A rare one tonight as the Canucks make an appearance on the RYAN! NUGENT! HOPKINS! network for HNIC. They're in Ottawa for their 2nd meeting against the Senators this season. The Canucks are feeling pretty good heading into this one, and why shouldn't they? They pulled out a gutsy come from behind win over Montreal, with Roberto Luongo shutting the door on the Habs to allow a comeback after giving up a 3-0 lead, and they're gonna get Chris Higgins back in the lineup tonight. And if you still think having Luongo in tonight is a bad idea, in his last 3 meetings against the Sens he's surrendered a total of 5 goals, and the Canucks have won 8 of the last 9. I don't think they liked their last meeting being as close as it was, and expect to see the high powered Canucks offense flex it's muscles on the team that sits 29th in goals against in the NHL.
Having Higgins back in the lineup is huge for the Canucks, one because that 2nd line of Higgy, Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond will be giving the Sens defence fits all night, the other because it means Andrew Alberts will be back on defence to take penalties and look slow. Alain Vigneault does a lot of experimenting and many of them work surprisingly well. This one? Ehhhh... not so much. And we shall never speak of it again.
The reason Alberts ended up moving to forward was so that Alain Vigneault could keep the suddenly clicking pairing of future Hall Of Famer Aaron Rome and Keith Ballard together. Ballard certainly had a tough start to the year, but under the guidance of Rome has almost completely repaired his +/-. Throw in some hipchecks and a few points, and Keith Ballard might look like an NHL defenceman. Not a $4 million defenceman, but hey, let's take what we can get right now.
With the loss of Aaron Volpatti there was discussion of what to do about replacing that 4th line toughness. With Byron Bitz now skating, perhaps a call up or trade won't be necessary after all. Though he is still a ways off from being ready to play his first game with the Canucks, the rehab from his groin surgery is going well and perhaps we could see him in the lineup in the new year. In the meantime, the Canucks have shown that their ability to make other teams pay for infractions, especially when they try to intimidate them , is working well. The Senators may want to keep that in mind tonight, especially one Jesse Winchester, who apparently hasn't forgotten about 'benchgate'. Expect him to go after Alexandre Burrows or Maxim Lapierre. Expect the Canucks to score on the resulting power play. All I hope is that Bruce Garrioch finally reveals his sources so we know for sure that Roberto Luongo is getting traded...
Ahh, narratives. They're fun, aren't they? Narratives allow people to insert editorial opinion and put a spin on facts to the point that it makes you sometimes ignore something that is staring you right in the face. Here in Canuckistan we are all too familiar with them. If you asked random fans around the league who's doing better this season: Boston or Vancouver, it's quite likely they will all go with the Bruins. Imagine their shock when they see the standings. It's all in the narrative. Boston's lost 2 straight, and scored 1 goal in the process. How many articles have you seen about concern the Bruins could be heading into a slump? None. The Canucks have won 3 straight, and outscored their opposition 15-4. What do you hear when media outside BC talk about Vancouver? Two words that we're all getting a little sick of. So just for fun, let's see some places where those two words might be a little more appropriate, shall we?
Chicago- Our pals in Chicago are usually behind some of the Canucks GC noise, yet it would appear that their missives are being fired from in front of their glass house. Corey Crawford has been struggling at times, most recently getting pulled in a game against Phoenix. And with Ray Emery sporting a 5-1-2 record and a better GAA, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that Emery could steal the starting spot from Crawford. One thing I noticed, for as well as Chicago has been this season, it's a little surprising to see both of their goaltenders sporting sub .900 save percentages.
Toronto- Yes, there's a lot of excitement in Toronto this season. They're playing well. Phil Kessel has been awesome. The team is being purchased by an unthinkable media conglomerate. Yes, they panicked when James Reimer went down with not a concussion after a solid start. They were worried because it meant that Jonas 'The Monster' Gustafsson would have to take his place. They even went as far as calling up Ben Scrivens, who gave them two wins of the 8 appearances he made. But Gustafsson has won 4 games and looked solid. Since his return, Reimer has looked shaky at best. I wouldn't be surprised to see the starts doled out a little more evenly this month in Hogtown.
Anaheim- Not to kick the Ducks when they're down, but wasn't Jonas Hiller's return to health supposed to mean better things for the Ducks this season? They limped into the playoffs mostly through some solid efforts from Ray Emery, and in spite of Dan Ellis. This season the Ducks are hovering near the basement, and the way Hiller has played we can probably expect some changes via the trade route in Orange County, because the introduction of Bruce Boudreau hasn't exactly lit a fire under the Ducks' collective asses. Hiller has just 7 wins in his 25 starts, and Ellis 1 of the 7 games he's started. Maybe the trade the Ducks are looking for should be in the crease?
BAND OF THE DAY- ANNIHILATOR
Something cool about today's BOTD is that at different points in their career, they've called Ottawa and Vancouver home. Annihilator is mainly one man: Jeff Waters. I've always felt that this band doesn't get a lot of credit, especially in their home country. They still enjoy tremendous success in Europe and Asia, and Waters is widely regarded as one of the finest metal guitarists of all time. I had a chance to interview Jeff back in 1994 in Kamloops, one of the highlights of my Cable 10 days for sure. The band is still playing tons of European festivals, and this year added legendary Cryptopsy drummer Flo Mounier to the touring lineup. Another cool story, I worked with one-time drummer Dave Machander here in Victoria. Dave lost his battle with cancer a couple years ago, unfortunately, and it wasn't until he had left the company that I found out he was once a member of one of my favorite bands. I would have loved to pick his brain on what that was like. Annihilator's debut 'Alice In Hell' still stands up as one of the strongest debut albums in the history of thrash metal. Here's some of my favorite Annihilator tracks: