We've seen signs for the last couple games now of the Canucks starting to forge an identity for themselves. The work effort is starting to become more consistent. The commitment to team defence starting to manifest in a very positive way. The power play still sucks, but the penalty kill has been stellar, not to mention already having notched 3 shorthanded goals so far. There are still a number of questions when it comes to this team, one of them being how well they match up against other Cup contenders. The Canucks 5 wins have come against the 3 worst teams in the East, the worst team in the West, and a team one spot below them in the Pacific Division. They outplayed but lost to the Montreal Canadiens, but in two games against the best team to start the season, the San Jose Sharks, the Canucks got their collective asses handed to them. So will we see the Penguins, themselves off to a great 6-1-0 record for tops in the East, roll over the Canucks as easily as the Sharks have?
As of midnight, we still don't know who will be starting in goal for the Canucks, but considering Roberto Luongo is coming off a 25 save shutout of the Buffalo Sabres Thursday night, I would think he'll get the nod, and rest tomorrow afternoon when the Canucks take on the Blue Jackets in Columbus, and let Eddie Lack get his 2nd start. The good news is that the Canucks have managed to stay healthy so far on this long road swing, and will get a boost from the return of Alex Edler to the back end, having served his 3 game suspension. Edler's return means it's likely Yannick Weber sits, with Ryan Stanton quietly becoming a bit of a story here for the Canucks. The waiver wire pickup has 4 points, the most recent one his first NHL goal scored Thursday against Buffalo. Stanton seems to be fitting in well in that bottom pairing so far.
As for the Penguins, there were two questions facing them heading into the season: What's going to happen with Marc-Andre Fleury after another post-season meltdown, and Sidney Crosby's health. Fleury's played extremely well to start the year, and at least part of that can be credited to a change in goalie coaches, as well as spending time over the summer with a sports psychologist at the request of the team. Some will say that it's all well and good, but what really matters is the post-season. For the time being at least, Fleury seems to have gotten back to basics in net, and the Penguins are winning because of it. They also are putting more pressure on him with backup netminder Tomas Vokoun on injured reserve. Could be a long time before Fleury gets a night off, given that their backup Jeff Zatkoff was in net for the Pens' only loss this season, a 6-3 thrashing at the hands of the Florida Panthers.
Crosby meanwhile has gotten off to a typical start for the best player in the NHL, jumping into the early scoring lead. One thing that the Penguins deserve credit for is starting the year at 6-1-0 without Vokoun, as well as James Neal and Kris Letang. Letang skated Friday, but it's not certain he'll play today. It's pretty exciting to see the Canucks play against Crosby, given that this is just the 6th time the Canucks will see Crosby in his career. That's on you, Gary Bettman.
Today will see the Canucks throwing Ryan Kesler on the wing with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, a line that's being dubbed 'BeastModo' on twitter. I like this. Kesler's really starting to show signs of his strong play from a couple seasons ago, and with the Canucks secondary scoring starting to come through, it's given coach John Tortorella the flexibility to try this line out.
Kickass Metal Tune Of The Day
Pittsburgh's Mantic Ritual came roaring in with their debut 'Executioner' 4 years ago, unleashing one of the strongest debut albums I can recall in ages, then just as quickly faded away after vocalist/guitarist Dan Wetmore left the band. They did find a replacement for him, but as of last year the band seemed to be done. Wetmore reunited with the band for an appearance at this year's Thrasho De Mayo Festival in LA, so perhaps we'll see them return for another album. 'Executioner' just oozes old-school, with modern flourishes. You can hear nods to Destruction, Kreator, Megadeth, Exodus, and most notably Metallica. There's times where this album honestly sounds like the logical followup to Kill Em All.