Canucks Winning While Walking Wounded

The hand isn’t hovering directly over the panic button, but in Vancouver it’s always close by.

From the middle of February to the middle of March the Canucks lost 11 of 16, including a disappointing 8-3 drubbing at the hands of the Red Wings, and lackluster efforts against some of the poorer teams in the conference.

Most recently, the boys have rattled off a 4 game win streak. They’ve done this despite a rotating lineup of injured forwards, and playing the last 5 games in 7 nights. On this streak, the hand has strayed from the panic button somewhat. But even with the Canucks winning streak, it seems like there is always the potential for disaster just past the next game. Why is that?

Injuries have decimated the roster depth at all forward positions.

The Canucks injured reserve already included Ryan Kesler (foot), David Booth (ankle), and Manny Malhotra (eye). More recently, the boys have also played without Chris Higgins (back), Zack Kassian (back), Dale Weise (shoulder), Steve Pinizzotto (illness), and Alexander Edler (suspension).

For one game against the Coyotes, the Canucks were missing their entire second line of Kesler, Booth and Higgins. Coach Vigneault was able to put together a lineup of forwards that included moving Keith Ballard out of the doghouse, and onto a 4th line with Andrew Ebbett and Dale Weise. Going into the last week, I felt that 5 games in 7 nights was going to make or break this team’s hopes for the playoffs, especially as the Canucks were not playing to their potential. And my hand was hovering directly over the panic button.

The team still has two #1 goaltenders, and only one center that can score.

Manny Malhotra has been forced into retirement by the team, and with all due respect to Andrew Ebbett, Jordan Schroeder and Max Lapierre, none of them have proven themselves in the 2C spot. Ebbett and Schroeder have been up and down from the farm for most of the season, and Lapierre is the prototype 4C grinder. Once they get Kesler in the lineup, he will again have to work to get his game timing back, which will likely take at least 2 weeks of games, which will likely run right in to the playoffs.

I like having the insurance policy of two #1 goaltenders, but hockey history usually tells us that while a goalie tandem can work in the regular season, it is dangerous to run this system in the playoffs. The move that makes sense is to trade one goaltender for a center that can score, and pick up another goalie to play backup.

Canucks have goaltender supply, but demand is low.

Earlier in the season, potential trade partners for a Luongo deal included Tampa Bay or Florida, who currently sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. There’s not much hope for a deep playoff run in either city, so the demand for a goaltender is low. Other potential trade destinations included Toronto and Chicago – both of which seem to have solved their goaltending problems internally. Reimer looks to be able to get the Maple Leafs into the playoffs this season, and Corey Crawford in Chicago has been lights out.

The Canucks will get through this rash of injuries, and they’ll make the playoffs. They might even win the Northwest division. There are only 4 games left until the trade deadline. What do you think will happen? Blockbuster trade? A couple small deals to shore up the depth? Or nothing at all?

NHL History Will Be Made Right Now

The NHL is coming up on the half-way mark of the lockout shortened season. Most teams have played over 20 games so far. One team has yet to lose in regulation time.

The Chicago Blackhawks as of this posting have a sparkling record of 19-0-3. It’s so good it’s gaudy. They say you have to be good to be lucky, and yes the Blackhawks have been lucky in some of their games. But for the most part, they have dominated the opposition with offensive speed, good defensive play, and rock solid goaltending.

On February 19th, the Canucks were in Chicago looking to deny the Hawks their season-starting record, but it was not meant to be. In fact the Canucks played about 30 minutes of that game and were lucky to escape the United Center with 1 point after a shootout loss. For the majority of that game the Canucks were badly outplayed. It was embarrassing to watch as the Hawks speed generated numerous Grade-A scoring chances. Odd-man rushes, and Canucks defensemen getting walked around the outside, it looked like the Canucks were out for a family skate. For a Canucks squad that prides itself on team speed, they were given a lesson that night.

Which reminds me of a time…

When I was much younger, Wayne Gretzky played for the Edmonton Oilers. Everyone knows that Gretzky is perhaps the greatest player to have ever played the game. He was revolutionary. Yes, it was a different era of small goalie pads and free-wheeling hockey, but there’s no denying Gretzky’s place in hockey history. He was the key to the Oilers dynasty of the 80s. That Oilers team was full of future Hall-of-Famers: Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr to name a few. Even their so-called role players were good: Ken Linseman, Esa Tikkanen, Glenn Anderson, Charlie Huddy, Kevin Lowe and so on.

I hated the Oilers. 

In those Smythe Division days, teams played divisional rivals 8 times each season. That meant that the Oilers got to pound on the Canucks 8 times every year. Even with that many amazing players on their team, I could hardly stand to watch the Oilers when they were in town. Only later did I understand and appreciate how good those Oilers teams were. The records (both team and individual) speak for themselves. Some of those records I consider to be untouchable (eg: Gretzky’s 215 points in a single season, and 92 goals in a single season).

The Blackhawks are not the 80’s Oilers, but…

This is one hell of a run that the Blackhawks are on. I found myself listening to WGN radio on a Canucks off night just to see if the Hawks would pull off another win (and they did). The Hawks run right now reminds me of Ken Jennings – the Jeopardy! champion who won 74 straight games. The guy was in a rhythm, and seemingly unbeatable. I don’t watch a lot of Jeopardy! , but I watched Ken Jennings. His play transcended regular television watching.

It’s the same with this season’s Blackhawks team. Whether you like them or not (and most of you don’t), they’re making NHL history. You’ll look back later in life and say you were around when the Hawks set that record. While they’re on this run, don’t forget to watch – you’ll miss something incredible.

Canucks In Chicago Look To Deny Blackhawks Record

One of the NHL’s Best Rivalries: On Tuesday the Canucks are in Chicago to take on the Hawks.

When the calendar for the lockout-shortened season was released, Canucks fans immediately circled games of interest. No matter which other teams you love to see (or love to hate), almost all Canucks fans take note of every date against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Playoff series generally build excellent rivalries. Three years of playoffs in a row against the same team – with a team from that series going to the Stanley Cup Final for two years. That is huge, with wounds that are deep for both opponents. There have been numerous moments for both teams over the last few years that have helped to define this as one the most heated rivalries in the league. It doesn’t matter if it was Willie Mitchell knocking out Jonathan Toews, or Toews forcing overtime in Game 7, or Burrows “slaying the dragon”, or Duncan Keith laying out Daniel Sedin, or Luongo getting Chelsea Daggered in the playoffs, or Canucks fans feeling jealous after watching the Hawks roll to the conference finals and then the cup finals – all of the moments seem larger than life. It’s not difficult for the players and the fans to get up for this one.

With at least a point in the game against the Canucks, the Hawks would tie the NHL record for longest streak without a regulation loss to start a season. The Blackhawks are the cream of the NHL so far – unbeaten in regulation time, their record is a sparkling 12-0-3, and their goal differential is tops in the league at +20.

The current record is held by the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks at 12-0-4. They went on that year to win the Stanley Cup, beating the Canucks along the way. The 2nd longest streak was the 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers, who also won the cup that year.

Fans in Chicago are among the loudest and proudest in the league. They cheer the anthem, they get up for every single game, and they know their stuff. I am happy to know and follow many Hawks fans on Twitter, and as in any hockey rivalry there’s some chirping, but there’s a great deal of mutual respect.

By all accounts for fans of both teams, the last game these two played against each other was dull and drab – a 2-1 shootout victory for the Canucks at Rogers Arena. The first meeting after the infamous Keith elbow to Sedin, and it was tame. Perhaps these two teams were hesitant to get into it – no player wanted to cost their team any precious points by being overly emotional.

But make no mistake – there’s still bad blood. The fans are overdue for a good game between these two teams. How sweet would it be for the Canucks to deny the Hawks that record, and steal 2 points in the Madhouse on Madison?

Canucks Wagonwatch: Game 9 vs Oilers

After giving up a number of 2 goal leads already in this season, the Canucks pulled off a comeback of their own tonight, claiming a 3-2 win in Edmonton.

Despite what local press will have you believe about doom and gloom in Canuck-land, the boys are off to their best start in many years at 5-2-2. The last time the Canucks had a better start to their season was in 2005-2006 when they had a 7-1-1 record after 9 games. Chris Tanev scored his first NHL goal tonight, and there’s no bigger way to do it than a game winning goal in overtime. Kevin Bieksa also scored his first of the season, and Jannik “Honey Badger” Hansen just takes what he wants, which includes a goal after a hard forechecking effort.

Heads again! Luongo gets the start.

The “Coin-Flip” situation to determine the starting goaltender seems ludicrous, but it appears Alain “Tw0-Face” Vigneault’s coin always lands the same way, as Luongo has started 4 games in a row. Luongo has only been playing some of the best hockey he has played in a Canucks uniform, which is saying a lot. He seems relaxed, even in very tough situations.

Although the Canucks reliance on goaltending to win games might get them into the playoffs, we saw last year that it won’t take them on a long run towards the cup. The team is winning despite the following:

  • The Sedins not being able to score. Yes they are still making other players better – Zack Kassian for instance leads the team in goal scoring. But neither Daniel nor Henrik have been able to finish as in seasons past. Hopefully the team remains hungry for secondary scoring when the Sedins have their game back at full speed.
  • Ryan Kesler and David Booth still being out of the lineup recovering from injury. Kesler is skating in practice with the team, which is a positive sign, but still no timetable for his return. Like the Sedins, it will likely be weeks before he finds his touch at game speed. If he comes back at 100% and can find his game again, this immediately makes the Canucks better on both sides of the ice.

This is an interesting time in Canucks hockey, as the team is winning,  but with their “backup” goaltender between the pipes. Vigneault appears to be riding the hot hand of Luongo, which is the correct move at this time as Luongo is 3-0-1 in the last 4 games. There’s still a lot of love in Vancouver for the Canucks embattled backup, and lots of respect around the league. Last week when Luongo posted a 3-0 victory over the Avalanche, the chorus of Luus rained down and he received a standing ovation. And after Luongo stared down the Blackhawks in a shootout, Vancouver was shocked to hear Patrick Kane being highly complimentary of the goaltender’s play.

We will see Schneider again, but not yet.

So long as the Canucks keep winning, it really doesn’t matter who gets the call to play in goal. Schneider will get his chance to lead the team, but not yet.

Not yet.

Lord of the NHL – The Two Towers

The lockout is over! Pending a ratified CBA, we’re looking at the return of NHL hockey on January 19th.

The night before the lockout ended, I decided to watch Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, for the hundredth time. It occurred to me that the movie plot is closely related to the NHL lockout. This is the story of how the lockout ended, as told by Canucks Corner.

Thanks to @midway_brennan and @keribo1 (both Blackhawks fans!) for having some fun with me on the #LOTNHL hashtag.

 

YOU SHALL NOT PASS .. this sad excuse for a pension plan.

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS .. this sad excuse for a pension plan.”

 

20

Frodo: “What’s on Sportsnet?”

Sam: “Well, let me see.”

Sam: “Oh yes, lovely. Negotiations. And look! More negotiations.”

 

30

 

 

 

Sam: “This looks strangely familiar.”

Frodo: “Because we’ve watched this before. These negotiations are going in circles!”

 

 

 

 

40

“There is no promise you can make that I can trust. You will lead us to the Black Gate.
And 57% of Hockey Related Revenue.”

 

"Looks like meat and player pensions are back on the menu boys!"

“Looks like meat and player pensions are back on the menu boys!”

 

60

Eomer: “We piled the carcasses of the last offer sheet there. We left none alive.”

Aragorn: “Dead negotiations? Again?”

Eomer: “Look for your deal, but do not trust to hope. It has forsaken these fans.”

 

 

 

 

 

"I am Gandalf the Federal Mediator. And I come to you now, at the turn of the tide."

“I am Gandalf the Federal Mediator. And I come to you now, at the turn of the tide.”

 

80

 

Hama: “By order of the NHL, the arenas must empty. We make for the leagues of Europe.
Do not burden yourself with long contracts.
Take only what sticks you need.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“New Year’s Eve. Where is the stick and puck?
Where is the goal horn that was blowing.
How did it come to this.”

...

 

Aragorn: “Ride out and meet them.”

Theoden: “Yes! Let this be the hour when we draw up a CBA together.”

Theoden: “Fell deeds awake. Now for give. Now for take. And the Red Ink!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I know. It’s January already. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could hockey go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened. But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this lockout. Sensible offer sheets must pass. A new season will come. And when the puck drops the ice will shine out the clearer.

 

...

Sam: “Even if you were too small to understand hockey is big business. I think I do understand. I know now. They had lots of chances of signing only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.”

Frodo: “What are we holding on to, Sam?”

Sam: “That there’s some good money in this world, Mister Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for HRR.”

 

"Sam, you one crayyzzzzy ass bitch!"

“Sam, you one crayyzzzzy ass bitch!”

“The battle for HRR and back-diving contracts is over. The battle for The Stanley Cup is about to begin.
All our hopes now lie with two red-headed Swedish twins.
Somewhere in Rogers Arena.”