A decent start.

Captain Hankby Jason Kurylo

On the opening night of the 2010-11 season, it would have been pretty hard for the Vancouver Canucks to live up to the pre-season hype. Heck, it would have been pretty hard to live up to the pre-game hype: Las Vegas-style scrims with Canucks stars’ faces projected 10 metres tall, Tom Larscheid’s much-publicized swansong after decades in the broadcast booth, and a dozen-plus members of the original 1970 Canucks on hand to see Orland Kurtenbach hand Henrik Sedin his brand new Captain’s C. Vancouver was positively abuzz with excitement coming up to tonight’s puck drop against the Los Angeles Kings, who to add another wrinkle to the plot, feature ex-Canuck Willie Mitchell as their senior rearguard.

Pundits all over North America have picked VanCity to hoist its first Stanley Cup since the Millionaires had their names engraved inside the bowl of Lord Stanley’s mug in 19-freakin’-15. This iteration of NHL hockey in Vancouver has seen 40 years go by without a Cup, and Mike Gillis has assembled a team that has people in Toronto and New York paying attention? The home team could have won this game 10-0 and some fans would have left unimpressed. It’s a Cup they want, not a win in mid-October.

So what does the 2-1 shootout loss to the Kings mean, exactly?

We saw tonight that the other clubs in the NHL are not just going to hand the Canucks a championship just because Gillis signed Dan Hamhuis in the off-season. Heck, the Kings didn’t even want to hand us these two points just because Roberto Luongo dropped seven pounds, passed the C to Henrik & hugged the blue paint like a good goalie should. Yes, this team has a mobile, trustworthy defense. Yes, Luongo is playing now the way he usually starts playing in November. But this team should not try to win a game 1-0. A solid D does not preclude going for the jugular.

We saw that the league’s second best offense last year will have to work just a little harder if they want to score more than a goal a game. Christian Ehrhoff was the most dangerous Canuck for much of tonight’s game. Ryan Kesler was unlucky not to score tonight – he will have be greasier. Mason Raymond played well, but he will have to go to the net just a little harder. The Sedins showed confidence and patience tonight, but with little of that sandpaper they showed after the All-Star break last year. Raffi Torres made some good plays in his first game for the Canucks, but his linemates didn’t seem to know what to do with those decent feeds.

Quick's retro pads - If you remember these, you're old. *sigh* I'm old.In all, we saw a good team that was unlucky not to win their home opener. Sure, Jonathan Quick played well in his outrageously bad ass retro pads, but the fact is, the Canucks didn’t have enough want to get it done on opening night. Most nights, if the opposition is held to one goal in regulation time, Vancouver is going to be in the W column. This Canucks team, when it gels? It’s going to be a fun time to be a hockey fan in Vancouver.

Anyone jumping off the bandwagon today should be banned from watching in April when it matters most.

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Finding Their Groove

The Canucks have started the season 0-2 and some of the natives in Canuck Nation who had the parade route planned are getting restless. Thursday they ran into a pumped up Flames club at home and ran into penalty trouble early, before basically dominating the game in the second half and coming up short. Saturday they ran into a hot goaltender and a determined Avs team looking to show they aren’t going to be the pushover the experts said they would be this season.

Now, I’m hardly making excuses for the Canucks, but I think there is a legitimate reason why this start has occurred, and the biggest has to lie at the feet of the coaching staff.

We all heard about the obscene amount of exhibition games the Canucks played, nine in all and for some reason the Canucks decided not to dress a “regular” lineup in any of those games. Sure, you need to avoid injuries and evaluate talent, but with a shortened training camp, and little time to gel, it would appear somewhat difficult for anyone but Daniel and Henrik Sedin to feel comfortable playing with each other, never mind hitting the ground running.

luongo_head

Roberto Luongo is off to his traditional slow start

We’re talking little time to work on the penalty kill as a unit. Roberto Luongo didn’t see a lot of action and is off to his traditional mediocre October start. The team even went so far to bring in guys like Dave Scatchard and Mark Parrish, players with NHL experience they could dress to hit the league minimum required for preseason games. These guys had no chance of making the club.

The early games should have been the time to evaluate, the later games should have been a time to get lines set and get some cohesiveness as a unit. Willie Mitchell commented on this in Calgary saying the slow start may have been attributed to having the starters together for the first time in game one. Other teams the Canucks played in the preseason dressed string lineups, with Anaheim and Calgary coming to mind.

In reality, these first few games are training camp for the starters. It’s not the end of the world, and it’s a long season but perhaps in the future, the staff will consider letting the players that are going to be here gel a little more before the puck drops for real.

Team meeting and tempers flare at practice

When a team is in a funk like the Canucks are it’s only natural for tempers to flare, and they did today at practice as Jonathan McDonald of the Vancouver Province reported.

The Canucks practised today at UBC Thunderbird Arena, and the highlight came 25 minutes in during a full-ice drill. During a breakout, struggling defenceman Willie Mitchell pasted struggling winger Mason Raymond against the side boards. Raymond didn’t like it; heavy physical contact is unusual during an NHL team practice.

Mitchell turned and skated back into his zone to retrieve the puck, at which time Raymond ran him. Two hits, both clean, both unlikely.

Raymond went to the net. Mitchell followed him, and delivered a cross-check followed by a high-stick.

This is either a good thing or a bad thing. It’s good if in fact it signals these guys care and are getting pissed off enough that something like this comes to a head. it’s bad if it’s done out of pure frustration.

It was also reported the team held a meeting this morning at GM Place to air things out…Doesn’t sound like it worked.

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