It is always fun when the circus comes to town. The early start, the national media. Its usually a case where the teams are in town a day or two early, and the CBC and the puck media folks gets a nice visit with their Vancouver friends. It even gives the players time to check out Granville street ( come on now, the Leafs start was obviously the result of the "Roxy Effect".)
But the game of hockey is all about results. The way we judge those results is where all the differences of opinion come from. It certainly seems that is foremost in the teams' minds. They fell short of the ultimate result last June, but it seems that they are on a mission this year. I like the new way of celebrating a goal without the "run down the bench fist bumps". that everyone else does too. I did not notice before, but is that the first game they broke that out for?
Personally, I expected something closer, but this was fun too. The way the Sedins were passing the puck and producing, it was a game where the rest of the team took their cues and had similar pressure on every line. The Leafs are battling for 8th, and I hope they make it for their long suffering fan base. But this game should be an indication of what they need to improve.
So, in honour of the competing chants, the differences of opinion, and because it must be a big rivalry, because everyone says so...here's the A-B-Cs of the 10th straight win against the visitors from Toronto.
A - Or maybe A++ for the Wizardous Sedinerie, the Poutine and Meatballs, the line that Burke and Nonis gave us. I, for one, think that it was inevitable, simply because the media and fans were asking "why are the Sedins slumping?" They were, a little. But there were plenty of times where the last pass was tipped, or a goalie made a pretty save. It is the best league in the world. But seeing the resurgence tonight was nice to see. Let's check the scorecards ; Poutine - 2 goals, +1, 4 of 5 shots on net hitting it. A hit and a takeaway. Meatball Wizardly D' ; 1 goal, 3 assists, +3, 5 of 6 shots hitting the target, 1 block and a takeaway. Meatball Wizardly H' ; 4 assists, +4, 1 shot, a takeaway and a giveaway, in addition to going 3 of 10 on draws. The way they hunted pucks tonight, it really did not matter who won the faceoff. Thanks again Burkey!
B - So many to chose from. But it has to be Burrows tonight. He was so engaged in the play. His hunting the puck and filling the places the Twins needed him to was wonderful. He even got a check in on Dennis Larue, Auger's buddy, and had MacLean throwing bouquets at his feet in the post game with Don. The "still doesn't like you" from Cherry was a nice touch.
C - Cody Hodgson. The birthday boy. His line had no goals, and his 4 of 12 on faceoffs, 1 shot, 1 block, and even 2 hits. Not particularly impressive, relatively. But I can't be the only one that was impressed by his speed and finding the puck, his plays at both ends improving and startling more every game. You get the feeling that his line will be far more successful once they develop just a pinch more chemistry. Cody Godson has already got something something going with Chris Higgins.
D - Defense. The Leafs come with speed, and perhaps it was the Canucks speed and positioning that discouraged them from playing the dump and chase. Maybe they got discouraged by the fact that the goals against kept coming from turnovers at the offensive blue line, like Manny's 2-0, and from the perfect play that Henrik made to start the opener. The Canucks were coming back and taking pucks from the front to start rushes all night. No flying the zone. It was wonderful to see.
E - Alex Edler. He and Sami Salo had most their time against the Grabovski line tonight, but that is not to discount their contributions. Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis played the Kessel / Lupul / Bozak line well, but Grabovski had 2 dangerous shots, and was a force all night. His 8 of 12 on faceoffs helped his line with whatever pressure the visitors could muster. Sign him Burkey, and don't use that "drive him to the airport" line. The guys a good one.
F - Faceoffs. An example of how the stats we sometimes point to don't always tell the tale. Toronto won that stat 30-25 tonight. They outhit the Canucks 2 to 1 almost ( 32-18). Vancouver had 9 giveaways to 4 ( the Canucks won the takeaways 11-6 though. An indication of how much more they were on the puck tonight ). The Leafs had some chances to make it a game in the second, especially with Lombardi and Kessel both had chances at open nets.
G - Goaltending. It is not so much that Roberto Luongo's stats might go down incrementally once again, and that he is on his game. This was not one of those games where he had to steal the game or anything. If the above mentioned chances go in, this is a different game with the fans from both sides reaction that would have followed. But they did not, because of his reactions and the way he commands the crease. The man is on his game. It was apparent from his first save, a wonderful blocker save on Lupul. The goals that got in were nothing that he could do with the dogpiles that were created in front on both of them. You could tell from his reaction that he thought that Lupul's push of Bieksa falling into him should have negated the first goal. Good. I like when he is involved, cocky, and confident. Something that James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson might learn from. You could not really blame them on much of the goals against. But that will come. Neither one had many teammates helping out.
H - Jannik Hansen. Also Honey Badger. Its not so much the 2 hits, the assist, and the way he hunted the puck tonight. That is expected from someone that "just don't give a shit" . It was the fact that Beaker is starting to come along on the areas of his game that we were lamenting, the digger, the puck turnover guy ( 1 takeaway does not tell that tale). But the hands that made him the "best player in practice" that his teammates would always refer to were nice on the pass to Kevin Bieksa on his goal. He's coming around. As long as the Honey Badger is at "full on" mode in about 25 more games. It was not a Henrik Sedin pass or anything, but setting up a guy in his wheelhouse is an underappreciated talent.
I - Icetime. Yes, its easier to do in a game where the score is up, but this was a game that showed how a deep team can overcome. The Leafs are fast. It showed a few times, but overwhelmingly, the team that looked the fastest was the one where most everyone was getting on the ice, doing their 45 seconds, and rolling over the boards. Not one Canucks was under double digits ( Bitz 11:10 TOI ), Cody Hodgson was at a respectable 14:31 TOI, and the top ice guy was a defenseman ( Edler, with 22:24 TOI ), but all the guys had numbers in the teens. I mean, Kesler had a 15:15 TOI night! Chris Tanev 18:38, while Romer was at 17:10. AV did a great job of spreading it around tonight.
J - Jerseys. The NHL and the NHLPA got to see how many dollars are spent on the various jerseys of both teams. I think I saw more than one Gilmour, Sundin, etc. Its great to see, and it makes the rink awesome as far as the atmosphere goes. Welcome. Enjoy the game next year. Maybe it will be closer. ;-)
K - Phil Kessel. Honestly Leaf fans, I am not trying to rip the guy. I think he has been awesome this year. He had an assist, 4 of his 6 shots hit the net, he was unlucky to not be able to sweep a puck into an open net. He and his linemates ( Lupul with 4, Bozak 2 ) had 11 shots and directed 13 that way. They definitely are the first line. But I lost count of the times they tried to attacka blue line that was not there. The defenders standing up, the forwards coming back, made it very hard on them, resulted in rushes going the other way ( they were all a -2 tonight ), putting pressure on their goalies and forwards. You cannot blame them for the perfect play that Henrik Sedin made on Aulie, for instance. That was just perfection at the blue line. But you can blame them for not adapting that well at all to the way they were being played. They had a few shifts of pressure, and it is not all bad. But they were getting burnt by all lines the other way, and AV was not that worried about the matchup, whether it was the 4th or 1st. It was just next line up after the first period versus some top end talent tonight for the Canucks.
L - Mathew Lombardi, just shoot the damn puck. I know you are watching the Wizardous Sedinerie like the rest of us, but an open net and you pass into that many people? I could hear teeth grinding from 3000 kilometers away.
M - Here's a song for you to feel better. Mr. Mister was not a "one hit wonder", take that back!
N - Not good enough. I listened to the post game, and it was bizarre. AV was his usual happy and jovial self, as you would expect after a big win. But Ron Wilson sounded like he thought his team did pretty good. He lamented the Lupul shot as "off Luongo's Knob" ( a great band name, BTW, Luongo's Knob ), when it was off the blocker, absolved his goalie, and sounded pretty positive for the coach that has a reputation as a hard ass. Come on Ron. Its part of the entertainment to hear your rants from on high. I feel cheated of the full "Annual Leaf Visit Loss" experience without the over the top presser.
O - Offense did not come from two of the four lines ( well, Hansen off the bench, but you know what I mean ), but this was a great game to see the Canuck offense for the HNIC audience. The power play should have had Sweet Georgia Brown playing in the background, and the Twins and AMFB were putting on a show. Offensive hockey is fun. Thank you Leafs for at least not trying to play the trap.
P - Points. With their explosion tonight, Daniel Sedin has went from 13th overall in scoring to 8th with 59 points, and Henrik is at 62 points for 6th, between Kessel at 63 and Lupul at 61. Which team's dynamic duo has the best chance of chasing down Malkin ( 1st, at 70 points ) ?
Q - No, not Qualcomp, although that is a funky stat. Q is for quality of the Hockey Night broadcast tonight. From the pregame to the post game, they were informative and interesting. Sure, we can nitpick and whatever, what a few have said, and I probably do that as much as anyone, so credit where it is due. They totally ignored GMMG's comments, and put on a solid show, even with Don wearing someone's couch cover again.
R - Aaron Rome. He had a good game. Not only that ongoing thing with Mike Brown ( and how he got the only penalty in a scrum where two guys got gloved shots to his head over the shoulders of the crowd is beyond me) but for the least used defenseman tonight (17:00 TOI ), he was pretty good. Not just in collapsing to the net and clearing things out, but he also blocked 3 shots. How he was not credited with a hit and still played a physical game is a mystery. Just go with it.
S - Sami Salo. The guy helped Luongo prevent a goal with a diving play, listened to his coach espousing on him shooting more, blasting a power play goal that was almost unfair to The Monster on his second shot ( don't even get a stretch and I have to stop THAT?) 3 of 4 shots on net, a block, and another zillion of those perfect little plays that stop cycles and clear pucks.
T - Mr. Cool Chris Tanev was the man, playing his first in a while like it was no big thang, blocking 4 shots, finishing +1, and even getting a couple hits. That play late where he stopped the pressure by making two little moves with the puck, with two guys on him, and then the little pass to Lapierre to clear was the kind of play Bieksa talked about when he said "the guy plays so cool he should have a cigarette hanging out of his mouth".
U - Utility player. Just a thought. How many of these guys that seem to be having seasons where they learn and are better, and you can see it, were labeled as a "utility player" somewhere. Hansen is on the poster. Certainly Burrows and Kesler at one time. Maxim Lapierre was definitely "utilitie" in Montreal. Higgins in New York. Yet, somehow, the MoneyPuck guy finds the talent. From Tanev being a Tier Two guy in Markam, to a guy like Bitz coming off the operating table and into another line where he does just fine like tonight on the fourth. Just remember that when an Oiler fan tells you about those sparkling high draft picks tomorrow night. It used to be a way of pigeon holing a certain player. Now, its an almost dizzying array of options for AV on different lines. Its more than where you were drafted.
V - Vancouver showed our visitors the gloomy side all day, but did anyone else notice how the sun came out on cue again, just like in 2010? The Weather Gods obviously wanted to give the national audience all the beauty shots today.
W - Wins. Vancouver goes out on the road now for six, with a league best 19-9-2 road record ( to go with an 18-6-4 home record. Who else wants the Sharks to lose to the Wings tomorrow so that it is the Canucks that have a chance to wreck that home win record at 23 at the Joe on Thursday?
X - That was a stupid X-check ( I know, work with me here!) to Backes's head today Mr. Peters. Enjoy your forced vacation. The Blues are the next team for the Canucks at home on March 1st.
Y - Youth. Let's hope that all our young guns are still on the roster by then. I get the feeling that GMMG will make little moves instead of anything that moves anyone of Schneider, Hodgson, or Tanev, no matter how hard the Sportsnet and TSN folks try to include them in rumours.
Z - Zach Galifianakas is not for everyone, but I find him to be hilariously funny. Here's a treat for getting all the way to the end.