You know that as the season winds down, that reports on what is actually happening as far as injuries and the general health of your favorite hockey players is often something only talked about as "upper body", "lower body", or, as Rick Bowness mentioned when asked about Kevin Bieksa being off "whole body...day to day".
Such was the case tonight. Unbeknown to us ( and maybe we should have been clued in when Roberto pumped Schneids tires extensively in a post game day skate interview. Usually he does not do those all the time.) Luongo woke up this morning with a stiff neck. He was not able to shake it throughout the day, and after taking the warm up, AV decided that Cory Schneider would go in ( he said in the post game that "I've got Cory sitting right there...and Lui could have played through it if it was critical...", while also saying that if it persists they could pull Lack up, seeing as they are in Abbotsford ).
This is exactly why I have not wanted to couch the goaltending on this team as a "controversy". Honestly, after that first period, and those short handed saves that turned the entire game, how can this be anything but a good problem to have! Two great goalies. "Ugh" huh?!
With this win tonight, the Vancouver Canucks (105 pts ) still have a real chance at their second President's Trophy. While they seem to be more concerned about playing well going into the second season, consider that they play the Flames tomorrow night on home ice, then the Ducks, the Flames on the road, and the Oilers at home. Compare that to the schedules of the Rangers (107 pts ) with the Bruins at home, Flyers and Penguins on the road, and a quite possibly desperate at that time Capitals team on the last day. The Blues get a potential softy with the Blue Jackets on Saturday at home, and entertain the Wings and Coyotes before going to Dallas to play the Stars with their playoff lives probably in the balance on the last day.
You can look at that and see a path to the top. They have the easiest schedule.
- Cory Schneider. How about the game from the late addition to the starting lineup? He knew earlier in the game that it was a possibility, but that is still a sometimes tough thing to do for a goaltender. He handled it all with that quiet aplomb that has made him a favorite of fans. In that first period, the chances were probably two to one, and he stared them all down. Jamie Benn had 3 shots that were all good ones. ( after those 3 in the first, he ended up with 5 shots ) Did not matter. The Stars were the better team as far as the chances went in the opening stanza, but through all of that, the team in front of Schneids had their moments. Still, without the Ginja Ninja, the score might have been different than 1-0 after being outshot 13 - 7. It certainly would have been a different game if he had not helped make his power play look way better than it was on a couple of power plays where the Stars had way more good chances than they should have. The save on Loui Eriksson on that 2 on 1 was simply awesome. The team paid him back for it by scoring on the power play shortly afterwards, and playing some fantastically tight defense in the third after the home team got the score out of touch. Apart from the lazy turnover that gave up a late goal to Dowell ( Salo stepping up, Alberts late on covering for him, and Manny Malhotra playing the puck poorly at the line as well ) on one of only 4 shots in the last period.
- Some love for the coach folks. He knows his team. After a slower start, the Henrik Sedin line showed that he knows his team with some hard work the rest of the night. Maxim Lapierre had a goal and 2 assists, and was a revelation in a second period where the team outshot their opponent 20 - 13. AV made a subtle move on the power play after the shorthanded chances ( off a couple turnovers at the line ), putting Sami Salo out there on the top PP, and moving Ryan Kesler up front again. Almost on cue, Kesler gained the line strongly, Henrik dished one of those flat passes that the defensemen love, and the SaloBomb was in the net before Lehtonen moved on a perfect Alexandre Burrows screen. Execution makes the coach happy. After the power play had looked "meh", that play showed some great work by everyone involved. Bonus points to the coach for using the score, and his confidence in his 3rd and 4th lines to spread the ice time out. Known ice time heavyweights like Kesler, Edler, and Hamhuis were all at least 2 minutes under their average. Henrik had 18:18 and 19 shifts. Mad Max had all 5 on 5 action and only 13:25 on 17 shifts ( a very full 13:25! ) Malhotra had 11:29 and 18 shifts. Zack Kassian had 15 shifts and 10:47 TOI, and his line mate had 1 more shift and 1 more second on the ice. THAT is balancing the ice time to keep everyone fresh. Part of that is score induced, but in the third period, if a shift was over 40 seconds, I think a shock went off in their collars and they went to the bench. Alain Vigneault is a great coach that knows his team.
- That "1st" line was met with snickers and wonderment when it came out of practice that Maxim Lapierre was moving up with Burrows and Captain Hank on "Two Trolls, a Twin and a Pizza Place". ( Thx Kent! ) It took them a bit here and there to get acclimated with one another, but how nice was it to see the best passer in the NHL make his reappearance? That pass to Salo was flat and suitable for Bombing, the second one to Alberts ( the last man coming to the zone ) was brilliant for his vision and patience, and both of them were almost plain when compared to a third one where he hung out behind the net, faked out a couple guys along the boards, and found Burrows in front. The play by Burrows was so skilled as well ( he took the pass on his stick, had to kick it up to his stick while turning away from a poke check, and beat the goalie clean ), as was the shot from Lapierre after a nice play by the Buffalo refugees Gragnani and Kassian. That line finished with 2 goals and 5 assists. Who's laughing now?
- For all the fireworks from the top line tonight, the best line may just be the "3rd" line that is third in name only now. Chris Higgins continued his relentlessly excellent play with a goal that was set up by Chris Tanev ( without an assist credited ) getting the puck along the boards in his own end to Jannik Hansen, who "Honey Badgered" it all the way up the boards, then made Goligoski look a little silly losing him, and finally fed a nice pass in front. But check the numbers. Against the Ribeiro line almost all the time, they shined ( Ribeiro 2 shots, -1, 3 of 10 draws won, Ryder 2 shots, -1, and Eriksson's great chance the only shot to hit the net while going, you guessed it, -1 ) while Pahlsson had 5 of 7 draws won while having 3 shots, Hansen had the Honey Badger assist and 2 shots, while The Professor added a goal and 3 shots as well. Shutting down one of the hottest lines coming in, outscoring them, and making them play defense instead of score? Cody Who?
- I liked the 4th line tonight as well. The mistake I documented on the second Dallas goal aside, they were overall pretty solid at both ends of the rink. Kassian, while only having 1 shot and a hit to go with his assist, seemed to be in the right place and involved in the play a lot more regularly tonight. Dale Weise was flying, had a great chance that really should have been a penalty shot instead of a penalty, and had a block and 3 hits tonight. Manny Malhotra had a couple hits, won 7 of 11 draws, and was , apart from on the goal, positionally sound. The fourth line had a bunch of offensive zone shifts tonight. Perhaps a bit more execution would be nice, but they were good in the areas they had to be.
- I don't want to make it all about the negatives, but the "2nd" line had some struggles tonight. On Ott's goal that tied it early in the second, Kesler won a defensive zone faceoff and somehow did not follow the other centre to the net. Sure, Benn made a nice power move to beat him to that puck ( a reason why he did not get to the front with Ott perhaps?), and we have to look at both the winger(WTF was Booth doing there... He should have had Ott ) and defenseman that somehow forgot about Otter as well. Lets check the stats line. Mason Raymond was a -2, with only 1 of 3 shots hitting the net ( he did get the outside of the post on a late game chance at the net with the goalie flailing ), had a block and both a giveaway and a takeaway. Booth battled harder than his line mate, showing his strength after being knocked hard to the ice by setting up Raymond with a gorgeous pass that was Mase's best chance to score. 3 of 5 shots hit the net, a -1, and he had a hit and a giveaway, while being pretty engaged. Ryan Kesler was also a -1, had 3 of his 4 shots hit the net, an assist, 2 hits and a giveaway, while contributing many important draws, leading his team on faceoffs, going 10 of 15. No matter that the AMEX line seems better with Chris Higgins ( any line would! ) than it does with Mase. All three of these guys work hard. Honestly, I expect a breakout game from both Booth and Kesler on the score sheet soon. Raymond too!
- So, how do you recap the blue liners tonight? Well, we had a game winning goal from Andrew Alberts, whose hard shot went off of a Dallas player. But Big Al also was late on reacting on the second Dallas goal. Still, a goal! His partner Sami Salo had a patented SaloBomb that was probably not going to be stopped, and had a couple shots and a couple blocks. That pairing was pretty good at clearing the rebound after the first shot tonight. That was a skill of all the pairings, and while Chris Tanev had a couple turnovers ( only credited with a giveaway and a takeaway on the stat sheet though ) a +2 and a block, he recovered well, and also made some of those confident patient plays. His pairing was mostly with Dan Hamhuis, and they were excellent in concert with the third line that was so good at back checking. Mr Underrated was a +1, had a shot and a hit, while leading the team with 22:11 TOI. That pairing is always solid, but I thought the guys that played well ( for not playing that much together ) was Marc Andre Gragnani and Alexander Edler. Eddy was a +1, had 3 shots, 3 blocks, a hit and a takeaway, while being the victim of a blatant dive by Vern Fiddler. His 2 giveaways was a little troubling, but he recovered well. MAG also had 3 blocks, and his play on Lapierre's goal was an example of his vision and offensive acumen, He had a hit too, and seemed better along the boards. Perhaps he is getting used to it here now. Overall? The blue line has some rough patches, especially in the first, but recovered well, and was excellent in that third period, but for the late, meaningless, goal.
But really, Cory Freaking Schneider. Great game young man. I am not sure if you get the start tomorrow against the Flames, but whether we are cheering for you or Luongo tomorrow at the St Augustine ( come one, come all ), it will probably be against a team with nothing to play for now anyhow. One where Kipper looks like a sieve right now, and the back up is so "meh" they have not played him for , well, ever. In any event, CC says get there early ( he said 6, but the hour previous might be better. The place is going to be packed, supposedly ) for Nothin' But a Good Time...
The recap will be late tomorrow, obviously. Shorter too, if the refreshments and rejoicing at our latest meet up are as reputed.