Blue & Green Machine: Week 1

Harry How

This will be a regular Sunday feature analyzing the major storylines and key players from the week in Canucks hockey. Hope you enjoy! If you don't, you can always find me on Twitter and tell me I'm an idiot.

There was a mild underlying theme of redemption through the first full week of the Vancouver Canucks 2012-13 season, and it came full circle Friday night against the Ducks. After being visibly nervous and getting shelled in Vancouver's home opener last Saturday, Cory Schneider more than redeemed himself with an absolute gem of a game in Anaheim. The Canucks started slow, and Schneider gave the team in front of him a chance to find their legs by making several huge saves. Consumate professional that he is, I doubt last weekend's loss was weighing on him too heavily, but it was a nice contrast to see Schneider and the Canucks walk into Anaheim and returning the favour of blowing out the home team.

"It didn't matter that it was the same team, it mattered that it was another step in the right direction and to get better." — The Province

It was also a week of redemption for Mason Raymond, who just a week ago could have been called a reclamation project. Two fantastic games later, and he's suddenly the saviour of a top six forward group still without Ryan Kesler and David Booth. I've always believed that when healthy and in the right role, Raymond is closer to the player who scored 25 goals in 2009-10 than the one who scored just 10 last season. He's certainly trending in that direction at the moment. It's interesting to note that Raymond's production coincided with Jordan Schroeder's insertion into the lineup. Whatever the catalyst, Raymond is making plays and driving the net in ways we haven't seen before. I also discovered another reason for Raymond's strong play, which you'll find under Player Notes below...

Similar to Raymond, Keith Ballard is slowly but surely crawling out of Alain Vigneault's bad books, made evident by the 18:46 in ice-time he logged against the Ducks on Friday. Ballard and partner Chris Tanev are killing it as a 3rd pairing, generally against the other team's weaker lines, and as a result Ballard currently sits second on the team in On-Ice Corsi (for a great primer on advanced stats and the Canucks so far this season, read Blake's piece from yesterday). We have seen flashes from Ballard in the past, so let's hope he can redeem himself completely over the course of this season.

Storylines

NEW LOOK LINES

Along with Raymond's resurgence, Zack Kassian's effectiveness with the Sedins has really saved this offense from what could have been an early-season disaster without Kesler and Booth. Canucks fans have had a power forward complex ever since Cam Neely was prematurely shipped out of town almost 27 years ago, so it's easy to see why they have taken such a shining to Kassian. He looks like the player that TV panels and pundits have been insisting the Canucks need since the Boston series: a big, physical winger who can score while keeping the opposition honest around the top players. If Kassian does prove to be a viable long-term linemate for the twins, it allows Burrows to eventually slot in with Kesler and Booth and bolsters the firepower in the bottom six significantly.

TEAM PLAY

Friday night's game was a blueprint for how this team needs to play to win games while missing 2/3rds of their top six. Goaltending, composure, and special teams won them the game, and that's going to have to be the case for the next little while. It would be very difficult for any team in the league to maintain their level of play at even strength while missing key forwards, and that's the boat the Canucks are currently in. The team's identity over the past few seasons has been defined by dominant 5-on-5 play, so there's no reason to think they can't get back to that level once healthy.

THE GOALIES

Yes, this is still a storyline, though it slid down from first to third on my scale of importance from last week so that's a good sign! After Schneider bombed in the opener and Luongo posted a reasonably solid effort against the Oilers, the potential was there for this to turn into a "AV could start either guy on any given night" scenario, but Schneider has since nullified that worry. His effort in Anaheim was, as previously noted, remarkable, and the mental capacity he proved to have by bouncing back so quickly left no doubt who the #1 guy is.

Player Notes

Jordan Schroeder acquitted himself nicely in two contests. He won nearly 58% of his face-offs against Anaheim, and collected his first NHL point by assisting on Raymond's 2nd goal. He's making his case for the 3rd line centre position, which remains a question mark even when the forwards are healthy. For more on Schroeder, check out Zandberg's extensive post on him.

4 games and we have yet to see one of Jason Garrison's booming point shots find the back of the net. It's only a matter of time. Garrison has been a rock so far in other areas, as he's faced the toughest competition of all Canucks defensemen and come out ahead.

Aaron Volpatti had a great game on Friday, scoring a goal and winning a spirited tilt against Matt Beleskey. He's a prototypical 4th line winger who can drive play in the right direction, and it's great to see him back being effective after his injury last season.

Alex Burrows made the transition to 2nd line centre relatively painlessly. He got his first point of the season Friday night, and admitted that his timing is still a bit off.

So back to Mason Raymond. There could be a very simple reason for his stellar play that we're all overlooking: Dad Strength. Remember, Raymond and his wife had a baby back in April. Mason hasn't been playing a lot of hockey since then, instead he's been building up his Dad Strength whilst caring for his young family. Dad Strength is not a metric measured by any statisticians that I know, but trust me, it's a real thing. We're witnessing it.

Speaking of Dad Strength, Manny Malhotra is going to have a massive year, because his wife just had their third child:

Looking Ahead

This will be a very challenging week, as three of the four games are against San Jose, LA, and Chicago. One is the defending Cup champ, and the other two are playing lights out to start the season. These are the games that often show the true character of a team, so by next Sunday we should have a real sense of just how good this team hopes to be this season.

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