So here we are again, folks. Once again we find issues with a portion of our fanbase creating a stir. It's frustrating that in a season where there's been so much to be proud of the spotlight is on a handful of idiots. Nonetheless, before I get to talking about last night's win in Atlanta, there's an issue to be addressed. You're all aware of Theoren Fleury's comments yesterday on a Calgary radio station, where he stated that the Canucks would not make it past the 1st round of the playoffs "no matter who they play". I disagree, as do pretty much the entire fanbase, as well as a number of current and former players, journalists and fans. The Canucks are the team to beat. And as Jason Botchford of The Province pointed out yesterday, the knives will be coming out, best to just accept it and move along. After the jump, why I think he's wrong, why I don't put much credence in what he has to say, and why the reactions of a handful of people need to highlighted as individuals, and not the fan base as a whole.
I have a lot of respect for what Theo Fleury accomplished as a player in the NHL. He was a first class sniper, and a key player in the Flames' 1 and only Stanley Cup in 1989. He was also a member of the 2002 Gold Medal hockey team at the Salt Lake City Games. The man has been through a lot, and there are some blemishes on his resume. His courage in coming forth to tell his story of the horrific incidents with his junior coach Graham James, as well as battling addiction is to be commended. None of this has anything to do with his comments yesterday.
I didn't like his comments for a number of reasons. First of all, they were of the lowest common denominator type. The CaSUCKS will fail becaus 7uongo SUCKS!!!!1!! One can see those types of comments on any message board around the league. What Fleury said wasn't much different. His comments came across less like a former player of the game, and more like that of an opposition fan. Nothing of substance to back it up but the tired old "He lost last time and he will lose again". Detroit coach Mike Babcock yesterday said of Luongo "Until you win the Cup, you haven't won it". While it's worthy of a hearty shout of "Thanks, Captain Obvious!", it also is a simplistic way of looking at things. We all know this. But blindly dismissing the way the Canucks and specifically Roberto Luongo have approached this season is intellectually dishonest. Fleury's words are nothing more than red meat for the dogs that are the station's listening audience.
He's wrong because there are lots of things that are different about Luongo and the Canucks this year. Their defensive game is hugely improved from 2 seasons ago. When you factor is the number of mangames lost by the Canucks D, it's even more impressive. As Semi_Colon pointed out in his post, Luongo's GAA in losses this season is down almost 1 goal. That's a testament to his hard work and that of goalie coach Roland Melanson, as well as the team approach to defense. His positioning and focus are better. Instances where in the past he's been rattled, he remains calm. Hell, the guy hasn't been pulled since before the New Year! Yes, what Babcock said is true. But so is this: Until he loses it this year, he hasn't lost it.
The 'Luongo sucked in the past so he will suck again' argument is flawed, especially when Fleury goes on to state that teams that have had success in the past will have no trouble advancing. Past glories are exactly that. The past. And while post-season experience is good, remind me again just how much the Chicago Blackhawks had when they won last season? It's easy to look at things like that. This Canucks team is not the same as teams in the past. Depth top to bottom. We've never utilized more callups in team history. Yet it's never been a hindrance. The Moose players called up have for the most part fit seamlessly into the lineup. They are quite simply one of the most talented teams this franchise has ever iced. And if you think that this whole season has been addressing on and off the ice what they need to do to go all the way, you're extremely naive.
So Theo took a shot at his former team's most hated rivals (let's face it, the Battle of Alberta has been dead for years), and came across like a juvenile fanboy. So what? In this modern era where people can communicate with players and media types through things like Twitter and Facebook, it allowed people an opportunity to address him directly. And like anything involving the internet, trolls used it as an opportunity to personally attack him, bringing up parts of his personal life in a way that was utterly shameful. Anyone who did this isn't funny. They aren't cool. If they or someone they know went through what he has, they might not have said that. Either way, internet 'heroes' are an unfortunate annoyance you run into no matter where you turn.
I don't blame Fleury for confronting them. The man was being attacked and he defended himself. I do take HUGE exception to him using it as an opportunity paint our entire fanbase with a wide brush. Once again, the easiest thing to do. It was an emotional reaction. But it doesn't help him in any way, shape or form. It merely inches him closer to his detractors. I mean, it's hard to take such accusations seriously from a fan base that still refers to the #1 and #2 scorers in the NHL as 'The Sisters'. See. It's easy to do. I know that not all of their fans do it. But it takes more effort it seems to acknowledge the support of the majority than the howls of a few. So, like many others have done, I apologize for the ignorance of a handful of those who support our team. No matter what side of the argument, any personal comments are offside, particularly these ones that were so heinous. And while I don't expect him to say so, he knows that saying all Canucks fans are like this is just plain wrong. Now let's get back to hockey, shall we?
Roberto Luongo was stellar once again last night, his only blemish coming after Christian Ehrhoff being Ehrhoff led to a wonky looking breakaway goal by Bryan Little. Goals from Mason Raymond, a world class backhand beauty from Alexandre Bolduc and Alexandre Burrows into an empty net with Sami Salo in the box sealed a historic win for the Canucks. They set a new franchise mark for points in a season (107) and road wins (24). It was a prototypical Canucks road game this season: doing a lot of little things right, taking advantage of their chances and when the defence couldn't stop the Thrashers, Luongo was there. Chris Higgins looked solid, a few good chances and showing what others have said about him developing into a solid 2 way player. Keith Ballard was by far the best Canucks defenceman last night, solid on the back end and providing a number of breakout passes.
The Canucks have another one of those dreaded afternoon games tomorrow against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus once again finds themselves on the outside looking in, and while Cory Schneider will get the start, the Canucks are no doubt looking at this as another part of their playoff preparation. A little bit of line juggling, tweaking and fine tuning of a well oiled machine. Columbus is always game, and this one could likely be a physical one, meaning we might see more of the 3rd and 4th lines.
A number of massive games today that could make the hazy playoff situation a tad clearer for some teams. Buffalo will look to fend off Carolina and Toronto with a win over New Jersey. The Hurricanes are taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning, while the Leafs are in Detroit in a do or die match with the Red Wings. A couple big Western Conference matches see Nashville hosting the 9th place Dallas Stars, and Anaheim hoping to hang onto 8th place in Chicago against the Blackhawks, and the Calgary Flames can stay in the race with a win over Edmonton tonight...
WAACH 'Cast's Band Of The Day- RAVEN
One of the first bands to follow Iron Maiden out of the NWOBHM explosion in the early 80's, this manic thrash power trio were known for their frantic stage performances that saw them wear pieces of hockey, football and motocross equipment to protect themselves and each other. What more would you expect from a band whose drummer was affectionately known as 'Wacko' and called their fans 'Raven Lunatics'? While they never broke huge in the States, their catalog is revered by fans of the era, and continue to pound out their high energy old school thrash to this day. They are remembered as the first band to take a couple unknown bands out on tour with them, but who remembers Metallica and Anthrax? Heh.