Its funny. I have followed this team for a long time, and have seen a long list of teams pick up the "rival" mantle. One of the most frustrating of those used to be the Avalanche. They would always beat down the Canucks, and sometimes it would look like Burnaby Joe and Petter "Floppa" Forsberg were not even giving it their all. They were just better than the team I liked, and I disliked them as a result.
That rivalry was interrupted by a couple things. Bertuzzi's idiocy showed that there has to be a limit to the "hate" with his criminal actions, and the Avs just became not that good.
The last game against the Avs was one they should have gotten the result from. They were better, but for Roberto Luongo. Tonight? Well, the Canucks were the better team overall, but the Avs showed they are building something nice with a never say die, all out effort.
But in the end, its another 2 points for the Canucks, and the Avs are now 2-13-1 versus the Northwest division this year. The team from Denver is getting better, and they put up a game opposition tonight, but it seems as though the shoe is definitely on the other foot now.
This game was certainly more entertaining than the last one versus the Mad Trappists of Glendale, at least!
The first period sets the tone ;
And David Booth definitely set the tone. He was simply the strongest guy on the puck all the way from the opening faceoff, and was rewarded with a goal just 00:13 in. Mason Raymond's rush would be a harbinger of his night, as he was good on the puck, as is his usual game. He got an assist on the goal, but can you imagine if he went to the net as hard as David Booth does? Well, he was doing it more tonight. Let's give him some slack on that, at least until he returns to the loop-de-loop in the offensive zone style. Something tells me he is noticing how Grizz does it, and is wanting to do the same.
The way that Byron Bitz accepted Cody MacLeod's invitation was definitely an adherence to the "code". Young Cody got it handed to him the first time in Denver, and after a couple big hits, including one from Andrew Alberts on him that definitely helped set the tone for a physical night, you might imagine he was in an owly mood. Here's how he did.
The first period was pretty dominant for the Vancouver Canucks, at least until the latter stages. A Ryan Kesler line shift where they had 4 shots and lots of pressure was followed by a Sedin Supercycle shift where they had the puck for a couple minutes in the other end with only one chance, and 3 turnovers by the increasingly tiring Avs out there. It set a tone for most of the rest of the period. The Avs have some players though, and Gabriel Landeskog has to be amongst them. He might be the real competition for Cody Hodgson's pursuit of the Calder. He certainly plays in all situations, and is a helluva player. He gave defensemen fits all night in the Canuck end.
First 20 stats - The Canucks had a 10-7 edge in shots, but most of those 7 for the visitors came later in the period. They were laying the body to set the tone, but the Avs came back in that stat to only trail by three (16-13 ). It speaks to a strong desire to compete, and I like how they don't fall back on the trap to do that. 29 hits in 20 minutes is a pretty physical period, huh? Where the Canucks had the edge was in the possession stats, as, apart from what your eyes told you, that they were in the other end a lot, was the 9-5 edge on faceoffs, and a 4-1 edge in takeaways. Maxim Lapierre led his team with 3 hits, Alberts had some big ones with 2 in the first, and Booth showed he is a 200' player with 2 shots and 2 blocks in his 6 shifts and 5 minutes. The Avs also changed goalies, as Giguere pulled a groin and had to leave the game, with Varly stepping in late in the first.
The second period shows your will ;
In the game of hockey, at this level, there are systems and ways to play that are practiced and implemented on levels that some of us fans may miss here and there. But one thing I have always thought is, in the second period, the game is more about will and skill than systems. The long change means that if your team is caught in its own end, there is more of a chance to be scored against. This would be the best period for the visitors tonight. They had a bit of help from the striped shirts, on an interference penalty that was business as usual in the first ( and you could see how confused Dan Hamhuis was by it, as it was going on at both ends in that rambunctious opening period ). Luongo was definitely the best penalty killer on that PK, his best maybe a reaction save on Landeskog that went off a stick just in front of him, forcing a great reaction save.
The Avalanche finally tied it halfway through the period , as the defenders got scrambling around, and Milan Hejduk showed his Canuck Killer bonafides with a tremendous play. He held the puck, ( while the entire rink thought he was going to shoot ) and feathered a pretty pass to Erik Johnson ripped it home. Suddenly it was 1-1, and it was definitely game on. Booth almost answered right back on a breakaway, but was robbed by Varly. Alex Burrows then pulled a boneheaded play and grabbed his checks stick as they were tied up ( yes, Burr, it probably was interference. The puck was no where near you, but don't do that please!), putting his team on the PK. Young Landeskog had a good chance on the power play, but he kept going too hard, and bowled over Luongo in his crease for a call that had to be made ( I remind everyone that the NHL has said to crack down, as evidenced by 4 G.I calls in the Bos / Mtl game ).
The Avs had some pressure with the extra ice, as did the Sedins, with Daniel having 3 shots that were all good scoring chances, while an Alberts turnover forced a huge save from Luongo at the other end.
After 40 stats - The Avs made all the stat lines even up a fair amount in a good second period for them. A 13-10 edge in shots left that at 21-20 for the Canucks after 2. The hits slowed a bit, as both teams had 8 to make that one 24-21 Canucks. The Avs won the takeaway stat that period with a 4-2 tally to make that stat 6-5 after two, and the faceoffs stayed close, with the Canucks holding a 16-15 edge after 40 minutes. I think I speak for everyone when I say that the Avs look like they could be a solid team one day. Its just that they are not quite in the Canucks "elite" strata yet.
Good teams find a way to win ;
Coach AV deserves a ton of credit for how he has handled his team. He seems to be loving this stacked lineup that GMMG has given him, and the lead in the Northwest soon to get over twenty, he can experiment. It also seems obvious that he is loving what Cody Hodgson can do, as after having Chris Higgins on the checking line with Lapierre and Hansen, he put Cody Franchise in that slot in the third. Good call coach. I thought the rookie was pretty solid at both ends, and it would be his talents and skill at working the puck in close that gave Jannik Hansen the game winner. Here, see for yourself...
Yes, I kind of think that Chris "Zomblie Bite" Higgins deserved an assist there too. That goal would break a tie that was earned by both goalies to that point. Varly made a heckuva save on a Sedin to Sedin tip in close, and Statsny had a great chance in the slot that was turned back by the games' first star, Roberto Luongo.
The Ryan Kesler line was awesome tonight, with the power game forcing the Avs in their own end all night. The Sedins and Burrows had a great game, but will be the "cause celebre" for the fact that only Burrows got the empty net goal. That would be misguided. In addition to the fact that they had quite a few of those Supercycle shifts that forced the Avs to defend a lot, they combined for 13 shots ( Burr 5, Daniel 5, and Hank 3 ). Hank was 7 for 11 on faceoffs, and I thought that line was just fine ( no matter what Sean says! ).
The fourth line in the third was not used as much, as AV had the three line thing going a bit more in a close game, but Lapierre, Bitz, and Malhotra all had their moments on their other lines. With Manny winning 6 of 9 draws, Lapierre getting a game high 7 hits, and Bitz having the fight, 2 hits, and some strong positional play, they all filled their roles well.
But the line that should be a line for a while was the Triple H line. Not telling you how to do your job AV, but they sure looked like they have some chemistry. Jannik Hansen had a solid night, but he looks best there, ( he had the GWG, 4 shots, and 4 hits ) and was in total Honey Badger mode tonight. Chris Higgins looked just fine in his first game back, and with those two with Cody Hodgson and his improved defensive play, that is a third line that can score. Thats a very good thing. Hell, Cody Hodgson was 5 of 7 on draws, and I think a couple of those were even in the defensive zone!
Now, when it comes to the blue line. There can be only one. They all had a solid enough game, but Alex Edler was in beast mode tonight for sure. Check this stat line ; A team high 25:13 TOI. 3 shots ( all on one shift! ) and 1 miss, and 2 blocks to go with his blue line leading 5 hits. Some of those were crunchers too. The Avs have some quick and strong young players, and they have a good forecheck. He was very good tonight. Bieksa and Hamhuis were a solid pairing as usual, though Bieksa had 2 more giveaways ( he also had a quick up to Mase to get an assist on the opening goal ) He finished with only 1 hit and a +2, and seemed to be playing with some snarl.
Dan Hamhuis did not block a ton of shots, and only had 1 shot ( 2 misses ) and a takeaway to go with his +2. But I was happy in his positional play most of the night. He and his partner read off each other pretty well. But the pairing that I liked as well was the Andrew Alberts, Aaron Rome duo. Andrew was a physical force, and had 3 hits, while Aaron Rome had 3 blocks and was strong on the boards and on getting pucks out tonight.
But the man, was once again Roberto Luongo. He had no chance on the opening tally for the Avs, and was solid all night. He was challenging at the right times, and made 29 of 30 saves. It was when he made them as well. The save in the slot on Statsny after the game was tied was a big one. I must have seen about three of those "around the world" glove saves that some might call hot dogging. I call it a goalie that is confident and on his game.
So, the team from the COTU is next, and after they beat the Oilers in a high scoring game, lets hope things return to form. I believe I heard a stat that they have a great many losses and only 3 wins in their last many Western trips. Those wins were all against the Oilers. So, while not guaranteeing a win against the Leafs, it looks good. They are supposed to be another of those "rivals", after all.
Don't forget the 4PM local time start.