Bruce Ng: Canucks Wagon Watch: Game 33 versus Minnesota

Luongo tells the fickle fans how he really feels.

Throughout the season, the Canucks Wagonwatch series will track how much room is on the team’s bandwagon. In addition, it will also track the completely separate Luongo wagon.

The Wild played the first half of a back-to-back set tonight, playing in Calgary tomorrow night. The Wild started off with a strong first period, but were down 1-0 after one period after they gave up late goal to the Canucks power play. It wasn’t a typical Canucks power play goal, as it came off a rush and was scored by Henrik Sedin. The 2nd period saw the Canucks score 2 more. The Canucks 3rd goal was particularly nice – Sedin to Sedin to Burrows.
Canucks Bandwagon: 85% full

After Saturday’s big win in Toronto, I expected the Canucks to come out a little flat – the road trip hangover effect – but was pleasantly surprised to see them put in a good effort. The Sedins were particularly effective – beautiful passing tonight – for 6 points between the twins. John Shorthouse and John Garrett indicated that it would be tough to pick the 3 Stars for the game – Luongo, and the Sedins seemed about right from a statistics point of view, but many other Canucks looked pretty good tonight.

Luongo Bandwagon: 70% full

Luongo was full credit for the win and the shutout tonight – holding his team in the game early in the 1st period, as the Canucks were outshot in the opening frame. After the Canucks scored at the end of the first, the Wild were not able to generate much pressure, or many scoring chances. No such thing as an easy shutout, and Luongo did well to maintain his focus. Maybe the haters will say he looked awkward in the 1st. Or that he shouldn’t have looked over his shoulder in the 3rd. Not much to complain about in this one, as Luongo made it look easy. Very good positionally, and very economical movement. Another 3 shutouts in a row, and who knows, maybe the wagon will be at capacity. Or maybe not.

What the Honey Badger wants, the Honey Badger gets

It is more than a mere rumour that the Canucks have animal nicknames for each of their players (reference: Pass It To Bulis). Jannik Hansen is known as the Honey Badger. Tonight the Honey Badger scored his 11th goal of the season; his previous season high was 9 – done twice. Hansen is looking more like a player that can provide some serious secondary scoring, along with speed and good physical play. At this pace he will have between 20 and 30 goals.

Hansen is given the Honey Badger moniker because he plays with a tenacious and fearless style. If you watch this video, and if you’ve seen Hansen play, you will understand it.

Jason Kurylo: Let Luongo Play – The Time Is Now For A New Captain

Let me start off by saying that I’m a huge Roberto Luongo fan. When Dave Nonic first engineered the deal to bring Bobby Lou to Vancouver, I thought, “Holy Hannah, we’re going to win a Stanley Cup.” Sure, we had to blow up the West Coast Express to get him – but a post-Steve Moore Bertuzzi for Luongo? Brilliant. Especially considering the awful taste Dan “Beachball” Cloutier left in the mouths of devout Canucks fans, it was a red-letter day indeed. And wouldn’t you know it, since he arrived, the Canucks have been a legitimate threat to come out of the west in three out of four years.

This year, though, was different. The Canucks were tapped by many a pundit to go far in these playoffs, but with the asterisk, “in spite of the play of Roberto Luongo”. In spite of. When was the last time a club won in spite of their best player? As much as I love the guy, I have to admit: maybe the goalie-as-captain undertaking needs to come to an end.

Roberto Luongo could benefit by giving up the “C”.

With Vancouver facing elimination in game five this year, Luongo did several unthinkables. He shaved his playoff beard. He ditched the media scrum. He did what goalies are supposed to do: he concentrated on the game. Captains can’t do that. They’re supposed to bear the crush of pre-game media; they’re supposed to let the rest of the guys focus on their prep. Captains are supposed to carry the load while the bench loosens up. Sure, he stank the joint up in the second half of game six, but for four periods – game 5 in Chicago and the first period back at GM Place – he was Holy Hannah Luongo.

Do you think Jaroslav Halak would be stoning the Caps and Pens if he had to do a couple hours of daily pre-game media?  In fact, the opposite is true; the only reason we knew he was getting the game start over Carey Price was because he refuses to talk to media when he’s starting that night’s game.

Luongo as captain made sense in so many ways. He’s the most marketable player on a team in a hockey-mad market. His name is bandied about whenever “Best Goalie in the World” is the topic of conversation. He’s the top-paid player on the team. His are the top-selling jerseys at the Canucks Store. He’s an intense, passionate, win-at-all-cost kinda guy. He’s a gold-medal-winning goaltender, for crying out loud. But perhaps there’s a reason the NHL went 61 years between captains who played goal. This year’s stats are one easy way of seeing the cons to this little experiment.

Just one year ago, Luongo recorded seven shutouts in 54 games. This year, he threw just four doughnuts in 68 – his career-low as a number one goaltender. Last year, Alain Vigneault pulled the All-Star netminder from just one contest. Luongo was pulled from seven games this year – and one more in the playoffs – as he had his worst goals against average since he came from Florida. And his save percentage this season is the lowest he’s posted since his rookie year on Long Island. He lost his posts and composure with equal frequency, and fell apart at key times instead of making the big save the team needed more often than I care to count.

Some will argue these stats have more to do with the amount of play – it’s an Olympic year, they say – but Luongo has always been a workhorse. His best year for save percentage came in Florida in 2003-4, when he played 72 regular season games. Others will point to a weakened defensive core, and that point is valid. But when we see he scored seven shutouts with those same woeful, playoff-missing Panthers, when we see just how shaky he has looked all season, we have to wonder if Willie Mitchell’s absence has been the biggest problem Vancouver’s had between the pipes.

This doesn’t even touch the psychological effect a team must undergo when their captain is sitting on the bench. How massive a blow would it be to Detroit if Mike Babcock benched Nicklas Lidstrom? Could you imagine anything but injury forcing Sidney Crosby from his regular shift? To paraphrase Tom Larscheid, as Luongoes, so go the Canucks. If he’s sitting on the bench in shame, who shoulders the load?

With apologies to Richard Brodeur and Kirk McLean, Roberto Luongo is the best goaltender in Canucks history. And on Sunday, when he put aside all the extra-curricular activities that captaincy requires, he played like the best goaltender in Canucks history. He did the real job that Roberto Luongo is supposed to do: he stopped the puck. Coming back to GM Place on Tuesday, where expectations rest squarely on the back of the guy with the C on his jersey – sorry, the C on his mask – he gave up five goals for the third straight home start.

It’s not a matter of win or lose any more. The Canucks lost. In embarrassing fashion. For the second consecutive year. And sadly, they did not lose in spite of the play of Roberto Luongo.

The Canucks have to seriously look at putting the weight of that C on someone else’s shoulders.


PODCAST: Round 2 Playoff Predictions & Some Love For Steve Bernier

Jason Kurylo and Chris Withers are back with another podcast. The give you their playoff predictions and brace yourselves…they have some love to throw around for Steve Bernier!

Take a listen and see if you agree with their predictions!

Also some people have asked about syndication…we’re working on it!

MP3 Version

M4A Version (With chapters and images)

Subscribe to this podcast in Itunes


The Loser Point: How Overtime Losses Helped Send the Washington Capitals Home

By Chris Withers:

Alexander OvechkinThe first round of the NHL playoffs was arguably one of the best ever, and certainly one of the most unpredictable. But one of the most improbable upsets in league history, Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals losing to the 8th seeded Montreal Canadiens, would not have been possible except for a controversial decision, made some 10 years ago, that was designed to open up overtime. Where previously teams would get no points for a loss, now both teams would be guaranteed a single point for getting into overtime, and would compete for an additional point in the 5 minute extra frame. The decision, while arguably well-intentioned, has created a bewildering points system for the NHL. It is unlike the systems used by every other professional sports league on the planet, it is no longer relevant, it is costing teams playoff berths and it is past time for it to be changed.

First, a little history on the ‘loser point’. In the late 90’s, the NHL was beleaguered. The work stoppage of 94-95 was still fresh in people’s minds, ratings were slipping, the novelty had worn off for fans of the sun-belt expansion teams and the game had slowed to a crawl after the success of Jacques Lemaire’s New Jersey Devils and their stifling neutral zone trap. Some in the league office felt that the new American expansion markets would never fully accept a sport that embraced a tie. Like baseball, basketball and (usually) football, there must be a winner in hockey! The premise of the OTL rule was that teams would no longer have a reason to play ‘kitty bar the door’ hockey, since there was no penalty for a loss but an extra point for the win. The NHL also sought to make the OT period more fun to watch with an accompanying rule change that made all OT periods 4-on-4, thus opening up the ice and making the neutral zone trap more difficult to implement.

In practice, the rule changes worked. The amount of goals scored in overtime ballooned from 22 in 1998-99 to 114 in 1999-2000. That’s a better than 500% increase!

There were, however, consequences to the extra point. First, it made it significantly more difficult for teams to gain ground (or separation) in the standings. Teams were picking up points in more situations. A team could go on a 6 game winning streak, the team it’s chasing could win 1 out of 6 over the same stretch, and the difference could be as little as 5 points. Second, and most importantly, it allowed teams to quite literally lose their way into the playoffs. In the first year of OTLs, both the Anaheim Ducks and the Carolina Hurricanes were denied playoff berths because the teams in front of them had more ‘loser points’ than they did.

Fast forward a few years and another work stoppage, and the NHL introduced more rule changes. The game, start to finish, became more exciting. The tie was forever banished from professional hockey, replaced by the shootout (love it or hate it, you must admit it’s exciting!). The premise for the OTL point, namely spicing up the extra frame, seemed to have been taken away, yet the points system remained unchanged. In fact, the issues that OTLs present are now amplified. Rather than an extra point being awarded in approximately 44% of OT games (as had been the case from 1999-2004), 100% of OT games are now worth 3 points. This accounted for an average of about 150 extra points being distributed in the standings each and every year. As a direct result of this change, a total of 6 teams since the lockout have missed the playoffs; in one extreme case, the Carolina Hurricanes would have won their division under the old system. With the shootout, they missed the playoffs by 2 points.

Presently then, the NHL has a system for awarding points that only made sense in the context of the rules of the late 90’s. The shootout has obviated the need to make overtime more exciting, and simultaneously made a disproportionate number of games worth 3 points. A team is now penalized for losing a game in regulation, rather than in OT, without a corresponding penalty for teams that win in OT, instead of in regulation.

There are two solutions going forward. The simplest would be a straight Win/Loss system, but that is troublesome because of the shootout. Basketball and baseball are able to use that system effectively because the rules remain constant in those sports throughout extra time. The NHL breaks deadlocks with a skills competition that has little to do with the game itself. An outright loss for the team that loses the shootout would be unfair to those teams that build for 60 minutes of hockey instead of a penalty shot competition.

For an equitable solution, the NHL should look to international hockey. In round robin international play, all games are worth 3 points. Period. An outright win garners 3 points and a loss 0. Take it to overtime, and the points are split 2-1. It’s fair to everybody, understandable by all fans, and it properly benefits teams, like our beloved Canucks, that get their business done outright and don’t win 38% of their games in overtime, like the Phoenix Coyotes.

Colin Campbell was asked in 2007 about the league’s decision not to go to a 3 point system. He was quoted as saying “It’s time to establish continuity. You can’t keep making changes.” If the folks at NHL head office don’t think there’s a reason to change the system now, they may wish to take a poll of New York and Washington hockey fans; the Rangers would have been secure in a playoff spot this year even before that dramatic shootout with the Flyers to end the season. Who would have been on the outside looking in? The Cinderella, Cap-killing, Habs.


Come Up With A Round Two Twitter Hashtag And Win A Signed Canucks Stick

Round two of the playoffs is on the way and once again the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks are going to do battle to see who will advance to the conference finals in the west.

Blogger Trevor Presiloski of the Internet Trashcan came up with the idea to hold a contest on Twitter to come up with the best #hashtag for the series.

Hashtags by definition are used to create real time track records of creating groups on Twitter. Placing the # sign in front of keywords or targeted groups, makes it easier to track all conversations in the twitter timeline via search.

The Canucks have jumped on board and will provide a team signed stick for whatever hashtag is voted the best one via a poll on The winning hashtag will become the official Canucks/Blackhawks hashtag for the series.

Last year the hashtag #blackhawkdown was used frequently. Add your hashtag on twitter and address it to @VanCanucks. The top five will be chosen and added to a poll, where the winning tag will be picked and that person will win the signed stick!

Good luck everyone! Share this post on Twitter and Facebook and let’s see what you can come up with!