For all that puck luck, or lack thereof, these are not your mother's Coyotes. They still play that trappy style, but have added some offensive play, and are actually letting the defensemen be offensive sometimes. To say nothing of the actual act of forechecking more than they used to! It is no mistake that the Yotes are STILL unbeaten on home ice in regulation. They had a couple assists from the Puck Gods, but it all evens out, right?
Now, don't get me wrong. I am not saying the Canucks just mowed down the Coyotes, and I am not even saying that they were really the better team. It was a very even game. It's just that they got some puck luck. Mike Smith did not even see the Higgins shot that went off the post in the third, and he was out of position on a couple shots that just went wide tonight as well. One of those was a Kassian shot through a screen in the high slot, for instance, where Smith was on the other side of the net!
So, I don't really see this as a "battle of Olympic goaltender hopefuls" that some of the media will try to make it out to be. Mike Smith did make some great saves. He is a solid goalie, and in the running for the #3 spot. But let's not get too out of hand there pundits. He was out of position on a few occasions, and had his defensemen to thank for bailing him out more than once.
Now, positionally, the goaltender that was on his game tonight is the man that will be the starter for that first game versus Norway in Sochi, Roberto Luongo. He was on his game tonight. On almost every save, he was square to the shooter. The two stops he made late in the third, when Doan tried a wrap around, and ( I think it was ) Boedker had a clear whack at the rebound, were sublime. The only goals to beat him were ones he had no real chance on.
On the first goal tonight, if we are going to blame anyone, it might be Chris Tanev. ( though, it is not THAT much of a "blame" ) His clear up the boards was too reflexive. The winger ( I think it was Burrows ) was no where near his position yet ( a scootch of "blame" there? I don't know, I think he was coming off the bench! ), and it was basically a pass to Hanzal, who made a smart play to the front, ( getting it there before the defensemen had a chance to get to Vrbata ) with a perfect shot there for the stick of Vrbata, who got it just under the bar, on a tip Roberto Luongo had exactly zero chance on. It was a well executed play, but one that does not occur if Tanev doesn't make the blind clear up the boards.
On the second one, the fourth line looked to be in position to start the play, ( after getting caught out against Doan's line ), but Jeremy Welsh had a bit of bad puck luck when the puck bobbled on his stick ( and, no excuse, but the ice in Jobing.com Arena was like the ice in a lot of Sunbelt rinks. It wasn't that good! ) right in the slot, when he had a clear chance to get it out of the zone. Yandle took advantage, and got the puck to Shane Doan in his "magic shooty spot" to the right of Luongo, and he ripped a howitzer into the far corner. It did not help Luongo's case that Tanev's block attempt, and not one but two Yote's driving the net to screen him gave him not much of a chance to even see it. Credit Doan, of course. But later in the third, from the same spot, a hard shot from the same guy, without the traffic, was a pretty easy save.
The Canucks two goals, by comparison? Well, the first one to tie the game was a pretty easy shot from Dan Hamhuis from the blue line. Smith gave Yandle the death stare on that one, and he did do some weird "crane style" leg raise to try and block it right in front of him, but it was a wrister from the blue line Mr Smith. ( oh yeah, quit the diving dude. The one where Kesler was pushed into you was embarrassing enough, but the flop in the crease as the play was going the other way in the third was an joke. Laying there like a dead fish as everyone ignored you, and the ref was probably shaking his head and laughing at you. Knock it the hell off. ) Yes, there was some traffic, but that was a bad goal on you. You can only blame Yandle a bit on the leg lift thingie.
The second one? Well, you had no chance Mike. No one would have. The Canucks new alignment on the power play ( it went 1 for 3 tonight, and was definitely better, but missed a chance to win it in the third when Higgins beat the goalie but not the post on it ) put Kesler up high, and the pass from Henrik was very nice. It forced you to move a fair amount across the crease, and the shot was already coming before you had a chance on that one. We'll give you a pass on that one!
I'm not going to really describe the shootout and it's saves, because you can watch the video above for that, and it is just a made up skills competition anyhow. Except to say that while I utterly love the Sedin Twins as players, tonight should be reason #1 why Torts does not look for 22 and 33 when it comes to the shootout. They just don't excel at it. I am not sure why. Maybe the guys just need opposing players to fool with when it comes to Wizardous Sedinerie. Let's look at some of the players and the numbers instead.
- Mike Santorelli got a dash, along with his line, Hamhuis and Tanev, on the opening goal, but there is no doubt anymore about the value of Mr Everything Jr to the vancouver Canucks. He is the motor that makes that line with Burrows and Higgins go, he is smart defensively, and he is obviously Tort's go to guy for important faceoffs ( he is now #5 in the NHL at 59.2%, pacing the Canucks to #7 on the list of best face off teams ). Tonight? He was 4/5 after one, 10/12 after two, and 13/18 for the game. Vermette is #6 in the NHL on that list, and took 27 draws tonight, winning 14. Some of that was against the other faceoff ace, Kesler. But while I am so happy Manny Malhotra made it back to the NHL, we have a pretty solid situational faceoff "ace" right now too. He got an assist on Hamhuis's goal ( on a faceoff win, naturally ), played 22:08 TOI, missed a shot, had 2 blocks, and a hit. Another strong game.
- Speaking of Ryan Kesler, he went 12 for 18 on draws tonight, and his goal to help the Canucks take the lead was a typical Kesler rocket. It was his hard work, against a very good defensive team, that drove the #RyanGinger line, and his beasting on the penalty kill that went 3 for 3 ( Canucks are now #3 in NHL on kills ) against a team that threw it around pretty good tonight with the man advantage was classic Kes as well. (Want proof that stats guys suck in NHL arenas? Never mind that there is no way the Yotes really had 44 hits tonight, I personally remember Kes' blocking two shots on the PK on one SHIFT, killing off Kassian's PIM, and he was credited with none tonight ) The stats guy credited him with 2 of 4 shots on net, and a takeaway instead. Pretty sure I saw him hit a couple guys too, but stats guy said "no soup for you! Kes!" Oh well...
- Chris Higgins is playing some of his best hockey right now. In addition to the post that is not credited as a shot, he tallied 4 of 6 shots on net, ( tied for shots lead with Daniel Sedin ), and was the noticeable to the Jobing.com stats guy as well, with a team leading 4 hits, and a takeaway. He also led the team with 2:58 of penalty kill time amongst his 22:10 TOI. People always seem to forget about Higgy when talking about the Canuck depth. I am not sure why, because he is awesome.
- This is not a slight on Henrik Sedin ( like the one I noted on his lack of shootout prowess ), but if it was not for his 4 for 14 on draws tonight, the Canucks would have really dominated that stat ( they did win 39 of 69 draws tonight ). The Canuck captain had an assist noted above, and only 1 of 3 of his shots made it on net, and his 23:40 TOI led the forwards again. He even had a block. But I bet if you asked him, he would say he was a bit off tonight. Perhaps it was the checking of the Coyotes with last change against a dangerous line that is getting the rep as such. He'll pick it up at the Shark Tank on Thursday, mark my words.
- His brother, Daniel Sedin, tied Higgins for the team lead in shots with 4, and his TOI was only 8 seconds less than his big brother. Hell, the stats guy even saw him make a hit tonight! I am certainly not saying the Sedin Twins were not good tonight, because they were, and there were times they had the Yotes running around in their own end. It was just more difficult for them, fighting through the phalanx. The Coyotes like to do the "Bruins thing" and collapse everyone into the area around the slot. It makes for ugly hockey at times, and a lot of tipped passes.
There are several defensemen I could mention, but for brevity's sake, let's just focus on two. Alexander Edler and Jason Garrison. Eddy was solid once again tonight, and it showed on the stat sheet. He had 3 of his 4 shots force a save, and led the team with 4 blocks. He had a hit credited, and played 23:31 ( 2:56 on the PK ) TOI of mostly very solid play. Jason Garrison responded to a "more intense than last year" Phoenix forecheck pretty well, and led the team with 5 shots ( missed 2 more ), had a block, and led the blue line with 3 hits in his 21:21 TOI.
OK...one more. Dan Hamhuis may have been a -1, while scoring a goal ( meaning he was on for both the home team's goals ), but he is once again the guy that is gaining the coach's trust. His 24:39 led the team, and included 2:52 on th PK, and 2:59 on the power play, as the only defenseman on the new "four forwards alignment". He has 3 of 4 shots hit the net, had a block, and 2 hits. It seems that Torts was right about him "thinking too much" in the new system. He is certainly more comfy, by the looks of it.
So, with a bit of "puck luck" the Canucks could have had both points tonight, and sent a message to a new division rival by breaking their home ice "unbeaten in regulation" streak. Sometimes you get the breaks, and sometimes you don't. The Canucks played hard against a difficult and hard working opponent and, especially in the second, and a few points in the third ( that first was a pretty "blah" period! ), carried the play for stretches. Sometimes the hard work is not enough.
If they take this work ethic into the Shark Tank in a couple days, who knows? They might even beat the Mighty Sharks!