot and snaps it past Kiprusoff. Daniel Sedin's wrister is tactical. He curls above the faceoff dot too, but when he gets to that sweet spot where a sniper normally fires the puck, he gives himself an extra yard by pulling the puck back and sliding further into the middle of the ice. Greg Zanon expects the shot and drops to a knee, and in that moment, with one drag move, Daniel drifts away from him, nearly to the center of the offensive zone. Nobody creates space in traffic like the Sedins. Except James Bond.
  • Ryan Kesler's first goal in this game is the result of some beautiful puck movement by the whole unit. What amazes me so much about the unit is that all five guys are fabulous passers, and any one of them can orchestrate a beautiful play. Not just the Sedins, and not just the point men. Kesler starts and caps off this play, first making a pretty backpass along the boards, then drifting to the center of the ice to cap off a beautiful passing play with Ehrhoff and Samuelsson, then being the first one to his own rebound.
  • If there was a downside to the first period, it's that Sami Salo's 16-game health streak came to an end when he took a shot off the elbow and left the game. It's hard not to be incredulous at Salo's commitment to winning Injury Bingo, but I'm sure he's more frustrated than any of us. Here's hoping this is just a stinger (or whatever else they call it when the player's hurt and the coach makes him play anyway). Better yet, here's hoping that, whatever it is, he gets proper treatment and is healthy for the start--if not the duration-- of the playoffs.
  • That said, Salo narrowly survived getting his nose lopped off when Cal Clutterbuck had an epic hit fail in the first. In the highlight of the night, Clutterbuck took a run at Alex Burrows, missed, and went over the boards, ass over teakettle. But don't feel too bad for Clutterbuck. He may have missed Burrows, but he hit the bench, which had 14 guys on it, so he was credited with 13 hits (Cory Schneider doesn't count; he wasn't playing).
  • We've had numerous opportunities to point out how crucial Manny Malhotra and Ryan Kesler are to this team, but it may never have been more apparent than when both of them were in the penalty box while the Canucks tried to kill off a 5-on-3. It left Alain Vigneault with no faceoff men for those crucial defensive zone draws. Yes, Henrik Sedin and Maxim Lapierre are both centers, but on twenty defensive zone faceoffs last night, they took three. Clearly, Vigneault doesn't trust them to do it. Pressed, he deployed Henrik Sedin for the first faceoff, which he won, but the Canucks couldn't get the puck out. Henrik found himself trapped in the zone for thirty-five seconds. Not ideal. Rather than risk having another player who doesn't practice five-on-threes trapped on the ice for one, Vigneault then tempted fate by letting Jannik Hansen take the next draw. Hansen lost it, wound up hemmed in the zone to near-exhaustion, then lost his stick and took a tripping penalty. The Canucks were lucky to get through this stretch without a goal against.
  • Immediately upon leaving the box, Ryan Kesler won a defensive zone draw to finally alleviate the Wild's pressure and keep the penalty kill perfect. In fact, after that little scare, the Canucks didn't lose another faceoff in their own zone for the rest of the game, one major reason Minnesota finished 0-for-5 on the power play. Speaking of faceoffs, Manny Malhotra was especially effective, going 9-for-12 on the night, including 7-for-7 in the third. Kesler was 10-for-14 last night, and on two of the four faceoffs he lost, he registered a takeaway to immediately regain possession (he had a game-high four takeaways). On the flipside, Henrik was 5-for-13 and Lapierre was 2-for-9.
  • More evidence of Kesler and Malhotra's importance? Consider the empty-net goal. Manny Malhotra wins a neutral zone draw, forcing the Wild to regroup before they try to gain the blue line. Then, when they do, Malhotra sends the puck back to the neutral zone before they can organize. There, Ryan Kesler pounces on it and ices the game. If there's one thing that separates this Canucks team from last year's Capitals, it's that we have two defensive superstars.
  • I loved Garrett and Shorty's banter about the filming of Mission: Impossible 4 on the Granville Street bridge. Garrett says something to the effect of: you should try to get in as an extra, and Shorty rebuffs it by saying he's not much of a movie star. Garrett: "You're taller than Tom Cruise." Shorty: "And yet they call me Shorty." Funny.
  • Chris Higgins looks pretty good out there, doesn't he? He seems to have instantly made the fourth line more dangerous, and he's good insurance in case either Raymond or Samuelsson forgets to be good, as they are sometimes wont to do. Frankly, the line of Lapierre, Tambellini, and Higgins has been perhaps the best fourth-line trio we've seen this year. Once Glass gets back, Tambellini will likely sit, but he had five hits in ten minutes of icetime and used his speed to great effect. Vigneault has options, is all I'm saying.
  • Christian Ehrhoff can have his defensive deficiencies, but the team is inarguably more offensively threatening when he's on the ice. With two more assists last night, Ehrhoff jumped to 46 points on the season. It's a new career-high for him. He's also sixth in the NHL in defensive scoring. Granted, his numbers are buoyed because he's the only Canucks' D-man that's stayed healthy all season, but a good way to set career-highs is to play in every game. You can't fault him for being resilient. If anything, he deserves praise: Ehrhoff has been the backbone of this year's defense. That's right: without Ehrhoff, the Canucks' are Bryozoa.
  • And finally, Dan "Community Man" Hamhuis was pressed into additional action when Salo went down, playing 26:31, including a whopping 7:15 of the Canucks' total 10:26 on the penalty kill. He was pressed into even further additional action when the Red Cross needed a switchboard operator to receive donations, and he wound up playing the entire game with a headset on.
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