Top 10: Torts-less In Oiler Country

In a night where the Vancouver Canucks won’t have head coach, John Tortorella, behind the bench until the end of the Olympic break for game situations, they take on the Edmonton Oilers with their new netminder, Ben Scrivens, between the pipes.  Mike Sullivan makes his Canucks debut as head coach during Torts’ 15 day, 6 game suspension.
Tonight is a night the Vancouver Canucks need to play catch up and make some ground on the teams that are leading the Pacific Division and the Oilers, more often than not, are a sure two points. Here are 10 things I picked up during the game, via twitter, television and whatever other media you can throw my way.
  1. Hashtag of the night #FreeTorts: Many of Canucks Nation not happy with the suspension for head coach, John Tortorella, and have started a hashtag about it. I’m sure it will be kept on until the return of the charged-up leader.

    John Tortorella's suspension has Canuck Nation united in #FreeTorts

    John Tortorella’s suspension has Canuck Nation united in #FreeTorts

  2. Ironman Streak Dies: Henrik Sedin did not start a game for the first time in about 10 years and 679 games. Have a seat Hank, you deserve the rest. The boys got this.
  3. Kellen Lain: If you play him more than two seconds, he shows he can score a goal with some ice time. Lain gets his first NHL goal in the first period.

    Lain scored his 1st NHL and logged a career high in TOI. (photo credit : Vancouver Sun)

    Lain scored his 1st NHL and logged a career high in TOI. (photo credit : Vancouver Sun)

  4. Boom Boom is Back:  Kevin Bieksa continues to show he can still go toe to toe dropping the gloves with Jones. Juice has been fiesty lately and fighting in almost every single game since LA.
  5. Tweet of the Night :  @kb34myhart The last time Burrows scored was before Hank’s ironman streak started– Poor Burr, just can’t buy a goal.

  6. Kassquatch is Beast: Zack Kassian scored a goal, made a few Henrik-like passes and shows just how fast he can skate. At 23, he is still inconsistent, but we can see the flashes of power forward brilliance the kid has. Cody, whaaaa??? Oh yeah, Zack scored the game winner as well.
  7. Shutout Mucked Up: Luongo was brilliant in this game, but Sam Gagner pushed Luongo out of his crease. Lu had to dive back in, over Gagner, had the puck in his net. Now, if there was ever a goal to overturn, that would have been it. Seriously NHL officials, how is that not goalie interference? Despite that, Luongo stopped 28 of 29 shots and looks ready for Sochi.
  8. Scoring Woes Continue: The Canucks as a collective still have only scored 7 goals in their last six games with a 3-3-0 record. Their goalies have been spectacular without much goal support.
  9. Bottom Half Pickings: The Canucks aren’t winning against the top teams in their division yet, but they are collecting the ‘gimme’ points as they should to keep in the hunt. Sometimes, you need to work your way from the bottom up, and with the depleted line-up, as a fan, I will take the two points where I can get them. However, when facing team like Edmonton, more than two goals would be nice to see on the score sheet.
  10. MIA: Torts (suspension) Henrik- (Rib/Finger, DTD) Santorelli (Shoulder, IR) Stanton (Left Ankle, IR) Alberts (Head, IR) Schroeder (Foot/Ankle, IR)
 The Canucks won 2-1, but not without giving the fans a bit of a heartattack in the last few minutes of the third period. It set the twitterverse on edge and the cynicism came out in droves, it felt like a meeting of disgruntled divorcees bitching about how good they used to have it before the struggles came into their lives. However, the two points were the Canucks’ and all was well (sort of) in Canuck Nation once again.
Kevin Bieksa hits Ryan Jones before scrapping with him.  (photo credit: Edmonton Journal)

Kevin Bieksa hits Ryan Jones before scrapping with him. (photo credit: Edmonton Journal)

Up next is home versus Nashville. I will not be attending that game in person. In fact, I am even thinking of cross the Fraser River to the suburbs to keep away. I like this short two game winning streak the Canucks are on right now, so I will stay away. Those nasty Predators always seem to win when I am present in the building they are playing and it doesn’t have to be the Canucks, but I will tell you that story another time.  Tonight, I’m content. The Oilers still suck and the Canucks sucked less for a 2-1 win.
Justine Galo
@Aviewfromabroad

Follow The Bouncing Ball

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Well that was one way to relax a slumping Canucks lineup. In the 3rd game of Hockey Day in Canada, the Canucks and Flames went to the 5th round of a shootout before the Canucks prevailed. The game featured a line brawl off the opening face off.

Kellan Lain Breaks 50 Year Old NHL Record

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Penalty summary from the first 2 seconds of the game.

24 year old Kellan Lain was playing his first NHL game on Saturday night. Most of his family flew into Vancouver and were watching, when he played for 2 seconds. He was then penalized 5 minutes for fighting, and a game misconduct as part of a massive line brawl that erupted, resulting in over 150 penalty minutes. The previous record for the fastest fight to start an NHL career was 12 seconds, set by John Ferguson, over 50 years ago. Clearly the teams didn’t read my blog post about fighting in the NHL.

There were many subtleties about the game even before the puck was dropped. In an NHL game, the road team submits their starting lineup first; the home team can then review that and submit their own starting lineup. Calgary’s starting 5 was: Kevin Westgarth, Blair Jones, Brian McGrattan, Chris Butler, and Ladislav Smid. Without their goaltender, that’s a combined weight of 1097 pounds. John Tortorella naturally responded by starting his 4th line. All hell broke loose after that. According to The Code, McGrattan had to answer the bell for injuring Andrew Alberts in the previous game between these teams. He is now square with the house as he shed enough blood that they needed to give him a new jersey and scrape the ice to clean the blood off.

And Then It Got Weird

At the start of the first intermission, Tortorella decided to go all Ghost Ops and storm the Flames dressing room. At the start of the season I was not a fan of Tortorella but I’ve become a big fan of his intensity, and how honest he is with the players and media. But this is just bush league. This happened after the 1st period, which took about one hour to play. Plenty of time to mull it over and think about things like a rational human being. The best part of this has to be that tough guy McGratton has to hold back Torts and Flames assistant coach Clint Malarchuk. Cooler heads prevailed, but Coach Tortorella will most definitely be disciplined by the league for this mess. The whole situation is an embarrassment for the NHL and hockey as a whole.

So what does it all mean? 

For all the moral victories, blocked shots, fights and bloodshed, the Canucks record in the last 10 games is 2-5-3. It’s all a wonderful distraction from the fact that the Canucks needed 5 rounds of the shootout to beat the slumping Calgary Flames. Yes – the Flames have been playing even worse than they normally play. Previous to this win, they had scored a total of 1 goal in their last 3 games.

First prize is the Stanley Cup, no one cares who comes  in 2nd place. We can only hope that the Canucks can get into the playoffs and get hot at the right time. If the team wants to go deep into the playoffs, they will have to remember the lessons they’ve learned at this point of the season.

UPDATE: John Tortorella has been suspended for 15 days without pay. This amounts to a 6 game suspension. Tortorella is to have no contact with the team before, during or after any games for the duration of the suspension. Calgary coach Bob Hartley has been fined $25,000.

Sukh Purewal: Fixing the Power Play

It used to be the strength of this team: the powerplay. Gone are the days of the number 1 ranked unit in the league. It’s hard to fathom how far they have actually dropped. Heading into the Coyotes game, the Canucks were ranked 23rd in the league clicking at a success rate of 15.4%. That number is going to drop after an 0 for 7 effort against the Coyotes. Gone are Ehrhoff and Salo who helped make the powerplay what it was. But it is hard to believe that even with Henrik, Daniel, Kesler and Edler still around, and with the addition of Jason Garrison, how bad it looks. The team is struggling to get into the zone. If you can’t get into the zone, you’re not going to score. It’s simple.

What Glen Gulutzan is doing just isn’t working, and it seems like he isn’t really willing to change anything. Game after game we saw Dan Hamhuis on the ice as part of the first powerplay unit. No disrespect to Dan, but he is not exactly the type of guy who strikes fear into an opponent on the man advantage. We’ve seen Tom Sestito get powerplay action, Dale Weise has been out there.

The personnel and the way they set up doesn’t make sense a lot of the time. It’s frustrating when you see Henrik setting up on the left wall. Setting up on that side completely eliminates Kesler from the man advantage, and allows teams to zone in on Garrison’s shot from the right point and like I mentioned before it doesn’t help having Hamhuis as the defenceman on the left side.

With the first unit, the Canucks should set up on the right hash with Kesler and Garrison on the point. Let Daniel and Henrik do their thing down low and along the wall. Kassian, Burrows, or Higgins are all players who can make an impact standing in front of the net. With this set-up, not only is Garrison’s shot a threat, Kesler and Garrison can play catch at the point and considering they are both playing on their off sides, they are in prime position to one-time the puck at any moment.

I get that it’s hard to overcome some of the injuries the team has had. They haven’t had the personnel they’ve wanted. Missing Burrows has caused the team a lot of problems. He has missed most of the season thanks to a broken foot and then a broken jaw. The Sedin’s have struggled mightily at 5 on 5 without him, and that’s likely led to their powerplay struggles. Burrows will likely be back Saturday, and I believe he will be put right back on the top line and he will hopefully be able get the Twins going, both at 5 on 5 and with a man advantage.

Edler being injured for the last month or so has also caused the Canucks to experiment a little bit. We have seen Chris Tanev get a chance to play the point. Tanev’s shot has gotten better since he first came into the league, but let’s be real, it’s still not great. The team has missed Edler’s shot. He is a guy who can make the first or second unit better, depending on where he is used. He and Bieksa would do a great job quarterbacking the second unit. Edler and Garrison on the top unit would terrify all of the penalty killers and whichever Canuck has the unfortunate pleasure of standing in front of the net with those two unleashing bombs.

I understand that it is a tough fix but it is something the team should be practicing more. The Canucks struggle to score at the best of time. They’ve scored one goal in the last 200 minutes of game action. They have to take advantage when they go up a man. They Canucks are going to make the playoffs. Their goaltending, especially when Luongo is back, is too good for them to not. But unless they start scoring more goals they won’t make any noise. They need the powerplay to start clicking. That might mean pulling the trigger on a trade for a sniper. Their penalty killing is remarkable. If they could get the other part of their special teams going, who knows what this team would be capable of.


 

Canucks Report at the Half Way Mark

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After 42 games, the Canucks are 23-12-7. The team managed to string together a 7 game win streak, on their way to posting a 10-1-2 record in December, their best month of the season so far.

The team has 53 points and remains at 4th place in the Pacific Division. At the quarter pole the Canucks were at 4th in the Pacific, but had played the most games in the league. Their hot December has allowed the team to remain in the same spot while other teams have made up most of the difference in games played.

The Canucks have been bit hard by the injury bug. Defencemen Alex Edler, Ryan Stanton, and Andrew Alberts are all out of the lineup with various injuries, forcing the Canucks to call up Yannick Weber and Frank Corrado to fill in. In addition, Alex Burrows is out with a broken jaw, while Roberto Luongo was out of the lineup briefly with a groin strain. The defencemen that have remained healthy have been rock solid. The play of Chris Tanev has been lauded by Coach Tortorella throughout this season. Along with Hamhuis, Garrison and Bieksa, the top 4 defencemen have been receiving a ton of ice time.

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David Booth has 5 goals so far this season – one for each leaf on this “clover”.

As I predicted in a previous post, the Canucks have improved their play as the season has gone on.

The team has done this despite the top line scoring cooling off, and the power play being ice cold. Currently, the Canucks power play is ranked 26th in the NHL. Henrik and Daniel Sedin have 3 points each in the last 6 games. Secondary scoring has come from everywhere in the lineup, and the makings of a 3rd line is starting to emerge, with Brad Richardson centering Zack Kassian and David Booth. Yes, that David Booth. He has 5 goals this season and his speed and strength fit well Kassian and Richardson’s size and grit.

The Canucks schedule is tough over the next 7 games: Kings and Ducks twice each, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Phoenix. With most of these games against solid, physical teams in the West, the Canucks look to prove that they belong in the Western Conference playoff race.

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot

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Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?

The time between Christmas and the New Year is usually a time of reflection and remembrance. We think back on the events of this year, and of years past.

In the summer of 2011, Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak all died. All 3 were enforcers in the NHL. Known more for their skills with their fists than for their goal scoring prowess, all 3 suffered from depression and related substance abuse problems.

The fourth NHL player pictured above is Bill Masterton.

Although most NHL fans know of the Bill Masterton trophy, not many fans know much about his playing career. He was one of the few hockey players to complete a U.S. college degree and play in NHL. Although he was highly educated as an engineer, his skill and love of the game led him to play in the NHL. Masterton was the first player to sign with the expansion Minnesota North Stars, and actually scored the first goal in North Stars franchise history.

Masterton also holds the distinction of being the only NHL player to have died directly as a result of injuries suffered in an NHL game. On January 13th, 1968, Bill took a hard hit. His head hit the ice, and the subsequent head injuries caused bleeding from his nose, ears and mouth. He never regained consciousness and died 30 hours later.

Masterton was not wearing a helmet at the time of the collision, which was common for most players in that era. 11 years later players entering the NHL in the 1979-80 season were mandated to wear helmets. 18 years after that (nearly 30 years after Masterton’s death), Craig MacTavish retired, the last player to have played in the NHL without a helmet.

The Code is Dead.

After Boogaard’s death in 2011, it was revealed that he suffered from numerous brain injuries, presumably sustained in concussions throughout the many fights in his career.

Concussions in the NHL due to fights and other hits to the head have been happening for decades. The hits, clean or dirty, have robbed us fans of some of the best players in the game: Eric Lindros, Keith Primeau, Paul Kariya, Pat Lafontaine, Adam Deadmarsh, to name a few. Only within the last few years has the NHL truly been serious about getting rid of blindside hits and direct headshots in the game. Time will tell if the suspensions for headshots will make a difference in the play of the game.

Yet repeated headshots and related concussions are doled out nearly every game in fights, which are largely useless and serve no purpose.

I have no idea why fighting is still allowed in the NHL. There it is, I said it. Many players and fans believe that fighting is an integral part of the game. Yes, there was a time when fighting was somehow more useful as a deterrent to dirty hits. That time is over. If fighting still had a legitimate place in the game, how are so many of the players still being lost to injury, headshots or otherwise?

If you want to watch a fight, the UFC has plenty of blood for you. Knock yourself out. I’m sure that the pro-fight fans will have something to say about this. To save you all some time, no, I didn’t play in the NHL. I haven’t played at a high level. I merely enjoy watching and playing the game.

If it took the NHL nearly 30 years to get all their players wearing helmets, which we can all agree is a good idea, how long will it take before the NHL seriously looks at all aspects of head trauma, including fights?

Happy New Year, hockey fans.

For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.