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.

mason-raymond

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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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.

What’s the deal, AV?

They haven't looked good on the ice, so here's a shot of Kevin Bieksa off of it.One day after losing 7-2 to the sadsack Calgary Flames, the Chicago Blackhawks did the long walk of shame into Vancouver, shook themselves out of whatever funk had let them poop out that stinker at the Saddledome, and thoroughly trounced the Vancouver Canucks 7-1.

The Canucks, one day after that embarrassing loss, got right back at it by hosting the Phoenix Coyotes. They had a chance to do just what the dirty rotten stinkin’ Blackhawks had done to them the night before. Let loose. Fire all cannons. Rip off the Chinos and go commando on someone’s ass. But no, the Canucks instead sleepwalked through most of the night and let Taylor Pyatt – YES, TAYLOR PYATT – score two goals including the game winner as the Yotes left the Canucks winless in four.

Pyatt of the light brown eyelashes singlehandedly spent more time in the opposition crease area than the entire Canucks roster (something he could have done a little more often when he still played here, by the way.) It doesn’t take hours of video analysis to see the problems. Defensively, the Canucks are guilty of stick checking – when they check at all, that is. Luongo has been left high and dry on countless occasions in the past two weeks. Hamhuis has made a few decent plays, but only a few. Alberts was all hit for the first ten games of the season, and mostly miss ever since. The wicked D on paper has translated into a paper D on ice.

Offensively, Vancouver has stopped skating at the net. They’ve become utterly predictable. Hell, the most dangerous offensive play by a Canuck this weekend was a rush by Kevin Bieksa in the second period against the Yotes. For some reason, other than that solo Bieksa effort, the Canucks offense has reduced itself to pretty much one play: 1) Carry the puck over the opposing blueline. 2) Hold up on the right halfboards. 3) Look for a trailer.

A junior team could defend against this kind of bland attack.

Perhaps Alain Vigneault’s complaints that Chicago ran up the score on Saturday night were meant to give the media fodder so they wouldn’t look any closer. Keith Ballard is out with the flu – maybe there are others in the dressing room who are sluggish because of a bug, as well. At least it would be an excuse for such lacklustre performances. According to Iain MacIntyre of the Vancouver Sun, however, when asked on Twitter if the flu was rampant in the Nucks dressing room: “On any team, any time, there’s always a couple of guys fighting illness but flu “rampant?” I haven’t seen that.” Scratch that excuse, then.

So what is it? The Sedins have been all but invisible; with the exception of his penalty shot goal earlier this year, Henrik hasn’t taken a legitimate shot on net all season. Alex Burrows has been largely ineffective since returning from shoulder surgery. Mason Raymond hasn’t skated around anyone in weeks, and Ryan Kesler’s hotter in underwear ads than on the second line. As for Mikael Samuelsson – how do you say “You’re fired” in Swedish? Maybe it’s time some of these top six underachievers sat in the press box for a few games. Even better, make them pay $150 to sit in the nosebleeds and watch this team’s lack of effort.

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Good to be lucky, lucky to be good

MayRay Smallby 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.


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It’s a beautiful Remembrance Day

Alex Burrows trades karma for first of the year.by Jason Kurylo

The Vancouver Canucks cancelled their morning skate this Remembrance Day, instead hitting the National War Memorial in Ottawa to honour war veterans. It was a classy move by the organization, one that generated positive press across Canada and positive karma inside Scotiabank Place. The Canucks bounced back from their lacklustre effort in Montreal with a convincing 6-2 win over the Senators. It was the Canucks’ seventh win in eight games, and coach Alain Vigneault’s 300th career W.

Alex Burrows scored his first of the year much as you would have expected – Henrik fires a no-look pass to Daniel behind the net, and Burrows spins off his check into the slot. Dank threads a perfect pass to number 14, who buries a one-timer from three feet out. It was an important goal, one that gave the Canucks a two-goal lead early in the third period, allowing Vancouver to win going away instead of letting the Sens creep their way back into the game. The Sedins each had two points, and factored in on goals that came 22 seconds into the first period and 33 seconds into the third.

Ryan Kesler took advantage of linemate Mikael Samuelsson’s return to form – the Swede looked dangerous for the first time in a few weeks. Kesler scored from the lip of the crease twice, once on a nice pass from Jannik Hansen, the other on a rebound of Samuelsson’s fifth shot.

The fourth line looked more effective than at any other time this season, most likely a result of having a natural centre skating up the middle. Vancouver Giants alumnus Mario Bliznak was called up from the Manitoba Moose to spark the checking line – Tanner Glass moved to the right side, bumping Peter Schaefer, and scored his first of the year. Bliznak then swatted a puck out of mid-air to net his first career goal late in the game. Rick Rypien spent more time in the penalty box than on the ice – he had just under seven minutes of playing time, but 12 minutes in the box.

In their own end, the Canucks were sloppy in the first but got bailed out more often than not by Roberto Luongo. He made several point blank stops, including a one-timer from Jason Spezza and the rebound from Alex Kovalev. The only goal to get by him in the first 56 minutes came when he was unable to smother a puck that dropped to the ice in front of him. Peter Regin drove the crease & poked the rebound home through Bobby Lou’s legs. This has to be on goaltending coach Rollie Melanson’s to-do list: Luongo has given up several goals of this nature in the past few games. The Sens scored a meaningless goal late in the game to make the score 6-2, again off a Canucks miscue. Dan Hamhuis bobbled the puck behind the net, and the opportunistic Regin flipped it out front to Sergei Gonchar. The veteran rearguard slammed it home easily; you can’t blame Luongo for that one.

With the win, the Canucks sit atop the Northwest Division, four points up on the Minnesota Wild. But wait, the Canucks are just one point up on… ANAHEIM??!!?!? The surprising Ducks have played two more games than Vancouver, but holy quack, there might be some mighty left in SoCal after all. Vancouver sits in third place in the Western Conference, and tied for sixth in league standings. Their next game comes on Saturday night, a spotlight game against the snakebitten Toronto Maple Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada.

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