You know, perception is a funny thing in sports. Here in Vancouver, there has been endless handwringing and many, many words hammered passionately into keyboards from Smithers to Sooke. Yet, this is almost exactly where the team was last year at this time.
The difference is of course hindsight. We know they went on a fabulous 17-1-3 run that affectively powered them to the heights they did claim. This year, we can all see things like the five on five play being not as good, and the defensive system that is at the core of the Canucks "system" when they are playing well ( defensive responsibility, speed and great breakout passes turning defense to offense in a heartbeat ).
So, can they go on that run? Its hard to see through the joyful fog that was last year's results, but I am guessing there was much gnashing of teeth and bemoaning the penalty kill and power play about this time last year.
Like the Beatles said man, We Can Work It Out. Let's see who did after the break.
NHL ( with clips )
Congrats to Alain Vigneault for taking the coaching wins lead at 247 with the Vancouver team. This was Ryan Kesler's 500th game, and Alexander Edler broke two sticks to take the NHL lead in that category so far this year. He may set a record.
The opening stanza was maybe one of the more true examples of "Canuck Hockey" seen so far this season. This team is all about puck possession and being just faster than you. Perhaps it was AV going back to some lines that work, particularly slotting Alexander Burrows back into his familiar slot as the Third Sedin. That line was effective, but it was not the only one. The Kesler line, with fellow Americans David Booth and Chris Higgins, is showing more and more that they are starting to get it together. In the first, they were all about puck possession and keeping the young Avs and their Eric Johnson - less blue line under pressure.
The opening period was all Canucks, but for a few chances late in the period for the home team. They were aided by Shane Obrien taking an interference call on Daniel Sedin. The 1st power play was probably their best power play all night, but it did not cash in.
A few shifts later, the pressure did pay off. A solid pass out from the blue line led to Jannik Hansen feeding Cody Hodgson in the corner, whose perfect bullet pass to Manny Malhotra was in the net before Varly could move.
It was almost a shame for young Kevin Porter that he got a minus on that one, as he almost scored soon after when he finessed a puck through Kevin Bieksa's skates and forced Cory Schneider to make two of his best saves.
Numbas...16 to 6 in shots in the first. Canucks blocked 5 shots to 1 for the Avs after 20 minutes. Statsny won 3 of 4 draws, while only Henrik Sedin was at at least 50% (3/6)
The worst period for the Canucks so far this year did not start out the way a Canuck fan would want, as Daniel Sedin hooked Milan Hejduk just 14 seconds in. However, that was definitely mitigated by a simply awesome penalty kill. Cory Schneider did not have much to do on this one for sure. It was puncuated by AV tossing out Kesler with the Sedins in the traditional "after successful PK shift". His bullheaded checking at his own line resulted in the young AVs taking a too many men penalty.
This PP was OK, but not really, as there was some pressure, but no shots through to the net. The second line showed a solid shift again, this time with David Booth and Higgins passing it around nicely ( I thought Mr Booth played his most "with it" game this year. He is starting to figure out who his linemates are and where to go. Its not all there yet, but he was in the right spots far more than other games in this one ) and generating a solid chance.
One of the keys to this game was the way the visitors were very good at making the defensive zone first pass tonight. That paid off in spades on the game's second goal, when Dan Hamhuis made a nice pass off the boards up to Burrows, who used Henrik Sedin as a decoy, waited until Shane O'Brien slid into his goalie, and ripped it into the net high for a goal that AMFB fans are all too familiar with. That is the shot, and hockey sense that seems to work best with the Twins. ( did you know that the Canucks are 67-20-3 when Burrows scores? Neither did I. That stat surprised me when it was tossed out. Just shows that he is our "talisman", as they say in England )
Thing is, they did push forward after that, and it was by no means a total defensive trap or anything ( though it was looking a lot like the 1-3-1 on occasion. Most NHL teams do on breakouts from dump ins on changes, etc. ) but they seemed to sit back a bit after that. At the time of Burr's goal, the shots were 19-8. At the end of the second they were 22-14.
. It most definitely was a shame that Aaron Rome thought he was a damn goalie and used his hand ( nice glove save kid!) on a Hejda shot block. The scuttlebutt was a suspected broken thumb, but who knows. Hopefully he is OK, but Alexander Sulzer is with the team as well. It meant that the Canucks played the rest of the way with five defensemen
There were a couple shifts in this period where we got glimpses of that second line's power and speed game being cultivated, as it seemed that one of the three was going over, through, or around someone. The home team did have some of their best play in the second half of the second period, however.
Numero - Maxim Lapierre won 1 of 7 draws after 40 minutes, while Kesler rebounded to go 4/6. Henrik maintained at 5/9, while Money Malhotra only had taken one draw after two periods. Silent G was almost as bad as Lapierre at 1/5, but that line seemed to win more pucks back after draw losses than any other. Aaron Volpatti had 1 block and 3 hits in his 6:52 to that point.
This one started out with a great chance for the Canucks to ice this game, when Ryan Wilson went for the head of Higgins as a way to break up the stretch pass that was going to spring the Canuck by him. This power play was probably the worst of the three, however, and while the Avs had some push back from the visitors, they were the attacking team in the third.
That was definitely helped along by three straight power plays, one a stick call on Henrik Sedin, another for Sami Salo clearing the puck out of the ice, and the last a tackle by Dan Hamhuis that I think he felt was originated by Statsny interfering with him first, the way he complained. This is Dan Hamhuis. Maybe I got it wrong, and it was not complaining, but rather offering to sit with the referee's sick mom or something.
They were not all sweetness and light, but most of that time on the penalty kill was done very well by the Canucks. Not all, for instance. But check the highlights link below. There are more than a few there where Cory Schneider earned his keep...this is my favorite...
The team's first shutout of the season may just get the "goalie controversy" folks going again. Who is going to start Friday? If its not Luongo, AV has obviously lost confidence in him right...?
Some final digits... Alexandre Burrows ended up with 5 shots, and a goal. He would be the top dog on any night but this one, as Cory Schneider pulled the shutout, stopping all 24 shots, and standing tall when the Avs finally got some real sustained pressure on the power play and at even strength in the third. Alexander Edler finished with a team high 25:41 TOI, had 4 shots that forced saves, and at least two great chances that went astray due to "sudden catastrophic structural failure" of his shooting equipment. Finally, Kesler finished 6 of 10 on draws, and if facial expressions mean anything, may have scored the most important empty netter of his career if it gets him going...but check out Henrik Sedin, after being at 5/9 after 2 periods, he went 5 for 5 in the third to finish 10/14.
Maybe this type of systems win, where they probably pulled back a bit much, but had an overall solid defensive game, will set the tone for another run. Everyone bemoans the lack of 5 on 5 dominance as compared to last year. I want to see more of the top defensive team in the league last year. Though, I am predicting an offensive explosion versus the Coyotes in the next one.