Hockey With Harder: Canucks Have Best Season Start Since 1999

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For the first time since 1999, the Vancouver Canucks have had their best start to the season. In a 2-0 shutout victory against the Edmonton Oilers, they hold a 3-0-0 record in the standings and are now one win away from tying for their all-time franchise best start set in 1992. The Vancouver club remains alongside the New York Islanders as the only undefeated teams in the league.

It was lights out tonight for Ryan Miller as he finally gained some traction in the Vancouver crease. Miller continued his unbeaten streak against the Oilers which has now climbed to an outstanding 9 game run. In tonight’s game he received his 30th career shutout.

Though the Canucks had players appearing in and out through the game, they still held their ground against the struggling young Oilers who desperately needed to win in order to avoid their worst start in franchise history. Towards the end of the first period, Ryan Stanton left the game with a suspected lower body injury. Dan Hamhuis briefly left the game in the second period after getting a nasty stick to the face from Mark Arcobello who should have received a major penalty but got off scot-free.

Tonight’s game was loaded up with penalties for the Canucks but it did not seem to imprint a dark mark on the play as the team locked the gates on the penalty kill.

The first line once again separated the boys from the men as they provided two goals in Rexall Place. Both Sedin twins and Radim Vrbata picked up two points each on the evening and now carry a combined 17 points to kick off the 2014-15 hockey season. The top line for the Canucks has been one of their best strengths in the first three games as they have successfully kept the puck in the offensive zone and provided many of the shots on the opposing team.

The Canucks played hard from start to finish coming out with the win they needed to continue on the high road. Tomorrow night they take on Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning at home in Rogers Arena. This is where the real challenge will begin. Time will tell if Willie Desjardins and his Vancouver Canucks can become a force to be reckoned with in the Pacific Division.

Follow me on Twitter @cjaharder

Pre-Game Thoughts: Canucks at Edmonton Oct.17/14

 

Canucks take on the Oilers in Edmonton tonight.

Canucks take on the Oilers in Edmonton tonight.

 

The Canucks finally get to play some hockey again. After a five day rest from their last game, Vancouver visits Edmonton for the second time already this regular season.  The 2-0 Canucks take on the winless Edmonton Oilers (0-3-1) in an old Northwest Division (if it still existed) battle. The last time these two teams met was the Canucks home opener on October 11th at Rogers Arena. In a game where the Canucks were a step slow to start off, they battled back from a three goal deficit to win 5-4 in a shootout. 

While the Oilers have already played four games, and won none of them, the Canucks have been sitting idling for five days since their last NHL action. The Oilers will have home ice advantage and I am sure the Oilers faithful will represent loudly. A team in disarray and no direction looking for their first win versus an undefeated but possibly game-rusty team could make for an interesting game and outcome.  With the battles these two teams have had in recent years, it has the potential to get heated and possibly ugly. It would better serve the Canucks to keep things disciplined and play their game. 

The Oilers have been the whipping boy of their opponents so far this season suffering a humiliating loss in LA and have only one point in the standings to show for their efforts. That sole point came from the Vancouver Canucks. They are desperate, they have home ice and this game worries me a little. I hate facing teams who need a win desperately and will probably do anything to get it, especially against a team they consider a rival. 

The Canucks would need to shake off their game rust by attacking quickly and frequently. They would need to stay out of the penalty box and take to the Oilers without taking penalties. The key is to score first and keep attacking. Who ever is in net for the Canucks tonight needs to be sharp and shut down the young guns of the Edmonton Oilers. 

So tonight, either two streaks will continue or two streaks will end. I prefer the former. 

 

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@Aviewfromabroad 

 

Welcome to 2014-2015: A Season to Sit Back and Enjoy!

The Vancouver Canucks kick off the 2014-2015 NHL season tonight in Calgary and for the first time in a long time, there is a different vibe among the fans in Canucks Nation.

Gone are the questions of whether this will be the year, replaced by the hope and excitement of a new regime. A sense of calm has blanketed the organization after a circus-like couple of seasons that saw the Canucks fall out of contention in the NHL West.

The often brash and arrogant management of Mike Gillis is gone, replaced by the classy Trevor Linden and a GM in Jim Benning that treats people with respect, while sporting a reputation of a guy having a keen eye for talent. You also get the feeling that the respect both of these men have earned will be an asset in improving the club, as their relationship with their peers will be better than their predecessors.

Willie DesjardinsWillie Desjardins is getting good early reviews as coach, and it will be exciting to see how he motivates and works with this club this season, his first as a head coach. He’s known to have the ability to motivate young and veteran players alike. If your players like and respect you and want to work for you, it can have amazing results.

For the first time in many years, there are new faces on the ice. Players that have youth and that can grow with the club. There are prospects on the farm that aren’t far away from making a contribution.

As fans we get watch the birth of a new regime, and watch how it unfolds. Often times with fresh guidance from the top a team can flourish, because they are all on the same page, working as one. Will the Sedins rebound and find their magic with new linemate Radim Vrbata? Will Alex Burrows rebound and provide the Canucks with that second line that has been missing the last few seasons? Can Zack Kassian take the next step in his development and become the power forward his skillset suggest he can be?

Ryan Miller will split the goaltending duties with the popular Eddie Lack, and somehow you get the feeling there could be a year without the soap opera that has been the Canucks goaltending situation, unless you’re not convinced the media in this town just can’t resist trying to create a new one.

Seasons like the one we are about to embark on are refreshing. There are no real expectations; no one is considering the Canucks a contender for the cup. If the Canucks make the playoffs this season it will be considered a huge accomplishment in a very tough Western Conference.

A lot of things have changed for the Canucks, but in the end there is a new confidence and direction in the organization, and after years of stressful seasons and expectations not met, feel free to sit back and watch this team evolve under the Linden, Benning and Desjardins, all of it without the stress and expectations of seasons past.

Welcome to the 2014-2015 season, everyone. Go Canucks Go!

Harder’s Take: Vancouver Canucks Line-Up Predictions

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By Caleb Harder – CanucksCorner.com 

It has been a week since the preseason has commenced for the Vancouver Canucks and fans have, through trial and error, seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. In their four games played, the Canucks camp pulled off an impressive 3-1-0 record. Many players have been cut but 28 players remain in the main roster. There are still a lot of questions regarding the majority of the group. If the roster was announced tomorrow on who will stay and who will go, what would the line-up look like? Here’s my take on what the team will look like for the upcoming season.

FORWARDS

Sedin – H. Sedin – Vrbata

Burrows – Vey – Shinkaruk

Higgins – Bonino – Hansen

Kassian – Richardson – Dorsett

DEFENSE

Hamhuis – Bieksa

Sbisa – Tanev

Edler – Weber

FIRST LINE: D. SEDIN – H. SEDIN – VRBATA

The first line of the roster is a no brainer. Henrik and Daniel are the faces of the franchise and Radim Vrbata is the greatest thing for the twins since the invention of sliced bread. On Friday night against the Calgary Flames the trio proved the veterans are just as good as the young stars. They were able to take shots from every angle, pass the puck, and put the pressure on the opposing team. Expect the fountain of youth to strike the first line because they are ready to show the NHL what they’ve got.

SECOND LINE: BURROWS – VEY – SHINKARUK

Over the span of the preseason, Willie Desjardins has paired Alex Burrows, Nick Bonino, and Zack Kassian in what is considered to be our second line for this season. In the two games they have appeared, the players looked incompatible with each other and could not produce a positive result. The play between the three has been sloppy and is not suitable to be a top six line. In order to fix this problem, there will need to be a massive shake up in the second line and that includes a touch of good hockey knowledge and consistent scoring.

Linden Vey shows the potential to become an elite player and averaged over a point a game when playing with the Manchester Monarchs in the AHL last season. The star studded center has scored four points in the two games he played in the preseason and with his speed and power knows how to deliver.

Hunter Shinkaruk has been the most impressive player in this preseason and has proven above and beyond that he is ready to take on the NHL this season. The Ryan Kesler style play of Shinkaruk brings is exactly what the team needs in the top six line-up. He can snipe the puck and he can pass unlike his second line predecessor. Even if the first round pick does not make the main roster this season, expect him to be the first player that Jim Benning decides to call up from the minors.

Last season, Alex Burrows was struck with injury after injury and wilted under the John Tortorella regime. This July Radim Vrbata signed with the Vancouver Canucks to play with the Sedins thus stealing Burrows’ first line role. The great thing about Alex Burrows is that he can be placed on any line and flourish with whomever his line mates are. Shinkaruk and Vey are young and smaller than the average NHL pro but with the presence of Burrows, they will have their veteran counterpart providing more grit when necessary.

THIRD LINE: HIGGINS – BONINO – HANSEN

When Jim Benning came into management, he set into place a series of trades to fix the wreckage that Mike Gillis left behind. Every player was randomly placed into the line-up and some of the former choices were questionable. Last season Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen played on the second line but clearly did not belong on that pedestal. Now the two Canucks can be moved from those positions and be part of a solid third line where they can provide steady back up and become a major component to Desjardins’ four line system.

Bonino has been anointed by the brass to become the new second line center, but it is problematic due to the fact that he does not look like he can hold that position firmly in his grasp. If he were to be the second center, the role would come with a lot of pressure to potentially lose the spot to prospect Linden Vey. The former Ducks player needs more time to develop with the third line to show he is ready to take on a top six position in the roster.

Though it sounds like a line not much faith would be held in, the three team mates would prosper and could score some serious points and help fill the body of the roster.

FOURTH LINE: KASSIAN – RICHARDSON – DORSETT

In the Western Conference, the fourth line always matters if a team wants to be a serious cup contender. The Canucks are currently in a very good position with their fourth line as they have ripe crop of players to select from. Brad Richardson without a doubt will be the center for this line in the upcoming season. He is a great faceoff player and is physical every time he steps on the ice. Derek Dorsett makes an excellent line mate for Richardson because he can scrap, skate, and score when needed. Lastly, Zack Kassian needs to start back at the bottom and work his way back up through the team. The wild card player is too inconsistent to skate on the second line and he could possibly put the Canucks’ game in jeopardy with a primary role. Playing on the fourth line would let Kassian re-establish his worth to play in the top six. In the meantime he will have to work a whole lot harder in every game or it is goodbye, Vancouver.

THE HORVAT QUESTION

Bo Horvat has been the top of the talk within the Vancouver hockey community. What is problematic is that he is too good for the Ontario Hockey League but is only 19 years old. Horvat is too young to play in the AHL and the options are having him spend the whole season as a Vancouver Canuck or returning him his junior team, the London Knights. The dilemma becomes fostering the proper development for the budding star. If he spends the year in London, Horvat will not have the challenge that he needs in order to move forward in his career. The danger of Bo Horvat playing the season in Vancouver creates the challenge of the team holding too many centers on their roster. In order for him to make the team another center would have to go and he may spend the year on the third line. If he were to stay in Vancouver it could possibly harm his development as a player. The answer to this quandary lays in the hands of the team management and will be no easy choice.

CUTS

Shawn Matthias:

The centerman was acquired in a trade for goaltender Roberto Luongo last march. Since landing in Vancouver and it has been uncertain on his future with the franchise. In the congestion of centers, Matthias will be a healthy scratch for the team.

Tom Sestito:

Sestito became the primary odd man out when Derek Dorsett joined the Vancouver Canucks. Tom Sestito as a player is everything that Dorsett is not. Dorsett works as an upgrade from the brash fourth liner who will most likely be placed on waivers this season.

FIRST PAIRING: HAMHUIS – BIEKSA

This first pairing is an easy one to predict. Bieksa has been the leader of the defensive charge for the past few season while Dan Hamhuis has played the supporting role. Though a Brent Seabrook-like defenseman would be preferable for a top pairing, the duo will plausibly create a solid front line in every game.

SECOND PAIRING: SBISA – TANEV

The second pairing is not a flashy group of blue-liners. Luca Sbisa in the preseason plays a classic style of defending the zone and dumping the puck out for players to chase. Sbisa makes a large impact on the ice when delivering hits and he always finishes. Tanev as well is a classic defenseman and will be a compatible piece with the newly acquired player.

THIRD PAIRING: EDLER – WEBER

Last season Alex Edler was worst in the NHL in plus/minus with a rating of -39. The Swedish star struggled all of the 2013-14 season and needs a restart with the team. Like Kassian, Edler was inconsistent in his play and will need to earn his trust back with management if he want to regain his top pairing role. Yannik Weber will play as the support to the ailing Edler to help nurse back into the defenseman he used to be.

CUTS

Ryan Stanton:

In the preseason Ryan Stanton has been everything but good in the game. Every time he steps onto the ice he looks like a lost puppy wandering the arena. Stanton cannot defend, he fails to provide any support to his team mates and on Thursday night he kept crashing into cut defenseman Kent Huskins over the majority of the game. Ryan Stanton has one year remaining on his contract and if he seeks for an extension, he will have to get his head back in the game.

What is seen here is what I project the Vancouver Canucks line-up will look like for this coming season, and I firmly believe with a balance of both young stars and veterans will overall look best in the managements favor during the long run.

Follow me on Twitter @cjaharder

Canucks Resurrect Successful Power Play Against Flames

By Caleb Harder – CanucksCorner.com

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On Friday night, the Vancouver Canucks won their third straight game in the preseason. In the back-to-back finale against the Calgary Flames, newly acquired goaltender Ryan Miller debuted in the blue and green followed up by Joacim Errikson for the second half as Eddie Lack got the night off. The game played was a complete flip from Thursday’s outing as the Canucks turned it around showing they were clearly the dominant team in the building.

The game in itself was refreshing because it was the first game, in what has seemed like a millennium that the Canucks were a force to be reckoned with on the power play. Out of seven opportunities, the boys were able to net three goals provided by Linden Vey, Jannik Hansen, and Radim Vrbata.

The Sedins were back to their old glory days alongside Vrbata who was a seamless fit with the two stars on the first line. Everything fell right into place as the team successfully cycled the puck, knocking the Flames out of place and winding Douglas Carr into a blubbering mess on the ice. Linden Vey successfully screened Carr in the second period and scored on a rebound off the goaltender’s pads. The goal by Vey and the lead up to it made a large impression on what fans are hoping to see this year. Henrik Sedin was a key contributor to the power play on Friday setting up for the assist on all three goals scored. Radim Vrbata scored one goal and took a total of 12 shots when including attempts. As can be seen by his play, Vrbata likes to shoot and was 11th in the NHL last year with 263 shots on net.

Even though the boys played against a team of Flames that will be starring on their farm team this season, fans were still pleased to see the veteran players tie the knot. There was not a single line that looked lost in the game and it gave us a promising preview of Willie Desjardins’ four line system.

Fellow Canucks fans, the boys are back.

Follow me on Twitter @cjaharder