Raymond Kirk: Canucks are finding themselves consistently inconsistent.

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Eighteen games into the 2013 season, the Vancouver Canucks have shown me two things so far that are of great relief and yet deep concern as a fan of this hockey club. When on their game, they are every bit as lethal and deserving of being regarded as one of the league’s best teams, and when they are off their game, save for the mostly sensational goaltending they have received night in and night out this year, they are average, at best.

Back-to-back President’s Trophy winning seasons were well earned by the Canucks; however, from almost the midpoint of last season, this club showed us the maddeningly frustrating side of them, relying on pure skill that would only show itself for brief stretched and sublime goaltending to win more hockey games than they would lose. Good enough to coast away with a sizable lead in the mediocre at best Northwest Division, but obviously not good enough to compete and win against the best clubs when it mattered most, being unceremoniously dumped by the LA Kings in round one of the 2012 playoffs. The Kings, who played inspired sixty minute hockey for the last quarter of the season, rode that complete sixty minute game all the way to a Stanley Cup Championship, and the Vancouver faithful were left to once again wonder “what if?”

There is no question that this Canucks team is deep, with a well of riches up front, on the blueline and between the pipes that would leave many a team envious. Yet the Canucks are beginning, in my eyes, to trouble me with trying to establish just what the identity of this hockey club is? It is not an old club, by any stretch, yet the core has been around for seemingly forever, and it is too much of veteran team to not be able to play sixty solid minutes on a consistent basis. The only good stretch of the season came in a spell a couple of weeks ago when they were able to put together a winning streak, mostly against Northwest Division clubs who have a hard enough time getting out of their own way. Even through that streak you would be hard pressed to find many full sixty minute efforts in which the team’s skill and will were at an even level.

Much has been made of this team needing to ‘turn on the switch’ and compete when it matters most. I’ve been of the opinion that over the last couple of seasons, without another real contender to push the Canucks for the Northwest title, the team has settled into playing ‘comfortable’ hockey, not really needing to find a level of desperation in their game to fight for a division title, let alone a playoff spot.

Too many games see this team fall asleep for long stretches of a game, appearing lost out of the gate, or storming out quickly, grabbing a lead, and then laying off the gas pedal and depending on either Luongo or Schneider to bail them out game after game. When they are on their game, they are fast enough, skilled enough and deep enough to hang with anyone in the league, yet this is beginning to happen with less frequency.

At 10-4-4 it’s not time to push the panic button on this season, yet the schedule has been relatively easy. By comparison, the roster has been fairly healthy, and enough games have been played for everybody to be out of training camp mode. Yet the record, in my eyes, should be much better and the wins gained should be much more impressive. They’ve had just one win in regulation this year against a Western Conference foe that made the playoffs last season. That’s it, that’s all. And that’s of concern to me. With home games coming up against two Western teams who made the post season last year in the Phoenix Coyotes and the defending Champion LA Kings, it is time for the Canucks to not only show us, but themselves, just why no one should forget why they are considered an elite team in the first place. Elite teams should not need to be pushed to find their A game, so it’s time to put up or shut up to show why they should still be in that conversation.

Your thoughts? Thanks for reading.

Follow me on Twitter: @RayRay2233


 

Raymond Kirk: Kesler the key to long term success, despite two losses since his return.

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Ryan Kesler: Photo: CBC.ca

The record may only be 0-1-1 in the two games since Ryan Kesler made his much anticipated 2013 Vancouver Canucks debut, coming off of shoulder and wrist injuries, yet the effect he has already had and will continue to make is significant to the Canucks and their aspirations of chasing Lord Stanley this spring.

There may be a lot of talk about the Sedin twins, the depth of goaltending, the offense from defence, overall team depth, but in my opinion, a healthy Ryan Kesler is the piece that makes the whole puzzle work. You need to look no further than the 2011 playoffs, when Kesler all but took the team on his back for long stretches in Round 2 against the Nashville Predators, and Round 3 against the San Jose Sharks before he was injured yet again, and was not the same force because of it in the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins. Kesler, when healthy, is arguably one of the very best two-way players in the NHL, and could very well have added a Conn Smythe trophy to his Selke award. He is the heart and soul of the hockey team when healthy and on his game, and after only two games, his presence has been significant, in helping make a listless powerplay not only effective, but looking dangerous at the same time. His faceoff game has been sorely missed, especially now with the loss of Manny Malhotra for the rest of the season. Kesler will continue to take big minutes as he works himself into game shape against the best forwards in the world, and in doing so, will cause opposing Head Coaches to game plan against him, which will open up even more opportunities for the Sedin twins against different defensive pairings. There is not one Canuck that can bring all the tools to the table that Kesler possesses when he is on top of his game, and that just makes a tough team even tougher to play against. A fresh and healthy Kesler will be critical for the Canucks to make a deep run in the postseason this year, and seeing a fresh, healthy and motivated RK17 in mid February is great news for this organization.

It will take time for the team to adjust to having Kesler in the lineup, and determine just who will be most effective to play with him. The Sedins and Burrows to me are a lock to stay together, as the old adage goes, “if it aint broke, don’t fix it.” Myself, now knowing that it sounds like David Booth is ready to make his own season debut on Tuesday against the red hot Blackhawks, I would like to see the reunion of “The AMEX Line” with Booth, Kesler and Higgins skating together. It’s impossible to say just what kind of impact Booth can have without playing a game yet this season, but this line has familiarity on its side, and has displayed good chemistry in the past and I feel can be just as effective once again.

This would allow Jordan Schroeder and Mason Raymond to continue to play together, and I would like to see Zack Kassian get a shot on the wing with these two. Kassian has hit a bit of a wall in the last week or so, and needs to rediscover the aspects of his game that had him the toast of the city in late January. he is a big body, better hands than I expected and, although not as fast as Schroeder or Raymond, can move well for a big man, and if he plays to his strengths, I think he could open up a lot of ice for the speedy duo who have been nothing short of a pleasant surprise this young season. Raymond has to be hands down Canucks comeback player of the year at this point, and this trio could potentially be one of the most dangerous third lines in the NHL.

The unfortunate victim of lineup depth in this equation is Jannik Hansen, as I would see him on a fourth line with Max Lapierre, and take your pick of Dale Weise and Aaron Volpatti. Hansen is such a coup for this organization I feel, as he is speedy enough to play with top six forwards, is a tenacious forechecker and can chip in offensively. It does not seem fair to see him “wallowing” on a fourth line, but this is the price you play to play for an organization that has aspirations of winning it all, and not just making it to the playoffs. You need a forward like Jannik Hansen, that almost everyone in the league would love on their second or third line, to provide that depth and hustle to the lineup. To allow your Head Coach to effectively roll four lines, and not just when you are up or down by two or three goals in the third period. And if things are not going well, like stretches last evening, the Head Coach has the luxury to mix and juggle lines, and have effective players take key minutes, on any given night, to give your team the best chance to win.

For a team with a 8-3-3 record, it has been a frustrating season at times for Canucks fans, with, inconsistencies in the overall game, not possessing a killer instinct with a lead, and a defence that seems to make the game much more difficult than it needs to be. The fact that the record is what it is, is a testament to the remarkable goaltending the team has received, from both Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, and also to the depth that this franchise has, that many other teams simply do not. A healthy Ryan Kesler can make this a much more dangerous hockey team as it heads into the second quarter of this shortened season.

Your thoughts? Thanks for reading.


Follow me on Twitter: @RayRay2233


 

Disturbing the Peace: Open Letter to the Southsiders

Dear Southsiders:

On Tuesday night, you made your presence known at Rogers Arena. The ‘shrine’ of the Vancouver Canucks. That other Vancouver based team that seems to get a lot of press and attention in this city. That night, you brought your brand of cheer and support that we, the fans at Rogers Arena, are not quite accustomed to seeing and definitely something we are not used to hearing.

Some of my fellow Canucks fans were a little offended with your presence- your open and vocal ways to show some support to our team. In fact, there was enough of a stink, your visit has been written about in a few of the local publications the morning after and also discussed on radio. So what gives? Why did you feel you needed to come and show your brand of support in our building? It’s not soccer. We don’t hold our scarves horizontally and sing vocal parodies to popular songs from the 80′s and 90′s. Who do you guys think you are?

I personally think, you guys brought a breath of fresh (and loud) air to a building that has been far too quiet the last few seasons.  I enjoyed hearing the chants and songs throughout the game. It made me feel I wasn’t part of the handful of fans hooting, hollering and heckling all by our lonesome. I often get asked why it’s so quiet at Rogers Arena and why don’t we vocally support our team like some of the other hockey hot beds around the league. The truth is, there are so a few reasons for the ‘library effect’ at The Rog’. The amount of corporate owned tickets is growing, so the average fan gets shut out of the building. The Canucks have been so good for quite some time now, it’s hard to get up for a regular season game, especially against a team like the Wild on a Tuesday night. All that enthusiasm seems to be saved up for the playoffs. I am sure there are other factors that attribute but I can only speculate.

Did I find you offensive? From where I was sitting, absolutely not. I saw a group of people in the very back of the section stand, sing, cheer and vocalize support for our hockey team. It’s not usual that fans in the arena cheer the whole game and when play is going, but it wasn’t disturbing the guys on the ice. If people were really there to watch hockey, your cheering should not have distracted them, right? To each their own.

I am sorry you felt, as a group, somewhat disrespected by my hockey brethren and some of the representatives of the Vancouver Canucks organization. I think they were just a little taken back by the unfamiliar. The last time Rogers Arena was a loud place during the regular season, was probably during the years of 2003-2007. The Canucks were in a transition period between the West Coast Express era to the present Sedin one. All most of Canucks fans are waiting for now is a Stanley Cup. So until then, it seems most of them will sit on their hands until it is made so.

Southsiders invade Rogers Arena to mixed reviews.

Southsiders invade Rogers Arena to mixed reviews.

 

Hopefully, the Canucks and some of their fans learned that a presence like the Southsiders could help the atmosphere in Rogers Arena. I’ve had a few fellow tweeters and Canucks fans say just that! A group of great supporters to help bust the quiet zone, library-like monotony that plagues Rogers Arena!  Some teams in the NHL have brought in cheerleaders to help liven up some crowds. Other teams have brought in musicians during the TV time outs to keep the crowd going. The Vancouver Whitecaps have you, The Southsiders. The BC Lions have Tailgate Empire and the Lionbackers.  Maybe as Canucks fans, we could use a group that is a little more vocal and cheerful. At the old Pacific Coliseum, I used to watch the game from the standing room only areas. We were the loudest, most loyal and craziest bunch of Canucks fans in the building. Perhaps we should bring some of that back. So maybe the next time the Southsiders decide to visit us Canucks fans at Rogers arena, instead of us chanting your cheers with you, we’d have some to share of our own.

Justine Galo

@Aviewfromabroad


 

Toby Ward: HanShrayRay tame the Wild

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Jannik HansenJordan SchroederMason Raymond, what a line, what speed, what pluck!

HanShrayRay (for lack of a better, more officious nickname, that’s not as sexy as West Coast Express but…) added hustle, speed, and the game winning goal.

“They played with skill, speed and grit,” said Coach Alain Vigneault during the post-game press conference in praising the plucky, emerging Hansen-Schroeder-Raymond line. “They were tough to handle.”

Not tough for Canucks fans, who loudly cheered the 1st star selection of Hansen, who led all players with 5 shots on net. Hansen now has 7 points (3 goals) in 12 games, and is tied for a team high +7, but it’s the immeasurable contributions he brings – his speed, forechecking, and bluster. If there was a Canuck who fit the Honey Badger metaphor, it’s Hansen.

Hansen’s opposite winger, Raymond chipped in with two shots, and the key play to set-up Keith Ballard who dished to Hansen for the game-winning goal (and has a surprising 8 points to start the season). And Schroeder, the speedy, diminutive center with the hustle to match Hansen, and a passing ability that could rival any player on the team, also impressed, and was key to helping Raymond dig the puck out of the corner which led to the game winner.

HanShrayRay – I think most Canuck fans would like to see a lot more of them.

Goalie

What controversy? Look up the definition of controversy in the dictionary, there’s nothing controversial about Vancouver’s goalie tandem. In fact, Roberto Luongo, the defacto back-up goalie, is second amongst NHL goalies, with a superlative save percentage of 94.3 (.943), and a goals against average (GAA) of 1.45.

Interesting to look south at Florida, Luongo’s preferred destination (his home, his wife’s home), and note that Florida gave up six goals on 29 shots last night. The Panthers had the single worst GAA in the NHL heading into the game, and have safely secured the bottom-of-the-barrel position for the foreseeable future after giving up six against the lowly Capitals.

Looks like Florida could use a superlative goalie…  and I think Jose Theodore would be a superlative back-up to Corey Schneider. Mind you, I’d rather see Luongo and Schneider remain as a tandem, and share the workload on the way to a Cup parade.

NOTES: Speaking of goalies, a very decent first NHL game for Darcy Kuemper, 28 of 30 saves, and the evening’s third star… Devon Setogouchi made a big league, power forward move and shot to score the lone Wild goal (impressive, but Minnesota could use more of that from him)… Andrew Ebbett was dancing, and dishing last night in his limited 9 minutes (he deserves more starts, because AaronVolpatti and Dale Weise have earned very little)… Manny Malhotra missed the game due to “family reasons” and Vigneault and the Canucks declined to comment on the matter, but when asked Vigneault didn’t sound particularly impressed. I have a feeling we may be witnessing the final months of Manny’s career, though he still is a valued faceoff man.


 

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Toby Ward is a season ticket holder, former reporter and producer covering the Canucks turned consultant, and blogger. A lifelong Canucks fan who bleeds blue and green, Toby first saw the Canucks when they hosted Bobby Orr and the Bruins in 1974.


 

Skate with the Canucks via @VanCanucks Sunlife Financial and @CanucksCorner

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How would you like to spend you first BC Family Day Holiday skating at Rogers Arena with members of your Vancouver Canucks?

On Monday, February 11, 2013, Sun Life Financial is sponsoring “Skate with the Canucks“, a chance for you to take the ice with current Canucks players and Canucks alumni. The Vancouver Canucks have generously offered readers of our blog two tickets to this event.

You can enter in three, very easy ways:

  • Leave a comment below and tell us which Canucks player you would most like to take to the ice with.
  • Tweet the following: “I entered for a chance to Skate with the Canucks via @CanucksCorner @VanCanucks & @BrighterLifeCA: http://ow.ly/huDGs #CCSkate”
  • Leave a comment on our Facebook page under the post about this contest.

If you do all three, you have three chances to win!

The deadline to enter is Friday, February 8, 2013 at 6:00 PM. We will randomly choose a winner from the total number of entries using Random.org

Important Information: The skate session starts at 6:00 PM on Monday, February 11. Skate and helmet rentals are not available so you will have to bring your own. You will also be required to sign a waiver before you step on the ice. At least one current member of your 2013 Vancouver Canucks will be on the ice during the event.

Good luck everyone!

Congrats to Samantha Law, her comment on the blog was selected as our random lucky winner that will get two spots to Skate with the Canucks at Rogers arena. Thanks to everyone that entered!