As the light of the bonfires from early this week burns down to embers, and we look forward to a game that is always circled on Ryan Kesler's calendar, I wonder which team is it that the Vancouver faithful liked better. Is it the team that went back and forth versus the Jagr led Stars and came out on top, or the one that played lock down defense after a shaky period where the goaltender bailed them out?
Well, the great thing is that both are the kind of team this year's edition is. Sometimes it depends on the situation, like when a team comes in on a back to back against a strong opponent in their own building, and sometimes the chances are exchanged in a far more wide open manner. The thing is, it is this very malleability that has this Canuck fan excited as we enter the second third of this truncated season.
Sure, maybe its early. This could certainly be a different team at the end of the season, due to both trades, and the unknown, but what the hell. I'll say it. This team looks like it can play any way it takes to get the job done.
Thats a good thing. Here's the video interlude. Not sure if the highlights of a 1-0 game are a "highlight"...but two points baby!
Take tonight's game for instance. Facing a rested bunch in a fired up building, the Canucks looked to just hang on as wave after wave came at them. The goaltending, as it has been throughout this season, was spot on once again, with Roberto Luongo easily the main reason why the game was still scoreless at the end of a first period that saw his team give up 13 shots and only take 3. Even after Kevin Bieksa's night was done just into the second, it was soon obvious that the legs had been found, and the team from Vancouver was the better one on the ice. Yes, the goaltending early was important. It always is. But at least as impressive, for me, was the way the Canucks more or less took over the momentum of the game and out executed the Predators at their own style of game. Of course we all like seeing the offense, but there was a certain brutal efficiency of execution in that style that was precicely what was needed to win a tough game against a tough opponent.
11:42 - Was how long was left in the third period when the Canucks finally overcame ( at least in terms of shots ) the first period, when Mason Raymond was stopped by Rinne to tie the teams at 19-19. From that point forward, the Canucks outshot the home team 5 to 4, a period that included a goal just a minute later from Dale Weise, and having to kill off a power play with just over two minutes left in the game. While the Preds had a few attempts and some pressure, they were not credited with a shot. Thats impressive from a Canucks team that was late in a back to back situation.
45 - I have to use a number to compliment the Canuck that seems to have the coach's confidence in all situations, Jordan Schroeder. Whether it is backchecking like a demon to take the other guy on a potential two on one, like he did last night, taking faceoffs better and better ( he was 50% on 10 draws ), backing up the defensemen and playing that third man high like a boss, as well as those nascent offensive skills, its getting harder and harder to call this guy a "rookie". He was only credited with a shot and a takeaway, but I can't be the only one impressed with his work all over the ice. He played 13:58, a full 4:15 less than Ryan Kesler ( who also is looking better and better as he rounds into form ), who only had one attempt and a hit credited anyways. Both played the game in front of them very well, and did what they had to do to help the team win. I guess the big takeaway is that I am saying "both" in a statement about a young player who has taken the opportunity and excelled. It should be noted that the skills he is surprising us with now are the ones that he developed and honed in the AHL. Which bodes well for the other guys in Chicago. And the Canucks. Like the Wings used to be able to do, the benefits of waiting on your young guys and "overcooking" them in the minors are worth the wait.
5 - Of the 24 total shots from the Vancouverites, fully 25% of them came from the fourth line. The math aside, by what I guess is the definition of what constitutes the "4th" line ( this combo being Dale Weise, Zack Kassian, and Maxim Lapierre ), the number of shifts, the only goal scorer had 14 shifts,( Kassian 15 shifts ) only one of those on the PK. Both of Dale's linemates came in at about 12 minutes. Thats some pretty good production from the entire line. ( for comparison, Burr had 24 shifts and Kesler had 27 ) While that speaks to how the coach rolls his lines, the production from these three was excellent in Smashville for how much time they had on the ice. Don't forget the last game's 4th liner, David Booth, who was with Scroeder and Mason Raymond. While he only had 12:30 TOI ( on 19 shifts. You know they are keeping them short for him for now ), he had 2 shots and 2 hits, and continues to get noticed for mainly the right reasons. Its still his training camp, lets remember.
1:23 - Speaking of ice time, against the Dallas Stars, the coach had an excellent night spreading out his ice time. That is the difference between the top defenseman ( Edler / 21 : 57 ) and top forward ( H. Sedin / 20:34 ) on a night where only two defensemen ( #2 and #23 ) were over 21 minutes, and Henrik was the only forward over twenty. With the injury on the blue line, obviously the relationship changed. I thought Dan Hamhuis was excellent in his team leading 26:10 against his old team. His rush up ice started the play that resulted in the game's only goal. He had 4 blocks to lead his team there too. On a night where Chris Tanev ( 19:45 ) and Keith Ballard ( 18:07 ) were the only blueliners under 20 minutes because of the need to cover Bieksa's ice, it should be noted that the forwards still mainly rolled four lines. Kesler was the leader amongst them with only 18:13 TOI, and most his compatriots up front came in within numbers mainly in the mid teens. So the coaches are are on their games too.
Next on the docket comes the Detroit Red Wings. Even with the retirement of Niklas Lidstrom, and a team that is currently at 110 ( and counting ) man games lost due to injury, any team with Pavel Datsyuk is a respected and dangerous one. That vaunted "system" is certainly being strained by the call ups, one would imagine, at least compared to the salad days of just last year. Its a testament to "The Perfect Human" that his retirement would be so heavily felt, but this is definitely a team that still demands respect. Not that the Canucks should not be totally mercenary and jump all over an injury riddled team...
28 - I would imagine it has been quite some time since the Red Wing power play was rated as 28th in the NHL. They are ahead of only the Sabres ( 12.3% ) and the Rangers ( WHOA Torts! Only 11.9% ) at 12.8% with the man advantage. The Canucks started slow, and it is still early enough that a hot streak can move that needle, but with the recent production, the Nucks are are not 10th at 18.7%. Not only that, but the Detroiters lead the NHL in allowing shorties with 3 against. Again, losing Lidstrom hurts all over, and new guys in and out can't be good for the special teams either.
3.00 - For me, the surprising thing about the next opponent is that such a defensively responsible, usually in the Top 10 ( or 5, or 3 ...usually everyone forgot about how Mike Babcock is a very good defensive coach with some offensive stars, like the Canucks and Hawks ) team is currently giving up 3.00 goals a game. The Sens at 1.83, the Hawks at 1.88, and the Preds at 1.94 are the three teams under 2.00, and the only ones ahead of the Vancouver team's 2.12 GA / G .
+9 - I know you can go elsewhere for those wonderfully precise stats like Corsi, Fenwick, QOC charts and all that. I tend to stay away from them ( guys like Cam and Thom do them so well ), but not because I don't respect or understand them. Maybe we'll dip into them as the season rolls on, but one remarkable solid way to see how a team is going is plus / minus. No, not for individuals, hell no. But when you look at team + / -, its a pretty solid barometer of how a team is going. ( Look here for instance. ) While the Canucks are tied for 3rd in the NHL with the Habs and Devils, 8 behind the Hawks and 6 behind the Ducks, check out the bottom of the list. The Wings are +1 while giving up 51 goals. They are even at home ( 28 for, 28 against ) over 10 games, and 5-4-1 at the Joe. Not that it won't be hard. Not that the Wings are not a very good team still. But they can get "got" perhaps a little easier than in times past.
So, there we go. With 5 of 6 points so far on this four gamer, and a decent chance to add to that come Sunday, the Canucks are playing well. Lets hope Hansen keeps his arm positions to himself against another Central opponent. I know they have Jordin Tootoo now, so everyone will have to keep their heads up. You too Dale Weise! Just because you're a goal scorer now, don't forget the basics. Though I am sure Tootoo will at least let you get the gloves off first. He's not an asshole about things as much since Mike Babcock got ahold of him.