Canucks Hope Springs Eternal

bonino The Canucks are off to one of their best starts in recent memory. After last season’s spectacular decline, this version of the team is a refreshing surprise. President Trevor Linden and General Manager Jim Benning have helped to create a team culture in their own hard working image. Head Coach Willie Desjardins has provided a calm sense of confidence, and each of the players seems to have bought in to an uptempo puck posession style that is fun to watch.

Having recently won in Colorado and in San Jose, the Canucks have surprised a few teams already with their resilience, clawing back from a 2-0 deficit against the Avalanche, and being down by a goal twice to the Sharks.

Is it over? Is the goaltending controversy really over?
Any initial reservations I had regarding Ryan Miller’s ability have been forgotten. It seems that the days of goaltending controversy are over in Vancouver, as even after Miller was lit up against Dallas, he returned to his regular self the very next game, backstopping the Canucks to a 4-1 victory in St. Louis. He has provided the team with some huge saves already this season, and preserved a number of wins, quietly and confidently. As much as this writer loved Roberto Luongo, the month of October was usually rocky. Miller has been the opposite – very consistent from game to game so far, and far fewer of those seeing-eye, hard luck, how-did-that-go-in goals.

In Edler’s Defense… Look at Sbisa
Was Alex Edler ever as bad as he looked for the last 2 seasons? Was he ever as good as he was 4 seasons ago? While the answer is probably somewhere in between, he doesn’t have to worry about being That Guy on defence any longer. Sure, Edler still breaks his stick on half of his slapshots, but Vancouver’s new scapegoat on defence is Luca Sbisa. Just like Kevin Bieksa, Keith Ballard and Edler before him, Sbisa is the guy with the black cloud over him so far this season. To be fair, he has had both good and bad moments. However, coming here in the Ryan Kesler trade, most people expected more of the big defenceman.

Forwards, March!
Goals this season have come from everywhere in the lineup. Aside from Bo Horvat and Tom Sestito, who have only played 2 games each, every single Canucks forward has scored at least one goal. When Kesler was traded to Anaheim, there were questions about who would step up into the 2C spot. Nick Bonino (who also came to Vancouver in the Kesler deal) has filled in admirably, leading the Canucks in scoring so far with 7 goals. Bonino has found great chemistry with new linemates Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins.

Last season under John Tortorella, the 4th line would be lucky to get 4 or 5 minutes TOI, and the Sedins would play well north of 24 hard minutes on many nights, reaching 25 or 26 minutes a number of times. Desjardins has been trusting in his team and rolling 4 lines every night, with guys like Derek Dorsett playing 10 minutes on average. The Sedins are rejuvenated, playing with a bona fide shooter in Radim Vrbata, while taking less ice time each night. This has the benefit of the Sedins being sharper now, and having more in the tank for later in the season.

Yes, it’s still early in the season, but in Vancouver it seems that again hope springs eternal. Let’s hope the Canucks are still playing this well in the spring.

Canucks beat Bruins 4-3 in Boston; Millions of Canucks fans lose their minds.

Just Another Regular Game .. Or Not (JARGON) is a new feature to this blog. These posts will feature the best (and worst) of the regular season performances by the Canucks, in anticipation of the playoffs.

If only Canucks fans saw this headline in June. Instead, we have to settle for this in January. This game began at 1PM Eastern, which meant a 10AM start for Canucks fans on the west coast; but for those that got up for this early match, they were in for a treat.

Before the game started, I bought into all of the “this is just another regular season game” talk that the Canucks themselves were saying. I also felt that I was over the Stanley Cup Final – I told myself I had made peace with it, and that the Bruins were the better team that day in June. Not 4 minutes after the start of the 1st period, all of that was out the window. The scrum at 3:54 was ridiculous. Burrows may have tapped Thornton on the skate heading to the bench, to which Thornton may have slashed Burrows. Which was followed by a Burrows spear to Thornton’s midsection. Which was followed by Thornton lunging at Burrows right in front of the Canucks bench. Which resulted in a good old fashioned melee, in the middle of a yard sale.

At that moment in time, all the pre-game talk of “Just Another Regular Game” was right out the window. It was obvious for the rest of the game that this was far more than just another 2 points for these teams.

How the Canucks won, and How the Bruins lost

After that 1st period scrum, the Canucks were somehow rewarded with a 2 man-advantage for a whole 2 minutes, and Milan Lucic was given a game misconduct for leaving the player’s bench. Lucic still had one foot on the ice, so it is doubtful that he will be suspended. Ryan Kesler opened the scoring at the end of this power play, Canucks Nation breathed a huge sigh of relief.

The game was won by the Canucks and lost by the Bruins on the strength of special teams. Before the game, there was a lot of talk on @Team1040 and the #Canucks hashtag about the concept of team toughness, and the Canucks formula for success – using their skill level, and making teams pay by scoring on the power play. This is the same formula that failed last year in the Stanley Cup Final against the Bruins as the Canucks absorbed a lot of punishment, but failed to score.

At the end of the game, there were 107 minutes in penalties. The Canucks were 4-for-11 on their power-play opportunities, and the Bruins were 0-for-7. The Canucks power-play was finally able to connect, and their penalty killing was top notch as well, even when Kesler, Burrows and Hamhuis took turns in the box. #NotAsDirtyAsItSounds

#Coho4Calder is in full effect

Remember you heard it here first. Cody Hodgson was named the first star of the game according to NHL.com, and for good reason. Hodgson had the first assist on Burrows 2-2 goal, taking a Bieksa pass on the left boards, walking in from the circle and snapping a shot. I didn’t see the Burrows deflection, but Hodgson showed his hands from that spot.

There was no doubt about the 4-2 goal (and eventual game winner) from Hodgson. A perfect slap shot on the run from the top of the right circle, top shelf right below the bar. Again, no secret that me (and my kids) love Coho, and this beauty only makes our love stronger. Again, #NotAsDirtyAsItSounds

I thought I was over it, but …

I found myself yelling a little more often at the TV for the game, and was definitely feeling the emotion of this one. It is obvious that the players for both teams felt the same way. Both sides were right into it, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the Canucks fight back a bit, and answer the bell when they had to.

This is the only time you will see Marchand look down on a player.

It was tough to watch Brad Marchand’s low bridge hit on Sami Salo. It will likely be a suspendable hit, my guess is 4 games for that. It was dirty. Maybe it was a hip check attempt from a shorter player, but it was far too low. It was a rare 5 minute major for clipping, and a game misconduct for Marchand, which is the correct call. Salo lay motionless on the ice, while most of Vancouver was screaming at their TV sets.

Certainly Canucks Nation had to wonder what could have been – if Raymond, Hamhuis and Kesler were healthy, or if Weise was on the team, or if there were a few more penalties called in the final. You know .. if Marchand was called for roughing for punching Daniel in the face, or if Seidenberg was called for cross-checking Henrik in the back 5 or 6 times in a row.

These are (arguably) the two best teams in their respective conferences. If they should meet again in the final, it would be another amazing series.

Alright, so I’m not over it. You’re not either.

Canucks Wagonwatch: Game 40 vs Sharks

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 Sharks were well rested, as the last time they played was December 28 in a 3-2 OT loss to Vancouver. Meanwhile, the Canucks have played twice since then, winning in Anaheim, and losing in Los Angeles. After the playoff-like atmosphere that last time these clubs met a few days ago, tonight’s game was a little disappointing in that regard.

Canucks Bandwagon: 80% full

After the last game versus the Sharks in San Jose, I expected a similar energy level from both clubs, but there were very few stretches of good play from either team. Even though the shot totals were good, it felt like there weren’t that many solid scoring chances for the Canucks. The had good secondary scoring from Hansen and Hodgson, but the top 2 lines couldn’t beat Niemi tonight.

Luongo Bandwagon: 70% full

Sometimes I am guilty of listening to the Team 1040 post game, which brings all kinds of crazy callers. The first caller after the Kings game immediately called out Luongo, calling him a flopper and a incapable of standing up to make a save. Haters gonna hate, but for better or worse, Luongo is held to a higher standard than the rest of the team. He was pretty good tonight against the Sharks, and made some nice saves – including one lunging from right to left to stop Joe Thornton from 6 feet. He even made two saves in the dreaded shootout, but couldn’t stop Handzus with the game on the line. Canucks shooters were 0-for-3 in the shootout tonight, but in Vancouver, people don’t blame the shooters for a shootout loss.

#Coho4Calder is Back, and The Honey Badger Keeps Eating

Jannik Hansen maybe shouldn’t have scored on that mad scramble, but he was rewarded for his hard work tonight. The first assist on Hansen’s goal was from Cody Hodgson. It’s no secret that I have a soft spot for Coho, so it was extra sweet to see Hodgson get rewarded tonight with 1G 1A, and even played out the final seconds in OT. We’re not so deluded to think that Hodgson has a shot at the Nuge Trophy .. er .. Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year, because he’s not that kind of a flashy player, and the Canucks are loaded at Center with Henrik and Kesler eating up the top minutes. If you consider that – then 12-13 minutes isn’t bad for a 3rd line center on this team, which could roll all 4 lines successfully on most nights.

I honestly believe that Hodgson will be one of the key pieces of this hockey club in the future – he’s lucky to be an understudy to two of the great centers in the game today – Captain Henrik is the soft spoken pure passer, and Kesler is the shutdown guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. Just because we are massive Cody Hodgson fans, this video should give you something to drool over.

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.

Bruce Ng: Canucks Wagon Watch: Game 26 versus Calgary

Mason Raymond didn't hit the scoresheet tonight, but ladies in Vancouver didn't notice. #Dreamy #WaitWhat?

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 Flames were on the second game of a back-to-back set, defeating Edmonton last night. The Flames lit the lamp for a 1-0 lead after one period, but their effort dimmed in the 2nd period, and the Canucks extinguished them from there. The Canucks roared back with five unanswered goals to win 5-1.

Canucks Bandwagon: 80% full

After Friday’s disappointing defensive game against the Predators, it was nice to see the Canucks put together a good effort. They gave up only a few good scoring chances. On the offensive side they had a good cycling game and solid forecheck that took advantage of the Flames tired legs. On David Booth’s goal, Chris Higgins stole the puck on the corner boards, and Booth took over on a wraparound from there – a testament to both the Canucks work ethic, and the Flames fatigue.

Luongo Bandwagon: 50% full

Let’s get it out of the way – the one goal that Luongo let in was a softie – it looked to sneak in between his pad and the post, or deflect off his left pad and in. From there, he was lights out, shutting the door the rest of the way. Luongo stopped 21 of 22 shots and looked pretty solid in his first start since his mysterious “Upper Body Injury But Not a Concussion”. The fickle fans of Vancouver might have a problem with the one goal, but can’t argue with the win.

Mason Raymond comeback complete

Mason Raymond made his return to the Canucks lineup tonight, playing his first game since Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. He looked to be fast out there, contributing an assist on Jannik Hansen’s goal, and diving for a Cody Hodgson pass in the slot. I enjoyed watching that line skate – Hodgson’s skills with Hansen and Raymond’s speed. Hope Raymond can keep it up and get his scoring touch back.