The State of California:Two out of Three Ain’t Bad

After winning in Colorado 5-2 after being down 2-0, the Canucks headed to sunny California. A state that hasn’t been kind to Vancouver over the last three years. Last year, only one victory was recorded and it was in San Jose. The winning goaltender was Roberto Luongo. The only other victory over an NHL California-based team was at home was versus the LA Kings and Eddie Lack backstopped that one on April 5.

First stop San Jose

The Canucks carried some good momentum coming into San Jose with a come from behind win against the Avalanche in Denver. However, it did not translate into a good start or even a good game for the Vancouver Canucks in the Shark Tank.  Ryan Miller stopped 34 out of 36 SOG. The Canucks couldn’t get much offense going throughout the whole game. Only recording 19 SOG for the game, it’s a wonder how they came up with the victory. Much credit goes to Ryan Miller but Vrbata on the 2 on 1 with Daniel, opened up Canucks scoring with this glorious goal in the dying seconds of the 1st period.

The Canucks didn’t even skate well enough to draw many penalties from the Sharks this game. In fact, they had one power play but they made it count. Edler with a tally from the point.

With less than three minutes to go in the game, Nick Bonino scores the winner from a pass after a takeaway made by Alex Burrows. It was a beauty.

Ryan Miller steals one for his team in San Jose and the Canucks are off to Los Angeles.

Still Can’t Beat LA

 The Canucks are still trying to figure out one side of the same colour of the Rubik’s Cube when it comes to finding out how to win over the LA Kings. Ryan Miller looked human and Eddie Lack started the third period. Higgins managed to keep the Canucks not being shut out streak alive just over halfway through the third. Perhaps, Desjardins will look at finding a way to figure out this puzzle and the next time the Canucks face the LA Kings, the results will improve.

Another 19 SOG effort from the Canucks was not even close to being enough to compete with the LA Kings, who decided to show up and play versus Vancouver after dropping a game to the New York Islanders. LA brings their A-game when they want and they seem to really want when they face the Canucks. They seem to want to turn the switch on when it’s playoff time as well and have it resulting in two Stanley Cups in the last three years.  LA has mastered “The Switch”, maybe the Canucks should ask them how exactly they can do that.

Redemption in Anaheim

With much talk about the Ryan Kesler trade in this match up, the Canucks were now down in the OC to face the Ducks. Which team is getting the benefits of the trade early this season? I’ll break that down shortly but more importantly, as a team, they needed to bounce back after an atrocious effort in LA and for most of the game last night, it did. A much better effort for most of the game from the Canucks. They played what many of the experts call a “smart road game”.

With no Vrbata, Dorsett and Kassian, the Canucks had a very hard task ahead of them. Going into Anaheim to face the best team in the NHL with Hansen playing on the top line and the insertion of Nik Jensen and Defazio from Utica and Bo Horvat gets to play his fourth straight game.

Kesler/Bonino Round 1

Both Kesler and Bonino assisted on the regulation goals. But it was the shootout where Bonino prevails and Ryan Kesler’s shots are still hitting the posts. However, isn’t Ryan Kesler an incredible two-way player? I miss that, and that’s the Ryan Kesler that played 11 years in a Canucks uniform. Anaheim is very lucky.

Winner of trade Round 1: Nick Bonino 

Canucks win in the shootout and Eddie Lack finally gets his first win of the season and first win ever over Anaheim last night.

Finally got to see some Lack Dancing. Photo credit: Vancity Buzz

Finally got to see some Lack Dancing. Photo credit: Vancity Buzz

Overall, the Canucks have a lot of work to do when it comes to playing teams in California. They have to find a way to throw more activity at the goalies. Shoot more pucks and pounce on more rebounds. Keeping it simple and effective, much like their Saturday night opponents, the LA Kings. However, I will take the points on this road trip. Six out of eight points starting in Colorado and 2/3’s of the state of California had the Canucks in the win column.

Some of us, however, are not convinced.

Are they contenders? No, and this isn’t 2011 either. Changes have been made and adjustments still needed. However, they aren’t that bottom third of the league as they were last season.  Resilience is a good trait to have. It helps pave the way to move forward. There is a lot to improve but unlike last year, they seem to listen and value their coaching staff and each other a little more and the last two periods in Anaheim, it showed.

Raymond Kirk: Vancouver Canucks / San Jose Sharks Preview

playofffans

The 2013 NHL Dress Rehearsal is over, and now it’s time to play for keeps. The Vancouver Canucks will open up the 1st Round of the playoffs against the San Jose Sharks, a familiar post season foe, and the most famous Stanchion goal in NHL History as Kevin Bieksa sent Canuck Nation into a frenzy and a Stanley Cup Final appearance just two seasons ago, dispatching the Sharks in five games in the Western Conference Final.

On the final day of the Western Conference NHL season, it was yet to be determined if the Canucks first round match up would be against the San Jose Sharks, LA Kings or St. Louis Blues. While all three teams are formidable opponents, it is my opinion that Vancouver could not have asked for a better draw than San Jose. Not only have they had recent post season success against San Jose, but both clubs mirror each other’s strengths and weaknesses this season.

Without question, the Sharks have what on paper should be a formidable offensive attack, with the likes of Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Devon Setoguchi, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Martin Havlat. Their blue line is solid with Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brad Stuart, and not to mention Brent Burns, who has transformed his game from being a solid Defenceman into a power forward for this Sharks club, chipping in key points for San Jose as the season has moved along. Yet, with all the weapons the Sharks have at their disposal, offensive production has escaped them this year, as they finished 24th in the NHL in scoring.

If not for the Vezina caliber season of goaltender Antti Niemi, the Sharks would find themselves on the outside looking in this post season. Niemi has been fantastic all year long, stealing many much needed points for San Jose allowing this team to play a lower scoring; low risk system that almost played itself into home ice advantage in the first round? Sound familiar, Canucks fans?

The Canucks, on paper, can go toe-to-toe with San Jose offensively. Although Henrik and Daniel Sedin are far from having a career best offensive year, their two-way game is as good as it’s ever been. Having a healthy Ryan Kesler at this time of year is as good as any NHL Trade Deadline acquisition could be, as to me; this series will go as Kesler goes. If he is healthy, he will cause havoc for the Sharks. It is for Wednesday and beyond why GM Mike Gillis went out and got Derek Roy as a deadline rental, as what he can provide offensively for the Canucks from the 3rd line and 2nd Power play makes Vancouver a dangerous team forwards one through nine, and he has shown that he knows where the other end of the ice is as well and will not be a defensive detriment to this team. The Canucks goaltending from Cory Schneider has been almost as good as what Niemi has produced in San Jose. Schneider has had to steal victory from the jaws of defeat more than should have been required. I feel that goaltending is awash in this series.

To me, the series will be won or lost not on goaltending and offensive production. It will be won on defence and Special Teams. The Canucks blue line has been an enigma all season. The two constants have been Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison. Garrison, who struggled mightily finding his niche the first quarter of the season has found his game and not only is contributing on the score sheet, but has been more than dependable in his own end. Alex Edler could be the key to the whole series, in my eyes. Edler is capable of being the best d-man on either club this round, and maybe should be. Yet his game has been consistently inconsistent this year, with poor decisions on the power play, bad first passes out of his own end which have led to many quality shots against, and poor reads in all zones of the ice, which have bade him a liability more than an asset on too many occasions. The health to Kevin Bieksa is crucial for this team in the playoffs. He is a riverboat gambler, but plays with a mean streak, can chip in with timely offensive production, and be a royal pain for the Sharks top forwards. The loss of Chris ‘Cool’ Tanev hurts, but it appears the Canucks are willing to roll the dice on young Frank Corrado, who did not look out of his element in his first week in the NHL.

Special Teams has been a strength of the Sharks all season long, boasting a top 10 record both Shorthanded and on the Power play this season. It is well chronicled just how anemic the Canucks power play has been this season, yet it showed serious signs of life the last quarter of the season, with the return of Ryan Kesler to the lineup and the addition of Derek Roy. I feel that Jason Garrison has earned his way onto that first unit, yet he has not been able to find himself in that spot. To me, this is a mistake. You have to use your best weapons at this time of the year, and to me, Garrison is a much better fit than Alex Edler at this stage. The Canucks penalty kill has been fantastic down the homestretch. It will need to continue to be so. If it can, it will stifle a Sharks offense that struggled in a big way at 5 on 5 this season.

Prediction? I say the Canucks in 5. Not because San Jose is a weak team and I feel they should be taken lightly. I just feel that this club has shown more consistent success in May hockey than San Jose. (and there is not many teams you can say that about) The goaltending is a wash, in my opinion and I feel the Canucks feel they have just as much to prove as San Jose does. And I’m maybe in the minority, but I am not worried for a second about the health of Cory Schneider when Wednesday rolls around. If there was true fear from the management and coaching staff as to his health, do you really think Roberto Luongo would have even started the last game of the regular season against the Oilers, for fear of losing him to injury and running to the playoffs with Joe Cannata as your #1? I think not. I see many 2-1 or 3-2 games in this series future. Maybe two in OT. But past success, and an equal drive to win when it matters most, along with home ice tells me the Canucks find a way to close this series out in five.

Your thoughts? Thanks for reading.

Follow me on Twitter: @RayRay2233

Post-It: A Breakdown of Breakdowns in San Jose

Ok, nevermind the Sharks are red-hot and Patrick Marleau thinks he’s Wayne Gretzky this season, so far. What happened in San Jose was just plain U-G-L-Y! Where the heck did my Vancouver Canucks go and how are they so sickly different from the crew that shutout Anaheim just a couple of nights ago? Obviously, they didn’t board the plane to San Jose after the Ducks game. In fact, I think they are all still in Disneyland lining up for Space Mountain.

Although I am not a Corey Schneider apologist, Ginger Bricks, did all he could tonight. Good considering his team left him out to dry. Welcome to the starting job, Corey. Ask Roberto about all those nights he’s been lit up all because the guys in front of him couldn’t clear a puck to save their lives. Again, it’s not Corey’s fault. They could have any HOF goalie in net tonight, and the red light would have been shining brightly. The second to line of defense are usually the defensemen, but when Keith “Perpetually in the Doghouse” Ballard and Chris “What’s a goal?” Tanev are your best pairing for the night, you know you’re in trouble.

Where did Alex Edler go? Did he suddenly have a Freaky Friday moment and changed bodies with Adrian Plavsic? The only man on the blue line that has been consistently good so far in this young season decided to join his compatriots in what one might call, “a bad game”. Jason Garrison is making the non-signing of Sami Salo look like a really big mistake. Hammer has been in some weird funk in and out of games, while partner Kevin Bieksa is starting to have what we like to call in Canuck twitterverse as those, “God Dammit Bieksa” moments.  Three  or four of those guys are earning over $4+ million a year, and they can’t clear a puck? Really? Big Mikey should have given Salo the damn two years and dealt with Salo injuries, come what may. It got to the point of frustration for yours truly that I was wishing #41 was dressed. That’s right, Alberts probably wouldn’t have hurt them anymore than they hurt themselves tonight.

The Sedins who looked great against the Ducks took a night off for what? Why? Kassian needed to keep his goal for goal contest with Hodgson, but the Sedins seemed disinterested in playing against the Sharks. I don’t know, maybe they were miffed that Zack got ice cream from AV on the plane ride from Orange County to Northern California. Whatever it is, when your best players aren’t you best players, it tends to send the whole team into a funk.  They were punished tonight, a lengthy benching in the third period and then shifts with Dale Weise, enough said.

Mason Raymond forgot to ask the aliens in Anaheim to take over his body again and make him a scoring machine, but he’s always been streaky, I can’t ask for anymore.

The biggest problem is the absence of Kesler and Booth. It has sent the team to make lines drawn from a slot machine pull that could drive any coach mad. Someone give Alain Vigneault some vodka infused gum! He needed it after this Sharks game! Without a real second line, it’s been hard to find secondary scoring when you don’t know what is in store for the line ups from the 2nd line and down. Those two guys are dearly missed and the ‘second line’ are getting mangled like rag dolls. Kesler’s physical and tenacious play is missed and much needed.

Hey Max Lapierre, you’re pretty and everything but that penalty you took in the second period? Well it’s so stupid, you could model with Derek Zoolander!

Lapierre had the bus take off on him tonight, he was so damn awful!

Lapierre had the bus take off on him tonight, he was so damn awful!

Face-offs: Can we win one? Just got out drawn by the Sharks tonight, and it killed the Canucks. Plain and simple.

Power Plays and Penalty Kills: Special teams looked like they took a special ed course. Horrible defending and 0 for 7 on the PP says it all.

Oh yeah, I hope Niemi buys the post dinner and drinks before he takes it home tonight. What team hits 5 posts in one game and none of them go in? Oh yea, the Canucks **FACEPALM**

I usually don’t write a game analysis but tonight was just terrible worse than opening night at Rogers Arena. I can only be hopeful and say they will bounce back in Los Angeles against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Kings. Here’s to hoping! Until tomorrow!

Justine Galo.

Twitter: @Aviewfromabroad

PS

If you want to see how I deal with a game as it’s being played, give me a follow on twitter and see for yourself!

 

Dear Vancouver: We’re Cup Bound, Can You Believe It?

Dear Vancouver:

Are you all still in disbelief? Are you all still partying from last night? Do most of you still think it’s just a dream? It isn’t a dream. Our Vancouver Canucks are heading to the Stanley Cup Finals. It has been 17 years since our last finals appearance and only a third time in our 40 year history to get to here.  It hasn’t been an ‘easy’ run, but nothing worth winning is ever easy. I for one, am happy it happened this way.

Round One: The Monkey Off The Back

After going up 3-0 against the Chicago Blackhawks, and seeing that lead slip away, it hurt. And by the time Game 6 came around, I am sure some of us out there lost faith in our boys. In fact, there were even a few out there ( in Twitterverse and the Facebook world) who were going to denounce the Canucks as their team. Sure the Canucks played terribly in games four and five, but there is a reason why they play the games. It had to be done. It was won and was it ever a thriller. There were talks of trading Luongo and running him out of town.  After last night, and 54 saves later, is he still you goat?

Roberto Luongo celebrates a 54 save effort and win with the Green Men: Photo credit David Carigg

Round Two: Grits and Fits

This series was one that many of the Canucks fans, myself included, just wanted toget through’.  It was hard hockey to watch. Not just because the Predators brought a bland brand of hockey to the table, but more because it was frustrating to see many of the Canucks get contained by it. The Sedins were deemed ‘invisible’ by fans and media alike. It also showed what Ryan Kesler was made of.  After an unbelievable year, he tops it off with factoring in the majority of the scoring in this series.  Captain America is definitely a Canuck.

Round Three: No Way Jose

This was a closer series than the 4-1 in games indicated, but the better team won, no question.  The San Jose Sharks were valiant and worthy opponents. Although I don’t agree with Dan Boyle thinking the Sharks deserved to win this series and Vancouver didn’t, it could have gone either way at any point. Vancouver’s goal tending from Roberto Luongo was excellent. The Sedins, especially Henrik showed why they are Art Ross trophy winners. Henrik tied Pavel Bure for most points by a Canuck in a single series with 12, 11 of those were, or course, assists.

Personal Highlights

I have been privileged to watch live games in every round of these playoffs, so far. I even made my way to San Jose for Game 4, but I wasn’t alone. I shared that experience with about 6000 other Canucks fans who made the journey. Although the palm trees were abundant, the weather was warm and it felt like I walked into a western movie in certain parts of town, it felt like a home game with all the Canucks fans there.  Prior to the game, many of us met on San Pedro Street, also named “Sharks Avenue”, to congregate and march to the HP Pavilion together.  At the arena, we took over the lower bowl for the warm-up and were chanting “Go Canucks go!”. We sang “O Canada” like we were north of the 49th and we chanted and sang throughout the game when our boys make it a final of 4-2. I felt like I was in Vancouver…south.

Canucks Nation

Canucks Nation invades San Jose - Photo Credit: Justine Galo

Although I didn’t attend Game 5 in person last night, my daughter took my place. When I met up with her and my significant other, I could tell with the look in her eyes that she believed.  It was much to being the same look I had during the 1994 Western Conference Final. She understood what it was that had me love this team above all others.  She was now ‘in love’ with our Canucks more than ever before.

In conclusion, we all are probably still waking up today with a little bit in a dream-like state.  Did that really happen? Are the Canucks for real? Well, yes. It all happened and the Canucks are very much the real deal but as my twitter friend @PabloPenguin74 said to me @Aviewfromabroad it is the first thing I thought as my eyes opened from slumber. For some, it won’t be real until game 1.” He’s right. It won’t feel real until then. So we have a few days to soak it all in, but Game 1 will come and we, Vancouver, as a city and a Canuck Nation, will be heading to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Get ready and buckle up, stay on the wagon, it’s time for the real work to begin.
GO CANUCKS GO!

Our 40th Anniversary puck iced at Rogers Arena's Best Buy Club- Photo Credit: Justine Galo

 

Justine Galo

Battle of the Pacific: Canucks and Sharks WCF Preview

Daniel Sedin celebrates with Alex Burrows - Photo: Canucks.nhl.com

Daniel Sedin celebrates with Alex Burrows - Photo: Canucks.nhl.com

The Western Conference Final has become the Battle of the Pacific. It will be Orca versus Shark when Vancouver takes on San Jose in the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Both teams will be looking for their first Stanley Cup. For the Sharks they’ll be looking to get to the final for the first time in franchise history. The Canucks won three of four meetings between the two teams this season and with the rest and practice time they have enjoyed waiting for the Sharks and Wings, they should be the fresher team to start the series.

Like the Canucks the Sharks got over a bit of a mental hurdle in advancing to the conference final and both teams will be looking to take the next step on the way to hockey’s most precious prize.

Let’s take a look at the series.

Forwards

Both teams have plenty of fire power up front but for the Canucks to win this series they will have to get better performances from Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Ryan Kesler’s heroics alone will not be enough to beat the Sharks who possess a much more potent attack than Nashville. The Sharks style should suit the Sedin’s game better than the Predators’ did and the Sharks don’t really have a pair of shut down defensemen like Chicago and Nashville to blanket the twins. The Sharks may choose to start the series trying to neutralize Kesler so the Sedins must elevate their game, especially on the power play. The support of others will be paramount to deciding what team wins this series and like Vancouver needs better production from the twins, San Jose needs a better performance from Patrick Marleau who scored just once in seven games against Detroit and had drawn the criticism from former a teammate as well as hockey analysts. The Sharks probably have  more proven scorers in the lineup with the likes of Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture and Dany Heatley making up a very formidable 2nd unit. Ryan Kesler aside, Mason Raymond and Chris Higgins will have to be at their best to try and match that fire power.

The third line for each team will be a big factor and the Canucks will once again looked for yeoman’s work from Maxim Lapierre, Jannik Hansen and Raffi Torres, while the Sharks counter with some more potential offense from former Canuck Kyle Wellwood, Joe Pavelski and Torrey Mitchell. The fourth lines will be a mixed bag for both teams and will likely change throughout the series depending on how the games are being played out. Former Blackhawk Ben Eager will be looking to annoy as many Canucks as possible.

Edge: San Jose. Based on their depth the Sharks have more pure scorers than the Canucks.

Defence

There is an old saying that defence wins championships and if that holds true then the Canucks should be in good shape in this series. Vancouver has more depth on defence and have a top four that should be able to match up against the top two San Jose lines. The Canucks defence loves to jump up into the play and against the Sharks there should be more chances to do so. Alex Edler had a rough series against Nashville but settled down when Sami Salo returned and was paired with him. Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis will once again log huge minutes in an effort to shut down the Thornton line. Christian Erhoff has been hot and cold but has 9 points after the first two rounds.

San Jose’s Dan Boyle leads all defenseman in playoff scoring  and his partner Douglas Murray leads the playoffs with 51 hits  Jason Demers , Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Niclas Wallin and Ian White round out the top six for San Jose who get it done by committee on the blueline.

Edge: Vancouver. Vancouver’s top six is among the best in the league and if they stay healthy and play to their potential they have an overall edge.

Goaltending

Another round another series under the microscope for Roberto Luongo. The best way to describe his playoffs thus far has been steady. He came up big when needed on more than one occasion in both rounds and save a couple of blowouts against the Hawks, his stats have been very impressive. But none of that matters in Vancouver where goaltenders are heroes one minute and lynched the next. Luongo will have his critics until he wins the cup and he seems to have settled in again after the big milestone of beating Chicago. Good nes for Canucks fans because the Sharks will be generating many more chances than Nashville did.

In Antti Niemi the Canucks face another nemesis, one who was a key factor in last year’s win by Chicago. The Canucks had nice success against him in 2011 however and shouldn’t feel intimidated by him like they may have against Pekka Rinne in round two. Niemi hasn’t been spectacular thus far, but he has year to lose a playoff series.

Edge: Vancouver. More experience and Luongo is on a mission to silence his critics. He performs better the busier he is and he’ll be seeing a lot more rubber in this series.

Prediction:

This series is going to seven games. It’s going to feature some end to end hockey, physical play and great goaltending. Can your heart take it Canucks fans? Special teams will be a key and the Canucks can’t afford a lot of penalties against a very dangerous group of forwards that the  Sharks can throw out on the power play. Likewise, if Daniel and Henrik can get hot on the power play, the Canucks should be in great shape.

Home ice will be the difference, and in game seven the Canucks will prevail and head to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in 17 years, leaving the Sharks waiting once again for their first birth to the final.

Related: Tom Benjamin – The Final Four