We expect a lot from our Vancouver Canucks. After falling one game short last year, it seems that everyone has an opinion, or a gripe at every little roadblock. Expectations are high.
So, when that roadblock is a full on landslide, coming into Newark after a "game of the year" versus the Wings, playing the 5th in 7 days, against a very good New Jersey team, there were many prognosticators willing to bet the over, take the Devils, collect their money, and smile at the silly Canuck fans that think their team will win everything. I have to be honest, my expectations probably mirrored theirs.
Tonight was proof that there is a reason for our confidence this year. This game was, in a different way, but no less impressive, another game of the year candidate. In a game where they should have been very tired ( and obviously were in the third ), the Canucks stuck to their system, got goals from two guys that had not scored in a while, and rode a goaltender that is the best damn insurance policy you can have. I do not see any way that Cory Schneider gets traded at this deadline. The Devils outshot the Canucks 31-16 tonight.
Ain't nothing but a thang for C-Wall. Thanks to him and the courage of his guys battling through being tired, and everyone defending like a demon in their own end in the third, its another two points, and the outright lead in the entire NHL.
The Canucks are now, I believe the stat in the game thread said, 26-0-0 this year when leading after two periods. I know the broadcast last night had another even more outrageous number over the last three or four years. The thing is, they just don't lose when taking a lead into the final twenty minutes.
- That being said, Zach Parise sure did his utmost to drag his team across the line. I know the kid Henrique gets the rookie press, and Kovalchuk is one of the top paid guys in the NHL, but this guy is the motor. He was buzzing around the net like a demon. For all his coasting back after pucks on the power play, and vacating the zone way too early half the time, Kovalchuk works well off of him. Adam Henrique had his moments too, and you can see the talent. Zach Parise's night? He had 10 shots at the net, and 7 that forced saves. 2 hits. But tell me that you don't see a guy that stays out too long when you look at his linemate. Mr Supposedly Everything Russian Superstar had 24 shifts to Parise's 25. Parise - 23:16 TOI. Kovy - 26:34. At one point, the second period, he had 10 and a half minutes on seven shifts. An average of almost 90 seconds a shift. With four minutes left, he hung out by the blue line while the Sedins and Burrows tried to keep the pressure on. The pass got to him, but he could not corral it. Still. I guess that is part and parcel of their team and the top $$$ guy. But it seems unfair to the rest of the team to me. Still, there is no avoiding the fact that they were the dangerous line for the Devils. Between the four of them they had 14 shots, and more than one of them were eyebrow raisers from Cory Schneider.
- We don't get to see a lot of the Devils, so you'll excuse me fans in the Newark area, but this sure is not a team from the Age of Lemaire. I am always happy to see a team come back from the edge and denounce the Church of the Trap ( and yes, I know the Canucks were playing it a fair bit in this game. That was survival, not choice. ) The pressure they put on was dealt with very well overall by every guy on the roster. I was very impressed by how well the whole team played in their own end. It was not perfect. The home team got 31 shots. But it was the only way they could play. Everyone in the rink ( and Schneider said as much in the post game ) knew the Canucks were hanging on in the third. They were just out of gas. They were also on the right side of their checks most of the time. The dump outs were brilliant. The faceoffs were a clinic. ( 43-19 overall, after a shockingly good 18 of 21 in the opening period ). It was the way our high flyers had to play tonight to win. Mission accomplished.
- Was that not nice to see a couple guys like Aaron Rome and Mason Raymond get on the scoresheet? Both of them were earned goals too. Rome's came off of sustained pressure, a smart shot from Chris Tanev on net, and a brilliantly timed pinch from Rome to get behind former Canuck Steve (Death To Scoring Chances) Bernier. The one time Canuck had a good game, but that was a play where he just lost his man. Mason Raymond got a goal just by unleashing that hard wrister that we know he has. It just skimmed by Greene's leg and maybe surprised Brodeur. But it was definitely an earned goal.
- Now, before the ice time bean counters and the AV couch coaches get all upset about the fact that Cody Hodgson only got 9:53 TOI, AV talked about that in his post game presser too. He knew that the Devils play a three line game, mostly, and that was a reason. That also was the explanation for why AV moved Ryan Kesler between Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen. David Booth, and Byron Bitz, saw 10:44 and 7:53 TOI respectively. AV used his bench to give his team the best chance to win, and did what every coach does when the opposition is rolling three lines. Don't worry kiddies. I know Henrique had over 20 minutes, but that does not mean that Cody deserved the same in this game. He was OK, and actually reasonably responsible defensively. But he was the only guy on the Canuck roster to be a minus ( -1, for what that is worth ), and his other scoresheet contribution was a 5/6 night on faceoffs. Its not surprising that the "4th" line had about 15 minutes each. Between Manny Malhotra ( started 2 of 5, finished 12 of 18 ) and Maxim Lapierre ( 4 of 5 ) only losing 7 draws all night, and being that unbeatable left/right side combo on the checking line, who would you prefer taking the draws in a one goal game late? But, you know what? Before the third where the lines were reduced, Cody Hodgson and his line looked fine against the Parise line when they were out there. Its not that he cannot do it. Its that this team is so damn deep, there are others that have done "it" longer.
- I'll get to the defensemen and all in a minute, but I have to apologize. If you have read this far and not seen a bullet point lauding Cory Schneider, I was just building the tension! The man was simply on his game again tonight. Everyone knew that he would need to be the "man" for the Canucks to have a chance at this one. Whether an early first period save on Kovalchuk on a 3 on 1, a rob job on Parise after a nice Henrique pass shortly after, or that same line all in on 2-3 shots on a mad scramble of pressure in the second, or dealing with David Clarkson crashing the net and trying to start something all night, Cory Schneider was as cool as the other side of the pillow. The only goal to get by him was a lucky bounce off of three skates after he faced Patrick Elias perfectly to give him nothing. I think he had one post ( as did Marty ), This was a great game for the soon to be a superstar somewhere else. You know that, unless its someone like Parise coming the other way, he is here for the playoffs. Oh well, every time he does this, the price goes up, whether its a deadline shocker or the more likely in the summer deal.
- The defense. Sami Salo sat out for a rest, and while the Twitteratti bemoaned the insertion of Andrew Alberts, and mocked AV for putting him with Alex Edler, they were both pretty good. Hell, all the pairs were. When a team is caught in their own end as long as the visitors were tonight, its all about positioning, having a good stick, and making the hit to separate the opposition from the puck. All six did that. The FrankenPair above were just fine. Chris Tanev and Aaron Rome seem to be reading off each other better every shift, and Bieksa and Hamhuis were at their Juicy Hammer-ist, compared to last night. Alberts - even, 2 blocks, 3 hits, and 18:55 ( more than he usually plays ) TOI. He was strong in front of Cory all night. Edler - even, 2 blocks, 2 hits, and a tackle on Parise that cost a power play, to go with 1 giveaway in 19:59 TOI. That pairing played big. Bieksa - even, 1 miss, 3 blocks, 3 hits, 1 takeaway, and a team high 23:57 TOI. He played with snarl as well. Hamhuis - an assist on the Raymond goal with a good pass up ( as usual), 1 shot, 2 blocks, and 2 hits in his 23:19 TOI. He was on the right side of guys all night, forcing the play to the boards, or making the clearance. Rome - The man we call "God" blessed us with a goal, +1, 1 shot, a team high 4 blocks, and 1 hit. He had a little something going with Clarkson in his well played 16:33 TOI. Tanev - The young phenom had an assist, and 2 shots on his 17:22. He also helped ensure that, if the third pairing was out against a strong line like the Henrique trio, there was no drop off. Only Edler getting credited a giveaway prevented a perfect night for the blue line in that stat column.
- The stats ; Well, the faceoffs sure jump off the page huh? A mind blowing 42 to 19 wins edge tonight. Only Danias Zubrus was 50% ( 6 of 12), and the guys that were the best were the usual suspects, led by Malhotra at 12 of 18, Kesler at 12 of 20, Hank Sedin at 7 of 10, Max Lapierre at 4 of 5, and Young Gun Hodgson at 5 of 6. They won them all over the place, so much so that, late in the third, when the Devils won two straight draws in the offensive zone, it was a bit of an eyebrow raiser. Another thing the visitors were not too tired to do was hit, as they led that stat line 30-21, with Maxim Lapierre leading the way with 4. The Canucks also forced 10 giveaways to 5 , and were only down 7-5 in the takeaway stat. That is pretty close considering the relative freshness of the two teams coming in.
I don't want to go overboard, and the courage displayed in a sport is nothing like a soldier in a foxhole, or a single man standing up to a pack of bullies. But, in the sports sense, it is the only way I could think to describe this one. You could see that the other team was fresher in the third. Could see it changing to that in the second. But they rode some great goaltending, some timely goals from a couple guys that needed them, and a great team system to a win that now puts the Canucks at the top of the NHL once again. There will be other, more exciting games to come. There may even be a drop off in Dallas or Glendale in the last two games, as the crash may come. But, in a game where the cruelty of the schedule makers made one team play its 5th game in 7 nights, the Canucks withstood the charge by playing a smart defensive game. We know our top scoring, top of the NHL team can run and gun. They did last night.
On this night, they played the only way they could to compete, and won while not at their best. In a limited sports sense, thats "courage" to me.
Take it away Gordon Downie ( thats the Tragically Hip above for American readers. A Canadian band. They sometimes sing about hockey too...)
Bonus entertainment...I loved this skit. The Governor came on himself at one point. I mean, come on, who else escorts teams ( for safety) to the rink with a police escort and allegedly an armoured bus!