Homeward Bound: Road Trip +/-

It will be up to Eddie Lack to shoulder the heavy load with Ryan Miller out for four weeks. Photo Credit: The Province

It will be up to Eddie Lack to shoulder the heavy load with Ryan Miller out for four weeks. Photo Credit: The Province

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is it me, or did everyone seem to think this game was in the bag? It definitely had all the makings of a great Canucks road trip. The Canucks have been playing very good hockey. When in some trouble, the Canucks have managed to find ways to get out of those jams. The Sedins are on point streaks, the kids were playing with a ton of tenacity and the backup goaltender has been playing spectacular in the absence of Ryan Miller being sidelined to injury. The team was looking good and walking around with a bit of a swagger. However, all day, I have been feeling really off about the game. Almost everyone was publicly, including members of the Canucks’ media (ahem, Tony Gallagher, ahem) were calling it in already for the Canucks. . The words “when” instead of “if” were being used in regards to the Canucks/Sabres game regarding Vancouver winning. I wish I was wrong with my feelings, but the Sabres won 6-3.

The Canucks didn’t have their fairy tale ending to this Eastern swing, but they did have some positives out of it:

  • Goals Scoring: 3/5 games the Canucks have scored three or more goals. The production has been better over all since the All-Star break. With the next few weeks some very important playoff push coming up, they are going to need production up and down the line up. Seeing the kids not being afraid to shoot and the Sedins looking like their 2010/2011 selves has been promising.
  • Confident Defencmen: When you see most of the highlights on this road trip, you see Weber be much more confident jumping in on the play, taking more shots from the point (and more accurate) but also making really good defensive plays to prevent shots and goals. You see Sbisa taking to the body a little more and feeling more confident on the blue line. Clendening will shoot from anywhere and Stanton is his perfect stay at home partner, who will also seize the opportunity if he is given it. Hamhuis looks more and more like Hamhuis as the road trip progressed and Biega looked like he was on the team since October. Very promising to see considering Edler, Tanev, Bieksa and Corrado are all out with injuries.
  • The Kass: I can’t start this with anyone else but Zack Kassian. His play with the Sedins has been a point producing machine. He’s looked really good on the wing with the twins. With the injury to Burrows, Kassian should really take this opportunity to “steal the job”. When Bertuzzi really started to show real signs of being a regular power forward winger, he was about Kassian’s age now. Patience and guidance is what Zack needs, and it looks like Henrik and Daniel can show him that. 
  • The Kids: Horvat playing like he is already a 2nd line centre and having the confidence to not be intimidated by anyone, including Chara, makes every Canucks fan happy about the future. Kenins will hit anyone, anything and he isn’t afraid to try and score, from any angle. Most importantly, Kenins has the ability to make roon for Horvat and Hansen with his hits and fore-checking abilities. Stanton showing why he had high praise from Coach Q in Chicago and Eddie Lack has been playing like he was standing on his head, except for a few games here and there. It makes me excited for Virtanen to join the team next season.
  • Never-Die Attitude: Regardless of winning or losing, the Canucks are sure as hell not giving up. Even when they have been outplayed, out shot, out scored. They will keep playing until the final buzzer, which was a complete 180 of the team we saw in and around this time last season.
  • Sedinery: Henrik and Daniel have been playing some rejuvenated hockey. It’s not quite at the level they played it at in their prime, but they know this team and even themselves, are in a transitional period. Hank and Danny are taking it upon themselves to show the young guys what it takes to stay and play in the league for as long as they have. Play the right way, stick to the system and make things happen. Whether the insertion of Horvat and Kenins is what has inspired the twins, or vice versa, it’s great to see the Sedins play like the Sedins.
Kassian and the Sedins celebrating a goal by No.9. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Kassian and the Sedins celebrating a goal by No.9. Photo Credit: Getty Images

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home Improvements: Canucks need to work on…

  • Consistency: The biggest issue with the Canucks since the All Star break has been their Jekyll and Hyde record and it’s reflected by the intensity of their play, especially at home. They have the best road record in the NHL, but their home record has been pretty mediocre. Rogers Arena was once a safe haven for the Canucks but over the last couple of season, it’s been hit and miss.
  • Defending in the Defensive: From time to the time, the Canucks have panicked and turnovers have happened in their own end. It happened in Boston and it happened in Buffalo, numerous times. If they continue heavily rely on their goaltenders, they are asking for the world, and Eddie (and eventually Miller) cannot keep up such a high level of play. It really showed in the Sabres game, and Eddie looked average.
  • Skating Hard, Always: When the Canucks aren’t getting calls for power plays and are always finding themselves in the penalty box, they are not skating hard enough. They are gliding and hoping. They aren’t making things happen.
  • Glue-like Goaltending: When Miller, Lack and soon Markstrom are on their games, they are pretty formidable between the pipes, but this season, the good goaltending has come in spurts and at different times. Neither Miller or Lack have been consistently spectacular. They’ve had their moments. However, with the playoff push coming up, no matter who ends up being in net (Lack at this point) needs to really be on top of it and it doesn’t matter who the backup is, they are going to have to come together and be like glue.
Kenins has been a great compliment to Bo Horvat's line. Creating space and crashing bodies has made Kenins a force on the ice.

Kenins has been a great compliment to Bo Horvat’s line. Creating space and crashing bodies has made Kenins a force on the ice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A long 11 day, five-game road trip has come to an end. The Vancouver Canucks are coming home with a 3-2 record. It could have been better? Yes, and it could have been worse, if Vancouver didn’t win the Rangers game in the shootout, coming back with a losing record on this road trip would have made the playoff race much harder to keep the other teams at bay. But six out of 10 points isn’t bad, but everyone was expecting it would have been eight after tonight. Unfortunately, it was not so.

With three days until their next game, the Canucks will have a day off on Friday and a practice on Saturday to right some wrongs. The next four games coming up are against Western Conference opponents in a very tight playoff race. With St. Louis coming to town on Sunday, followed by a visit from the San Jose Sharks, the Canucks have their work cut out for them before they get on the road for two and then home for five straight, including visits from the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks. With the Metropolitan Division out of the way, for the most part, the Canucks are now in for the real test and so is our fan-dom.

@Aviewfromabroad

 

Ice Drama: Goalies, Blue Line Shuffle and Press Box’ing

It’s been often said that sports are the soap operas for their fans. There are story-lines built into teams, situations and how things have played out from game to game. In Canuckland, it can be at times, even more so of a soap opera. With the happenings that have surrounded the team over the last few years during the Gillis regime, and even presently, the little dramas keep on writing themselves and at times often get pushed in media members’ agendas.

Goalie Controversy

So is there enough to call it a goalie controversy between Ryan Miller and Eddie Lack? Early in the season and the beginning of 2015, there was no question Miller is the starter, but lately has faltered. When he wins, he wins convincingly and when he has lost, it’s been more often than not, a blow out. The one loss he did play well in was the game against the Flames on a second of a back to back which Miller played the night before winning over Boston.  Eddie Lack came back with a win versus the Wild on the following Monday. In fact, in Lack has won three of his last starts and many fans are calling for him to start over Ryan Miller.

Miller was great and then not so great in the Canucks shootout win over the New York Rangers. In the 1st and most of the 2nd, he kept his team in it. Faltered and let in a soft goal and an unfortunate one with a Henrik giveaway.

Miller was great and then not so great in the Canucks shootout win over the New York Rangers. In the 1st and most of the 2nd, he kept his team in it. Faltered and let in a soft goal and an unfortunate one with a Henrik giveaway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve come to the understanding that once Vancouver has a goalie controversy going, overall it’s a good thing. It means the backup is playing very well and the starter can have some rest for the last 25 game push for a playoff spot. When a goalie controversy sparked a few years back, Luongo and Schneider ended up winning the Jennings Trophy. Unfortunately, having this controversy has already cost the Canucks two starting goalies, both aforementioned in the last sentence. With the schedule really picking up and Miller expecting his first child in the very near future, there will be more starts for everyone’s favourite backup.

A more evenly divided workload for the goalies will help the team down the line, but in the process of supporting Eddie Lack, I don’t see why there can’t be love given to Ryan Miller. Without his 27 wins, the Canucks would not be in a playoff spot at the moment. Earlier this season, he’s bailed out his team and stole a few games they had no business winning, twice in San Jose, for that matter. Shouldn’t that count for something? One thing I really love about Miller is his ownership of his play. He has no problem taking responsibility for it when it’s bad, which he did last night.  So before this fan base buries Miller in the graveyard with their shovels in hand, don’t forget all those points he’s acquired the team early in the season. They count exactly the same now, as they did in October, November and early January, two points are two points and they are all important.

Consistently Inconsistent

No one knows what to really make of this whole Kassian situation. And those that do aren’t saying a thing whether it be negative or positive.  A kid with all the tools could be set to be a very effective power forward. However, when Kassian isn’t visible on the ice, it’s glaringly bad or completely unnoticeable, which has earned Zack press-box duties from time to time.  I want him to be effective and although Willie and the coaching staff have to take some responsibility in not always utilizing him to his skill set,  Zack has shown more often than not, he hasn’t earned it. The glaring defensive lapses in his game are the biggest hindrance to his progression as a top six forward. Zack needs to stay focused and to be able to know when to take a penalty and not put his team in a hole because of bone-headed plays. Like I said, Zack has all the tools, but he needs some instruction in using them properly and more importantly, become consistent.

Press-box duties for Kassian versus the Rangers, and we're wondering if he will be out on the ice tonight against Cory Schneider and the New Jersey Devils.

Press-box duties for Kassian versus the Rangers, and we’re wondering if he will be out on the ice tonight against Cory Schneider and the New Jersey Devils.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Line Shuffle

If you don’t know the new dance it town, it’s called the Blue Line Shuffle. With three of the Canucks top six defencemen out with injury, there is a whole new look to the Vancouver blue line. Bieksa and Edler out on the IR and Tanev is day to day. Corrado, who has been the 7th d-man most nights,  is also on the IR prompting the call up of Alex Biega.

Edler is one of three Canucks defencemen out on the Injured Reserved. The Blue Line looks unrecognizable at the moment. Speedy recovery to Alex and his teammates!

Edler is one of three Canucks defencemen out on the Injured Reserved. The Blue Line looks unrecognizable at the moment. Speedy recovery to Alex and his teammates!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pairings have been shuffled quite a bit from this influx of injured blue liners. Hamhuis has been paired with Yannick Weber, and although I think Weber is a fine Bottom 2-type of  guy, I can’t see him shouldering the minutes Hamhuis has picked up with Edler and Tanev both out. Hammer has also been a little tentative since he came back from his injury, and it shows. He’s not hitting like himself and without his top 4 mates, the little mistakes he’d make seem a little bigger these days.  Sbisa is with Biega is unpredictable and Stanton looks steady with Clendening. It’s a big mess, but when will it be rectified? It all depends when Chris Tanev will be ready to go and who works best with him when he is back.

The Canucks are now down to their last 25 games or so. It is time to find out just what they are made of, and if last night versus the New York Rangers was any indication, they are at least entertaining. 

 

@Aviewfromabroad

 Play of the Night

PS, how about that Henrik Sedin guy? The captain shoulders responsibility and brings the Canucks to OT and the chance to win in the shootout.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Up, Three Down: Winnipeg Jets Grounded at YVR

When I entered the arena last night, I felt a different vibe. I knew it was going to be good game. I just didn’t think it would be as good as it turned out. With a good number of displaced Jets fans, many former ‘Peggers, the 18,000+ seat library known as Rogers Arena, was going to be rocking just a little more than usual. From the start of the anthem, Jets fans chimed in with their famous, “TRUE NORTH” shout during O Canada. It was on. The first meeting between these two teams this year was going to be a back and forth tilt.

Jets’ Anthony Peluso decided to show how physical the Jets were going to be by getting the first three penalties of the game, in succession. As soon as Peluso was out of the box for his first stint, he gets a cross-checking penalty and then had to answer the bell with Derek Dorsett. Dorsett stood up for his teammate and ended up with an instigator penalty from that fight. The Jets are the most penalized team in the league and they don’t mind throwing their big bodies around with hit after hit. The Canucks were in for a physical match-up.

Numbers:

  • The Winnipeg Jets out-hit the Vancouver Canucks 31-12, with only Enstrom and Pardy as skaters without registering hits. There were three Jets players with 4 hits each.
  • Alex Edler lead all skaters with 26:16 TOI, playing on all 6 PPs and 3PKs.
  • The powerplay went 0/6, but the insertion of Clendening on the 2nd unit seemed to have revived puck movement. We could see a possible replacement to the ever so missed PP QB that the Canucks had in Ehrhoff. No goals, but both units looked good out there. It’s just time to get some finish.
Horvat and Ronalds Kenins celebrate after his tying goal versus the Winnipeg Jets. Two goals in three games for the Latvian. Photo Credit: The Province Sports

Horvat and Ronalds Kenins celebrate after his tying goal versus the Winnipeg Jets. Two goals in three games for the Latvian. Photo Credit: The Province Sports

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Up:

  1. Henrik & Daniel Sedin: In classic Sedinery fashion, the twins look like their 2010 selves last night. I was surprised how ‘quickly’ they were moving the puck. I was pleased to see Daniel took 4 shots and on the power plays, although no one scored, the Sedins dictated the movement and their movement of the puck was brilliant.
  2. Alex Burrows: How valuable has he become again? I’m still baffled how John Tortorella wanted him traded when he suffered two major injuries and wasn’t himself. Burrows was hitting, he was instrumental on the PK and caused great traffic for the power play. How about this goal, from Henrik and Daniel and on his knees, classic Burrows. 
  3. Alex Edler: Seeing Alex Edler playing some of the best hockey he has played in quite some time is a treat. His confidence is growing and in all truth, as much as I wanted him traded last season, I’m glad I am not part of the Canucks brain trust. He kept plays alive all through the game, and bailed out his partners a few times as well. With the unfortunate stick breaking in the defensive zone was just an unlucky play for Edler. However, in OT when everyone thought he was going to drop pass at neutral ice, he decides to channel in his inner Paul Coffey and carry the puck into the zone and shot it. Edler is finally getting to know what type of defenceman he is, and it’s great to see a coach encourage it again.

Burrows on his knees goal tying goal.

 

 Three Down:

  1. Dan Hamhuis: Not a good night for Hammer. He was beaten by a speedy Blake Wheeler for the Jets’ first goal on a breakaway. On the disallowed goal for the Jets, Hammer did not play his man tight enough and although it didn’t count, it left the shooter open. But a bad night for Dan Hamhuis is still better than good nights for some defencemen in the NHL.
  2. Chris Higgins: Higgins needs to find his finish. He had 4 SOG but nothing went in. Although he’s the only with these problems on the team, he’s the one that’s eating up 2nd line minutes not scoring.
  3. Willie Desjardins: Against a big hitting team like Winnipeg, you’d figure that Kassian would have worked in the lineup that night. With Dorsett out with a misconduct, many out in Canuckland were wondering who was left to stand up for their teammates? As big as Edler is, he doesn’t have the mean streak of Ohlund.  Kassian doesn’t mind mixing it up at all, and it made me wish at times, we kept Sestito around just for some backup.

Goal of the Game:

Luca Sbisa delivering the deep dish pass from Vrbata after doing a quick criss-cross to his forehand and rifles the OT winner past Pavelec.

Honourable Mention Goal by the young Latvian, Ronalds Kenins, from Horvat and Clendening. This goal has Jim Benning written all over it. Maybe he (Benning) is on to something.

Probably the best game I’ve seen for 60+ minutes from the Canucks against an opponent with some jam and in contention for a playoff spot. The Winnipeg Jets are proving they are a force to be reckoned with and the Canucks need to find ways to adapt their game to each team. Hopefully that’s a lesson they take with them when the face the San Jose Sharks on Thursday.

@Aviewfromabroad

 

Dan Hamhuis Injury Crucial To Canucks

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On Thursday night, the Vancouver Canucks played the Anaheim Ducks. Within seconds, Dan Hamhuis tripped on the skate of Daniel Sedin and slid into the boards. 

He lay there motionless until the whistle blew the play dead. It was then that all fans knew something was wrong. 

Henrik Sedin came to help the crippled Hamhuis off the ice as the fans were at their quietest on that night. 

Since the incident, it has been reported by multiple sources that the veteran blue liner could be out “for months” with a lower body injury. 

The Vancouver Canucks now find themselves in a vulnerable position. If Dan Hamhuis were to be out until February, it would for a total of 27 games.

In wake of the injury, the Canucks have called up Frank Corrado from the Utica Comets. Though calling him up has been the first plan of action, it is highly unlikely the Canucks can brush off missing a Top-4 defenseman.

At some point it may become plausible to make a trade to tighten up the ranks. In order to maintain their position among the toughest division in the NHL, it may be in their best interest to make this decision.

It is difficult to make these calls when it is not known how many months a key player is out, but it has to be done. The Canucks already have found themselves in a difficult position with a thin defensive line.

It appears that Luca Sbisa is not ready to take on a top 4 role in the roster and may require another year of development. Placing Corrado in Hamhuis’ spot would not be the wisest in the long run either. He is not NHL caliber and needs more time to season his play.

All in all, it is up to management to decide how they will patch up this gaping hole in the blue line.

Until then, Canucks fans will be wishing Dan Hamhuis a speedy recovery and hope to see him back on the ice soon.

Caleb Harder

@cjaharder

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