It was not a masterpiece. Nor was it the high flying, outscore the opposition hockey that entertains us so. What it was is really tight playoff hockey against one of the more physical teams in the league. The Blues are built on that trapping, physical style. This was a primer for the kind of hockey that we just might have to see on occasion in the coming second season.
And thats a good thing. While the Blues made it tough, ( its what they do ), this was a very enjoyable game to watch if you like the hard nosed hockey like I do. In honour of that, and the awesome fourth line for the Canucks that set the pace tonight, here is another A-B-C breakdown of a big game against a burgeoning rival. (I had to, it was a game for 1st place!)
A - As in Attitude. I am thinking GMMG actually knew what his team needed when he made the trade that had tongues wagging. Or am I the only one that noticed that the 4th line set the pace by hitting everything that moved? They had quite a few shifts in the offensive end, created scoring chances, and forced the Blues back on their heels. Kassian had 4 shots in the first period. He ended with the same, 4 hits, to go with the momentous 10 hits by Maxim Lapierre. Does anyone doubt that he enjoys the Badassian on his line? There was a shift where Manny came in late on a puck Elliot had covered, and three Blues came looking for blood, only to find the big 21 year old there, arms spread. Fracas over.
B - Alex Burrows. Could it be anyone else? Mr. Everything and his linemates had to battle through a game that was definitely being called as "olde time hockey", with a couple power plays for each team almost seeming like token calls. ( They were all good calls, not jumping on the refs at all. If you want them to "let them play", then there will be calls on both sides that we can point to ) They let all sorts of grabbing go, and that makes it tough for the Twins, who are the ones that we count on for skill. Sure, a lucky bounce for Bieksa at the blue line, but once again, the hands of the one time World Ball Hockey Champion in close were the difference.
C - Conniptions. I am sure there will be a few, as some wonder how the Sedins are "struggling". I was impressed with them for several reasons tonight. After complaining to the refs earlier in the second ( rightly, Daniel was cross checked in the back of the head, and Hank tackled more than once ), they buckled down, battled through the attempts to out physical them, and both contributed to the pressure and plays previous to the game winning goal. Daniel was only credited with a shot ( a good chance ), had 2 misses, and Hank had a hit and was 7 of 11 on draws ( on a night the Blues edged the home team 30 to 26 ). But the persevered, contributed, and were pretty solid in their own end, in addition to the clear majority of their shifts that were in the other end. Some contributions are not only on the scoreboard.
D - Defense. The Canucks were outshot 29-24 overall in this game, but after they took the lead, they put this one to bed. How? In the third, they were 13 of 17 on draws, and can you remember any REALLY dangerous sustained pressure for the Blues trying to come back? They had their chances of course. The Blues are a very good team. But in a game where the Canucks were almost forced to play the same kind of grinding game as their opposition, they out ground them and put it away.
E - Alex Edler . The man had to deal with some pretty big dudes. He and Sami Salo both. As I noted the last time the Canucks played these guys, when they are not falling back into the one guy in, come and try to get through us system that The 'Cock seems to demand, they are some of the toughest forecheckers to deal with in the NHL. Of the 8 giveaways tonight, 5 were on defensemen ( Bieksa and Edler with 2 each ). That pairing had to deal with some big guys, and did very well by being in position to cover for the guy under pressure, or taking a hit to make a play. Edler had 3 shots, 1 block, 4 hits, and an overall pretty solid 21:35 TOI.
F - Fights. In such a physical game, there was none. But I did notice that in the first, the Blues tried to do a little intidimating, Right on the first shift, a MacDonald shot that was covered by Luongo was followed by Jackman entering the fray to try and set a tone. His attempt was rebuffed, as were most of the physical attempts by the Blues tonight. In a battle of wills, for first place, there was no indication that a big physical team was going to push the Canucks around.
G - Mark Andre Gragnani. He says call him Grags, though it seems like MAG has already caught on. He had a play on the power play where he almost turned it over on the "drop play", and a couple times where he might have been on the wrong side in his own end in the first. I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, for it being his first game in. I was most impressed by his instincts. There were a few occasions where he filled places where the opposition did not expect him down low. He made some nice passes, and showed those offensive skills, as well as settling down in his own end after the first. He was only credited a shot in his 18 shifts and 14:05 TOI, and I am pretty sure he thought Andy MacDonald embellished the call on him, but I was happy with his play, and look forward to how he does once he gets some real practice time. In the second PP, for instance, he made more than one play and pass that showed the offensive instincts that cannot be taught.
H -Higgins. Chris Higgins seems to have gotten his energy back. His empty netter was the result of a smart pass from Burrows, and he showed the jump and skills that we are used to seeing from him. I would imagine he is up on the second line in the weeks to come. His 3 shots, and 12:29 showed better and better as that third line exerted their will in the third period. The goal was a nice treat for a guy that deserved it by playing hard.
I - Ice time. We have gone from the wags and "experts" complaining about a lack of ice time for Cody Hodgson to complaining about the fact that Mason Raymond was the third highest in ice time for the Canucks, behind Kesler and Burrows. "OH NOEESSS, he had more time than the Twins" they say. Yes, I see the deficiencies in his game like you do. But I also saw 3 shots, all decent chances, and a speed demon that was, able to disrupt plays and be responsibly defensive. But that won't matter. He is now the "whipping boy". All the kvetching from the "callers" that TEAM for some reason encourages will reach an annoying crescendo. I get it. I also think that AV knows more than they do.
J - Jannik Hansen. Is it just me, or has he been more of the "Honey Badger" since he was put on a line with a well defined purpose, like he is now on with Pahlsson and Higgins. His 2 shots ( 1 missed ), 1 hit, and a giveaway in 15:56 is almost an insult to how good he was. In addition to getting under the skin of anyone in a Blues uniform, he was the best penalty killer ( his 1:54 led all forwards in SH TOI ) on either team. That line was responsible, and did better as the game went on. I get the feeling that once Sammy gets used to his linemates, we might see some more 5 on 5 offense, in addition to just playing lockdown defense.
K - Zack Kassian of course. How much fun is this guy? I love having that big game changer that you look for on the ice, and hold your breath when you see him coming in for a hit on his check. But I really admire the hands he continues to show, as well as the smarts to go to the right place. Against his old team, who wants to bet we see him get more time with the Twins? Anyone want to doubt that he does something with it? So far so good kid. Make them forget the other #9.
L - Maxim Lapierre. I just have to say more. He looked like "Playoffs Mad Max". Whether that is because of the big guy riding shotgun, or just because this was his kind of game? I am not sure there, but I do know that, from all accounts, the Canucks home rink is a harder place to get hits than, say, Minnesota. He had 10. That may have been a bit low!
M - Manny Malhotra was 5 of 11 on draws, and had 1 block in his 11:27 TOI. I thought he had one of his better games in a while. Why? Because he was flying in the offensive end, working well with the two bangers and crashers he had flanking him, and he played a greasy game.
N - No way in hell I want the Canucks to see these guys in the first round. Its doubtful, the way the two teams are going, but if I had to guess, I would see these guys in 4th or 5th. You know the 2nd and 3rd place teams in the Central are going to be the 4-5 matchup. That is going to be a war, huh?
O - This team is #2 at goals scored, and is an offensive juggernaut. Yet all I am hearing from the Blake Price post game show is an insistence at "worrying about the Sedins". Jesus Christ Canuck fans. This was a great win, and all I am hearing as I type is bitching about the Twins and Raymond. Demanding that the reporters "demand" to know why Raymond is not in the pressbox. I get it. We are passionate. But can we at least enjoy the wins without the "Ee-yore mentality"?
P - I am waiting for the same attitude to permeate the dissections of Samuel Pahlsson game. After all, he only had 1 block, 2 hits, and a takeway, while going 1 for 4 on draws, in his 13:03 TOI. I kind of like how he is seemingly in the right spot and makes the right decisions out there myself, but I get it. He is an acquired taste, sort of like dark chocolate or HP Sauce.
Q - Question. Watch the highlights, and riddle me this ; How often do you see a guy from either team out of position? and is that little reach out for the puck on top of the net at the 1:10 by Kevin Bieksa a penalty that we got away with?
R - Ryan Kesler had 19:23 TOI, with 2:26 of that on the PP, and 1:25 on the PK. That is a bit of a red herring though, as his 1:25 was only on two shifts on the PK. ( got caught out there ) In addition to being solid, engaged in the battle, and playing hard all game, he was a team best 12 of 18 on draws. But with a +1, 1 shot, and 3 hits, you know all people will want to know is "where's the goals Kes"? I have to think they are coming, but, like most of you, I do think we will start seeing Team America back together soon. Mason Raymond and his responsible defensive play can find a home with the Honey Badger and the Subtle Swede.
S - Sami Salo had 1 giveaway in 19 minutes. Thats it. But I can't really remember more than a couple plays where he was on the wrong side of someone, and he recovered on those!
T - Takeaways. The stats guy saw 3 each in this hard fought game. Thats a testament to the teams both being well coached, and both playing their systems hard. It made the middle frame as boring as Flatland, but a win is a win right?
U - Under pressure. The Blues were the better team in the first, and at one point they were up 10-2 in shots. Fine positional play, goaltending, and a push back where they then had the next 6 shots, and only trailed 13-8 after the first, was telling. They found their legs after the road trip. But handling being under pressure well is why they won tonight.
V - Vancouver is #1 in the NHL. Still. Sorry haters. It was a beautiful day today too...
W - Welcome to the new guys. I liked all of your games tonight.
X - The X-Factor in the upcoming playoffs will be if the officials call it like they did tonight. I think this edition of the team is much better equipped to play a hard game 5 on 5, and will depend less on the power play to win. Thats a good thing right?
Y - Young. Zack Kassian is only 21 years old. He needs to pot a goal versus the Sabres on Saturday, and perhaps a big hit on young Mr "I never asked for a trade, but my agent is a Hot Twitter Mess", just for the shadenfreude. Then the healing for Cody fans can truly begin.
Z - Was Zed the best role of Bobcat's acting career?
Final addendum ; I love the way we all debate and banter our way through the minutae of our star crossed bunch. We all love and are passionate of the team. Its certainly not a reaction to anything. But the cold hard simple facts are that your humble writer needs to find employment. Therefore, I have made a decision to pull back a little on the threads for a while, until I can find something at least. It just seems that before you know it, you look at the clock, and you have put in two hours on whether this guy is better than that guy!
I love doing the Recaps, and will keep doing so, but instead of ( and I'll still be around, just not as much as before ) plying the threads, I will stick to Twitter more or less. Just for a while. The big games and playoffs, you won't be able to get rid of me. I have to say, I went cold turkey yesterday to see how hard it would be, and its hard!
So, sorry if I do not hang in the threads with you as much for a while, but its something I have to do. Also, and I will only say this once, because I don't want to beg for a job on here, but if you do want to contact me for any opportunity, the email is attached to my profile. In the meantime, enjoy the Recaps. And the occasional Tweet. ( @Vancitydan )