by Jason Kurylo
When the Vancouver Canucks walk out of Air Canada Centre with two points, they are just doing what they should do: kicking a bad team when it’s down. The Toronto Maple Leafs started the year 4-0, but have foundered since. With the Canucks taking tonight’s game 5-3, the Leafs have now lost eight straight games, and have scored just six goals in their last four losses. Vancouver should win this game going away, and have now done so in five straight visits to the ACC.
A problem for Vancouver seems to be letting poor teams stick around in games long enough to make it close. The Canucks outshot the Leafs 26-16 through two periods, but took a tied game into both intermissions. The Leafs are 28th in the league in goals for, but managed three goals in the first two periods alone against Vancouver’s vaunted team defense/Roberto Luongo combination. Hell, the Leafs went up 2-0 in this game, and looked poised to rack up the score if not for the mighty Bobby Lou. Sure, Luongo looked soft on the first and third goals, but he was called upon to make several wonderful saves in close to keep the game close while the offense warmed up.
If it weren’t for a cheeky 80-foot slap shot from Mason Raymond that snuck through Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s pads, the Canucks might not have earned two points this night. Look at the photo for this blog post – the ad behind Mason Raymond says “CHEESE SNACKS”, which pretty much perfectly describes his winning goal. Watching Raymond wind up at the blue line, one thought, “Oh MayRay, you’ll never score from — oh, I guess you will.” This is the Leafs, after all. Giguere would have been ribbed by teammates for letting this unobstructed, undeflected waffler get by him in practice. Letting it in for a game winning goal, for the team’s eighth straight loss? He’ll be lucky if his mates talk to him at all.
If this sounds familiar, it’s with good reason. The Canucks let the Oilers climb back from a 3-0 deficit before Raffi Torres scored a lucky backhand GWG from the circles a few games ago. Just before Hallowe’en, Vancouver let Colorado outshoot them 31-13 over the final two periods, and squeaked out an overtime win they probably didn’t deserve. You may ask, “What’s the big deal?” You may say, “Good teams find ways to win.” And you’d be right – it’s a concern, however, when your Stanley Cup-contending team needs to grind out lucky wins over opponents who sit in 19th, 27th and 29th place in a 30-team league.
It’s hard to complain when your team is leading the Northwest, but the Canucks are in serious danger of thinking too much of themselves. The fact is, leading the Northwest is no mean feat. Colorado, Minnesota, Calgary and Edmonton all sit out of playoff contention at the moment, and probably still will come season’s end. Just as the Washington Capitals have blown away the Southeast Division for two years running only to be ousted in the playoffs by stiffer competition, the Canucks have played too many games against soft opponents, and more often than not have won those games in sloppy, skin-of-their-teeth fashion. No wonder the Blackhawks have won second round matchups against Vancouver – they have learned to play tough hockey with divisional games against Detroit, Phoenix and St Louis.
Ryan Kesler is the first to admit it. “We played sloppy hockey,” he told the Vancouver Sun, “but we got the two points and that’s all that matters.” Sadly, this team can’t afford to think that way any more. Not if they want to win a Cup. This team needs to harden themselves into a group of killers that won’t take barely beat the Leafs for an answer.