The first games, even in preseason, are always fun. You wanted it back so much, you tend to view it all through a rosey pair of glasses. The players seem to be faster, the goalies stop everything, and every hit sounds much louder. But we do have to remember, this is the preseason, there is a reason some of these guys were not in the NHL last season, and even the sweetest smelling rose has some thorns.
Now, I am not saying that our heroes had one of those kind of games. They did not. Hard work and the "Canuck Hockey" prerequisites of speed and pressure were well on display tonight. But this is the mighty San Jose Sharks! Pierre Lebrun's pick to win it all.
Whatever. Bottom line is the Canuck prospects and guys trying so hard to make the team were up against a team that looked very much like the same bunch we beat in the Western Conference Finals.
Let us see how they fared after the break.
You knew this would be a tough game for the home team tonight. I mean, the opening faceoff was Joe Thornton's line against Lapierre and two guys he played very little with before. They were under pressure right away, but Lack made a save on Boyle, and the game settled in a bit. Cody Hodgson's line had a strong first shift, and the same with Schroeder's, as the two 1st rounders battle for spots. They have both been standouts in the preseason, and that continued tonight as well.
The Sharks will be scary offensively with Brett Burns and Dan Boyle, but one of the one time Wild player has never been the fastest at skating backwards, and he took a the first of what would be many penalties on the night, when he was beaten wide by Pinizzotto. Unfortunately, this is no where near the #1 power play of the past season. ( If it was even close, the Canucks would have won going away!)
The only highlights of this one were a rush by Cody Hodgson, and a nice recovery play on Murray by Ballard to prevent a short handed chance. The news did not get much better when Steve Pinizzotto went to hit Douglas Murray, and hurt his shoulder, not to return. (AV said later that he has a dislocated shoulder) Shortly afterwards, the scoring sheet was to get its first entry when Sulzer took a nice wrister and beat Greiss through a screen to make it 1-0 for the home team.
That was not to last long, on a bit of a controversial goal. Not to be pissy, because its preseason and who cares, but it looked like Lack had the puck under his pads long enough to get the whistle. But the whistle did not come, and the defenders could not handle Brad Winchester, who forced it, ( and the goalie too!) into the net to tie the game at 1-1. Lack recovered a bit and made a nice save on the next chance for Pavelski, but even there, he fought the puck and almost gave another one up on what should have been an easy freeze of the puck.
One of the best lines of the opening frame was the Lapierre and Volpatti combo, with mainly Duco on the other wing ( the lines were disjointed by injuries tonight. More on that to come ), and they forced the play a bit on a solid shift where Lappy got a solid chance. Winchester then thought it best that he try to impress the coach with an outright dumb penalty, going into a hit with Baumgartner with his elbow way too high, giving the kids another chance to practice the power play. This one was pretty inept once again, not coming close to scoring.
Lapierre, Volpatti and Duco had another strong shift, but then the Shark vets once again showed their quality, and our favorite Swedish rookie goaltender another wart. This time, on a simple shot from Pavelski, he blockered the puck to no one in particular. Little Joe took the gift and made a nice pass to Tommy Wingels, who beat Lack trying to get back into position for a 2-1 score.
The line of Roussel, Ebbett and Nolan then had a solid shift for a change, almost scoring by just plain battling the puck to the net. Owen Nolan then followed that up with a penalty at the line that showed his age a bit, as the defender breaking out went by him standing still, His elbow went up, and the ref's arm went up too.
Happy Eddy Lack did better on this one, settling down and making a couple nice saves on Burns. Then Lapierre showed another facet of his game, reading a Joe Thornton pass, breaking out shorthanded, and forcing Patrick Marleau to take a holding call that was a bit lazy. While 4 on 4, the teams battled to a sawoff ( though CoHo made a nice checking play on Vlasic that showed his strength this year ) The other 1st round prospect on his next shift, Jordan Schroeder, went right to the net and almost tipped home a Baumgartner pass.
The short power play was as effective as the first two, and did not create much of anything. The Canucks had a couple solid shifts late in the period, with Lapierre and his line banging and crashing, and then Hodgson and his line using their skills ( Niklas Jensen made a nice steal and a strong shot, and Hodgson was a bit unlucky alone in the slot when the rebound bounced over his stick. Schredder then showed another aspect of his game, the speed, when he took a steal, broke away and forced a huge save from Greiss, getting just a piece of a shot that looked labelled.
Owen Nolan's best period was the second tonight, starting out on Lapierre's line and getting a chance that he just sent wide. Sturm followed it up with a nice pass to set up Alexander Sulzer ( the German can shoot it! ), which forced a huge glove save. The refs then made a logistical mistake when Winchester took another dummy elbowing call, and the officials blew it down when the Canucks were on the rush.
This PP was at least able to generate an actual shot, a good one from Schroeder off of a nice pass by Anders Ericcson. Another point shot forced a save, and Miko Dmitrakos almost buried it. he next unit continued the good feelings, with Nolan doing some nice work along the boards to get a good chance for Aaron Rome from the point. Marco Sturm and Nolan made some good plays to finish off the power play, but the Sharks killed the rest off. More pressure from the home team continued, with Jensen came out after the power play on Lapierre's wing, and set up Sulzer for another German Bomb, this one just wide. Schroeder set up Mike Duco, but he was saved, with the puck also getting the post to boot. After 5 minutes, it was 5-1 for the home team in shots, and they were carrying the play.
It continued as Roussel set up Duco to force another save. All of Revelstoke held their breath as Aaron Volpatti went for the big hit on Murray, missed, and crashed hard into the boards. He would miss a few shifts, but did not leave the game. The Sharks then decided to play a little Slapshot, as Murray was way late on an attempted hit on Lapierre. Lappy only avoided injury because, unlike Horton when Rome did the same thing, he had his head up and was able to brace himself. The ensuing kerfuffle, when Dan Boyle ( noted pugilist ...sticking his nose in ) and Murray both jumped Lapierre. Antoine Roussel came to his teammate's defense, going at it with the much bigger Murray and standing in for himself very well. You could see that AV was aghast at how that was called, as his team somehow came out a man down ( lipreaders know he shook his head, and said "you fucking guys"...probably not loud enough for the bench minor!) The PK picked up their guys though, with Sturm, Duco and Ericcson all making solid plays.
The momentum continued when Hodgson controlled the play, made a nice pass to Aaron Rome, who was saved. Cody paid the price ( he did touch it, he said in the post game ), diving to the net and getting crunched to tip it home and make it 2-2. Winchester almost got it back right away, but this time Lack got the puck frozen, and Baumgartner stood up well to the physical to keep Winchester off a bit better than the first goal.
The game was going back and forth, with Ebbett getting a chance, and then a Ballard turnover ( he did not have many, and did have a good game )giving Ferrioro ( I spell our guys correctly, mostly, but excuse me for not looking this one up) a huge chance that forced one of Lack's best saves of the night.
He had zero chance on the next goal though, as Hodgson and MacIntyre battled behind the net, and the puck somehow bounced up in the air, over everyone, and right on the stick of Lucky Tommy Wingels for an easy goal that was not the goalie's fault.
The Lapierre line drew another penalty, though two thirds of the line was off as well. I guess they were just too much for the Sharks, and the refs saw it the same way, or something. But Lapierre went off, Murray and Thornton went off ( all with minors ) while Duco got a reputation call ( pretty interesting, getting a rep call after only 4 preseason games) a misconduct.
The powerless play was a little better, with Nolan getting a shot on a rebound off of a Ballard chance, and Sturm almost tipping one home too, but that was about it.
Jordan Schroeder though, is definitely stronger on his skates this year. He was hard to move on the power play, and then showed even more to his coach by physically muscling Joe Thornton ( just imagine that visual for a sec!) behind his own net very effectively. The Sharks tried to push hard towards the end of the period, but Lack made a couple saves, and the Canucks could take solace that, even though they were down, they were the better team in the second.
The injury bug started biting early in this game, unfortunately. In addition to Pinizzotto, the news was not good for Aaron Rome, who was hit in the hand at some point in the second and broke a finger at the least. So, we have more LTIR to deal with, and money and spots to spend too, at least at the start of the season!
Back to the start of the third, the Sharks seemed to be be sitting back a bit, and while the Canucks could not really break through, and the better talent of the Sharks on the ice started to show a bit, it was a pretty back and forth period. Ebbett and Schroeder almost cashed on a nice chance, CoHo made a slick pass to Roussel ( after a great Baumgartner breakout pass ) Andrew Ebbett had another chance, and a bad Parent pinch made led to another chance for Wingels.
Sturm and CoHo had another nice rush, but Greiss made another couple saves to keep the score where it was. The youth of our team showed a bit too, with a poor Roussel turnover leading to a solid Ferrerio chance that Lack turned aside. It continued with the oldest guy in camp being far too casual in his own end, leading to even more pressure by the Sharks. Volpatti made up for his miss on Murray with a large hit at one end, before Marleau had a solid chance that Lack turned aside.
Through it all, Hodgson was having one great shift after another. He looks so much stronger on his skates this year. But , even with that, the Sharks were the ones that got on the scoresheet with something other than a penalty. This time, McCarthy beat a Ballard check in the corner, fed Desjardins. His shot was just directed at net, but it went off Baumgartner's hand/arm and past Lack for another lucky one.
Maxim Lapierre got back to work, and maybe was a victim of an iffy call, hitting Wingels as the puck went past them along the boards. The Canucks refused to let the Sharks cash it in, and had maybe their best PK of the night.
Lucky for us, the Sharks have Brad Winchester on a PTO. He went for another stupid penalty, this one hitting Dmitrakos after the latter was just cutting to the net, with the puck frozen anyhow. It gave the home team their 7th PP of the night. Burns then made a bad hit on Ebbett to put his team two men down, and suddenly, it looked like the kids might have a chance against the mainly NHL ready Sharks. Hodgson almost got to a rebound off of a Ballard shot, before Ballard and Baumgartner passed it around sharply. Baumer found a lane, made an accurate shot, and suddenly it was 4-3.
The Sharks killed most of the rest off, before Wingels highsticked ( lazily, dude, one hand on your stick like that?) CoHo to give the Canucks more power play time to end the game. They had some great chances,( the best an Ebbett tip of a Baumgartner shot ) pulled the goalie to make it a 6 on 4 to end the game, but just could not cash in. You know the Sedins would have been all up in that for sure though!
Still, all in all, I was happy with the Canucks and their effort tonight. For instance ;
Cody Hodgson - a goal ( though he was a -1 ) a couple shots ( 2 more missed) and 7 of 16 against solid NHLer faceoff men ( Thornton is one of the best ). He has probably made the team.
Maxim Lapierre - auditioning fourth liners this preseason, he has shown that ability to get under people's skins, yet was strong on the puck all night. Only 3 of 9 on draws, and had 2 shots on and 1 off net, in addition to being credited with a hit ( thought he had more than that )
His linemates, Niko Dmitrakos and Mike Duco, both had solid games too. Niko had an assist, but finished a -1, and was told by the team he was cut soon afterwards. Mike finished even, had a shot ( missed another ) and was credited with 2 hits. He is still here, I like that he is, but I also liked Zorba in the preseason. Maybe he will catch on with someone else.
Niklas Jensen - AV's favorite toy this camp was lauded by his coach once again after this one. With good reason. The 18 year old looked not out of place at all. he did finish a -1, but led his team with 4 shots. I can see why AV likes him. He seems to go to the right spots naturally. He can't make this team as an 18 year old though, can he?
Jordan Schroeder - Schredder was only 1 of 5 at the dot, and only had 2 shots credited while finishing a -1. But he was all over the ice all night. Strong in his own end. Made the power play go ( well, relatively, it did suck tonight ) when he was out there. Definitely a hell of a lot closer to making this team this year than he was last year!
Marco Sturm had a similar game.Same stats as Schredder, with a hit thrown in, but he seems to have a knack for making the smart play more often than not.
Aaron Volpatti - I have a soft spot for him, being as he is from an old hometown. He was fast and hard all night, leading the forwards with 3 hits, had a shot, and generally made the most of his 13 minutes of ice time.
Andrew Ebbett - I liked his game tonight. He might be in tough, but you never know, He does have some magic mittens, is strong on his skates, and has some speed. Killed penalties well tonight, had 2 shots, 2 blocks, a hit, a takeway, and was 7 of 16 in the circle. I know I sure mentioned his h=name several times in te recap, so he must have done something right!
I do feel for Owen Nolan though. You can see him thinking the game out there, and he can still do that. But he was a step slow most of the night, had only 1 shot, and, most tellingly, was not out at the end on the power play ( though they gave him plenty of chances there. He had 8:11 of PP time tonight ), when you would think that would be a strength of his game. He was released after the game. Good luck, noble warrior...
Antoine Roussel and the back up goalie Matt Climie were both sent to the Wolves after the game as well. Of the two, that represents something of a victory for Roussel, who was here on a tryout. Not sure if he has a contract down there or anything, but he definitely showed enough over his chance to get a longer look down there.
On the blueline ;
Keith Ballard - finished a -1 tonight, but he looks very good this preseason. He led the blue line with 3 hits, had a shot, a block, and an assist, while being mainly on the right side of the puck all night. His breakout passes were pretty good too.
Anders Ericcson - ended up with only 1 shot, and 1 hit. But he made solid veteran plays most of the night, and ended the night an even. Rome's injury keeps him in camp a while longer.
Aaron Rome - had an assist, 2 shots on net ( missed another) and had a hit credited before not returning for the 3rd. An injury puts him on the shelf, but no doubt for the Canucks, that might be a blessing, kind of like Salo starting on the shelf. We have plenty of options on the blue line still.
Alexander Sulzer - had maybe his best game of the extended chance he has had to impress. A goal, and 2 of 3 shots on net ( all of them bombs. He can bring it!), and an even. Still needs to work on his play in his own end, but looked better tonight.
Ryan Parent is going to end up in Chicago, right? I thought he would be sent there right after this game. Credited with 1 shot and a -1. He shows flashes, but I counted another two ill advised pinches that put his team in jeopardy the other way tonight.
Happy Eddy Lack did not have a superstar evening. You get the feeling that it did not dim his smile at all. He actually had a good game overall. I mean, two of the goals tonight were on pretty solid luck for the other guys, pucks went off others on the other two.Finished with 30 saves on 34 shots.
I imagine we might see some more cuts and reassignments tomorrow. It is an off day, after 5 games in 6 nights. A grueling grind, and understandable that the kids came up a bit short tonight. I thought they handled it like the well conditioned athletes they are. For tonight though, when you ignore the score, and just watch how some of these guys can play...well...wow.