What’s the deal, AV?

They haven't looked good on the ice, so here's a shot of Kevin Bieksa off of it.One day after losing 7-2 to the sadsack Calgary Flames, the Chicago Blackhawks did the long walk of shame into Vancouver, shook themselves out of whatever funk had let them poop out that stinker at the Saddledome, and thoroughly trounced the Vancouver Canucks 7-1.

The Canucks, one day after that embarrassing loss, got right back at it by hosting the Phoenix Coyotes. They had a chance to do just what the dirty rotten stinkin’ Blackhawks had done to them the night before. Let loose. Fire all cannons. Rip off the Chinos and go commando on someone’s ass. But no, the Canucks instead sleepwalked through most of the night and let Taylor Pyatt – YES, TAYLOR PYATT – score two goals including the game winner as the Yotes left the Canucks winless in four.

Pyatt of the light brown eyelashes singlehandedly spent more time in the opposition crease area than the entire Canucks roster (something he could have done a little more often when he still played here, by the way.) It doesn’t take hours of video analysis to see the problems. Defensively, the Canucks are guilty of stick checking – when they check at all, that is. Luongo has been left high and dry on countless occasions in the past two weeks. Hamhuis has made a few decent plays, but only a few. Alberts was all hit for the first ten games of the season, and mostly miss ever since. The wicked D on paper has translated into a paper D on ice.

Offensively, Vancouver has stopped skating at the net. They’ve become utterly predictable. Hell, the most dangerous offensive play by a Canuck this weekend was a rush by Kevin Bieksa in the second period against the Yotes. For some reason, other than that solo Bieksa effort, the Canucks offense has reduced itself to pretty much one play: 1) Carry the puck over the opposing blueline. 2) Hold up on the right halfboards. 3) Look for a trailer.

A junior team could defend against this kind of bland attack.

Perhaps Alain Vigneault’s complaints that Chicago ran up the score on Saturday night were meant to give the media fodder so they wouldn’t look any closer. Keith Ballard is out with the flu – maybe there are others in the dressing room who are sluggish because of a bug, as well. At least it would be an excuse for such lacklustre performances. According to Iain MacIntyre of the Vancouver Sun, however, when asked on Twitter if the flu was rampant in the Nucks dressing room: “On any team, any time, there’s always a couple of guys fighting illness but flu “rampant?” I haven’t seen that.” Scratch that excuse, then.

So what is it? The Sedins have been all but invisible; with the exception of his penalty shot goal earlier this year, Henrik hasn’t taken a legitimate shot on net all season. Alex Burrows has been largely ineffective since returning from shoulder surgery. Mason Raymond hasn’t skated around anyone in weeks, and Ryan Kesler’s hotter in underwear ads than on the second line. As for Mikael Samuelsson – how do you say “You’re fired” in Swedish? Maybe it’s time some of these top six underachievers sat in the press box for a few games. Even better, make them pay $150 to sit in the nosebleeds and watch this team’s lack of effort.

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Gotta love them Canes!

by Jason Kurylo

Canucks celebrate a goal versus Carolina. Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com
Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

By now, the Vancouver Canucks are probably circling home games against the Carolina Hurricanes as soon as the NHL publishes the season schedule. For the second time in as many visits, the Hurricanes provided just what the Canuck doctors ordered to get off the schneid.

On February 3, 2009, Vancouver had lost eight straight games, and some guy named Mats Sundin was being blamed for pretty much every sorry period of the skid. The Canes had lost three straight games in Vancouver, but given the Canucks’ recent penchant for dropping games they should win, pundits were not confident going in.

Well, the top points-getter in Maple Leafs history responded with a goal and an assist, and Alexandre Burrows scored a short-handed goal with 82 seconds left on the clock to give the Canucks a 4-3 victory. Roberto Luongo recorded his first win in six games after returning from a groin injury.  Ryan Kesler scored his third goal in two games after suffering an embarrassing 11-game slump. The Canucks would subsequently go on a wicked tear, and enter the playoffs as one of the league’s hottest teams.

So fans of this year’s Cup favourites shouldn’t be surprised by this snake bitten Canucks team beating the tar out of the Southeast Division cellar dwellers, 5-1.

Cory Schneider got his first start of the season tonight, which came as a surprise, as Luongo almost never sits on the bench for a home game when he’s not injured. It turned out not to matter – Schneider was never truly pressured by the woeful “offense” of Carolina. Sure, he stopped 32 of 33 shots – the only one to get by him came as Patrick O’Sullivan slapped one home on a two-on-one break. Schneider was solid, however, keeping rebounds to a minimum and letting his D-men do the heavy lifting most of the night.

Mason Raymond scored his first two goals of the year, one skating on the top line when Daniel Sedin found him streaking through the slot in typical Sedinian fashion. The other came on the man advantage: Mikael Samuelsson’s shot was bobbled by Cam Ward, and Jeff Tambellini put a no-look pass through a series of skates to give Raymond a wrister for his first of the year.

That same Samuelsson also scored his first goal of the year after Kevin Bieksa made a great read to keep the puck alive in the offensive zone. Sammy added two assists for good measure. Perhaps the Swedish Olympic team sent him another Dear Johan letter after the California road trip? Whatever, the man came through tonight with a solid effort despite being demoted to the third line.

Ryan Kesler again had several great chances early, and again he booted the puck. With an open net in the first period, he rang the puck squarely off the post. On a two-on-one in the second, he failed to even get a shot. Late in the third, however, Kesler took a soft power play pass from Christian Ehrhoff about fifteen metres out and rifled a one-timer into the top corner past Cam Ward.

Henrik Sedin had two assists tonight, tying him with Brad Richards and John-Michael Liles for the league lead with seven.

As mentioned, none of this comes as a shock against the AHL-quality roster of the Carolina Hurricanes. What was a surprise? How about the guy who opened the scoring. Andrew Alberts put home his own rebound from three metres out, finishing after some hard work by Manny Malhotra. Yes, true believers, Andrew freakin’ Alberts, for a few minutes in game five, had more goals on the season than Mason Raymond, Mikael Samuelsson and Ryan Kelser combined.

A truer test of this Canucks team comes soon – they play three games in four nights, including one against the dirty rotten stinkin’ Chicago Blackhawks, starting Tuesday. Look for Schneider to get at least one of those starts. And remember to break out the Sharpie when next year’s schedule comes out. You know, to circle the home date against the Canes.

Follow Jason Kurylo on Twitter. :: Subscribe to his hockey podcast, Pucked in the Head, on iTunes. :: Find out why the Carolina Hurricanes are just so awful.

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Olympic Impact Could Help Canucks

As we all nurse our Olympic hangovers and search for other ways to fill the void by the end of the games, it’s time to get ready for the final push of the NHL season. The Canucks had seven players in the games, and they had varying degrees of success. Three players in particular had great games, and they will bring into the dressing room a complete set of Vancouver 2010 medals. Let’s take a look at how the Olympic tournament may just help the Canucks as they aim to take another Northwest Division crown and go on a lengthy playoff run.

Pavol Demitra – Slovakia

Pavol Demitra - Matthew Manor/HHOF-IIHF ImagesMany Canuck fans may had forgotten who Pavol Demitra was, and you could hardly blame them for doing so. Demitra, 35, who missed 47 games for the Canucks with annoying shoulder problem that required two operations and many opinions on treatment. He returned to the Canucks on January 16th, but had struggled to find his game notching just a goal and three assists in 11 appearances since his return. Of course people were willing to cut him slack after missing so many games, but just before the Olympics Demitra was starting to get some heat from fans and media to start producing and he was seeing time on the teams fourth line.

Playing for his country seemed to be the tonic that Demitra needed and the veteran Slovak led his team to a best-ever fourth-place finish, while earning a spot on the tournaments all-star team. He also nearly ruined the hopes of the Canadian public with a last second goal in the semi-final but was thwarted by teammate Roberto Luongo. Demitra’s continued success would be a huge bonus for the Canucks heading down the stretch, but he won’t be playing with Marion Gaborik and Michael Handzus when play resumes. Early reports say he’ll start the post Olympic session on a line with Ryan Kesler.

Roberto Luongo

Roberto Luongo - Photo: John MahoneyThere is no doubt that most had resigned themselves to the fact that Roberto Luongo would be the backup to Martin Brodeur heading into the games, and that was the plan when they began. But when the future hall of famer had a sub par game versus the USA, Luongo got his chance and the pressure to win was no doubt immense. Playing in front of his fans in Vancouver, in his rink and with the hopes of a nation riding on his shoulders, Luongo got the job done and won gold.

Luongo has had his critics, and their biggest beef has been the fact that he hadn’t won the big one. A couple of playoff series wins are the only thing on his resume and he needed to take that step. Well on the biggest stage in the world, he got the monkey off his back. No more can critics say Luongo can’t win the big game and with that label out of the way, who knows how it will translate to his role with the Canucks. He’ll get a brief rest and give way to Andrew Raycroft versus Columbus but he should return to the net with confidence of knowing he can win the big games. That in itself could be the key to a long playoff run for the Canucks.

Ryan Kesler

Ryan Kesler - Canucks.comKesler had an outstanding tournament for the USA. He was a leader all over the ice. He killed penalties, won huge face offs and did what Kesler does best…pissed a lot of people off. The same reasons you love him as a Canuck were the ones you hated him as a Canadian. He took shots at his teammate Roberto Luongo in the media, and on the ice. Some felt there was friction between the two but I tend to believe all will be fine in Canuckville, and it was part of the quest for the gold.

The experience for Kesler had to be a valuable one. He led a great hockey team to within a sudden death goal of a gold medal, and the Canucks should reap the benefit of that experience. He’s truly becoming one of the best two way players in the game, and he can contribute in many ways. It sounds like Alain Vigneault will pair Kesler with Demitra to start when play resumes. If both can keep up their inspired play, the Canucks will be a tough team to handle going forward.

The disappointment of losing the gold should feed Kesler’s thirst for a cup and we should see the best Ryan Kesler we’ve seen yet down the stretch. I can’t wait.

The Rest

The other Canucks, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Christian Erhoff and Sami Salo should all be better for the experience. The early exit for the Sedin’s at the hands of the Slovaks was unfortunate for them, but they should pick up where they left off. Salo will bring home a bronze medal for his efforts, but Canucks fans are just happy he came out of the games healthy. Erhoff, playing for the Germans had little expectation of hardware, but got to compete at a high level in a great tournament.

So in the end the results of the tournament set up pretty good for these players to turn their experience into good things for themselves and their teammates. I’m sure a cup  and a ring to along with the gold, silver and bronze in the room would suit the Canucks and their fans just fine.

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Thursday Thoughts: Erhoff, Hordi, Hank and Shanny

Merry Christian!

Christian Erhoff - Photo: Canucks.com

Christian Erhoff - Photo: Canucks.com

One could argue that the biggest news of the off-season was the signing of Roberto and Luongo and of course the Sedin twins. And while those players are having good years, there is a newcomer to the team that is making the trade that brought him here highway robbery.

Christian Erhoff and Brad Lukowich were sent to the Canucks from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for defenceman Daniel Rahimi and forward Patrick White. Lukowich has been sent to the minors, and both Rahimi and White were no longer in the Canucks plans and neither are playing for the Sharks. Erhoff has been the jewel of the deal and has fit right in with the Canucks. In his previous season with the Sharks he recorded eight goals, 34 assists (8-34-42) and 63 penalty minutes in 77 games. This season he’s leading the way on the Canucks blueline and has easily been their most steady defenseman. After 34 games this year Erhoff is just one goal off last years total, has 18 points and leads the team with an impressive plus 16 rating.

At 27 years of age, Erhoff is in the prime of his career, and his addition has more than made up for the departure of Mattias Ohlund.

Hordichuk’s Expiration Date

My friend over at Canucks Hockey Blog, Richard Loat posted about the effectiveness, or lack thereof of Darcy Hordichuk this season.

“Hordichuk is not on this team for his speed or his offense. His offense is a notch above Shane O’Brien. Actually, half a notch. Gillis said he brought him onto the team because he was a tough guy and a heavy weight, but also because he was not one dimensional. He could skate, had some hands, and could also use those hands to pummel opponents. I remember the Hordichuk that played for the Predators and Panthers. That’s the Hordichuk that I thought this team was landing. Unfortunately we’ve seen the complete opposite of what we expected.”

I have to agree. As far as giving the team any spark, it’s been a while since I can think of Hordichuk pumping up his team with any momentum changing bouts. All one needs to do is look at the much smaller Rick Rypien to get that rush. Tough guys have to play their role, and if they don’t bring anything else to the table, they are dead weight. Hordichuk is a light heavyweight at best and as Richard suggests his expiry date as a Canuck is approaching, or may have even passed.

Henrik For The Hart And The Rafters

With Henrik Sedin just one point back of the league scoring league with 43 points, discussion has begun amongst the media and fans as to whether he deserves consideration for the Hart trophy as we approach the midpoint of the season. The answer should be a resounding yes. Henrik is not only having a great year, but with brother and line mate Daniel missing 18 games, Henrik carried the team in the offense department, proving that that twins do not need each other to be effective players. Of course together they are even more dangerous, but Henrik is certainly deserving of being in the company of any Hart trophy discussions. He’s certainly been the Canucks MVP so far, and as a duo the Sedins look like they are going to take another step to becoming among the leagues elite stars an I’ll even go one further. At this rate is there little doubt that if the Sedins retire Canucks, 22 and 33 will be hanging in the rafters next to 12 and 16?

Bettman’s Boy

Our own Tom Benjamin recently posted about the appointment of Brendan Shanahan to the position Vice President of hockey and business development by the NHL. Tom suggests the job may be a little pay back to Shanahan for his work during the NHL lockout.

“He isn’t being rewarded for his behaviour during the labour dispute, is he? How many other players had lunch with Gary Bettman during the lockout? It may reek of corruption, but hey, nobody can say that Gary doesn’t take care of his friends.”

Perhaps a little harsh towards Shanahan, as none of us really know what his qualifications are for the job, and what’s expected of him in it. But it does raise eyebrows when a player retires and is promptly hired to such a lofty position of management within the league. Had Shanahan been named director of a competition committee there would likely be no issue, but the business nature of the job certainly makes things look a little fishy.

Calm, Cool & Collected – Gillis leads by example

As training camp gets set to open officially tomorrow morning at UBC when players report for their physicals, we’re starting another year of Canucks hockey here at Canucks Corner. 13 years have gone by and we’re still kicking, entering our14th year of Canucks hockey on the internet. I’m pretty excited about the coming year not only for the site, but the team on the ice. There is a real buzz in Vancouver, and it’s a little different than it has been in the past.

Fans are starting to buy into the Canucks regime that is lead by the calm cool and patient Mike Gillis. With a summer full of big hurdles to overcome, Gillis handled them all with the quiet confidence that has become his trademark as the leader of the organization. Signing the Sedin’s and getting Roberto Luongo signed long term were no easy tasks for any GM to face going into the off-season. Then he goes out and dips into the thre free agent market adding Andrew Raycroft for depth in goal, Mikael Samuelsson up front and adding Mathieu Schneider, Christian Erhoff and Brad Lukowich to an already deep blue line corp.

He has youngsters Sergei Shirokov, Michael Grabner and of course Cody Hodgson among others vying to crack the roster, and a young blue chip goaltender in Cory Schneider to use anyway he sees fit and then there is the continued maturation of players like Kevin Bieksa, Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows.

And if that weren’t enough Gillis is about to extend the contract of coach Alain Vigneault to add even more stability to the club.Vigneault has his fans and his detractors but he and Gillis seem to be on the same page when it comes to building this hockey club, and that’s half the battle.

Yes, heading into camp the Canucks and their fans have a lot of reasons to be excited about. But that’s not to say there still isn’t work to be done. The Canucks will need to whittle their salary structure down by October 1st to get under the salar cap, something Gillis says will be done through competition at camp. Gillis feels this camp is different than the last due to the fact he was new last year and no one knew what to expect from him. Now with his retooling and stabilizing project nearing completion, all players should be entering camp ready to be at the top of their game, or they may not make the team.

With the Northwest division taking a drop off in quality according to many, the Canucks should be in a position to contend for the division and perhaps even the conference. So sit back and get ready for another wild ride. Just try and take it day by day…like our calm cool and collected GM.

Quick Hits:

  • This from Hosea Cheung on Twitter: (@hosea24hours) The Canucks have cut Matthew Ford, Mitch McColm, Bobby Nadeau, and Joe Plekaitis, James Reid, Justin Taylor, and Michael Ward following prospects camp. prior to the start of the main camp.
  • TSN says no Sundin is not negotiating, Sportsnet claims he’ and the Canucks are talking. Here we go again? God I hope not. Either Mats shows up for his physical tomorrow or move on.
  • As I said in the intro I am really excited about the direction this site could be heading this year and the things we have in store working with the Canucks on the Fan Zone at Canucks.com. We have a great group of creative people who are really going to try and do some cool things this season. You’ll have to stay tuned for more, but safe to say if you follow these folks on Twitter you’ll never be out of the loop: @CanucksHockey @mozy19, @Hgiraffe, @vancanucks, @miss604
    @canucksoutsider
    , @johnbollwitt, @crazycanucks and of course follow us at @CanucksCorner.