What To Do With The Suddenly Dynamic Demitra?

Jason KuryloJoin us in welcoming our newest contributor to CanucksCorner.com, Jason Kurylo. Jason is a sports fan who has a writing background and a passion for the Canucks. We put out a call for writers on Twitter, and Jason answered. In his first blog for the site, Jason looks at the successful Olympics for Pavol Demitra and wonders what the Canucks options should be in dealing with the veteran Slovak and NHLer going forward.

We were treated to some pretty outstanding hockey in the Olympic tournament, of course, topped nicely by Captain Roberto Luongo preserving Canadian pride against Ryan Kesler’s second period goal and second intermission trash talk. Gold north of 49, thank you very much, and silver for our American brethren to the south.

In fact, Canucks figured in each of the top five teams in the tournament. (Sorry, Christian Ehrhoff fans, but your boy’s German team finished a distant 11th. The man can’t do it alone.)

Sami Salo helped Finland pick up its fifth men’s ice hockey medal since 1988 — his second, as he took home a silver in Torino in 2006. Side note: the Finns have more medals in men’s ice hockey in that time than any other nation. That’s right, the Finns.

They won’t be happy about it, but Henrik and Daniel Sedin didn’t get a sniff at medals this time round, despite taking gold outright last time round. They were knocked out by… the Slovaks?

The biggest surprise of the tournament wasn’t Canada taking gold, Crosby scoring in OT or even Marty stumbling to allow Luongo into the big show. It was the play of the Slovakian team, led by — get those questions marks ready again — Pavol Demitra?

Demitra’s performance since returning from off-season shoulder surgery has been mediocre at best. His slow feet and stone hands have brought to mind Mats Sundin’s slow mid-season re-entry to the NHL just a year ago. Sure, Demo tipped a shot home and scored in the shootout against the Bruins a week before the tournament. But other than that game, his spot on the roster has been largely wasted. After missing a couple of games to attend to a family illness, the 35-year-old Demitra, he of the $4 million annual salary, came back on Valentine’s Day to find himself on the fourth line.

So who predicted Pavol Demitra would not only lead his country to its best-ever Olympic showing, but that he would lead the Olympic tournament in scoring?

Cynics in Vancouver, myself included, pointed at his last-second miss against the Canadians in the semis: “There’s the Demitra we’re used to.” Luongo’s amazing glove save aside, Pavol’s inspired play for the Slovaks included a shootout winner over the Russians and a goal and two assists in what Demitra called “the biggest win in my country’s history” over the defending champs from Sweden. The ten points are six more than he’s put up with the Canucks this year, against much tougher competition. Then again, he was also playing with guys like Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik and Zdeno Chara.

The argument, then, is either for moving Demo back on to one of the top two lines — would the Sedins have him after that quarter final game? — or move him off the squad altogether. Don’t be surprised if this is one salary dump that gets done before the March 3 deadline. Either that, or Mike Gillis needs to get a Slovak flag hung in the rafters, STAT.

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Olympic Impact Could Help Canucks

As we all nurse our Olympic hangovers and search for other ways to fill the void by the end of the games, it’s time to get ready for the final push of the NHL season. The Canucks had seven players in the games, and they had varying degrees of success. Three players in particular had great games, and they will bring into the dressing room a complete set of Vancouver 2010 medals. Let’s take a look at how the Olympic tournament may just help the Canucks as they aim to take another Northwest Division crown and go on a lengthy playoff run.

Pavol Demitra – Slovakia

Pavol Demitra - Matthew Manor/HHOF-IIHF ImagesMany Canuck fans may had forgotten who Pavol Demitra was, and you could hardly blame them for doing so. Demitra, 35, who missed 47 games for the Canucks with annoying shoulder problem that required two operations and many opinions on treatment. He returned to the Canucks on January 16th, but had struggled to find his game notching just a goal and three assists in 11 appearances since his return. Of course people were willing to cut him slack after missing so many games, but just before the Olympics Demitra was starting to get some heat from fans and media to start producing and he was seeing time on the teams fourth line.

Playing for his country seemed to be the tonic that Demitra needed and the veteran Slovak led his team to a best-ever fourth-place finish, while earning a spot on the tournaments all-star team. He also nearly ruined the hopes of the Canadian public with a last second goal in the semi-final but was thwarted by teammate Roberto Luongo. Demitra’s continued success would be a huge bonus for the Canucks heading down the stretch, but he won’t be playing with Marion Gaborik and Michael Handzus when play resumes. Early reports say he’ll start the post Olympic session on a line with Ryan Kesler.

Roberto Luongo

Roberto Luongo - Photo: John MahoneyThere is no doubt that most had resigned themselves to the fact that Roberto Luongo would be the backup to Martin Brodeur heading into the games, and that was the plan when they began. But when the future hall of famer had a sub par game versus the USA, Luongo got his chance and the pressure to win was no doubt immense. Playing in front of his fans in Vancouver, in his rink and with the hopes of a nation riding on his shoulders, Luongo got the job done and won gold.

Luongo has had his critics, and their biggest beef has been the fact that he hadn’t won the big one. A couple of playoff series wins are the only thing on his resume and he needed to take that step. Well on the biggest stage in the world, he got the monkey off his back. No more can critics say Luongo can’t win the big game and with that label out of the way, who knows how it will translate to his role with the Canucks. He’ll get a brief rest and give way to Andrew Raycroft versus Columbus but he should return to the net with confidence of knowing he can win the big games. That in itself could be the key to a long playoff run for the Canucks.

Ryan Kesler

Ryan Kesler - Canucks.comKesler had an outstanding tournament for the USA. He was a leader all over the ice. He killed penalties, won huge face offs and did what Kesler does best…pissed a lot of people off. The same reasons you love him as a Canuck were the ones you hated him as a Canadian. He took shots at his teammate Roberto Luongo in the media, and on the ice. Some felt there was friction between the two but I tend to believe all will be fine in Canuckville, and it was part of the quest for the gold.

The experience for Kesler had to be a valuable one. He led a great hockey team to within a sudden death goal of a gold medal, and the Canucks should reap the benefit of that experience. He’s truly becoming one of the best two way players in the game, and he can contribute in many ways. It sounds like Alain Vigneault will pair Kesler with Demitra to start when play resumes. If both can keep up their inspired play, the Canucks will be a tough team to handle going forward.

The disappointment of losing the gold should feed Kesler’s thirst for a cup and we should see the best Ryan Kesler we’ve seen yet down the stretch. I can’t wait.

The Rest

The other Canucks, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Christian Erhoff and Sami Salo should all be better for the experience. The early exit for the Sedin’s at the hands of the Slovaks was unfortunate for them, but they should pick up where they left off. Salo will bring home a bronze medal for his efforts, but Canucks fans are just happy he came out of the games healthy. Erhoff, playing for the Germans had little expectation of hardware, but got to compete at a high level in a great tournament.

So in the end the results of the tournament set up pretty good for these players to turn their experience into good things for themselves and their teammates. I’m sure a cup  and a ring to along with the gold, silver and bronze in the room would suit the Canucks and their fans just fine.

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Well Played, Wellwood!

The Canucks came out blazing in the first two periods of last night’s game.  Although they did stumble for most of the third, allowing the Chicago Blackhawks to tie the game at three on thirteen shots on Roberto Luongo.  It was definitely something the Canucks need to be mindful of next game and prepare for better than Game 1.

Wellwood pays the price in Game 1 versus the Chicago Blackhawks

Wellwood pays the price in Game 1 versus the Chicago Blackhawks

Kyle Wellwood’s play last night was outstanding.  To me, he was the unsung hero of the game.  He drew three penalties last night including two double minors. His face paid the price, but he didn’t care.  He got stitched up and he was back on the ice like it did not even happen.  He did his job and he did it well.

All throughout the regular season stretch and the Round 1 series against St. Louis, we have seen a different side of Kyle Wellwood.  We see a guy that has re-invented himself into a very good two way hockey player.   We have seen a guy who has been in Alain Vigneault’s doghouse and was called out publicly, to someone who has become a very effective third line shut down centre.

Perhaps seeing that he cleared waivers twice, and seeing his NHL career on the brink woke something up in Kyle Wellwood and he made a choice to be the player he knows he could be.  We are seeing that on the ice presently. During these playoffs, Wellwood has scored once, had three assists and playing good defensive hockey.

What really sticks out in my mind is his face-off percentage in the playoffs. All the Canucks regular centres are doing very well, but his 56.4% winning percentage is behind that of Mats Sundin (57.5%) and Ryan Johnson (62.5%). This is an area that the whole team has improved on this season but Kyle winning key face-offs on the third line has been a big factor in his success.

His contributions on the second unit power play have been noticed. His pass on Demitra’s goal last night was brilliant and to mention the beauty to Kesler for the Canucks’ third goal of the evening.

There was something in Kyle Wellwood that Mike Gillis saw to take a $1million dollar chance on at the beginning of the season, and it’s paying off.  Whatever it is,  let’s hope it continues in this series.
High sticks and tape may break his face, but the fatty names never broke his spirit. Good job Kyle.  Glad to have you aboard, in my mind, a magical team.
Go Canucks Go.
Musings from the mud.

Lotus Blossom,Canucks Corner

Luongo Out! The Season is a wash! (Humour me)

Oh my God! What are we Canucks fans to do? We went from contending for the Northwest division to contesting for the rights in the lottery for Jonathan Tavares with a tweak of Roberto Luongo’s groin! Panic button I say! Panic button! The Vancouver Canucks should forfeit their season and get those extra lottery draws! There is nothing the Canucks can do to turn their season around!

…Ok, so I am playing around, but that’s what I am reading on fan forum boards all over the Northwest Division, particularly those fan forums of the Calgary Flames. I guess the Vancouver Canucks start and end with Bingo Bango Bongo, Captain Roberto Luongo. As a team they don’t have much to offer or do we? What do we do fans?

Well…

We wait till our Captain comes back and hope that our team of mediocrity can pick up a win here and there without him. That’s what we do.

Yes, it’s true, the Canucks are a better with Roberto Luongo between the pipes. There is absolutely no questioning that. I believe the word I am looking for is FACT! So why the panic? Are the Canucks that empty without Roberto? Let’s look at what the Canucks have with Roberto Luongo in the press box.

Replacing the irreplaceable, Curtis Sanford has the undaunted task of filling some pretty big blockers and goalie pads.  Sanford, is one of he better back-up goalies out there, he just had to sit on the bench a lot more because of the workhorse the Canucks have in Luongo.  He’s (Sanford) very steady, and should be alright to call upon as Bobby Lu rests his groin. Sanford is ready and will probably see more action in these next two weeks than he has seen all of last season.  Cory Schneider, Canucks #1 draft pick and goalie prospect will play back up to Sanford during the injury time. I believe we will see Schneider play at least once during this time due to a back to back in the early part of December.  This is Schneider’s time to shine and possibly steal the show. That alone is pretty exciting stuff.

Regardless of whether Sanford or Schneider being between the pipes, this is the time for the Canucks to test their character and mettle as a unit.  Can the defensive core pick up the slack and be more mindful to clear the puck and keep the puck out of the goaltenders’ way? Or will the buckle under the pressure. With their play as of late, I’d say the Canucks will answer the call. Added pressure is put on Salo, Ohlund and Mitchell to lead the way with Bieksa still out with a foot injury.  Can these three elevate their games and make sure the rest of their colleagues on the blue line follow suit? Recent play says yes, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Will the forwards on the Canucks take the pressure off Sanford and Schneider and put in some goals to help the team cause?  Sure why not?  Will Pavol Demitra continue to shine accumulating points from every game? Will Daniel continue to contribute to the score sheet now that he has that monkey off his back? Will Raymond find his swift feet leading him to a few goals here and there? Again with the recent indicating, yes, this is all possible.

The ONE question that dwells in my mind is…will AV go back to a more defensive minded strategy until the return of Lu? I believe he will tighten up the openness of the team’s game just to make sure they keep shots on goal to more of a minimum.  So yes, be prepared to watch a little more of what we saw last year from the Canucks, defensive styled hockey. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but at the moment, a necessity.

So will the Canucks falter and throw away their lead in the Northwest division, their team chemistry will be thrown out of whack while they lose their captain to a groin injury for two weeks? No, I don’t they will just completely stink up the joint so much they will be challenging the Islanders and company for the services of Jonathan Tavares, but it won’t be as ‘easy’ without the #1 guy backstopping them.

Only time will tell, but it’s not time to hit panic button yet? Is it?

Musings from the mud…

LotusBlossom