I bet you thought, when you looked at the title, that a Monty Python clip would be tonight's offering. As much as I love those crazy Englishmen, the clip above was just far more apt. That is some fantastic reactions. ( "lucky I have long arms", he said after )
Roberto Luongo. On a deflection like that ( and that was a great play by Brown under pressure to get Kopitar the chance ), the time to react is so short. If that is not atop the 10 best from the NHL this week, something is wrong.
The way he stood his ground in the dying seconds sure reminded one of the Black Knight, didn't it? No stick, bodies laying all over the place, it truly was a virtuoso performance by the sometimes maligned #1 netminder tonight. He came out of the fight with all his limbs to boot!
(programming note ; the Recap on Wednesday will be a couple hours later than usual. Plan your page views accordingly )
- Simply put, Roberto Luongo is a helluva goaltender, playing on a helluva team. Apart from the Kopitar tip, and the last ten minutes of the third, this was nothing like the team we last saw on Dec. 31st. There were chances along the way of course, but Roberto was the beneficiary of some pretty airtight systems play tonight. The clear outs and breakout passes were mainly fantastic, and even there, Luongo chipped in. He had one play where the stomach tightened a bit, but he was pretty good at handling the puck tonight. He was pretty excellent at stopping the damn thing. His legs were moving, he was so strong in his crease, and his glove was top notch tonight. There can be no doubt who the first star was, as he stopped 9,12, and 15 shots over three periods of flat out brilliance.
- This was one tough game as well. Not just the hits, though I think that the Canucks coming out and outhitting the Kings 23-10 in the first, on their way to a 34 - 24 edge in that stat. The home team won the face off battle 35 - 27, and that helped with the puck possession a lot. The line match ups showed that the Puckhounds ( 3rd line ) can be quite comfortable against a hot line like Kopitar's, and with Ryan Kesler's line doing the same against the Richard's line, it was up to the other lines to make the difference. The Henrik Sedin line was pretty solid defensively, and had some pressure that seemed to just not click against a hard working defensive team like the Kings. ( Willie Mitchell was a defensive beast. Anytime you want to come home Big Stick...) All the lines were solid in their own end. You could find a turnover here, a mistake there. Those are what hockey is all about, forcing mistakes. What I loved was the way the Canuck players, defense, forwards, and goalie, all recovered from mistakes ( and forced them, the Canucks only had 4 giveaways to the Kings having 8 , while the takeaways was almost a saw off at 10-9 Kings ), found their teammates who were in the right position to support, and moved it out of danger. They showed a defensive team how to play defense, and did it very well.
- How about that 4th line, for instance? Manny Malhotra not only scored the game winning goal, and the only goal, he had 2 shots and was 6 of 11 on draws. Maybe that is not too impressive compared to his usual face off brilliance, but he was a lynchpin in a line where everyone knows their role and takes their vitamins. He had no hits, but he did have two linemates that took care of that. Maxim Lapierre had a team high ( again ) 6 hits, an assist on a great rush, had 2 shots and a giveaway to go along with 3 for 5 on draws ( which is another added bonus on that line. Your face off ace gets tossed, oh well, here's another over 50% guy right here. Dale Weise? 8:12 was the least amount of ice time for the Canucks, but he had 5 hits on his 12 shifts. That line was the ggrind line, as is usual for a 4th line. They did all of that and got the game's only goal.
- Let's face it, the Canucks are going to miss Daniel Sedin. He is the top scorer for the team, and it goes without saying that two Sedin Twins is better than one. But Henrik Sedin looked to battle hard all night. He is so underrated along the boards. How many times do you see him freezing it along the boards, only to watch the puck pop right out to a teammate through the opponent's skates? Thats just one example, but he played hard tonight. Hank had 1 shot on, 1 miss, 1 hit and 7 of 11 on draws, including a couple in the defensive zone. His only downgrade has to be a very weak hooking call. The guy probably helped your stick get into his hands hank, but that was a one handed reach out that was never going to help anything. Don't do that. Mason Raymond was his usual puck hunting, fast skating self, had 3 shots ( 1 miss ) 2 hits, and looks more and more comfortable with Henrik. Speaking of comfortable, I was very comfortable with Zach Kassian's game tonight. He only got 2 hits and 2 takeaways on the score sheet, but was in the right place for most of the game, showed his speed on a couple occasions to gain pucks, and backchecked well. He is a rookie, and with that comes the ups and downs for most players. This game was one where he looked a lot more comfortable in the system. AV thought so too, keeping him on his line late in the third period as well.
- Ryan Kesler said in the pregame that his family was in town, and he did seem to play an inspired game. He was strong defensively, made his line match up play defense far more than they wanted to, and showed he was into it early. 2 of his 3 shots hit the net, he was 9 for 18 on draws, and had a team high 3 takeaways in 22:09 TOI. The power play experiment of him at the point was only OK, but he could have scored from there if the King's penalty kill was not so awesome. OK, maybe not. The power play still needs some work, but give the credit to the Kings' penalty kill tonight in that respect. His linemates were solid defensively as well, with Alexandre Burrows having a shot, a block, 2 hits and a takeaway, while being his usual 200', never give up self on the penalty kill that was almost as good as the Kings' was. David Booth helped set the tone with a huge hit early, one of his 3, had a couple shots, and apart from a penalty call ( this one was weak on the ref. How the guy that he got accused of holding the stick of did not get one for the way he pulled Booth down was a mystery of the "new NHL. The ref made a mistake late to help the Canucks anyhow, so it was equally head scratching!), David Booth's speed made life tough on any defender not named Willie Mitchell.
- I saved the best for last. Not because I think that they were the best line tonight. But the 3rd line hounded the puck like a pack of hungry dogs all night, led by the Honey Badger. Jannik Hansen might be the hardest working player on the Canucks right now. Perhaps its the influence of Chris Higgins, the fact that Samme Pahlsson plays such a simple game that he knows where his centre is going to be all the time, or maybe its just that the line gets the big assignment every game. Dustin Bown and Anze Kopitar were the assignment tonight ( with an assortment of left wingers ), and while Brown had 6 shots, Kopitar only had 2, though one forced the save embedded above. By contrast, Hansen had 1 ( 3 misses ) a block and 6 hits ( tying with Lappy for the team lead there ) , and a giveaway that I am sure he recovered from. I loved his game. He got ran by , Greene I think it was, at the beginning of a shift and hit him twice, hard, in the rest of that shift. Keep it up Honey Badger. Is it any wonder that Chris Higgins goes on a line and it performs? The man is the unsung hero for the team this year. 4 of 5 shots on net, 2 blocks, and a hit were his contribution, but its obvious that he might be the strongest guy in puck battles on a team of guys strong along the boards.
- The defensemen deserve a ton of credit in a shutout. Of course, the goalie needs to be praised, but its a team game, and the guys on the blue line were so strong tonight. All the pairs deserve some praise. Dan Hamhuis and Chris Tanev may be becoming a better shutdown pairing than Juicy Hammer. The kid had a couple times where he could have made a better decision, but he always figured it out and made the right one. His partner is a penalty killing machine, and shows more and more how good of a complete blue liner he can become. Tanev had 3 shots and 2 blocks, while Hamhuis had only 1 of 3 shots get to the net, while having a hit and a block, along with a takeaway. But, what I noticed the most about him is how he made the safe play under pressure so often, especially along the boards.
- The pass to spring Lapierre and Malhotra from Alexander Edler was wonderful, reacting well to a Luongo directed puck to spring them before anyone could even think of getting back. ( though they had enough back, the goal came on a 2 on 3!) He had 3 misses of shots, however, which does not help the power play ( though, like I said the Kings had something to do with that with their aggressive penalty killing ), had a late penalty that forced the goaltender heroics, and had to be holding his breath late. But you don't lead your team continually ( 25:02 tonight ) in ice time without doing the right things more often than not. His partner gets better and better at reading him as well, with Kevin Bieksa showing that he can play a smart game as an all around defender without the security blanket that is playing with Dan Hamhuis. He had 2 shots, a block, a blue line leading 4 hits, and a giveaway and a takeaway. He also led the charge of guys that were clearing out guys when the puck went to the net, all night long.
- People are going to get dicey when they watch Marc Andre Gragnani play. He has some flash in his game, and sometimes does not make the easy play as often as he should. That is why Bones and AV had him with Sami Salo, who did have a good game. The times where MAG might have hesitated on a clear or was under pressure, Sami was there for the support. Grags had nothing on the stats sheet in 12:45, but all you need to see is the rush he went on with Higgins. The give and go, the shot, and the almost connecting on the empty net when the rebound was in the air. All of it showed some profound puck sense. He'll get better. But his pretty good is pretty good. It must be nice playing with the Finnish eraser. Sami seemed to be there positionally all night long, and while he had 10 more shifts than his partner, I don't think that was because MAG was THAT bad. Maybe they just wanted the guys they know better late. Sami had 1 of his 3 shots hit the net, 3 blocks, and a giveaway to go with a strong overall game for the veteran defender.
- But really, this was Roberto Luongo's game. It did not seem to matter where the shots were coming from. You just got the feeling that it was going to take something special to beat him tonight. Perhaps that had something to do with his rebound control tonight, which was outstanding. More than likely, it had to do with the tight game played in front of him. Definitely, it is easier to play a complete game that only requires one goal when your goaltender is making the shooters shake their head all night long.
Speaking of head shaking, did anyone see that dive by Drew Doughty early in the game? I think it was Burrows that he came together with. I honestly wonder how his teammates react to that shit. He went down in his own end holding his face like a soccer player. This aint CONCACAF qualifying Drew. If your team does not get the puck there, all you are doing is giving the other team a great chance. Honestly. I went from loving this guy's game in 2010 to just shaking my head at him now...