Monday, January 31, 2011

Running Out of Time, Canucks Call Up Cody Hodgson

Surprise news this morning, as the Canucks announced that they had called top prospect Cody Hodgson up from the Manitoba Moose. Hodgson will be meeting the team in Dallas, and Ian Walker has tweeted that he'll likely play, suiting up as the fourth-line centre and bumping Tanner Glass back to his natural position on the wing.

Fans are excited to see Hodgson finally make his regular season debut with the Canucks, but they're also a bit confused by the timing. Hodgson is recovering from a broken orbital bone that caused him to miss six weeks, and is still wearing a full shield to protect his face.

Worse, in four games since returning to the Moose lineup, Hodgson has 0 goals, 0 assists, and is a minus-2. This from a guy that was the Moose leading scorer before his injury. He's had 10 shots, but if he's not scoring and he's not coming down on the plus side, fans are right to wonder: why now?

In truth, it's either now or never (never being next season). I would wager that the team was days away from calling Hodgson up before he broke his cheekbone, and that the timing of that injury couldn't have been worse. Now, they can't afford to wait any longer.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Causes For Concern, For the Canucks Fan That Knows No Other Way

Don't Panic, Canucks Fans. There Are Still Plenty of Reasons to Panic.

Welcome to the stretch drive, the unpredictable and unstable back half of the NHL regular season. With All-Star weekend now in the rearview, the next break in the schedule is the part where it ends, and the looming conclusion to the campaign is enough to send teams and their fans into a tizzy. A win streak or an untimely losing skid can alter one's position faster than drawing a character card in Candyland. With so much on the line, the questions can come fast and furious. Are we good enough? Are we tough enough? Do we have enough depth? It's a nervous time.

Canucks fans should be used to this by now: we go through it every year. But, this year is different. This year, the Canucks appear to be in good standing, and there are seemingly few reasons to panic. Longtime fans could be forgiven for not quite knowing what to do with themselves. PITB is here for you. In the past, we've tried to inject perspective into the fanbase by Babcocking the Canucks, but this time, we need not dream up doomsday scenarios willy-nilly. These are real concerns. Here, for your masochistic pleasure, are a myriad of reasons to caress that familiar panic button--enough worries to make this whole situation feel delightfully familiar. Pure, abject terror after the jump.

Ryan Kesler Uncovers Shocking All-Star Game Bribery Conspiracy Among League Officials


Even in an all-star game, Ryan Kesler takes his assistant captaincy seriously enough to question a call. Here's Kes, mic'd up for Versus, asking referee Kevin Pollock about his decision to blow the whistle. The ref's response? "Twenty bucks for the first guy that blew an offside." Funny stuff.

Hat tip to Sean Leahy at Puck Daddy for uncovering the clip.

Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, and Ryan Kesler at the Skills Competition


Courtesy of the invaluable and highly beloved CanucksHD, the dedicated Youtuber who is to blogging what the flux capacitor is to time travel, here are the Canucks-related highlights from the NHL Skills Competition. They reinforce three things we might have already known:

  1. Ryan Kesler's pretty fast. But you already knew that. He can make five million dollars and a baby in the same day.
  2. Daniel Sedin is mighty accurate. I know you knew that too, but did you know he was the most accurate guy in hockey? Eklund is, of course, a close second.
  3. Henrik Sedin enjoys all types of passing, but his first love is the saucer pass. We've long suspected it might be an addiction. Once, at thanksgiving dinner, Daniel asked him to pass the mashed potatoes and Henrik launched a spoonful over the gravy boat, right onto his plate.

Anyway. I like these guys, I think they're good, let's keep them.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Phil Kessel Was Picked Last, Not Picked On



After much speculation about who would get picked last at the NHL All-Star Draft, Phil Kessel suffered the ignominy of being the final guy. For the concerned: he'll live. In fact, I thought the only embarrassing thing about Kessel's turn as Mr. Irrelevant was the way the NHL tried to pacify him. In an infuriating bit of babying, host James Duthie coaxed an ovation out of the audience, verbally consoled Kessel (who couldn't have cared less) and then gifted him $20,000 to a charity of his choice as well as a brand new 2011 Honda CR-Z.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, the hundreds of children picked last in schoolyards across the country that day were given nothing, save a wedgie and an insecurity complex. Come on. These are NHL players, not grade-schoolers. Picked last does not mean picked on, and this was a room full of grown men capable of making that distinction. By reaching to console Phil Kessel, the NHL turned a relatable moment into another instance of millionaire ego-stroking.

Friday, January 28, 2011

From the Archives: Let the NHL All-Star Game Stay Meaningless

Way back in November, well in advance of the NHL's announcements regarding changes to this year's All-Star game, I made a pitch for an All-Star format very similar to the one we're about to see.

Before you get too worked up, I should clarify that nobody stole my idea. It turned out that Brendan Shanahan had pitched the idea about six months earlier at the annual NHL GM meetings. But, though I didn't get flown out to New York and given a job as an idea man, I was excited to know I would see my idea implemented nonetheless.

A summary of my argument is as follows: the All-Star Game is completely meaningless, and by its very nature, it has to be. But, meaningless though it is, that doesn't mean it can't also be fun. Hockey is fun. The NHL players like to have fun. I wanted the NHL to drop the desperate efforts to give some edge to the game and, instead, ratchet up the efforts to make the game more fun.

I felt like having player captains pick their teams--a pond hockey throwback--was one way to toss out the austerity and celebrate the game. That's effectively what they're doing. That said, you'll see in the article that I would have done a few things differently. I would have kept it simpler, and I thought it was useless to let fans vote for a starting six rather than the team captains. But these are small quibbles; the basic idea remains the same. Take a gander at Let the NHL All-Star Game Stay Meaningless, an original PITB article.

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Burrows Interviews Bieksa, Unwittingly Reveals Himself as Passionate Romantic


If you haven't seen this fantastic video of Alex Burrows interviewing Kevin Bieksa from ESPN.com, you are missing out. It is remarkably hilarious.

Many stick taps and gloved taps on the helmet to Nucks Misconduct.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Predators, January 26, 2011

Canucks 2 - 1 Predators


With a win versus Nashville last night, the Canucks go into All-Star weekend having collected at least one point in 27 of their last 30 games. Yes, that's the stat Don Taylor reported postgame on Sportsnet Connected, and I want to take a moment to marvel at it. Consider that this stat--this very positive stat--incorporates the points from the amazing mini-slump that now seems so long ago, and ignores the fact those games were eventually lost. Remember when they were cause for concern? Now they're just part of an extremely positive stat. You'd think the Canucks had been rolling, uninterrupted, for months.

It's incredible to me what shootouts and overtime points do to perception. A four-game losing streak can be a four-game point streak at the same time. Typically, only one side is reported, and the fires of the fanbase are stoked by a few well-placed omissions. It's silly, and maybe a little dishonest, too. Well, I'm here to tell you that, if we at PITB stand for anything, it's hardcore honesty. For example: truth be told, I watched this game:

  • Roberto Luongo was rightly named the game's first star tonight. He made 26 saves, several of the category spectacular, and one of the category wowie zowie. For those that have forgotten the transformative power of new goaltending coach Rollie Melanson, consider how deep Luongo is in his crease for the Joel Ward kick save. Last year, that gets past Funny Bob before he has time to react. In fact, there were a few tonight that might have. Instead, Luongo was in the right place at the right time all night (except on the goal against, when he accidentally went swimming at a nearby leisure center).
  • Jeff Paterson is absolutely correct, too. You hear a lot about Luongo when he plays badly, and very little when he plays well. This speaks to how expectations warp our satisfaction. The moral of the story? Never try. Keep expectations low and you're more likely to impress.
  • Of course, the real question about Luongo isn't whether or not he's going to stellar. It's whether or not he's going to come out and give away his goalie stick. After singlehandedly keeping his team in the game, he owes us that much. If you'll recall, he skipped the last two star twirls to be privately upset, but he made up for it tonight, giving away three goalie sticks. Why not four, I say? Why couldn't he make it seven? I think Luongo should give away a Sportchek.
  • Your game-winning goal scorer? Lee Sweatt, the defensive call-up so comically undertall that teammates were chanting "Rudy! Rudy!" as he was suiting up. Frankly, though, after scoring on his first shot in his first NHL game, Lucky might have been a better moniker. Brad Lukowich and Wade Brookbank can attest to being the fortunate son that gets to receive a pass from the Sedins, too, especially one as pretty as Daniel's. Give Sweatt credit for the shot, though. He couldn't have picked a better spot. Into the net is always the best spot to pick. I also loved his goal celebration. What's the old saying? Act like you've been there before. Lady Gaga is jealous of that poker face. James Bond, too. Sweatt played a grand total of 8:49 in this game. In that time, he was on the ice for both Canucks goals and none against. He was bouncing off checks a little bit, but that's to be expected. You can't expect a much better effort in a guy's first NHL game.
  • That said, sometimes it's a bit of a shame that scoring the game-winner automatically means a three star selection. Sweatt was in the right place at the right time, but he definitely didn't have a better overall game than Alex Burrows. Burrows scored the crucial game-tying goal with a tip and a rebound, nearly identical to the game-winner he scored in San Jose at the beginning of the month. Furthermore, while he didn't get an assist on the game-winner, that was him causing the turnover to Daniel Sedin when he knocked Joel Ward off the puck.
  • Plus, Burrows was the star of the night's most hilarious story: his ongoing battle to get into Shane O'Brien kitchen. O'Brien had a game-high seven hits tonight, and I'm pretty sure six and a half were on Burrows. The camera crew caught them chirping back and forth all night, and they were having a whale of a time doing it. Burrows: f*** you, Shane! Ha ha, but seriously, can I get a ride home? In the night's finest moment, Shane O'Brien dragged Burrows to the ice, then trampled him a little for sport. Burrows went for his instinctual shot to the groin, but upon remembering he and Shane O'Brien were pals, he relented, giving SOB's jollies a kindly pat instead. Graeme Horton snapped a pic. Kudos to Burrows for being considerate enough to remember there's a lot less to do at the Roxy when your testicles are bruised.
  • With an assist on the Lee Sweatt goal, Daniel Sedin is now three points up on his brother for the team scoring lead. Out for blood. Even Beatrix Kiddo is alarmed at his need for retribution.
  • Get this: Keith Ballard led the Canucks in icetime. It's true. Ballard was on the ice for a team-high 23:53. How did this happen? Originally, he remained paired with Tanev and seemed again headed for bottom-pairing minutes, but Christian Ehrhoff (who Vigneault played for over nine minutes in the first and clearly wanted to ride), was running around like crazy. It was a tad irresponsible; there were shifts where it looked like Ehrhoff though he was playing right wing, and you can't do that when you're paired with a guy playing his first NHL game. I don't think Vigneault was comfortable with Sweatt as the lone man back when Ehrhoff jumped, so Ballard was reassigned to keep an eye on things. That's right. Between his initial pairing with Tanev and his new job keeping Ehrhoff honest, Keith Ballard has become this team's babysitter. He's the Canucks' answer to Rosalyn.
  • Dan "Community Man" Hamhuis also stepped in to fill a need, as he often does. He had some first unit powerplay time, he attempted a game-high 9 shots, and he played a team-high 30 shifts. He also had 2 hits, two takeaways, and 3 blocked shots. As usual, you hardly noticed anything he did. Two of his shifts were at the nearby children's hospital.
  • Give the Canucks credit for winning da turd tonight. After allowing an early goal, they took over the final frame. They had discipline: after 3 penalties in first and 2 in the second, the team avoided taking any penalties in the third. They applied pressure, outshooting the Predators 17 to 7. In fact, after being outshot 12-4 in first, the Canucks responded well by outshooting Nashville 31-15 through the rest of the game.
  • That's even more impressive when you consider Nashville blocked 19 shots tonight. Give them credit, but make sure you give a ton to Shane O'Brien, who gives his teammates shot-blocking practice at nightclubs: Shane, I think you've had enough.
  • Chris Tanev played 11:26 tonight, including 1:47 of shorthanded time on ice. He has earned Vigneault's trust remarkably quickly. Good for him. Let's hope he doesn't make like M. Night Shyamalan and coast on that early goodwill until it becomes apparent we'll have to kill him to get rid of him.
  • And finally: you've gotta feel bad for the Nashville line of Jarred Smithson, Nick Spaling, and Joel Ward. They were on the ice for both Canuck goals, and they came on back-to-back shifts. Impressively, they got two more after that, and more impressively, they didn't give up goals during either of them.

Alex Edler to Undergo Back Surgery


Backbreaking news for fans still basking in the glow of last night's solid victory over the Nashville Predators, as it has been announced that Alex Edler's back spasms that kept him out of the game are more serious than initially thought. Edler will undergo micro discectomy surgery on his back and will be out indefinitely.

While Lee Sweatt performed admirably in his absence, scoring the game-winning goal and finishing +2, he still had under 9 minutes of icetime and often seemed overmatched physically. Keith Ballard, on the other hand, stepped up and played a team-high 23:53, boosted by Ehrhoff missing some shifts to get stitches after getting whacked in the face by Ryan Kesler. With Aaron Rome and Andrew Alberts still out of commission, this latest wrinkle forces the Canucks to contend with a depleted blueline that may require further call-ups from the Manitoba Moose and more ice-time from the maligned Ballard.

Alternatively, with Edler sure to go on long-term injured reserve and the all-star game providing a brief break in the schedule, this may be the time to push Sami Salo harder in practice to see if he is ready to slot back into the lineup. The need to clear salary to fit Salo under the cap has suddenly disappeared.

Update: Edler's back surgeon, Dr. Marcel Weird Keyboard Dvorak, has suggested that Edler should recover in 8 to 10 weeks. Edler's surgery is scheduled for Monday, which would put his potential return at March 28th to April 11th if Dr. Dvorak is correct. The Canucks' final game of the regular season will be April 9th, meaning Edler could still return in time for the playoffs.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Quotes Taken Out of Context: SOB Edition Three

"Burr can't get into my kitchen - he can never get in my kitchen."

Your Canucks Bandwagon Fan Cheat Sheet, 2010-11 Season

Raymond = Fast

Last year, we introduced the inaugural Canucks Bandwagon cheat sheet to give aid to the less informed, less involved fan who wanted to feel a part of the Canucks' playoff run. Unfortunately, two weeks later, the Canucks were eliminated by the Blackhawks, and the cheat sheet was forgotten.

It's eight months later, however, and the Canucks are once again the talk of the town. They've vaulted to the top of the NHL standings; Bodog thinks they're the odds-on favourite to win the Stanley Cup; the buzz is palpable. Its fair-weather for fans, which often means an onslaught of fairweather fans. But if you're going to be a Canucks fan, the last thing you want is to be smoked out as a bandwagoner. Diehard fans don't take kindly to conditional ones.

So how do you pass for a lifer? You need to know your team. And that's where PITB comes in. This year's Bandwagon Canucks Fan Cheat Sheet--a geyser of valuable information--will tell you everything you need to know about the Vancouver Canucks roster.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Henrik Sedin Scored the Goal of the Year and Nobody Noticed



Do you remember this goal? Have you seen it before? It's amazing. Textbook Wizardous Sedinerie. It might be the best goal of this NHL season, it happened only one week ago, and yet nobody's talking about it.

Let me take you through what you're seeing: That's Henrik Sedin there, outskating two Shark players to turn an innocuous one-on-one into a sudden two-on-one. That's Daniel Sedin, taking the puck parallel to the blue line, perfectly timing his meandering entry into the zone with Henrik's sudden burst of speed, then making a tape-to-tape saucer pass to spring his brother in alone. And finally, that's Henrik Sedin again, drawing Antti Niemi well past his goalmouth, then wizardously dragging the puck to the backhand and sliding it into an empty net.

Henrik's move is an an incredible piece of stickhandling and poise that, up until now, was native only to the shootout. Peter Forsberg is famous for it. Henrik Zetterberg did it once, too. But, they did it in the shootout, with time, forethought, and healthy dose of space. Henrik Sedin pulled it off in-game, at top speed, surrounded by defenders.

And nobody's talking about it.

Thomas Gradin Started a Tradition of Swedish Stars

One of the most skilled players to ever wear a Canucks uniform, Thomas Gradin is a worthy inductee into the Canucks Ring of Honour. In a ceremony prior to last night's game against the Dallas Stars, Gradin took his place alongside Orland Kurtenbach and Kirk McLean in front of the Vancouver fans, as well as Marc Crawford, his former teammate. The ceremony was short and sweet, and featured Gradin's absolutely adorable grandson, Elias, wearing the Tre Kronor of Sweden and the presentation of a Glen Green original watercolor of in which Gradin sports the infamous "Halloween" jersey. Quite frankly, it's never looked better.

Gradin helped pave the way for other Europeans to come to the NHL and started a tradition of Swedish talent on the Canucks, which led to other Swedish stars such as Patrik Sundstrom, Matthias Ohlund, and Markus Naslund. Furthermore, he continues to feed that tradition as the Canucks' head European scout, instrumental in drafting the Sedins, Alex Edler, and prospects Anton Rodin and Peter Andersson.

Unfortunately, I wasn't born when Gradin started in the NHL with Stan Smyl and Curt Fraser, so I never got a chance to see him play or hear him speak. I didn't realize how truly similar Gradin was to my generation's Swedish superstars--the Sedins--until I read this great interview with Bob Dunn from a 1983 Canucks Magazine.

Monday, January 24, 2011

I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Stars, January 24, 2011

Canucks 7 - 1 Stars


Friends, Romans, countrymen, I ask you, humbly, what is the cure for an offensive slump? Don't answer; this is a rhetorical question. The solution, as everybody knows, is an opponent with porous goaltending and crap defense. It's a fairly simple remedy, but the real trick is finding a major league team willing to provide it. Short of scheduling a shinny with the Washington Generals or the South Park Peewee Team, you can only hope that some NHL club is going to fly into town and generously lay an egg. Lucky for Canucks fans, that's about what happened in tonight's game which, by the way, I watched:

  • What a welcome return to form for the home team. The Canucks played with the energy and pace they'd hinted at during the Calgary game and then some. We also saw a recommitment to limiting shots against (only 26 for a high-scoring Dallas team), and a renewed offensive potency (7 goals, y'all). They played much better than they have in quite awhile, more in keeping with the level of which we know they're capable. Still, before we get ahead of ourselves, it wasn't only a return to form that caused tonight's result; Dallas also played sloppier than a loose meat sandwich. What we saw was the Canucks' get better and the Stars come apart at the same time, and this beautiful coincidence resulted in a nasty shellacking.
  • A number of slumps were bumped tonight, but none more important than the goals scored by both of Ryan Kesler's wingers. Mikael Samuelsson's was an especially nice wrist shot. Word is he broke his goal-scoring slump by imagining a logo in the top corner of the net, then hitting it dead center. Perhaps more impressive than the goal, however, were his game-high five shots, equal to how the number of shots he attempted. None were blocked, and none missed.
  • I'm not sure if Mason Raymond's goal will stay his. The scorekeepers seemed so eager to declare another slump busted that they seemed to give it to him just because he was near it. Looks like Edler blasted it clean through to me; Raymond might be more deserving of a takeaway for stealing credit. But I won't quibble over whether or not it's his; I'm not Maury Povich. Let's just hope it's the first of many.
  • Speaking of blasting pucks, let's take a moment to celebrate the long-awaited emergence of Alex Edler's deadly slapper. He had two assists tonight, both on redirected slapshots (the aforementioned, from Raymond, and one from Kesler to take a 2-1 lead). Christian Ehrhoff also had a goal on one that got clean through. Ehrhoff's been the member of this pairing most willing to shoot this season, which has always seemed silly to me. Edler's got the hardest shot on the team. Now, they're both shooting regularly, and it's made them a lethal tandem on the blue line, with 12 points in the last six games. Letting them fire away seems like a wise move, especially after they broke the power play's two-game mini slump by these very means.
  • Aaron Volpatti had a strong game tonight, and it's possible that you hardly noticed. First there was a solid hit on Tom Wandell behind the Stars' net. Then, Krys Barch tried to respond by drawing Volpatti into a fight, but Volpatti was smart enough to realize it wasn't the right time. Instead, he responded by shouting, "F*** you, Barch!" loud enough for the cameras to clearly pick it up.
  • Later, Volpatti assisted on the Henrik Sedin 5-1 backbreaker halfway into the 2nd, skating well and centering a puck that would go in off Steve Ott's boot after a touch from Henrik. If the assist wasn't enough, Volpatti then "accidentally" tripped over Ott as he circled the net to celebrate the goal. It was a smart, sneaky play, and don't be surprised that Volpatti's a sneak; everybody knows Ivy Leaguers are shifty. I mean, they steal entire social networks from one another.
  • If you're wondering why Henrik Sedin already has a mind-boggling 50 assists on the season, look no further than his puck movement on the power play. Watch him on either power play goal. On Kesler's goal, he draws three defenders to him with a simply head fake before making a brilliant saucer pass to Edler for a one-timer. On Ehrhoff's goal, it's much a simpler feed, but this time Henrik uses a head fake to back his defender off. Opponents are so terrified he's going to pass, you'd think they were auditioning for American Idol.
  • Andrew Raycroft's mask is as sparkly as a preteen girl's binder. Or a preteen girl's idea of a vampire.
  • How to make a player lose his mind: eye gouge him in a scrum. Just like the Rypien incident, you can clearly see Burish raging, "he was eye gouging me," after the referees finally pull Burrows and him apart. Not to go all "Ron Maclean" on you guys, but, considering Burr's reputation, he's probably guilty here. That's a finger to the peeper and a stick to the peepee in the last two weeks. He needs to be careful he doesn't get a reputation as a dirty(er) player.
  • If he's not careful, he'll undo all the goodwill the Zen Canucks have built up towards officials this season. Seriously, the Canucks successfully argued for a call to be overturned tonight. When the last time that's ever happened? I think we're more used to the "On second thought, the Canucks lose" type of calls. Especially recently.
  • Dan Hamhuis dropped his gloves tonight. Dan. Hamhuis. What could Mike Ribiero have possibly said or done to make Hammy drop the mitts? Ribieiro: Frankly, I don't think Haiti deserves our relief. And the children can read to themselves. Hamhuis: I'll kill you!
  • Congratulations to Chris Tanev, who picked up his first career point, an assist on Hamhuis's goal, the seventh and final goal of the evening. Tanev showed impressive poise tonight, finishing a plus-one with two blocked shots in just over sixteen minutes of icetime. Granted, everyone (in blue) looked good tonight, but Tanev is beginning to look like he might belong in the NHL, which is more than I can say for tonight's opponent.
  • All credit to Tanner Glass, who spent some time tonight as the fourth-line center, and some time as the third-line winger. When he earned third line icetime last season, it was more an indictment of the Canucks' lack of forward depth. This season, however, he's been so defensively responsible and so smart with the puck that he's earned every extra minute he's been given, and I'm happy to eat crow when it comes to his stints in the top nine. I'm still not sold on his scoring ability, but I think, when your third line hasn't scored in ten games or more, Tanner Glass certainly can't make you offensively less potent.
  • Kevin Bieksa's eye doesn't look too bad... if he's planning a trip to McDonaldland. His face is so purple he could pass for The Grimace. Speaking of passing, Bieksa did take advantage of the distinguishable mark for some brilliant duplicity. Rather than serve a second period penalty, he traded places with a wax #statueofbieksa (hashtag credit: @RE4713), and nobody noticed because, like the real Bieksa, the replica had a black eye.
  • The Canucks dominated the faceoff circle tonight, winning 40 of 65 draws. All four centres finished over 50%, with even Glass winning 4-of-7. He's won 17 of 31 on the season now, which is pretty impressive, considering he was 3-for-18 last season. He's developing this skill really quickly.
  • This is the second consecutive game versus the Canucks where the Stars have lost their composure, and you have to consider their sources of leadership. First, Marc Crawford's teams have never been known for being particularly mentally tough (and Crow's never been good at knowing when to pull his goalie, either). Second, Brendan Morrow's captaincy might be a good cautionary tale for those who think Kesler should have gotten the "C" in Vancouver. Like Kesler, Morrow plays an intense, gritty game that's a nice example when he's focused, but he has a tendency to get overemotional and lose focus. When he does, the team follows him. He's simply not a calming force.
  • Henrik Sedin, on the other hand, knows how to channel his emotions. He digs so deep, you might say he chunnels his emotions. He was solely to blame on Dallas's only goal, but rather than beat himself up about it, he simply upped his resolve. He looked downright determined to atone for the remainder of the period. Then he did. Not since the award-winning film based on the novel Atonement have I seen such atonement.

Marty Turco Feels the Same Way as Many of Us



I love this clip. I love it because I've often wondered how players feel about resident NHL egghead Pierre McGuire standing between the benches, gushing superlatives and loudly declaring certain player's monsters. For the record: Marty Turco thinks he's a clown.

That said, I also love Pierre McGuire. He's an odd duck, a creepy cat, and he has no idea how personal bubbles work, but he also has some great observations and gets some great responses. Consider, for instance, yesterday's NBC game between the Blackhawks and Flyers. McGuire noticed that the Flyers were sitting back a little, and he asked coach Peter Laviolette directly during a bench interview. The question caught Laviolette off-guard, and he coyly, asked, "Are you sure?," hoping McGuire would back off. McGuire's response: "I'm positive." It was a bizarre moment, but it goaded Laviolette into an impressively honest response: the Flyers had adjusted their system slightly to combat the Blackhawks' speed through the neutral zone. It was a win for McGuire.

The above clip is not a win for McGuire. Neither, by the way, is his choice of eyewear. How a man with such a round head could be convinced that such round glasses were the way to go is beyond me.


Hat tip to Houses of the Hockey, via Puck the Media for the clip.

20 More Things Overheard at the NHL War Room

I know, I know. I did this joke yesterday. Cut me some slack. I can't even fully explain how much fun these are to come up with. You should try it. Tweet us @passittobulis, with the hashtag #NHLWarRoomQuotes. Here are twenty more things overheard at the NHL War Room:

  1. "Okay, Mr. VanMassenhoven. Pick a number, then a colour, then a number."
  2. "A lot of people said I was crazy to hire an all-blind team, but look at us now. Oh right, you can't."
  3. "It's hard to make out... can we zoom in? Why did we pick such a dirty coin? I can't read heads or tails. Inconclusive."
  4. "I'm torn. Both teams are from Canada, but we have to rule in favour of one of them."
  5. "Wait, zoom in. Is that a tattoo?"
  6. "I can't see it on camera, but I was just reading about object permanence. Did you know it has to be somewhere?"
  7. "If you listen closely, you can hear him thinking about blowing the whistle just before the puck goes in."
  8. "Hey, this is alfredo sauce! I said pomodoro sauce! This is the last time we order Italian. Rule against Luongo."
  9. "Bad news, guys. We've all gotta stay late--I just found out the Canucks play tonight. Hey! Relax. Your beef is with Vancouver, not me."
  10. "I don't think that should count. The goalie couldn't see it."
  11. "Good news, guys! The NHL has asked us to pick the musical act for the All-Star Game. Let's put our heads together and see if we can't come up with something everyone will like."
  12. "Okay, I was just looking through yesterday's logs, and it says here that someone ruled in favour of Buffalo. What the Hell! We've talked about this!"
  13. "This clip is boring. Change it to Two and a Half Men."
  14. "Did anyone else see Double Moustache Man?"
  15. "That's a clean hit. The head is part of the shoulder, right?"
  16. "I'm so sick of the officials calling us. Do we have to hold their hand through everything?"
  17. "Hey, switch to the net cam. Ha ha, look how big his ass looks."
  18. "The puck is black, right?"
  19. "Tell them we couldn't see the puck so the call on the ice stands. Gosh, this will be a lot easier when the power comes back on."
  20. "Get the Braille rule book."

Sunday, January 23, 2011

From the Archives: Is Lee Sweatt the Next Brian Rafalski?

If you spent the weekend engaged in activities and doin thangs, you might have missed the news that the Canucks have recalled defenseman Lee Sweatt. This is primarily a precautionary measure. Kevin Bieksa's eye is swollen shut, and because he's not Steve Nash, he probably can't play like that. Unless Juice gets better in a hurry, Lee Sweatt will get the nod.

But who is Lee Sweatt? Is he worth getting excited about? Possibly. Last September, when Sweatt was just one of many training camp hopefuls, I suggested he might be the next Brian Rafalski. I'll admit it's far-fetched to assume Sweatt can match the impressive career of the Red Wings defenseman, but it's not impossible, and the similarities between the two players are uncanny. Since interest in him couldn't be higher, I thought I'd dig the post up from the archives and give it a second tour. So, here, for your perusal, is Is Lee Sweatt the Next Brian Rafalski?, an original PITB article.

20 Things Overheard in the NHL War Room

Last night's contentious decision from the NHL War Room--in which they defied their own precedent and overruled an on-ice no-goal call despite inconclusive evidence--was just another bit of proof that Colin Campbell and his crack squad of AV geeks have literally no idea what they're doing. And, in case you weren't convinced, PITB's recently-dispatched War Room spy has returned, reporting twenty of the most remarkable #NHLWarRoomQuotes he's heard:

  1. "Vancouver's on the phone. Don't they know what time it is?"
  2. "How did we do it last time?"
  3. "What does 'distinct' mean, anyway? There's literally no way of knowing."
  4. "Man, that's a tough call. Unplug the phone."
  5. "I think it's a touchdown."
  6. "I told them, I don't know much about hockey, but I was Dan Hartman's synth player, so I've got a lot of experience with Instant Replay."
  7. "Crap, I think Canada's on to us."
  8. He knocked it down with a high stick and then he kicked it in, but it's Gregory, so count it.
  9. "What part of 'inconclusive' don't you understand? I said I'm on break."
  10. "I can't decide. Load the mousetraps and get the mouse."
  11. "Is that the rule? Somebody Google it."
  12. "Did you know I interviewed for their vacant general manager position? I didn't get it. Anyway, no goal."
  13. "I can't see it--the crossbar's in the way. Oh wait, it's just a Twizzler on the monitor again."

  14. "FSN Pittsburgh has another angle, but they said it would take four to six weeks for delivery."
  15. "Zoom in. Now increase the pixels."
  16. "Let's just say 'he intended to blow the whistle'. Then amend the rule before people start snooping around. Unplug the phone."
  17. "He's faking it. That's fake blood."
  18. "Call it a goal. Nobody's watching anyway."
  19. "Bwa ha ha, screw the Sabres."
  20. "Guys, we suck at this."

I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Flames, January 23, 2011

Canucks 3 - Flames 4 (SO)


It's a bummer that, for the second time in as many games, the Canucks had to fall in a shootout. That said, I'm hoping that the fans are smart enough to differentiate between the sluggish team that barely managed a point versus San Jose on Thursday night, and tonight's team, which improved as the game went on and controlled the run of play for much of the third period versus the Flames. Yes, Vancouver, your team only skated away with one point, and yes, they've now lost 5 of 6, but if you were looking for improvement, it was there tonight. Or, at least I felt it was when I watched this game:

  • You'll hear the media people saying that the Canucks have dropped 5 of 6, but it's somewhat sensationalistic and irresponsible to report it this way when only 1 of the 5 losses was in regulation. They've gotten six points in their last six games, which is the same amount of points they'd have collected by going 3 and 3. The next time someone tells you the Canucks are spiraling, respond by pointing out they're actually playing .500 hockey. It's still worth a mutter, as this team should be better than .500, but it's not worth a panic, as they're not worse than .500, either. Not to mention they were the only of the top three NHL teams to get a point today. Detroit and Philadelphia--the two teams with whom they're jostling at the top of the league--lost in regulation.
  • The real big story, I guess, is the odd decision from the NHL war room to call Alex Tanguay's shootout attempt a goal. Vancouver fans are right to be outraged. The call goes against the NHL's rule for reviewable goals, which stipulates that the puck has to be visibly across the goal line in order to overturn an official's no-goal call. In this case, the puck was lost in Luongo's pads, and there was no way to see it cross the line. Though it obviously did, by the letter of the law, the referee's no-goal call should have stood, due to inconclusive footage. Puzzlingly, the NHL used their heads and determined that, if Luongo was in the net, so was the puck. More than anything, it's odd that they decided tonight was the night to go against the letter of the law and utilize common sense. Since when do they do that? Jason Botchford dug up three distinct instances where the War Room called this the other way, and I think that's the infuriating thing here: it's not consistent with how they've been handling this situation in the past. Plus, where was this approach when the "Intent to Blow" controversy started?
  • Meh. This game really shouldn't have even gone to the shootout, anyway. The Canucks' power play, usually so good, has now thoroughly failed the team in two consecutive games and dropped to third in the NHL. Identical to last night, the team went 0-for-5 a man up, including, again, an important 4-on-3 in overtime. The unit's had a few short droughts this season, but they need to get this fixed right away. This drought has effectively cost the team two points in the last three days.
  • In the first period, Kevin Bieksa took a massive blow to the eye from Tom Kostopoulos, which turned out to be a massive blow to the whole Canucks team when Bieksa didn't return. Word is he's not concussed (yea!), but one of his eyes is swollen completely shut (nay!).
  • Do you remember, back in November, when the Canucks' defense was in total disarray? It got so bad that Vigneault put his foot down, then made his top two pairings and committed himself to leaving them together for better or for worse. It's been two months since then, and we've taken for granted the defensive stability that grew out of his decision. It was apparent after the loss of Bieksa threw everything back into disarray. Ehrhoff, Edler, and Hamhuis all wound up playing over twenty-six minutes, but their ice time and shifts didn't make much sense and they didn't synchronize in the slightest. Meanwhile, Keith Ballard still didn't crack twenty minutes, and Chris Tanev's minutes actually decreased from the last game.
  • Worse, nobody was ready or rested to join their regular units on the powerplay, which meant seeing Hamhuis and Samuelsson on the top unit, as well as Ehrhoff and Edler with the hapless second unit. It was a waste of a powerplay. I want to say Vigneault should have used a timeout to rest Ehrhoff and Edler to join their regular forwards, but Christian Ehrhoff played a game-high thirty-three minutes tonight; Vigneault clearly forgot rest was an option for him.
  • I know Manny Malhotra is one of the forwards mired in a pretty remarkable scoring slump, but he had a great game tonight. Alternate Captain Mal was all over the ice defensively, he won 13 of 22 faceoffs, and he had 5 blocked shots--a game-high.
  • Raffi Torres, on the other hand, had another subpar outing, and this time he earned himself a benching. Torres only played 5:43 tonight, only thirty-seven seconds more than Kevin Bieksa. The intermission peewee teams had more icetime.
  • Mason Raymond had a few grade A chances, but he's still fighting the puck. Of all the slumping forwards, he's the one that concerns me the most. The Canucks are really thin on the wing if he's not an effective weapon.
  • The Sedin line was solid and dangerous again tonight, as Daniel and Henrik both collected a point. However, the real stars of their line were Alex Burrows, who had two assists and was on the ice for all three Canuck goals, and Alex Edler, who was also on the ice for all three goals, and scored two of them himself. The first goal, above, came on a beautiful one-timed snap shot. The second goal came after Jay Bouwmeester slewfooted his goaltender in an ill-advised attempt to distract Alex Burrows.
  • A brief word on Daniel Sedin's crosscheck to the back of Mark Giordano: awesome. I recognize that he took a penalty for it, but good on him for responding after the referees let the Flames brutalize the twins all night. Case in point: when "Macho Man" Cory Sarich drove a flying elbow into Henrik Sedin's face. I understand the referees want to let the teams play, but WWE finishing moves are a bit much.
  • Ryan Kesler played a surreal game tonight. He seems to have willed his thumb back to health, as he took an unreal 30 faceoffs and won 19 of them. He scored a shorthanded goal that tied the game in the third period. He shadowed Jarome Iginla all night and kept the all-star forward off the scoring sheet. Also, during the second intermission, he flew into outer space and punched a comet into the sun.
  • Speaking of punching, the Flames' third goal was a direct result of Roberto Luongo's aggravating tendency to punch the puck instead of catching it cleanly. Somebody needs to remind him he's supposed to catch the puck, not kill it. He's the Rooster Cogburn of goalies.
  • Weirdest Kevin Weekes statement: "This is why Tambellini hasn't scored--he shoots lasers." I assume he meant to say that Tambellini isn't using his great shot enough, but it sounded like he was ragging on him for literally shooting lasers. And, as everybody knows, lasers are just fine, unless the walls are covered with mirrors.
  • And finally, the Canucks only had 15 hits tonight. Unacceptable. Robbie Williams has more hits, and he sucks.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

All-Star Alternate Captain Can Thank Sedins

Ryan Kesler has been named an alternate captain for the 2011 All-Star Game in Raleigh, North Carolina, as have Mike Green of the Washington Capitals, Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, and Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Kesler and Green will join Team Staal, with Kane and St. Louis joining Team Lidstrom.

It would be nice to say that Kesler received the recognition for his stellar season as he's only two goals away from setting a career high, with 35 games left to play, but the fact that Mike Green and Patrick Kane were also named alternate captains despite having middling seasons. An argument could be made for name recognition, as Kesler and Kane were stars for Team USA in the Olympics and have adorned the covers of video games, but both Green and St. Louis were left off Team Canada and likely don't spark much recognition from the casual sports fan that the All-Star Game targets.

Instead, I think it's clear that he and the other alternates were picked not for their own star-power, but for the star-power of their teammates. Green and St. Louis are teammates with two of the biggest stars in the NHL and, with Sidney Crosby unlikely to play, the two players most likely to get picked first and second overall in the draft: Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos. By placing Green and St. Louis on opposite sides, a layer of intrigue is added to the first overall pick: will they lobby for their teammate or will they want to play against them?

Kesler and Kane are the third-leading scorers on their teams. This isn't a coincidence. Ahead of Kesler are the Sedins and ahead of Kane are Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews. All four of those players are in the All-Star Game and are likely to be high picks. Daniel and Henrik are miles ahead of Sharp and Toews in scoring, so it will be interesting to see if Kane sets aside his animosity towards the Canucks to lobby for a Sedin ahead of his own teammates. Which of the Sedins will get picked first and will Ryan Kesler lobby for one ahead of the other? With this selection of alternate captains, these decisions just got a little bit more interesting.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Four Reasons the Coach's Challenge is a Stupid Idea


Think video review would have fixed some of these bad calls? Look how many of these miscalls were the result of video review.

Miscalls happen in hockey. Referees are human, players are jerks, and few calls are an exact science. It's pretty much a Canadian tradition to complain about officiating (ask me about the Canucks-Kings series last year), but in the long run, things tend to even out, and the human factor is a part of the game. We're not all happy with officiating, but I thought we were at least happy to be unhappy some of the time.

Apparently not. Dale Tallon's proposal for a "coach's challenge" is gaining traction, according to TSN's Darren Dreger. That disturbs me.

I'll admit that the idea could fix a problem with hockey that's been a source of much frustration for as long as the game's been around. But it won't. It'll be held back by one small but vital complication:

It's a stupid idea.

I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Sharks, January 20, 2010

Canucks 1 - 2 Sharks



Before we go any further, a brief dissertation on the first game back from a road trip: we saw, in The Game That Shall Not Be Named, and in the wise words of the team's sleep doctor, that the first game back from a road trip often yields a team at the peak of their exhaustion. In fact, while some expect the game to be renewed with energy, the game is usually more an extension of the trip that just ended than the first game after it. Take a look at the Canucks' schedule after their last five-game road trip: after petering out on the road, they came back and dropped games on back-to-back nights versus Chicago and Phoenix. That's because they had yet to have any home rest. Then, when they finally got it, they recuperated and began the jaw-dropping streak that is only now coming to an end.

All of this is to say that the team we saw last night could have played much, much worse, and we can reasonably expect the team that shows up Saturday night to be much, much better (and I'm sure it won't hurt that they're playing Calgary). Anyway, I watched this game:

  • I should say I'm not offering this as an excuse; I'm simply making the point that the Canucks deserve more credit for taking points from their last two games than they're getting. That's what you have to do in the current NHL--get points when you're outplayed. The Canucks have done it twice in a row and it deserves, at the very least, a golf clap.
  • In the last game, I said that, while the Canucks were playing without rest, Roberto Luongo had seen plenty of it. Superstar goalie that he is, he needed to bail out his sleepy team. If you recall, in Denver, he didn't, but last night he did. While the Canucks were a little sounder defensively, they were still giving up shots all over the place: 46 in total, 25 of those in the second period alone. Thankfully, Roberto Luongo stopped all but one, and without his strong play, the Canucks don't get this one to overtime. He made some stellar saves, too, like getting the cheater of his glove on Joe Thornton's breakaway wrister. His rebound control was excellent as well--he was smothering the puck all night. Not since Othello killed Desdemona in her bed have I seen such thorough smothering.
  • The funny thing about the shot count is that it didn't tell the whole story. San Jose had most of the shots in the second period, but they really didn't dominate the way it appears they did on the stat sheet. The Sedins had a litany of extended shifts in the offensive zone that didn't always yield shots, but did a good job of stalling San Jose's attack for long stretches.
  • Man, were the Sedins good. While they only produced one goal on the night (the pretty one, above), they lived inside San Jose's blue line most of the evening. They had a ton of chances and a ton of shots. Line you thought you'd never hear: Henrik Sedin had a game-high seven shots. In fact, he and Daniel combined for 13, over a third of Vancouver's shot total. Tony Gallagher often complains that the Sedins regularly put up two points apiece but don't play consistently dominant games. Last evening, they did the opposite. You just got served, Tony.
  • Alex Burrows had a decent game too, but the poor guy was thoroughly manhandled every time he went to the net. I didn't think you could do that. Apparently you can.
  • The shootout remains a stupid way to decide a hockey game. May I suggest, instead, two mouse traps and one mouse.
  • So it turns out those moronic bits where John Garrett talks about snack foods he likes are planned. During a stoppage in play, Dan Murphy introduced the featured product of the night: Quaker Crispy Minis. This was followed by about seven seconds of dead air, as John Shorthouse waited for Garrett to say how much he likes to eat them. Instead, Garrett briefly forgot he existed, and Shorty had to prompt him. I've long felt Garrett watches the games from behind a sleep mask, but in this case, he was genuinely asleep on the job.
  • I was briefly puzzled by Sergei Shirokov's third-period benching, but on second glance, it makes sense. First, Shirokov was playing overly flashy--twice he cut to the inside of the ice instead of putting a shot on goal with traffic heading to the net, and both times waited too long and wound up accomplishing nothing. Second, he wasn't winning his puck battles. Until Vigneault reunited Raymond, Kesler, and Samuelsson, the second line wasn't getting any sustained offensive pressure at all, and much of that had to do with Shirokov's play. He's still good, though. Hopefully he remains with the team and adjusts his play accordingly.
  • Speaking of Samuelsson, it was nice to see Angry Samuelsson return. While fighting for a puck along the boards, he took a check from Jason Demers, and rather than not taking a stupid retaliatory penalty, he turned around and punched Demers in the head. Way to go. But, as detrimental as Angry Samuelsson can be sometimes, he plays better when he's like this, so this might be a good sign.
  • With another subpar night in the faceoff circle, it's clear that Ryan Kesler's thumb is still bothering him. He's not Wolverine (as far as I know), so he might need rest or treatment or something. I'm concerned that eventually it's going to turn completely blue like the band in that Daft Punk movie, then fall off. You need your thumb to flip coins. How will Kesler ever decide between two things?
  • Dan Hamhuis had a fabulous game with an assist to go with four blocked shots and three takeaways. You don't always notice him, but he always seems to be in the right place. This is excepting that one shift where he led a botched rush and found himself two zones away from Joe Thornton's breakaway. I haven't seen a guy this out of position since my wedding night. I did a lot of guessing.
  • Tanner Glass fought Jamal Mayers, whose name, if slightly mispronounced, rhymes with bears. Coincidence? No. There's no connection whatsoever.
  • Christian Ehrhoff had four blocked shots and an assist. Unfortunately, the goal on which he assisted was scored by Logan Couture. You can't make a play like that in front of the best player on the Sharks, or you'll get burned. But cut Ehrhoff some slack--I'm sure, like most of us, he couldn't believe that, on a team with four Olympians, rookie Logan Couture is their best player. It's not a good thing.
  • Had the Vancouver power play been as effective last night as it was on Tuesday, the Canucks might have won this game going away. Unfortunately, it was drier than Stephen Lynch and not nearly as enjoyable to watch. They went 0-for-5 on the night, including an overtime 4-on-3 that probably should have been automatic.
  • And finally (and most importantly), it was good to see Kyle Wellwood back, and you can tell that he's ecstatic. He was smiling from ear to ear all night. We love Welly here at PITB, so this meant we were smiling from ear to ear all night. Seriously, I smiled so hard my hair parted like the grinch, which is impressive, because I'm bald.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Three Things That Happen When You're Good


The Canucks have been good for awhile now, and I think I speak for everyone when I say this is relatively novel territory. It's not usually like this. I'm not used to caring very little how the other Northwest teams fared on a night-to-night basis, or clicking "League" instead of "Division" when I look at the standings. I'm not used to so many amusing quotes coming from such a happy dressing room. I'm definitely not used to hearing fans act reasonable about losses because they know the team is better than one bad game. It's strange.

But, as an amateur sociologist, it's also an opportunity for anecdotal observation. Here are three things I've observed, as a fan of a good team:

Your Prospects Look Pretty Impressive

So far, this season, we've seen some remarkable performances from Cory Schneider, as well as impressive debuts from Sergei Shirokov and Chris Tanev. We've seen first-ever NHL goals from Shirokov, Alex Bolduc, and Mario Bliznak. But, before you start praising the Canucks for the depth of their prospect pool, realize that it's a lot easier to look good when you're playing for a good team. This is no disrespect to these kids, who have shown NHL ability, but they couldn't have asked for a better situation.

The motivation to succeed is greater. They're surrounded by winning, and like the teams that test their ability to play against the best, these prospects, too, can test their ability to play with the best.

Expectations are lower as well. Unlike poor Nazem "Luke Skywalker" Kadri, for instance, who looks like a failure because he wasn't ready to save a team for whom he was the only hope, the Canucks' kids have merely been asked to play to their abilities. Rather than losing confidence because they can't meet impossible expectations, they can gain confidence because management believed they could fit on a talented team. It's one thing to make a bad team--someone had to. It's quite another to make a good, deep team that had other options.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wellwood's World, Chapter 8: Meet Me in San Jose

Let's be very clear: when we began closely following Kyle Wellwood's career, we had no idea it was going to be this interesting.

Well, maybe we did. Even on a slow day, Kyle Wellwood is impossibly interesting, but we genuinely expected the Wellwood's World feature to be a lame list of stats followed by a botched quote from a Russian interview.

It never quite got to that.

Before long, Wellwood was back to his old tricks, infuriating coaches, losing ice time, and being hockey's greatest source of pathos. Then suddenly he was released from his contract. Then his wife was pregnant. Then he was signed by St. Louis. Then he wasn't. Then he was again, and before he could join the Blues, San Jose plucked him off waivers. Seriously, when has Kyle Wellwood ever moved this fast?

That's right, you heard it here last. Kyle Wellwood is a San Jose Shark. In fact, in a remarkable twist of irony (appropriate for the highly-literate forward), Wellwood will be in the lineup for the Sharks tomorrow night as their third-line center, directly opposed to Manny Malhotra, the guy the Canucks desperately targeted to replace him. So, again: The Canucks let Kyle Wellwood walk in order to sign Manny Malhotra. The Sharks let Manny Malhotra walk and eventually wound up with Kyle Wellwood. Seriously, how bad does GM Doug Wilson look right now?

I'm also happy to report that the Kyle Wellwood quote machine is back in English, meaning we no longer need to get his brilliance translated from Russian before we are moved by it. Here he is, addressing the long-running fat jokes, from Working the Corners:

Wellwood brings with him that reputation for being overweight and out of condition when he reported to the Vancouver Canucks at the start of the 2008-09 season. Yes, that was a problem then, he acknowledges. No, it’s not a problem now.

“When I came to Vancouver, I came off waivers from Toronto and I had three groin surgeries and I had a broken leg over the summer,” he said. “When I got to camp, I wasn’t in good enough shape or like the rest of the guys.

“That was something I fixed and now I’ve been in great shape,” Wellwood continued. “I’ve been under 180 pounds so it’s kind of a running joke — you still get the fat jokes when you’re one of the lightest people in hockey. You just laugh and shake your head.”


Typical Wellwood. I'm not fat. I'm weak. Get it right.

The prodigal son has come home, and now he plays for the other team. This is gonna be awesome.

I Watched This Game: Canucks at Avalanche, January 18, 2011

Canucks 3 - 4 Avalanche (OT)



Give the Canucks credit for showing up to play this one. After a horrendous outing in Minnesota exposed their tired road legs, the excuses for a second consecutive poor performance were readymade. Instead, the Canucks vehemently defied the wishes of their bodies in Colorado, and kept up with the speedy Avalanche. They outshot the Avs 43 to 30 and picked up a well-earned point. It could have been two points, even, had the Canucks managed to push through their mental sluggishness the way they did their physical sluggishness.

Unfortunately for them, it was not so, and the mental mistakes came fast and furious. Bad penalties; bad passes; bad reads; lazy backchecks. Against a young, aggressive team like the Avalanche, that crap's not gonna fly. Although, by getting the regulation tie, I guess it sort of did. Hmm. Okay, it did, but then, in the end, it didn't (not unlike the Avro Arrow). Whatever. I watched this game:

  • Likely, neither team will be completely happy with the way they played (the Canucks were slow and sloppy, and the Avalanche let a tired road team take the lead three times) but both teams will be happy to leave the stadium with points. (It's like sports day in grade school. Everybody gets a ribbon!) And the Canucks have to be pleased with their Temple of Doom performance, in which they reached inside of themselves and played their hearts out.
  • The Canucks' power play covers all manner of sins sometimes. Both Edler and Ehrhoff blasted PP goals from the point that gave their team the lead, and these goals were vital. Had the Canucks had to open up and play from behind for even one second in this game, their suspect defensive play would have been even more prominent, and it could have gotten out of hand.
  • It's been a long time since the Canucks have had a sexy callup like Sergei Shirokov, so it was nice to see him play a standout game in his first NHL action this year. He scored his first career goal on a beautiful move (above), and he had a game-high six shots. But, before you get excited, consider he's played two fewer games this month--and nine fewer NHL games. He had fresh legs. He was like Anne Bancroft on skates, his legs were so fresh. Let's wait to see whether or not he can be a standout when the rest of his team isn't playing on fumes, but he was a breath of fresh air last night. Most importantly, he looked capable of creating his own offense, something Kesler's wings have to be able to do. A good start for Shirok.
  • The other callup, Chris Tanev, acquitted himself admirably as well. He finished the night a minus-1, but it's hard to fault him on the Luongo misplay that gave David Jones his first of two on the night. Jones was his man, for sure, but everyone in the building thought Luongo would swallow up that puck as it came off the boards. Other than that, Tanev was solid. He got on the ice for just under thirteen minutes, far more than anyone would have expected. He admirably broke up a 3-on-1 when Keith Ballard heeded Qris's advice to step it up, pranks-wise and decided to pull the old fall-down-so-the-rookie-has-to-fend-off-a-3-on-1 routine. Funny guy, that Ballard.
  • Don't tell the Vancouver media I said this, but here's your proof that the star awards mean nothing: Alex Edler was named the game's third star. Clearly, someone didn't watch the game (probably John Garrett, who has made a living watching games, but always seems to be attending his first one). While it's true that Edler had a standout game offensively with a goal and an assist, he played one of his worst games of the season defensively. He constantly lost his man, he bobbled pucks at the blue line, he looked dreadfully slow. Despite finishing the game even in the plus/minus category, Edler was on the ice for two Colorado goals, both on the penalty kill, and both times he got absolutely embarrassed by David Jones in front of the net. Jones isn't a small guy, but Edler's bigger, and the fact that Edler allowed himself to get moved right out of the play twice is unacceptable. Watch the highlight package. Colorado goals one and four are mirror images of one another, as Jones simply shades Edler into the useless area, opening up the exact same cross-ice pass. On the first goal, you can find Edler at the side of the net when the pass comes across. On the fourth goal, that's him in the middle, lazily dropping down to block nothing, opening up the same pass and rendering himself helpless to prevent Jones from finding the rebound. A terrible game from #23.
  • Kevin Bieksa, on the other hand, played solidly. Nearly every shift, he was breaking up an odd-man rush or clearing the zone before things got dangerous. He finished with 2 hits, 4 takeaways and 3 blocked shots, and considering these three stats are typically undercounted (especially when you play for the road team), that's one hell of a stat line.
  • Keith Ballard had a decent game as well, but has anyone noticed how often this guy falls? He's like an ancient empire on skates. Methinks Keith "Babylon" Ballard needs to heed the words of the prophet Jeremiah.
  • Is Adam Foote a diplomat's son? He's clearly got some sort of immunity. Foote's a handsy guy, but it doesn't seem to matter who he grabs, punches, or holds--there's never a call. He could grope the First Lady and someone would call it a smart, veteran play.
  • The referees missed some egregious offenses, but Raffi Torres sure made it easy on them, huh? Both of his penalties were of the are-you-kidding-me variety, especially his second one. Who tugs on a jersey? Not since Theodore Tugboat have I seen such pathetic tugging. Skeeter and I observed that Raffi Torres has three modes: 1) skateskateskateskate 2) get puck, and 3) put puck. Unfortunately, none of the three modes is any more detailed than that, and Raffi often skimps on the details. Torres is playing some dumb hockey right now. I wouldn't be surprised if he suffers a benching in the near future.
  • Speaking of penalties, Henrik Sedin's penalty in overtime was fully warranted. Granted, his man went down easy, but everyone knows there are a two situations where you should never stick your arm out. The first is when you're chasing to break up a two-on-one. The second is when you're on a school bus. That's how you lose a limb.
  • A better performance by Roberto Luongo and the Canucks probably leave Denver with a win. He'll get no pass; he was the freshest Canuck and he should have played like it. When your star goaltender is rested and your team isn't, you need a star goaltending performance, and the Canucks didn't get it. The second and third goals are both ones he probably should have had. Know what else he should have had? A Bacon Mushroom Melt. It's only ever at Wendy's for a limited time, and it's delicious. But now it's gone, and who knows how long he'll have to wait for them to bring it back? /regret
  • And finally, Jeff Tambellini was the fourth-line center last night, and while he did a fine job (especially in the faceoff circle, where he was 5-for-6) I'm not sure I like him and Mason Raymond on that line together. They're too tiny, and tiny on the fourth line is a bad idea, unless it's an ironic nickname for someone huge, like Tiny, the classic character from SNES's Clayfighter.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Vancouver Wellwoods Need Your Help

You might recall The Vancouver Wellwoods, PITB's official, adopted women's street hockey team. These Play On! Burnaby champions (and adorable young ladies) have united under the Wellwoodian philosophy "Training = Cheating," and are one of six women's street hockey teams invited to Hockey Day in Canada's Play On! national championship in Victoria. And now they need our help. Take it away, team captain Morgan Tierney:
The Vancouver Wellwoods have been challenged by CBC to get 200 people to click "Like" at the bottom of our team page.

If we can get 200 fans faster than any other team in the National Championship tournament, fabulous prizes and (we assume) international fame await us. Since you and your fans seem to have the same appreciation for all things Wellwood as we do, I figured I'd invite you all to like us!

Our schedule will be posted on February 1st for anyone who wishes to cheer us on in person in Victoria.

And finally, I should let you know that we are currently working on a viral video masterpiece to pay tribute to our namesake, showcase our skills, and most importantly, convince Kyle that he would be better off coaching us than he would be playing for the Sharks.

To the Bulies: make sure you Like this team. They are PITB's team, and therefore, they are your team. (And while you're at it, don't forget to Like PITB on Facebook as well.) To the Wellwoods: make sure we get a copy of this viral video, and good luck at the National Championship.


Roberto Luongo's Return to Form

The captaincy mitigated Luongo's ability to take the overserious Vancouver media lightly.

Last Wednesday, Roberto Luongo appeared on the Team 1040 morning show with Scotty Rintoul and Jason Botchford. Among other topics, he talked about winning streaks, shootouts, and first star salutes. It was innocuous. Then, towards the end of the telephone interview, Jason Botchford asked an interesting question. "I find that you're having a lot more fun," he said, "Do you feel that way as well?"

Luongo's response was fascinating to me:

"I try to have fun every time I go out there. You know, maybe I try to have more fun with you guys, that might be a difference. But, I mean, playing the game has always been fun for me. That's not gonna change or has changed this year. I think I'm trying to be more loose in the locker room around the media, and not take it so seriously as I have in the past."

It's interesting that, in his response to a much more open-ended question, Luongo zeroed in on his approach to the media. I think it speaks to a few things:

First, as much as we think we know these guys, we really don't. We piece together our picture of athletes like Roberto Luongo from soundbytes and speculation, long articles drawn from short statements (much like this piece). And that's not to say that anyone is being dishonest--only that we're not getting the full picture. How can we? Outside of games, we only see Luongo in his interaction with the media, which is a little like only seeing somebody in their interaction with the department of motor vehicles. Seeing how someone deals with a necessary nuisance will only give you a limited perspective, and if you're not careful, you'll mistakenly assume it's a larger picture than it is. In this case, Luongo appears to have fully changed because his interactions with the media--the only interactions we see--have changed.

Second, I was wrong. The captaincy really did affect Luongo negatively. That said, it's not for the reasons you might think. He wasn't burdened by the responsibility of leadership, and by all accounts, he did a fabulous job. He remains a vital part of the leadership core and definitely has the tools to lead that room. However, he wasn't prepared for the sudden change in his relationship with the media. Suffice it to say, he didn't like it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Shirokov's Playing, So Who Sits?

Yes, this picture is from the future. Don't ask how we got it.

Earlier today, news broke that the Canucks had recalled Manitoba's leading scorer Sergei Shirokov, likely in response to my goading. Shirokov becomes the thirteenth forward on the Canucks' active roster, a spot that opened up when Alex Bolduc went down with another shoulder injury. Despite joining a team with twelve healthy forwards, however, Shirokov will immediately draw into the lineup in Colorado.

This is wisdom for two reasons: first, the Canucks are having a wee bit of trouble scoring goals lately. Vancouver is suffering through a perfect storm of scoring slumps right now, as half the forward corps seems suddenly incapable of bringing offense. Fans in Minnesota and New York would be forgiven for thinking Jonathan Roy is more likely to beat a goaltender than this team's forwards. Second, Shirokov is in the midst of a 12-game point streak. He's hot now. You don't call a guy like that up just to sit him; good on the Canucks for rewarding his strong play with an immediate spot in the lineup.

But who's sitting if Shirokov isn't? Gord McIntyre speculates that it might be Jeff Tambellini, and while it may well be, it's not that cut and dry. There are five guys who might find themselves sitting next to Derek Jory tomorrow night. After the jump, PITB examines who they are and why they might be in line for a benching.

Recalling Sergei Shirokov

Does everyone remember Sergei Shirokov? Last season's pre-season wunderkind who then stumbled to no points and a -4 in 6 games to start the year? The guy who was being compared to Pavel Bure despite having only his nationality in common with the Russian Rocket? Well, he's back. The man with the imaginative nickname of "Shirok," which apparently translates as "Wide" in Russian, has been recalled in the wake of the Alexandre Bolduc injury. It's a well-deserved reward for leading the Moose in points and breaking a club-record for consecutive games with a point. He was also the only Moose player named to the AHL All-Star Game and has been solid for the Moose in the absence of Cody Hodgson and Jordan Schroeder.

All I ask is that we temper our expectations. While I hope this isn't the case, Shirokov may end up just sitting in the press box as the extra forward. Even if he does slot into the lineup, it might only be on the fourth line. That said, Jeff Tambellini has gone 10 games without a point and it might be time for a wakeup call. It's possible that Shirokov could fit on a second line with Raymond and Kesler, though he'll be hard-pressed to match their speed. Alternatively, he could line-up with Torres and Malhotra, reuniting Samuelsson with Raymond and Kesler. Shirokov has been praised recently for his improved defensive play and is a +10 on the season, meaning he might not be out of place on the third line.

In any case, Shirokov has earned this chance to prove he belongs in the NHL. Here's hoping he makes the most of it.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

I Watched This Game: Canucks at Wild, January 16, 2011

Canucks 0 - 4 Wild



Every so often, good hockey teams comes down with a case of bogusness. Suddenly, they flub passes, fan on shots, miss defensive coverages, and skate around like the walking dead, more suited to converging on the Monroeville Mall than the Xcel Energy Center. It can be terribly difficult to watch a team do hockey in these instances, as they seem to have forgotten how entirely. When this happens to your team, hockey fan, it is advised, for your sanity, that you A) stop watching, and B) do not continue watching. That is, unless you're committed to a blog that does game recaps for every game, even the awful ones that are more torturous than the last game you described as torturous. Sigh. I watched this game:

  • Allowing Henrik Lundqvist to shut you out: acceptable. Allowing Anton Khudobin (emphasis on the who?) to shut you out: less acceptable. Granted, Khudobin stopped 32 shots and deserves congratulations for his first NHL shutout, but he was vomiting rebounds like a fat guy out of a Monty Python sketch. Despite gift-wrapping some dandy tap-ins and putting himself out of position more than a few times, he never needed to worry, as the Canucks reacted to all yawning cages by yawning back.
  • How bad were the Canucks last night? Shorthouse and Garrett remarked--on two occasions--that Martin Havlat was having a good defensive game. When you make Martin Havlat look defensively sound, you are playing poorly.
  • Speaking of the broadcast team, we often rag on John Garrett for being an insane homer, but John Shorthouse has his moments as well. Consider, for instance, his liberal use of the word "shutout," from the middle of the second period onward. This can only have been a brazen attempt to jinx Khudobin into letting one past him, but unfortunately, Shorthouse is as terrible at cursing someone as Wendy, the Good Little Witch.
  • Also awesome homerism: when Shorty tried to wish his son a happy birthday, and the cameras went to random boys in the crowd. Shorty made sure to mention these kids weren't his kid, and when Garrett remarked that a boy in a Wild jersey resembled Shorty's son slightly, Shorty snapped back that his son wouldn't be wearing a Wild jersey.
  • If you want an example of how terrible the Canucks were, look no further than their 4th goal against: the Canucks control the puck for about a minute, seemingly incapable of making two crisp feeds. Passes are in legs, overskated, off skates and over sticks. Minnesota is content to sit back while the Canucks dick around, so they hardly forecheck during this comedy of errors. Then, after bungling for an entire shift, the Canucks finally dump the puck in and make a sloppy line change. Their forechecker, Jannik Hansen, is so slow to pressure that Minnesota is already in transition by the time he gets there. The Wild have the the puck for ten seconds. In that time, Alex Edler gives up the zone, then gives up the boards, and Raffi Torres goes for a skate while his man, John Madden finds himself open in front for a tap-in. I'm sure the team will be watching video of this sequence, as they looked slow, inept, and out of sync, and Minnesota made them look stupid.
  • My wife, upon watching that sequence: "Wow, Minnesota is fast." No, honey, they most definitely are not. But there was a time when people thought a 28.8 modem was fast, too. It just depends on what you're comparing it to.
  • Shorty and Garrett lauded Alex Edler on his strong play lately, noting that he hadn't been a minus player in ten games. In an effort to make up for this, Edler put in a minus-3 performance, including gift-wrapping a breakaway for Marty Havlat goal with a beautiful drop pass. Perhaps he realized he's not ready to be thought of as the number one guy, and was simply managing expectations?
  • This is two losses in three games, and while it's tempting to say the Canucks are so good the only way to beat them is to shut them out, let's be more damning. The Canucks are mired in a brutal scoring slump right now, shut out twice on this road trip and looking completely uninterested in scoring goals at times. Ignore the four they put up in Washington; there are Timbits minor hockey teams that could score on the Capitals.
  • Because our complementary scoring has been solid for two seasons now, People often forget that the Canucks' offense lives and dies with the Wizards of the Coast. Henrik Sedin has now gone three games without a point. The last time Henrik had three or more pointless games was last February, when he didn't get on the board in four straight. The Canucks went 1-3 in that span. Here's hoping a wide open game in Colorado breaks the slump before the Canucks repeat that exact scenario.
  • You know who needs offense? The Canucks. Know who's on a pretty impressive scoring streak? Sergei Shirokov. Know who doesn't have an extra forward on the roster right now? The Canucks. Know who they should call up? Mario Bliznak.
  • While there are no excuses for playing this badly, here's one: The Canucks are exhausted. After six games in nine nights, they immediately began a five-game road trip that's taken them across the country and back. You could say the dense January schedule appears to be catching up with them. Good teams can overcome a bit of sand in their skates, but there are going to be games like this one, where they simply don't have the legs. This is cause for concern, however, because the schedule doesn't let up for quite awhile.
  • Watch Christian Ehrhoff try to catch Matt Cullen on the shorthanded goal (2:50 of above clip). Daniel Sedin outskates him. Daniel Sedin.
  • The Wild's first goal probably shouldn't have counted. Last I checked, you couldn't score by having a super orgy porno party on top of the goaltender, then driving him into the net with a Shoryuken. Maybe this is a new rule.
  • People often criticize Alain Vigneault for juggling lines last night like Zack Morris trying to have three dates at once, but when every single one of your scorers suddenly becomes dead weight, you'll try anything. The truth is that the players hate line-juggling as much as the fans do. The coach knows this; it's an in-game punishment. The way to earn consistent linemates is to be consistent. When he mixes up the lines, Vigneault isn't just guessing or hoper-groping--he's sending a message to his team.
  • Speaking of AV, I love the way he chews gum when his team is crapping the bed. Slightly harder. Is that a tell or what? I want to play poker with Alain Vigneault. #PokerMeAlain
  • Ryan Kesler was 4-for-14 in the faceoff circle. His thumb is clearly still bothering him. I hope, for his sake, he takes care of that thing before he loses it, or he'll have to go through life unable to hitchhike or co-host film review programs.
  • Mason Raymond has regressed to the perimeter play he appeared to have grown out of early last season. Let's hope this is just temporary and he finds that other gear soon. He's not even on pace for twenty goals, and he's supposed to be an anchor on the second line.
  • Poor Cory Schneider has gone from being Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies to Roy Halladay of the Toronto Blue Jays. Poor guy could use some run support.
  • In the absence of Alex Bolduc, Tanner Glass spent some time in the middle. He was 3-for-5 on draws, which means he's been above 50% in both games as the 4th line center. I knew he was smart, but I'm concerned at how quickly he's learning. What else can he become proficient at in a short period of time? I need to go practice my Scrabble.
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