Like the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, the Canucks are an acquired taste. We love our ( well, most of us, the media tends to love to overplay the fringe element to the detriment of the majority, but I digress ) back to back President's Trophy winners, sure, but thats us. This did seem to be a more impressive topping of the league, compared to last year when they ran away with it. The Canucks finished the season as the hottest team in the league, going 8-1-1 in their last ten to nip the Blues and Rangers at the finish line.
More importantly, like HGTTG, they know the job is unfinished. Mr Simpson certainly reminded us of the fact that the Los Angeles Kings can be a dangerous team for the Canucks in the post game, and I suppose the Alberta boy has a point. Their goaltender can be dangerous, like just about every damn team the #1 team in the NHL will have to go through just to get out of the West.
We'll embrace their opinions and show the rest of the league that the fans here are not like those that tarnished the final act. Hell, the crowd was doing the wave as they watched their team dismantle the Oilers tonight. Its not like there was any angst in the building. Lets keep it that way all the way through. AV said as much on After Hours ( will add the link when it hits Youtube. He kept Scott Oake in line tonight! ) while answering multiple questions about the goaltending in Vancouver. How he knows the fans are really behind the team. Now that the second season is here, these silly questions about how the sky is going to fall can wait until the sky actually, possibly falls, right?
Having two elite goaltenders should trump having just one, shouldn't it?
- Before we get to all the positives about the home team tonight, some words for the Oilers. #$@% those guys. I try to be fair and balanced about the opposition most nights. Of course you are getting more about the Canucks here. Its what we do. But when the other team does those things that helps them win, or a worthy play or something, it would be pretty one sided of me to just ignore those things. But this team came out and acted like the punk, tried to injure the team at the other end of the rink, and generally had no desire to compete. Perhaps it was the fact that apart from Devan Dubnyk, they could not compete on this night. Hordichuk had 7 hits in only 6:35, but most of them are high. He attempted, after a clean "blow up" hit by Maxim Lapierre, to try to elbow Ryan Kesler in the face. Ben Eager had 3 hits and played a bit more in control, but was just too "Eager" twice to give the power play more time to get it together. He deserved them both. There might be not another player so unaware in the NHL. Seeing the Calder candidate RNH react to getting checked with a cross check to the face of Sami Salo was not that surprising, with leadership like that. Just because you are not good enough to compete ( 5 shots in the first and second, and 7 in a third period where they did not look all that dangerous ), at least attempt to play the game the right way. Hardly surprising, I suppose.
- Last year, Mike Gillis made two deadline moves, and those two players are now integral parts of the team. We'll get to Chris Higgins and his puck hunting linemates soon enough, but how much fun is it to watch Maxim Lapierre play hockey? He of course was the first man in to confront Hordisuck's meatheadedness, and apart from the fact he took a few rabbit punches from both Eager and his buddy, he still came out as pretty as ever ( as I am sure he was telling both of them in what looked like an epic penalty box debate ). Tonight, he made that second line look dangerous and invigorated all night. His 4 shots and 2 hits in only 12:37 showed why AV put him on that line. Like his coach said, he's a "hard worker". His hard work gave his linemates room, he looked comfortable with David Booth and Kesler, and more important, they looked comfortable with him. David Booth had his best game in a while, his centre the same, and the fact that it was with Mad max was not a coincidence. Ryan Kesler was flying, made several nice dishes of the puck for great chances ( an early one from the blue line one of them ), and had an assist on Henrik Sedin's eventual game winner. He finished with 5 shots, and was 10 for 18 on draws. Honestly, I expect to see the revamped American Express line in Game One, only it will be renamed Le' Express . Max definitely deserves to be there. When is the last time David Booth had 11 shots ( and 2 misses to boot!) ? Check out his moves on the prettiest goal of the night.
- With the conflicting reports of Daniel Sedin skating or not skating recently, there will be a big move into the lineup by that first game in the playoffs, or not. Such is the way it is with concussions. One thing I do know, Henrik Sedin is playing some of his best hockey of the year recently. He had a goal on 1 shot, and was credited with 1 takeaway while going 5 of 8 on draws. But where he looks to have undergone a revelation is with how confident he is with the puck. Holding it for that extra beat as a guy gets open. Underrated at how strong he has been along the boards. Of course, when you play with the hardest working guy on the team ( Burrows was diving at both ends of the rink, in the dying minutes, to hold pucks in or get them out ), and another that seemed to know where to be pretty quickly in one Andrew Ebbett, that helps. Captain Hank has not only led like a leader should, he has meshed pretty seamlessly with a variety of linemates. Tonight, everyone worked hard, but when your wingers look dangerous ( Burrows, an assist on the power play,with 5 of 7 shot attempts on net, Ebbett with 1 of his 3 forcing a save ) and its different ones from game to game, that might have something to do with the man wearing the "C".
- Starting on Wednesday and Thursday, we get to see what a fine idea it is to keep Jannik Hansen, Chris Higgins, and Samuel Pahlsson together. Maybe AV will surprise me ( and at this point, maybe Lappy and Higgy are interchangeable ), but how can you not? Tonight, while AV sort of kind of worked for the matchup against whatever line was the most "dangerous" ( Hemsky's line had a couple good shifts, and The Nuge line occasionally was playing in the offensive end ), the "checking" line was more often than not in the offensive end themselves. The World's Toughest Swede had a goal, 3 of 4 shots on net, 2 hits, and a 5 of 9 night on draws. His 3 giveaways must be a typo. The Great Dane added an assist on his centre's goal, a block, a hit, and a giveaway. The Professor a couple shots, a hit and a takeaway. Not particularly shockingly amazing numbers, but what was noticeable to me tonight was how they not only get to the right places ( Sammy seems to always be in the right place, the rest just fall in line ), but how fast they transition to offense. In 19 games now, Pahlsson has 2 goals, 4 assists, and is a +4. I know we were expecting the defense, but the offense is a nice touch.
- I watched Byron Bitz fairly close on his 15 shifts and 9:49 TOI. I was intrigued how he would do as the centre, and was pretty pleased. The fourth line did chip in with pressure, their speed was noticeable ( Bitz can motor ), and there was maybe one shift where they looked under pressure ( OK, its the Oil, I know...) tonight. Bitz not only had a couple blocks, and a couple hits, he led his team with 3 takeaways. Losing both his draws was understandable in his first NHL game as a centre ( I think, maybe Boston used him there once upon a time ), and Manny Malhotra going only 2 of 7 was a little surprising. His 2 hits, and general speediness and savvy was not. Dale Weise ? Well, when a fourth liner leads the team in hits, with 7 tonight, adds a takeaway, and generally looked to be a pain in the ass to play against, he's just doing his job.
- I'm not going to way poetically about the defensemen tonight. They had a fairly easy night. But here's a few things I noticed. Dan Hamhuis is fast becoming one of my favorite blueliners. He is in the right place as much as Sammy is up front. Together with Chris Tanev is a quietly effective shutdown pair. Tanev had 3 blocks to lead his team tonight. ( a note on that. On a night when one team was way more offensive, you would expect that the team on defense would have a pretty big lead in blocked shots. But no. The Oilers were led by Nick Schultz with 4, but only had 14 blocks to 12 for the home team. I know its the last game of the year, and the golf swing gets screwed up with a sore foot, but way to pay the price there Oilers...) But the most noticeable blueliner was Alexander Edler tonight. He led his team in ice time again ( 24:15 ), and looked like he had rockets in his skates on several plays where he got back on some pretty swift players. 2 blocks, 2 hits, 1 of 3 shots on net ( the other two were attempted passes off the boards I think ), and just an all around solid game.
- I did not leave the best for last. Roberto Luongo had a pretty easy night too. And yes, Oiler fans, I am going to totally dismiss 2 posts in the second, because we had 2 in the second as well. But in each period, he had a couple tricky and difficult chances to stop. A couple breakaways ( well, almost, both breaks were handled well enough that they were not clear ones ), and a whole lot of watching the boys and admiring the wave going around Rogers Arena. Luongo showed great focus tonight to make the saves when he had to. He also added an assist on David Booth's superlative effort.
There will be plenty of time to dissect and determine the various permutations of the first matchup of the playoffs. For now, just savour the fact that the last times that a team has went back to back at the top of the league ( Oilers in the Gretzky years, Calgary in 1989, and correct me if I am wrong, but I think the Wings in 2002 ), they won the Cup in that second year. What could go wrong, right?