Bruce Ng: Canucks Advent Calendar: 10 days to the Season Opener

This series of blog posts by Bruce Ng will look back on the highest highs of last season, and looks to get the Canucks faithful amped for the season to come!

With just 10 days to the start of the season, today’s memory is the horrific injury, and inspirational comeback, of the Canucks 3rd line centre, Manny Malhotra.

Although a high draft pick (7th overall by the Rangers), Malhotra was never a big time scorer, and Rangers head coach John Muckler declared that Malhotra would never be any more than a career third-liner.

After some up and down years with the Rangers, he spent time in Dallas, Columbus, and San Jose prior to coming to Vancouver, where he was gladly welcomed as a 3rd-line centre. Until that time, Ryan Kesler was the Canucks shut-down centre. Malhotra’s arrival really offered the Canucks a lot of options and versatility down the middle.

Malhotra lived up to the billing as a great defensive centre – he killed penalties, was the top face-off player in the NHL, and chipped in with a few goals as well. In addition, Kesler was having a breakout offensive season, due in part to the fact that he had fewer top defensive assignments.

Then on March 16, 2011, everything changed. Malhotra was struck under the eye by a deflected puck off of a Christian Ehrhoff clearing attempt.

He had surgery to repair the eye the next day. Who says surgery waits are too long in BC? Just be a hockey player with the Canucks. Instead of depth and all the pieces of the puzzle, the Canucks were left with a large gap at centre, and far fewer options heading into the playoffs.

Very little was said over the next few days and weeks about Malhotra’s eye, other than “we’ll see” – terrible pun intended.

The next glimpse most Canucks fans had of Malhotra was when the President’s Trophy was presented to himself and Henrik Sedin on April 7, 2011. The crowd was supercharged and emotional to see Malhotra back and smiling, even if only for a few moments. The Canucks may have been motivated by seeing Malhotra, as they beat the Minnesota Wild 5-0. Roberto Luongo posted a shutout, Ryan Kesler posted his third hat trick of the season, and Mason Raymond also scored twice.

The next several weeks very little was said about Malhotra at all. In the playoffs, Malhotra was still useful – acting as an assistant coach, and running face-off workshops with the Canucks centres. Malhotra was skating, but no gear on, no contact and with a full face shield. No timetable for a return.

But the longer and deeper the Canucks went into the playoffs (and that’s what she said), the louder the whispers of Malhotra’s possible return became.

In Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, Malhotra made his return to the Canucks lineup. He started the game at centre, and of course won the opening face-off.

His presence was a boost to the Canucks who won Game 2 that night. I always thought it was clever how Malhotra had been running drills with the other centres – maybe he always thought it was possible to come back, and was actually keeping himself sharp.

Malhotra will be just as important this season to the Canucks: defensively, on face-offs and killing penalties. I can’t wait to see who his new linemates will be, and how his season develops after further recovering in the summer.

Bruce Ng: Canucks Advent Calendar: 14 days to the Season Opener

CanucksCorner.com is pleased to welcome Bruce Ng to our team of writers for the 2011-2012 NHL season. Bruce is a big Canucks fan and also runs his own blog at http://transcendwebs.com/blog where you can find these posts as well as other thoughts he has on other topics. We pick up Bruce’s Canucks Advent Calendar series mid-stream as the team is just 14 days away from their season opener!

This series of blog posts will look back on the highest highs of last season, and hopefully get the Canucks faithful amped for the season to come!

14 days to get back to playing Canucks hockey. 14 days to get back to winning games.

With just 14 days to the start of the season, today’s memory is dedicated to Twitter’s @BurrowsGirl - and the focus is on the versatility of the often overlooked and under-rated 3rd member of the Sedin line, Alexandre Burrows.

Burrows started the 2010-2011 season on the injured reserve, but when he returned it didn’t take long for him to take his familiar spot lining up next to the Sedins. He has occasionally been accused of biting off more than he can chew, especially with referees (Stephane Auger controversy anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?), but Vancouver Canucks fans can’t get enough of Burr – it’s his heart, and his love for the game.

Haters around the league say that anyone could play with the Sedins and put up the kinds of numbers Burrows does. What most haters don’t realize is that the audition for the Sedin’s linemate was about 6 years long before Burrows. The closest thing to chemistry the twins had was with Anson Carter on the Triplets line. The resemblance is obvious.

Burrows is a reliable guy who can finish what Henrik or Daniel start. This setup by Henrik Sedin is nothing short of amazing – he passes between Antti Niemi’s  pads to find Burrows on the other side. Although you might think that’s an easy goal, Burrows doesn’t have much time to spot the puck and move his stick to shoot. A great example of why soft hands are important for a goal scorer.

It was this next goal that sent Canucks fans into a high Cup Fever last season. Burrows showed quickness gloving the puck to the ice, speed to skate to the slot, and a decent slapshot on a tough rolling puck. I will never tire of watching this, and to this day it is saved on my PVR.

Despite the finger biting controversy, Burrows elevated his game again in the Stanley Cup Final, scoring this beauty in Game 2. The more clutch the situation, the greater the chance that it’ll be Burrows that scores the Canucks next goal.

Should the Canucks ever find themselves trailing the opposition going into the 3rd period, the #Canucks hashtag inevitably turns to tweeting #Windaturd and #PeanutButterBurrowsTime. Did I forget to mention Burrows excellent interview skills, and his sense of humour?

Haters around the league consider Burrows to be a finger-biting, diving whiner. He is the type of agitator that teams love to hate, but with surprisingly soft hands and a nose for the net. He is an excellent penalty killer with great wheels. The Canucks have played him in every situation in the past few seasons, and this year looks to be no different.

Thanks to Trevor Presiloski (Follow on twitter: @nettrashcan) for the great Sedin’s linemate post.

Follow Bruce Ng on Twitter: @Transcendwebs