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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Jason Kurylo: No time to panic

Jason Kurylo, CanucksCorner.com

After the fourth game of the season, the Canucks have been the better team in 10 of 12 periods so far. They’ve held time-of-possession advantages in each game, out-chanced the other guys, and they’ve offered occasional flashes of the exciting, offensive hockey that won them the Northwest Division last season. They’ve shown, for the most part, defensive responsibility and solid, confident goaltending from Roberto Luongo.

Yet somehow, the Canucks have lost twice to the Kings – once in overtime – and been beaten in regulation by the lowly Ducks. Their only win of the young season came in unconvincing fashion against a team that will likely finish at the bottom of the hockeytrocity that is the Southeast Division.

So, as many a Canuck fan is posting on Twitter, “WTF?!?”

Canuck shooters have made Jonathan Quick look even better than he really is in consecutive losses. When they have put pucks past the young LA netminder, they’ve just plain missed the net. There have been posts, rolling pucks, bobbled chances, bad ice and good saves by opposition goalies. Mikael Samuelsson even managed to hit a crossbar against Floriday – while Tomas Vokoun was on the bench for the extra Panther attacker.

Roberto LuongoComing the other way, the Canucks could easily have had shutouts in both home games so far this year. The Kings took advantage of a late power play to score their only goal on opening night in a game they would eventually win in a shootout. Those Panthers also scored just one goal against Luongo: a desperation shot that pinballed off of two different players on its way in. Similarly, the Kings’ second goal in game four went in off the skate of Kevin Bieksa, on what looked like a broken play.

But why stop there? Referees seemed to scheme against the Nucks in Anaheim, giving the Ducks a pair of two-man advantages on phantom calls. Throw in a missed too-many-men call that resulted directly in the winning goal against, and Vancouver hockey fans were left scratching their heads.

So what’s the good news?

This edition of the Vancouver Canucks, led by the new captain Henrik Sedin, is saying all the right things. “We should have put them away in the second period,” said Henrik of the Ducks, acknowledging the referee mistakes are no excuse for allowing a lesser team to stay in the game. And he’s right; if Vancouver had buried just one or two of their myriad chances in the first forty minutes, those sleepy Ducks and their ref-assisted goals would not have mattered.

Even Ryan Kesler, whose penchant for complaints on-ice and moody media scrums probably took him out of the running for the captaincy, shrugged off the poor early record. “The refs miss calls like we miss plays,” he said after Stephen Walkam’s officiating crew gifted the Ducks their sole win of the season. “We can’t blame them for our missed chances.”

Now, don’t get me wrong – the Canucks haven’t done themselves any favours, either. Perhaps as a result of all the pre-season hype, Vancouver skaters have elected to pass far more often than shoot. They haven’t driven the net like they should. Opposition goalies have seen far too much of the puck, and not nearly enough of Canuck screens on the edge of the crease. Kesler should be fighting for pucks within a three-foot radius of the net, not finessing wrist shots into the netminder’s breadbasket from the blue line. Unless your name is Sedin, you probably shouldn’t be trying to find a cross-ice seam when you’ve got a chance to go to the net. After that debacle of game management that was the 4-3 loss to the Ducks, these guys should have come out on fire in LA. They outshot the Kings, sure, but looked flat much of the night, and once again saw zero offense outside of a pretty rush by the Sedins.

It took these same boys a while to learn these lessons last year as well. Remember, the Canucks followed up an 0-3 start to the season by winning the division.

If Vancouver is still looking for better results after three or four weeks, panic buttons should be pressed. But chances are, once Manny Malhotra gets a gimme of a short-handed goal, or Kesler gets a lucky one to go in off his left butt cheek, or hell, when Luongo gets enough bounces to tally his first shutout of the year, this team will see some serious win streaks start to pile up.

This team has too much talent, and too few egos, not to.

Follow Jason Kurylo on Twitter: @PuckedInTheHead

Subscribe to his NHL hockey podcast, Pucked in the Head, on iTunes.

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One win. Two games. Three points.

by Jason Kurylo

Daniel Sedin’s two goals in the second game of the 2010-11 season are probably a blueprint for how the Vancouver Canucks want the season to go. Last year’s vaunted offence outscored everyone in the Western Conference, and our boys finished second only to the Washington Capitals in league scoring. This year’s squad, built around a sleeker, more reliable Roberto Luongo and an impressive array of blueline talent, will probably have a few more games like this one: a two-to-one squeaker where the Swedes manufacture a timely game winner.

Daniel Sedin celebrates with brother Henrik. Photo: Canucks.com

Daniel Sedin celebrates one of his two goals against Florida on Thanksgiving. Photo: Canucks.com

Luongo faced a lot of rubber tonight. Most of it came from the outside, but when the Florida Panthers did get the puck into the slot, he made the saves – even rebounds – look easy. Mostly, however, the Canucks looked collected in allowing the opposition take a few shots, and in clearing the puck in much calmer fashion than they did last year. In all, Luongo made 41 saves, several of the outstanding variety with Cats standing right on top of him. Luongo looks more solid in these past two games than he’s looked in the past two seasons. The only puck to get by him was a harmless looking point shot that caromed off two skates before crossing the line.

It’s at the other end that the Canucks seem a little rattled, for some reason. Ryan Kesler plum missed the net on a glorious two-on-one pass from Mason Raymond. Keith Ballard stood in the Florida crease and watched a beautiful Henrik Sedin pass scoot under his stick. (Blade on the ice, my good man, blade on the blasted ice.) With the Panther net empty in the dying seconds of the game, Mikael Samuelsson backhanded the puck off the bleedin’ crossbar, for goodness’ sake. As commentators John Shorthouse and John Garrett joked afterward, the players will probably spend some time after practice tomorrow trying to replicate that, and probably won’t be able to do it.

Don’t get me wrong – this was not a pretty game. Raffi Torres and Dan Hamhuis both had a couple of big hits early, but it wasn’t a particularly dirty game, either. The Panthers were not penalized once, despite having Darcy Hordichuk on the roster (a man Canucks fans will recognize from his myriad trips to the box for poor on-ice decisions). The home team only had to kill three penalties themselves, suggesting perhaps one of the zebras forgot to bring a whistle to the arena.

Neither of Daniel’s goals were a thing of beauty. Halfway through the first period, Hank won a draw to the side boards, where Samuelsson whipped a backhand at Tomas Vokoun. When a wee rebound sat to the side of the net, Daniel chipped it over the Czech netminder’s shoulder into the top corner. It was a quality play, for sure, but not one for the Sedin highlight reel. At that point, the crowd thought the Canucks would break out for one of the five- or six-goal outbursts that punctuated last season. But hand it to the Panthers: they play a numbing style of game that kept the snipers off the scoresheet for another two periods.

When Rostislav Olesz’s weak shot pinballed in to tie the game with under a minute to play in the second period, those same fans probably thought the Canucks were in for the same spoiler treatment they got from the LA Kings on opening night. Two games in a row, the home team went up 1-0 early. Two games in a row, they could not find an insurance marker. Two games in a row, they let a lesser team tie things up in rather unimpressive fashion.

Dank’s second goal of the night, which turned out to be the 45th game-winning goal of his career, came on a broken play that turned into a goalmouth scramble. With the puck lying to Vokoun’s left, Daniel leapt across the crease to steer it home with just under five minutes to play.

And so, the Vancouver Canucks sit at 1-0-1 after their first two games. Both nights featured some promising team play and impressive work by Roberto Luongo. The Sedins each have three points (Daniel with 2G, 1A; Henrik with 3A), and look to be just warming up at this point. Raffi Torres, Peter Schaefer and Manny Malhotra are providing the grit in the bottom six that was promised umpteen times over the off-season. Mason Raymond is blazing around out there, and has been shooting five times a game. Goals will come.

With the steadying influence of Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard back there, the Canuck defense has yet to get running around like they have been prone to do over the past two seasons. Andrew Alberts is playing a successful game as a depth defenseman, and Kevin Bieksa has made fewer dumb mistakes with that assistant captain’s A on his left breast.

There hasn’t been any exciting Canucks hockey yet this year, but there’s been plenty to like. Next up: the woeful Anaheim Ducks, whose Swiss cheese defense just might be what these forwards need to wake up a little bit.

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A decent start.

Captain Hankby Jason Kurylo

On the opening night of the 2010-11 season, it would have been pretty hard for the Vancouver Canucks to live up to the pre-season hype. Heck, it would have been pretty hard to live up to the pre-game hype: Las Vegas-style scrims with Canucks stars’ faces projected 10 metres tall, Tom Larscheid’s much-publicized swansong after decades in the broadcast booth, and a dozen-plus members of the original 1970 Canucks on hand to see Orland Kurtenbach hand Henrik Sedin his brand new Captain’s C. Vancouver was positively abuzz with excitement coming up to tonight’s puck drop against the Los Angeles Kings, who to add another wrinkle to the plot, feature ex-Canuck Willie Mitchell as their senior rearguard.

Pundits all over North America have picked VanCity to hoist its first Stanley Cup since the Millionaires had their names engraved inside the bowl of Lord Stanley’s mug in 19-freakin’-15. This iteration of NHL hockey in Vancouver has seen 40 years go by without a Cup, and Mike Gillis has assembled a team that has people in Toronto and New York paying attention? The home team could have won this game 10-0 and some fans would have left unimpressed. It’s a Cup they want, not a win in mid-October.

So what does the 2-1 shootout loss to the Kings mean, exactly?

We saw tonight that the other clubs in the NHL are not just going to hand the Canucks a championship just because Gillis signed Dan Hamhuis in the off-season. Heck, the Kings didn’t even want to hand us these two points just because Roberto Luongo dropped seven pounds, passed the C to Henrik & hugged the blue paint like a good goalie should. Yes, this team has a mobile, trustworthy defense. Yes, Luongo is playing now the way he usually starts playing in November. But this team should not try to win a game 1-0. A solid D does not preclude going for the jugular.

We saw that the league’s second best offense last year will have to work just a little harder if they want to score more than a goal a game. Christian Ehrhoff was the most dangerous Canuck for much of tonight’s game. Ryan Kesler was unlucky not to score tonight – he will have be greasier. Mason Raymond played well, but he will have to go to the net just a little harder. The Sedins showed confidence and patience tonight, but with little of that sandpaper they showed after the All-Star break last year. Raffi Torres made some good plays in his first game for the Canucks, but his linemates didn’t seem to know what to do with those decent feeds.

Quick's retro pads - If you remember these, you're old. *sigh* I'm old.In all, we saw a good team that was unlucky not to win their home opener. Sure, Jonathan Quick played well in his outrageously bad ass retro pads, but the fact is, the Canucks didn’t have enough want to get it done on opening night. Most nights, if the opposition is held to one goal in regulation time, Vancouver is going to be in the W column. This Canucks team, when it gels? It’s going to be a fun time to be a hockey fan in Vancouver.

Anyone jumping off the bandwagon today should be banned from watching in April when it matters most.

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Justine Galo: What makes a good captain?

First blog of the upcoming season and Roberto Luongo has decided to relinquish the captaincy. Was it a good decision? I suppose it is, but time will tell.  However, I do believe it’s probably the best thing for the team and for the play of Roberto Luongo in the long run.

It takes a big man to take the responsibility of a team and shoulder leadership, it’s not an easy job. It takes an even bigger man to own up to his limitations.  Roberto Luongo did just that.  Now that he is no longer the captain, the biggest question in Vancouver is who will be his heir apparent? Should it really matter to us fans?

On the CanucksCorner.com forum, there were some interesting opinions of the type of Canucks captain fans would want to see.  Which of the current team members exemplifies a good captain?

Unfortunately, my choice to succeed Lu, is no longer a Canuck. Willie Mitchell would have been my prime candidate.  Now there is the great debate between Hank and Kesler and other honourable mentions.

Henrik Sedin has done what no other Canuck has done and that’s win the Art Ross and Hart trophies as the league’s MVP. As much as I could go on about how good of a candidate he would be, I believe Canucks Corner poster, DonCherry4PM said it best.  Others have voiced that Ryan Kesler would be a better choice, due to his tenacity, his style of play and his vocalization with the media. After those two, there were other names thrown in,but the  ‘dog fight’ is between Hank and Kes.  Both bring goods to the table, both have impressive resumes, but who has that leadership quality to shoulder the responsibility for this team?

For me, it doesn’t really matter who the fans think (I know I will get roasted for this) should be the captain.  It only matters who the team thinks to be their next captain and if that is in sync, maybe our noses (as fans) won’t be so bent out of shape.