Second Place Is Not Enough?

Can Roberto Luongo go back to mid-season form in 13 games?

With the recent struggles of the Vancouver Canucks, the whole city is abuzz with a mild form of ‘controlled’ panic. Many fans and media alike are asking the same question, “What is the matter with the Vancouver Canucks?” Why are they not playing like the team we have been used to seeing dominate over the past season and half? What happened to the Sedins? Luongo is no longer focusing like he was from November to February! What is up with the team’s defense?

I’m not saying it’s not frustrating seeing games the Canucks should be winning but not. At the same time, as Tom Benjamin said in his blog here on Canucks Corner, there is nothing any of us in the stands, at home watching on TV or those listening on the radio can do about it. We can’t go to the players and give motivational speeches, that’s not our job. Our job is simple to cheer, grin and bare it and hope.

Some then question, why aren’t our stars playing like stars? Personally I find that our stars get over-analyzed by other blogs, media-types and every fan expert on every message board there is out there. Let’s hope the boys don’t read most of the criticisms going on out in cyber space that they have those little drops of doubt in their head that weren’t there before.  Seriously, how many times can we talk about how the Sedins aren’t point-per game players at the moment? We’re so spoiled sometimes, seeing back to back Art Ross wins by twin brothers and so we expect it every year.

I am a little concerned about the number of odd man rushes that the Canucks have been giving up. I count entirely too many the last five games and that is a trend that causes a small quiet (and muffled) alarm go off inside me. The worst part about it is, a lot of those opportunities either become good scoring chances and even goals on both Schneider and Luongo. The defensive game has become very loosey goosey the last little while and I would like to see that come to an abrupt end.

As far as scoring goes? Except for Ryan Kesler, maybe everyone needs to take more shooting lessons. Perhaps some of us fans should go out there and ‘show them how its done’! Can you imagine the lessons the guys could get from us? I am cringing at the thought. Let the players be the ones to ‘correct’ themselves. We have nothing to offer them in terms of how to play the game. All we can do is cheer.

We live in a city that is in anticipation for the playoffs, and we had concerns last year that the Canucks didn’t have anymore gas at the end. This year, we’re complaining that they might get stuck in this rut before the playoffs and we’re even subconsciously predicting a first round exit with the present play of our team. We’ve been spoiled from last year until we hit game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Canucks could not lose and when they didn’t look like they were going to make it, they found ways to win.  I think we have grown to expect that for this season.

Hammer and Higgins hugging it out.

What we should have expected is the perhaps the Canucks are feeling a little like a few of their fans. Playoffs on their mind and the season couldn’t end fast enough. I know that’s how I feel. It’s obvious with my lack of blogs, my lack of interest to going to all the games this season, that I am in anticipation for April.  Yes, they may lose a few more games, but I don’t see them losing all of them. The team isn’t going to win any top individual awards this year, they most like aren’t going to win the President’s Trophy. Heck from where we are standing right now, the Canucks aren’t even in line for first place in the Western Conference. They are still in 2nd place, for now and I don’t see them getting bumped out of it by anyone in the near future.

However, as we all felt from last year in game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, second place isn’t enough.
Justine Galo

Twitter: @Aviewfromabroad

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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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.

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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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