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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There’s good news, and there’s bad news…

The good news – it was a night of firsts

The Vancouver Canucks won their fourth consecutive game in Edmonton on Tuesday night, beating the young Oilers 4-3. With the win – the team’s first on the road so far this season – the Canucks have risen to the top of the Northwest Division with 14 points in 11 games.

Alex Burrows made his return to the lineup last night, and looked good early in the game. He went to the right places, and nearly potted his first goal of the season on a cheeky centering pass from Daniel Sedin. He was visibly tired in the second half of the game, understandable seeing as he hasn’t seen game action since the spring.

Raffi Torres - Photo Credit: Canucks.comRaffi Torres scored his first career hat trick, and interestingly became the first ex-Oiler to net three goals in one game against Edmonton. (That’s right, Wayne Gretzky couldn’t do it. Mark Messier didn’t manage it. Before Torres, no one had been able to score thrice in one game against the Oil after leaving the Edmonton organization. That’s right – not even Jimmy Carson.) Torres, one of the few NHLers of Latin American descent, now has six goals in 11 games – he scored 19 times in 74 games last season, and has a career high of 27 goals back in 2005-06 while skating for those same Oilers.

Daniel Sedin scored his team-leading 8th goal. Brother Henrik is first in the league with 12 assists. Before Dustin Penner’s wraparound goal – see the bad news below – Roberto Luongo threatened to go on his first shutout streak of the season. He looked solid, even intimidating, playing the day after beating Martin Brodeur’s New Jersey Devils 3-0.

The bad news – an old pattern resurfaces

Last year’s Canucks juggernaut was exceptionally proficient at putting the puck in the net. Unfortunately, whenever they went up early in a game, the team would collapse into a defensive shell and let the other guys come at them, wave after scary wave. No lead – whether one, two, three, even four goals! – no lead was safe as long as the forwards stopped pressing the hapless opposition.

Unlike Alain Vigneault and his coaching staff, the Oilers apparently watched those tapes. When the Canucks went up 3-0 on Tuesday night, they looked like an infinitely more experienced, composed squad and threatened to put the boots to these youngsters. Even when Andrew Cogliano surprised Andrew Alberts behind the Vancouver net, and Dustin Penner swept in a wraparound to make it 3-1, the Canucks should have taken it in stride. They should have pushed to answer. They should have done anything necessary to regain their three-goal advantage. Mikael Samuelsson, to name one, should have, I dunno, tried.

Instead, they treated Taylor Hall and Co with that respect usually reserved for untouchables like Sid the Kid, or elder statesmen like Nik Lidstrom and the Detroit Red Wings. They let these embryonic superstars skate unchallenged at poor Roberto Luongo. They dropped checks: Mason Raymond was actually the goat on that first Edmonton goal – he let Cogliano go unimpeded into the big Canucks D-man to jar the puck loose.

The Canucks panicked. When Gilbert Brule blew a laserbeam top shelf to tie the game at three, Vancouver fans had to be running endless mental film from last season’s blown leads against a truckload of teams. Hell, of last playoff’s blown leads against Chicago in particular.

Raffi Torres scored the winning goal on a lucky dribbler from just inside the blueline. Don’t get me wrong – a good team needs to win on a lucky goal once in a while, too. But great teams don’t need a horseshoe where the sun don’t shine – not when they’ve taken a 3-0 lead by halfway through the first period.


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Musings on game #9: Canucks 4, Avalanche 3 (OT)

By Jason Kurylo:

A few thoughts on Tuesday’s 4-3 OT win over the Colorado Avalanche:

  • Secondary scoring has officially started to chip in. Last night’s goal scorers: Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond, Peter Schaefer and Jeff Tambellini. Although, come to think of it, can you call JT secondary scoring when he’s skating with the Sedins?
  • The Canucks did a good job to take advantage of the other team’s errors this night. The first goal came when an Avs breakout jumped off a stick. Tic-tac-Tambellini, it was in the net. Raymond’s overtime winner also came from a Colorado youngster making a boo-boo; as rookie D-man Jonas Holos started to take a faceoff win around the net, MayRay pokechecked the puck off his stick and past a startled Budaj. It’s good to see the team is starting to score ugly goals when the other guys goof up. Opportunistic plays equal winning ways in this league.
  • Manny Malhotra leads the Canucks in breakaways, with like a million of ‘em so far this season. Yes, that’s how the NHL.com stats page on missed breakaways reads: M. Malhotra: G 2, A 3, P 5, MBR like a million of ‘em. Anyway, he blew a glorious chance to win the game with five seconds left in regulation, booting the puck right into Budaj’s breadbasket. It was good to see him break out for two goals against the Wild, but he has got to start burying some of these prime chances.
  • Ryan Kesler is starting to look like Ryan Kesler. A goal, a crossbar, some intimidation of opposition centres, and a little levity in the intermission interview with Kristin Reid. Don’t worry, @KaptKatz, methinks your boy’ll be just fine.
  • Daniel Sedin looked dangerous every time he crossed the centre line, forcing Peter Budaj to make several excellent saves. He and Henrik assisted on Jeff Tambellini’s first period goal, extending Dank’s league-leading point streak to nine games. Unfortunately, the Sedins were also dangerous on defense – they were on the ice for all three of Colorado’s goals.
  • Team defense has to be an issue for Alain Vigneault and his coaching staff. If not for the goalkeeper on this night, the home squad would have left one game under .500 instead of one game over. More on him later.
  • Remember Andrew Alberts? The official goat of the 2009-2010 Canucks playoff exit? He hasn’t been part of the problem on D. Rather, the opposite: he has shown why he, and not Shane O’Brien, was kept on the roster – last night he logged a team-high 20:07 in even-strength ice time, and looked solid in doing so.
  • You can’t blame Roberto Luongo for the game going to OT. He put in a very strong performance, stopping 36 of 39 shots, quite a few in spectacular fashion. The three goals against included a perfect shot off the crossbar, a deflection by his own defenseman, and a last-minute defensive breakdown that left Matt Duchene with a tap-in at the lip of the crease. The Canucks owe their superstar goalie some of the same quality team defense they’ve show in front of Cory Schneider in his two starts.
  • Luongo’s post-game scrums are in danger of becoming interesting. After Raymond’s odd winner in OT, the netminder cracked a few jokes with reporters, including this gem: “I was getting jacked for another shootout, so I’m disappointed we won it in overtime.” Okay, you had to be there. Still, nice to see Bobby Lou smile without the weight of the captaincy on his shoulders.
  • Is it just me, or have we seen far more of Guillaume’s Desbiens, and a lot more of his DesCommecicommeça?
  • Peter Schaefer scored his first goal on a well-screened shot in the second period. He now has 99 NHL goals in his career. If he wants to hit triple digits, he’d better stop being invisible – Schaefer has done little to impress in his second tour of duty with the Canucks.
  • That entire fourth line, in fact, has been largely ineffective, and it’s clear that AV sees that. Schaefer, Desbiens and Tanner Glass combined for just over 17 minutes of ice time. Ten Canucks skated more than that individually. Between the three of these guys, they had one shot on goal, a weak wrister that happened to fool Budaj because of a great screen.
  • Avs blueliner John-Michael Liles got an assist in last night’s OT loss, tying him with Daniel Sedin for the longest points streak to start the season. More impressively, at nine games, he now has sole possession of the NHL record for consecutive games with assists to start a season. That’s right, in the storied careers of Paul Coffey, Ray Bourque, Bobby Orr, Rob Blake and Dennis Potvin, no D-man has ever had helpers in nine straight games to start a campaign. Hell, none of the forwards in Avs history – not Joe Sakic, not Peter Forsberg… – have started a season with this many games in the A column. Until now. Congratulations to JML, and to Avs fans. It’s always exciting to see history being made. Let’s hope the league pulls last year’s ad formula out of a drawer somewhere to make a commercial now that it’s actually true.
  • The Green Men have lost their lustre. Even fans sitting nearby look bored by their antics. Sorry boys, it was fun while it lasted, but when I tap my watch like this, it means your 15 minutes is up.

Follow Jason Kurylo on Twitter.

Subscribe to Jason’s podcast, Pucked in the Head, on iTunes. Episode 15 is an in-depth look at the Central Division, and includes many a joke at the expense of the aged Red Wings.

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Tamed by the Wild

Despite being bounced from the playoffs by the Chicago Blackhawks in consecutive years, the Vancouver Canucks have had pretty good luck in the Windy City. Both of their wins in last year’s second round came at the United Center, and both of them came in convincing fashion. They go into tonight’s game, however, just 24 hours shy of an embarrassing performance in Minnesota. The Canucks were trounced 6-2 by a Wild squad that has underwhelmed its fans in every other game so far this season. The Wild, in fact, was so disappointing in its first four games – something Canucks fans have been chirping and tweeting about regarding their own team – that coach Todd Richards elected to bag skate the team just hours prior to the game. The message? “Hey, Wild? You suck.” And he was right.


Sadly, that sucky team managed to spank the Vancouver Canucks, who didn’t put up much of a fight. The Sedins scored 58 seconds in, but waited until the final three minutes of the game to put up their second goal. Roberto Luongo resurrected his panicky play of last year, allowing 6 goals on 18 shots in the first two periods. He was out of position, slow to move across the crease, and entirely sub-par through forty minutes of play. After giving up just two goals in his first two games this season, Luongo has now given up 14 goals in his last eight periods of play. This is particularly damning coming from me – I’m one of Bobby Lou’s biggest supporters: he has sucked the big one over the past week.


The performance last night has nothing to do with Keith Ballard being out of an NHL lineup for the first time in four seasons. None of it can be put upon Sami Salo still sitting at home in Finland with his leg injury, or Dan Hamhuis sitting out with a bruised ankle from the Canucks win over Carolina the other night. From top to bottom, the Canucks stunk the joint out in Minnesota. In Anaheim, the Canucks were the better team for 57 minutes and change, but lost to a sorry Ducks team; in Minnesota, the Canucks were the better team for approximately one minute, then decided to look forward to tonight’s tilt in Chicago. The Wild a-schooled ‘em.


The worst part of it all? Instead of coming out with all cylinders firing in the third period, the game all but lost with the Wild leading 6-1, the Canucks were even flatter to end the game. Alain Vigneault celebrating his 600th game as a coach in the NHL? Let’s get out there and at least win the period, right? Nah. They mailed it in. Ryan Kesler’s body language was defeated well before the final buzzer. When he missed an open net late in the second period, he skated to the bench like a petulant child, shoulders slumped and lips as pouty as the third runner-up on America’s Next Top Model. Like that show, the Canucks were painful to watch.


Even spark plug Rick Rypien shamed himself. Instead of winning a fight he shouldn’t and giving the Wild a reminder that hey, the Canucks will thump them right back on Friday in Vancouver, he sucker punched Minnesota forward Brad Staubitz, shoved a linesman and then decided it would be a good idea to go after a fan in the stands. The Canucks got rid of Darcy Hordichuk because he made bad in-game decisions, so Rypien gives us this?


The good news is this: Roberto Luongo was 6-1 following up these kinds of implosions last year. (Don’t get me started on the bad news that he had seven of these implosions last year.) He has a ridiculous record going head-to-head with Marty Turco. And Cory Schneider has looked strong in his four periods of work so far this young season.


I’m not pushing the panic button yet. Hey, it’s five games in, and Henrik leads the league with nine assists. Daniel is second in goals, with six. A win tonight in Chicago would sure help settle the growing unease in this city, though, wouldn’t it?


Follow Jason Kurylo on Twitter.

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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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