Toby Ward: HanShrayRay tame the Wild

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Jannik HansenJordan SchroederMason Raymond, what a line, what speed, what pluck!

HanShrayRay (for lack of a better, more officious nickname, that’s not as sexy as West Coast Express but…) added hustle, speed, and the game winning goal.

“They played with skill, speed and grit,” said Coach Alain Vigneault during the post-game press conference in praising the plucky, emerging Hansen-Schroeder-Raymond line. “They were tough to handle.”

Not tough for Canucks fans, who loudly cheered the 1st star selection of Hansen, who led all players with 5 shots on net. Hansen now has 7 points (3 goals) in 12 games, and is tied for a team high +7, but it’s the immeasurable contributions he brings – his speed, forechecking, and bluster. If there was a Canuck who fit the Honey Badger metaphor, it’s Hansen.

Hansen’s opposite winger, Raymond chipped in with two shots, and the key play to set-up Keith Ballard who dished to Hansen for the game-winning goal (and has a surprising 8 points to start the season). And Schroeder, the speedy, diminutive center with the hustle to match Hansen, and a passing ability that could rival any player on the team, also impressed, and was key to helping Raymond dig the puck out of the corner which led to the game winner.

HanShrayRay – I think most Canuck fans would like to see a lot more of them.

Goalie

What controversy? Look up the definition of controversy in the dictionary, there’s nothing controversial about Vancouver’s goalie tandem. In fact, Roberto Luongo, the defacto back-up goalie, is second amongst NHL goalies, with a superlative save percentage of 94.3 (.943), and a goals against average (GAA) of 1.45.

Interesting to look south at Florida, Luongo’s preferred destination (his home, his wife’s home), and note that Florida gave up six goals on 29 shots last night. The Panthers had the single worst GAA in the NHL heading into the game, and have safely secured the bottom-of-the-barrel position for the foreseeable future after giving up six against the lowly Capitals.

Looks like Florida could use a superlative goalie…  and I think Jose Theodore would be a superlative back-up to Corey Schneider. Mind you, I’d rather see Luongo and Schneider remain as a tandem, and share the workload on the way to a Cup parade.

NOTES: Speaking of goalies, a very decent first NHL game for Darcy Kuemper, 28 of 30 saves, and the evening’s third star… Devon Setogouchi made a big league, power forward move and shot to score the lone Wild goal (impressive, but Minnesota could use more of that from him)… Andrew Ebbett was dancing, and dishing last night in his limited 9 minutes (he deserves more starts, because AaronVolpatti and Dale Weise have earned very little)… Manny Malhotra missed the game due to “family reasons” and Vigneault and the Canucks declined to comment on the matter, but when asked Vigneault didn’t sound particularly impressed. I have a feeling we may be witnessing the final months of Manny’s career, though he still is a valued faceoff man.


 

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Toby Ward is a season ticket holder, former reporter and producer covering the Canucks turned consultant, and blogger. A lifelong Canucks fan who bleeds blue and green, Toby first saw the Canucks when they hosted Bobby Orr and the Bruins in 1974.


 

Raymond Kirk: Canucks are California Dreaming and Finding Their Game

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The Vancouver Canucks did many things right in their past two games, at home against the Calgary Flames, and in their first road test of the season last Friday against the Anaheim Ducks. Winning key faceoffs, better puck support, and most important, clutch goaltending from new #1 Cory Schneider, all combined to make a 0-1-1 record forgotten. The Canucks now head into what should be a very interesting two games in two nights starting tonight in San Jose against the red hot Sharks, and a game against the defending Stanley Cup Champion LA Kings on Monday at Staples Centre.

The wins are nice, and oh so important in this compressed 48 game schedule, but tonight begins a true litmus test to see just where these 2013 Canucks are with respect to finding their President’s Trophy form, as they finally face a club that made the playoffs last season, a red-hot team at that. San Jose is off to a perfect 4-0 start, and looking dominant in the process, as Patrick Marleau already has 8 goals to lead all NHL Shooters, and Jumbo Joe Thornton has racked up 9 helpers, as both veteran Shark forwards find themselves tied for the NHL lead with a remarkable 11 points through the first full week of the NHL season. The Canucks, although playing much better in their two wins than they did in their first two losses of the season, will have to be even better tonight if they hope to keep their modest win streak intact.

Against Calgary, the Canucks once again blew a two goal lead and played sloppy hockey, and were fortunate to win the skills-competition shootout, thanks in large part to Schneider finally finding his groove to begin the third period, as his first two looked as shaky as his season opening debacle against Anaheim. Quiet in his crease, and square to the puck, Schneider looked like the goalie that we have seen the last two seasons, making tough stops look routine in large part to his positioning. The Canucks, after the first ten minutes in Anaheim, played their best hockey of the season, and rode hot goaltending with a strong powerplay to a 5-0 decision over those same Ducks that spanked them in their home opener.

This week also marked the emergence of Zack Kassian, goal scorer and new fan favorite, and the debut of the much anticipated Jordan Schroeder era in Vancouver. Kassian won the lottery with consistent effort, and finds himself skating with the Sedins, and will stay there as long as he continues to play big, use his surprising speed and better than expected passing ability. He brings an element to that line that Alex Burrows has not over the years….size. It is also a prime example of players that played during the lockout having an edge over those that did not, as Kassian has shown to be in game form, while Burrows, who definitely played his best game of the season last Friday, is still working to find his full game speed. Schroeder has not looked overwhelmed or out of place through his first two NHL games, as he has not shied away from going to the front of the net, and seems to have good vision and puck awareness. Far from an established NHL regular, I can see where he will be able to consistently fight for an NHL roster spot come next season, when I would expect he would officially take a roster spot away from Manny Malhotra on this team.

mason-raymondThe best story for me, bar none, this young NHL season for the Canucks is the re-emergence of Mason Raymond. Everybody has definitely not loved Raymond the last few seasons in Vancouver, and with cause. He has teased fans with his speed and shot for years on the left coast, but coming off that horrific back injury in the Stanley Cup Final against Boston, many (myself included) thought that his best days were behind him, and I couldn’t wait to see someone new come in and take his spot to fill the void of the 25-30 goals that he should be able to provide for this hockey team. It’s a small sample size, but this Mason Raymond is night and day over the player that skated in that jersey last season. Thanks to a long layoff due to the lockout, and obvious hard work, Raymond has seized the moment once again in Vancouver, and has, to me, edged Kassian as best story and best performer for the Canucks through the first four games. No one on this team is faster, when he’s healthy, and not many have a better shot, when he uses it. Raymond, who seemed scared (for obvious reasons) to drive the net last year, has not shown any yet this year, and has been rewarded for that net presence. The skeptic in me says it won’t last, or that it has shown up as it is a contract year, but Raymond, who took a pay cut to play this year, has a lot to prove and is doing so right now, and I couldn’t be happier for him. If Raymond can play at this level and sustain it, with a level of confidence, I can only imagine just how good a season he could have, once a healthy Kesler is centering his line.

So begins the next two most important games in this young Canucks season. I would imagine with it being back to back nights, that we will see both Schneider and Luongo these next two days. There have been positive signs this week, but the team will need to be even better if it hopes to skate away with a couple more victories in California. The Sharks will be a huge test tonight. If Schneider can keep his game up that he found late against Calgary, the effective youthful exuberance of Kassian and Schroeder can continue, and Raymond keeps playing at the level he has shown to start this campaign, the Canucks can definitely return home with a much better feeling about their game, than when they left for California with question marks surrounding almost every aspect of their game. Your thoughts?

Raymond Kirk
Follow me on Twitter: @RayRay2233


 

Toby Ward: The destruction of the second line.

CanucksCorner.com is pleased to welcome Toby Ward to our team. Toby is a  former reporter and producer who covered the Canucks and has since turned consultant, blogger, and season ticket holder. A lifelong Canucks fan who bleeds blue and green, Toby first saw the Canucks when they hosted Bobby Orr and the Bruins in 1974.

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The Canucks have been without a consistent, stable second line since Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs versus Nashville during the 2011 playoff run – a round that saw the emergence of Ryan Kesler as a potential super stud. Unfortunately, Kesler was injured in the next round versus San Jose, and Mason Raymond famously joined him on the DL in the Finals versus Boston. Since then, the second line has rarely been stable and has constantly been shuffling players in and out.

Nearly two years later, the second line has once again migrated to the infirmary.

The good news: Raymond, who has never been the same since his horrific injury in those same 2011 Finals, and may now get a chance to slowly find his game on the third line (provoking a massive sigh of relief from all those Raymond haters who’ve demanded his trade for most of the past year). The bad news: the Canucks have no second line.

Kesler is a month or two away from making a return; Booth joins him on the infirm list for a minimum of six weeks, if not more, with what appears to be a too-much-training injury of his groin; and Raymond cannot play by himself, and probably would benefit from a reduced roll while he finds a productive hockey stick. In fact, the third line may now likely become the second line by default, even though it still lacks a definitive center.

At this moment, it would appear that young Jordan Schroeder may be given every opportunity to earn the opportunity to win that second line center spot; leaving the third line center spot for Lapierre, or possibly Hansen who can play center, but likely will have a shot on the wing on the second line (Chris Higgins can also play center, but almost certainly will move to the wing on the second line).

If Schroeder fails to impress, one wonders if Jason Arnott might not be considered again, or the spritely local boy and fan favourite, Brendan Morrison (both are still looking for a team). Let’s hope that GM Mike Gillis resists the urge to bring in an aging European winger – a la Marco Sturm, or Peter Sykora (who’s also without a job).

The problem with extended injuries in a shortened 48-game season is that the Canucks can ill afford a slow start – especially since every single game is versus a conference rival who may be competing with the Canucks for conference positioning, or dare I say it, a final playoff position.

The impetus and pressure on Gillis to pull the trigger on a Luongo trade just intensified, but may already be under serious, specific consideration. There are signs that Gillis may already have a trade package ready to go: the signing of veteran defensemen Cam Barker and Jim Vandermeer bring the total number of defensemen with significant NHL experience to nine (not including Frank Corrado and Connauton) – far more defensemen than is necessary on a defense roster that is one of, if not the strongest in the NHL. It would be highly unusual for the team to keep more than seven with the club past Friday).

With Alex Edler out of contract at season end, and the Canucks already pushing the limits of the current salary cap, Elder may in fact be used a trade bait if Connauton or Corrado look like they are ready to make the jump. Although, a move of Ballard and/or Tanev may be more likely.

Regardless, the current injury crisis and destruction of the second line is likely to incite Gillis to make a move – perhaps a mega blockbuster trade – before the start of the season on Saturday.

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Raymond Kirk: Is Your Canucks Second Line Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

CanucksCorner.com welcomes the newest member of our blogging team, Raymond Kirk. A resident of Calgary, Raymond is a life long Canucks fan, former coach and player and we’re excited to have him join us.

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Without a game being played in the Vancouver Canucks 2013 NHL Season, the organization is faced with a huge decision in how to prepare for the upcoming season. Knowing that Ryan Kesler is on the shelf for an undetermined amount of time, news that David Booth would miss the seasons first 4-6 weeks with a groin strain. Suddenly, the potent Canucks offensive attack has been deemed stalled by many, before a puck has even been dropped. I’ve heard several people today say that the need to trade Roberto Luongo for a centre must be expedited now, or that the tires should be kicked once again on a Jason Arnott, or even, gasp, inquire about a soon to be bought out Scott Gomez, if the price was right on a one year deal. But is it aready time to sound off the alarm on offensive woes before a game is even played this season? Without exploring what the club already has in house?

The answer of that question, to me, is I don’t know, and I don’t believe the team knows either. With two thirds of your second line out, and audition hopefuls being comprised of AHL question marks and a much-maligned Winger in Mason Raymond, I don’t know what can really be expected to fit what this team will need to do, to win on a night in – night out basis. But I am ready to find out.

In my opinion, there will be no better opportunity to find out just what you have drafted, in your 2009 1st Round Pick, Jordon Schroeder. Yet to play a game for the team, it’s now or never to see what he can bring to the table, as the 22 year old has to prove that he can produce as a top-six player for the organization, as his skill set will not work as a bottom-six forward for this hockey team. Can he be successful in that role? The only way to find out is to actually let him play. It’s a tough spot for Schroeder, with no camp, but he has played all season with the Chicago Wolves, and is in game shape, and seems to be finding his game at the right time of the season. Injuries provide chances for players…..Schroeder needs to seize this time now.

Zack Kassian, fairly or not, will always be linked to Cody Hodgson around here, but I see no reason why he can’t be an effective second line winger, and be a difference maker right now. Finding a goal or two early into the year would do wonders for his confidence, and if he sticks to a simple game, and uses his size and strength effectively, he can bring a much needed element to the top-six. I still think he’s better suited in a third line role, but I think the team needs more size up front right now, and Kassian fits the bill, as long as he isn’t a defensive liability. To be determined…

The key to this line would be Mason Raymond, who admittedly would say that 2012 was a rough season for the speedy winger. He has shown flashes of the potential 30 goals that he could score in the past, but coming off an abysmal offensive season coming back from the injury he sustained in the Stanley Cup Final, will he be able to regain the form and give the second line the offensive output this team will need to be successful early in the season? I expect a motivated Raymond to want to put a bad year behind him, and don’t think that 12-14 goals this year is unreasonable. I was hard on him all last year, but want to give him the benefit of doubt after having a full off season of recovery time from his injury. Until he goes the first three games without a goal and I’m screaming to the hills to move him for a bag of pucks. Just score, Mason…

The Canucks will score from other areas….overall offense will come from the Sedins, Chris Higgins, Max Lapierre, and a blueline that has always found a way to contribute with key points at key times. I’m not convinced that Jordon Schroeder, Zack Kassian and Mason Raymond will cure what appears to ail the offensive loss in the absence of Kesler and Booth. But I’m hopeful they can. And if not, then it will be time for Mike Gillis to play his hand and make his move to acquire a difference maker for the top six. A short season heightens the need for results, and quickly. Fair or not, the auditions will be short, but here’s hoping that we like what we see come the weekend.  Your thoughts?

Raymond Kirk

Follow me on Twitter: @RayRay2233


 

Bruce Ng: Canucks Wagon Watch: Game 26 versus Calgary

Mason Raymond didn't hit the scoresheet tonight, but ladies in Vancouver didn't notice. #Dreamy #WaitWhat?

Throughout the season, the Canucks Wagonwatch series will track how much room is on the team’s bandwagon. In addition, it will also track the completely separate Luongo wagon.

The Flames were on the second game of a back-to-back set, defeating Edmonton last night. The Flames lit the lamp for a 1-0 lead after one period, but their effort dimmed in the 2nd period, and the Canucks extinguished them from there. The Canucks roared back with five unanswered goals to win 5-1.

Canucks Bandwagon: 80% full

After Friday’s disappointing defensive game against the Predators, it was nice to see the Canucks put together a good effort. They gave up only a few good scoring chances. On the offensive side they had a good cycling game and solid forecheck that took advantage of the Flames tired legs. On David Booth’s goal, Chris Higgins stole the puck on the corner boards, and Booth took over on a wraparound from there – a testament to both the Canucks work ethic, and the Flames fatigue.

Luongo Bandwagon: 50% full

Let’s get it out of the way – the one goal that Luongo let in was a softie – it looked to sneak in between his pad and the post, or deflect off his left pad and in. From there, he was lights out, shutting the door the rest of the way. Luongo stopped 21 of 22 shots and looked pretty solid in his first start since his mysterious “Upper Body Injury But Not a Concussion”. The fickle fans of Vancouver might have a problem with the one goal, but can’t argue with the win.

Mason Raymond comeback complete

Mason Raymond made his return to the Canucks lineup tonight, playing his first game since Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. He looked to be fast out there, contributing an assist on Jannik Hansen’s goal, and diving for a Cody Hodgson pass in the slot. I enjoyed watching that line skate – Hodgson’s skills with Hansen and Raymond’s speed. Hope Raymond can keep it up and get his scoring touch back.