Bruce Ng: Canucks Advent Calendar: 10 days to the Season Opener

This series of blog posts by Bruce Ng will look back on the highest highs of last season, and looks to get the Canucks faithful amped for the season to come!

With just 10 days to the start of the season, today’s memory is the horrific injury, and inspirational comeback, of the Canucks 3rd line centre, Manny Malhotra.

Although a high draft pick (7th overall by the Rangers), Malhotra was never a big time scorer, and Rangers head coach John Muckler declared that Malhotra would never be any more than a career third-liner.

After some up and down years with the Rangers, he spent time in Dallas, Columbus, and San Jose prior to coming to Vancouver, where he was gladly welcomed as a 3rd-line centre. Until that time, Ryan Kesler was the Canucks shut-down centre. Malhotra’s arrival really offered the Canucks a lot of options and versatility down the middle.

Malhotra lived up to the billing as a great defensive centre – he killed penalties, was the top face-off player in the NHL, and chipped in with a few goals as well. In addition, Kesler was having a breakout offensive season, due in part to the fact that he had fewer top defensive assignments.

Then on March 16, 2011, everything changed. Malhotra was struck under the eye by a deflected puck off of a Christian Ehrhoff clearing attempt.

He had surgery to repair the eye the next day. Who says surgery waits are too long in BC? Just be a hockey player with the Canucks. Instead of depth and all the pieces of the puzzle, the Canucks were left with a large gap at centre, and far fewer options heading into the playoffs.

Very little was said over the next few days and weeks about Malhotra’s eye, other than “we’ll see” – terrible pun intended.

The next glimpse most Canucks fans had of Malhotra was when the President’s Trophy was presented to himself and Henrik Sedin on April 7, 2011. The crowd was supercharged and emotional to see Malhotra back and smiling, even if only for a few moments. The Canucks may have been motivated by seeing Malhotra, as they beat the Minnesota Wild 5-0. Roberto Luongo posted a shutout, Ryan Kesler posted his third hat trick of the season, and Mason Raymond also scored twice.

The next several weeks very little was said about Malhotra at all. In the playoffs, Malhotra was still useful – acting as an assistant coach, and running face-off workshops with the Canucks centres. Malhotra was skating, but no gear on, no contact and with a full face shield. No timetable for a return.

But the longer and deeper the Canucks went into the playoffs (and that’s what she said), the louder the whispers of Malhotra’s possible return became.

In Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, Malhotra made his return to the Canucks lineup. He started the game at centre, and of course won the opening face-off.

His presence was a boost to the Canucks who won Game 2 that night. I always thought it was clever how Malhotra had been running drills with the other centres – maybe he always thought it was possible to come back, and was actually keeping himself sharp.

Malhotra will be just as important this season to the Canucks: defensively, on face-offs and killing penalties. I can’t wait to see who his new linemates will be, and how his season develops after further recovering in the summer.

RT and add your best wishes for Manny Malhotra!

The Vancouver Canucks announced today that Manny Malhotra will not return this season, or for the playoffs after suffering a severe eye injury.

While this loss is no doubt a big one for the Canucks and their fans, there is no one affected more than Manny himself. We thought it would be a nice gesture for fans to leave a comment here giving thanks to Manny for his efforts this year and to offer words of encouragement and hope for a full and speedy recovery.

So, this post is nothing more than that, a get well card for Manny. Please spread the word and leave your thoughts and wishes!

Hopefully we get a ton of comments here, and I’ll print them off and forward them to the Canucks and in return Manny.

Manny Malhotra - Photo Credit: Doug Pensinger - Getty Images

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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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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