"Its been a long time gone" is the line from the CSN & Y classics referenced above. Perhaps a long time is a little harsh, but the Canucks have had a bit of a trial finding their "A" game that should scare the hell out of the rest of the NHL.
That has brought about all sorts of various worries from the "Canuck Nation". Particularly what I like to call the Canuck Nation Tea Party. Like their namesake, they are a loud and disproportionately covered segment of our Nation, for their numbers. Most the time, folks will leave that behind as they understand that even a team like the Blue Jackets, having the season they are, have some good players, no one goes 82-0, and anyone can beat anyone in the NHL these days.
However, all the players do is play. Tonight, the Canucks played very well at times, and times where they had to chase. They had a couple breakdowns that resulted in goals against, and missed having the slightly more automatic defensive zone face off artistry of one Manny Malhotra, who will be back for the upcoming road trip. That and a softy Cory Schneider made this one just a bit closer than the Tea Party will like. The breakdowns that resulted in the goals against can be repaired. ("Yes We Can!!") But even the most jaded of fans had to be impressed by the overall offensive dominance of the Canucks, at least in the last half of the first, the second, and here and there down the stretch.
The Jackets did not just lay down. They played very hard. They may have even been the better team in the third, though a lot of that 17-12 shot advantage came either late with the goalie pulled and the pressure on, or more often on one and done than sustained pressure. But the Canucks directed 76 shots at the net to 68, and that was far more pronounced after two periods at 60 to 31. Thats a lot of rubber. What I liked most is that in all of that, the Canucks were upset about the defense afterwards. They know they can play better. They will play better. But even this amount of offensive success at the cost of the defense, and the fact that they know that and want to get better, is good enough for me.
The thing I liked the most about this game is that the Canucks had to earn it. Columbus is not as bad as their record, though they had some egregious breakdowns that led to goals. I don't think you can overemphasize how bad their coverage was on the play that Alexander Edler scored on. But the other ones were all on plays in which the offensive wizardry caused the defense to break down. David Booth made a helluva cut to the net on his goal, and the two Daniel Sedin goals were equal parts Sedinerie and execution. There is still a little ways to go. But I think everyone saw that the lines that AV has put together showed what he had in mind quite effectively.
- Exhibit A ; The Swedish Cowboys. I don't know if there has been some kind of bet made between the Sedin Twins, but they are actually hitting. Only Henrik registered with the official stats guy tonight for that line, but you may have watched one of Mason Raymond's best games of the season. He really deserved a goal on that dominant shift in the third where the Twins worked so hard to get him a couple chances. Hitting the post almost felt unfair. As does the fact that the Twins each got a -1 hung on them on a night where Daniel Sedin had 2 goals, Henrik Sedin had 2 assists, and the power play went 2 for 3. Both had a couple shots, and Mason Raymond had 3, and a post. But his speed was really starting to click with the way the Twins think the game. It will come Mase. You were playing the right way today. Carry on...
- Now, where the Sedin line is all angles and thinking the game, Exhibit B is all about power and talent mixed with the attributes that make any player a great one. Speed, hitting, a desire for the puck were all on display for the Canuck "2nd" line, as the AMEX line looks to be getting better every game. After an opening goal where the puck seemed to find Prospal on a rush that looked to be played pretty well initially ( and just got through Schneids ), they showed off a set play of their own. Faceoff win, point shot. Overpower the defenseman with David Booth. It was a theme tonight, as Grizz' was overpowering people all night. A goal, +1, 2 shots ( 1 miss ) and only 14:16 TOI ( AV must HATE him!) showed its not the amount of time, its what you do with the time you have. Booth was noticeable all night long. Chris Higgins was as well, with an assist, a +1, 4 shots ( 1 miss), as well as my least fave penalty ( over the glass ) in only 18 shifts and 13:26 TOI. The minute hog Ryan Kesler ( 19:15, 2:21 PP/ 1:35 PK ) was solid as well, but a -1, a 50% night on 20 draws, 4 shots, a hit, and a propensity for pushing the play and being solid in most situations is fine with me. That line has been carrying the load recently, and got some help. The "1" , "1A" question of who is the top line may be begging to be asked soon, once again.
- The third line for the Vancouver Canucks is going to be a beast for other teams if this is the current configuration. Although it seemed that Samuel Pahlsson struggled on draws in his own zone when he lost one for a goal, and a couple late, he ended up at 11 of 18 to lead his team. He made plays on the right side of people all night ( by that I mean, if the play was in his end, he was between his guy and the goal, or was on the right side of them along the boards so that they can only move into his teammate checking them, and not to the net, for instance ) He got the -1 for losing the draw on the Wiz' goal off a defensive draw, had 3 of his own, and played pretty smartly in his 15:05 ( a team leading , for forwards 1:46 SH on a PK that went 2 for 2 ). Alexandre Burrows had a couple shots, was out in all situations as usual, and looks to be finding that grating, " I hate that fucking guy" style that does not get him a lot of calls drawn, but sure makes him effective. Jannik Hansen only had 10:20 while having the same amount of PK time as his centre, who he paired with. He also had 3 hits and a block to make an effective use of his time. Its coming. You can see it with that line. So far thats 3 for 3 for me on liking AV's combos. ( Don't freak on the ice time for him either. AV mixed and matched his checkers late, as well as on situational draws, with Lapierre taking his spot as the second centre )
- Make that 4 for 4. It seems that Zack Kassian is not the designated hitter on that line, but he protects the puck so well. He had a breakaway that really should have gotten him a goal, but his "move" does not work as well on a lefty goaltender like Mason ( catching hand where that move usually beats the blocker ). he only had a hit and a miss in his 10:22. His centre was flying all night, as evidenced by Maxim Lapierre having a team leading 5 hits, to go with 1 miss, and 1 of the only TWO giveaways all night for the home team, in his 11:59. Dale Weise was also noticeable on a line that was in the offensive zone more than the defensive tonight, though he only connected on 1 hit in his team low 8:34 TOI. But your 4th line is not going to dominate the shift charts, and that line playing solid allowed AV to have his entire forward contingent play under 20 minutes tonight.
- Look, it could be easy to say "this guy had a -2" as Alexander Edler did, and think that, for a defenseman, thats horrible. It just means he was on for a faceoff loss, and was unlucky to have a puck go off a skate on the opening goal. But, you know, with a goal, an assist, a team high 5 shots, a team high 3 blocks, and a hit and a takeaway in his team high 23:49 that saw over 4 minutes of special teams time ( 2:30 PP / 1:34 PK ), as well as being the only player on his team over that 20 minute mark, and you'll excuse me if I don't beat him up over all that. He made a play tonight on his goal ( at about the 4 minute mark of the below highlights ) that will be on the highlights of the night, Top 10 goals on NHL.com, and all that. Sure, the BJ's could have played that better, but are you freaking kidding me!??
- OK, so everyone could not have played great, right Dan? I mean, the Blue Jackets almost won against them at home! Well, yes and no. There was that flurry late that forced the best saves from Cory Schneider at the buzzer, but you also have to realize that, on a night that might have been their first national broadcast of the season ( and certainly their first on HNIC in a long time ), the Blue Jackets might have turned in one of their hardest working games in a while ( I don't watch a lot of BJ's hockey ). Its not something to be discounted when 11 of the 21 players on the active roster have a Maple Leaf passport and are playing on Hockey Night In Canada. While their push was definitely the best in the third, can you remember more than a couple of half shifts where the visitors spent the entire shift in the offensive end? Hell, apart from the power play time, I can't remember any that did not include a preponderance of shots from the outside. Far more often were the "one and dones". When their were breakdowns, even late, the defenders all collapsed back to the net. A couple of Salo blocks were goal savers, the same as Rome and Hamhuis. Considering how we were bitching about how they were not supporting their defense in previous games on this home stand, it was good to see. Perhaps only 2 of the 12 total blocks for the Canucks were by forwards ( D Sedin and Hansen 1 each ), but there was far less of the bailing the zone and far more of supporting the defense to make the outlet pass an easy one. Remember, only 2 giveaways. Thats pretty good. As was the breakouts. In a game that ended up being a little too open late, it was not perfect. But baby steps my friends, baby steps.
- A note on a few of those Canadians. Aaron Johnson got walked around like a turnstile on the Booth goal, but blocked 8 shots on 18 shifts and just under 16 minutes. I am willing to bet not all of those found the shinpads, or pads in general. Thats paying the price. Rick Nash led his team with 6 shots, had 3 blocks himself in just over 18 minutes, in a game he was definitely engaged in. Jack Johnson got to show the dynamic game that he does have when not under the thumb of a defensive coach like Mr Murray or Mr Sutter. He may have had the most dynamic stat line of the night. Check this ; TOI - 27:46, with only 3:20 of that on special teams. A goal, an assist. +3, 4 shots, ( 1 miss ) 3 blocks, 1 hit, and a minor. He may have been the first star at home, but had to settle for 2nd star behind Edler on the road tonight. But maybe a straight up trade for what's his name Jeffy McPoutyfacer was the best thing that could have happened for these guys. The guy can play. Hell, tonight he looked more dynamic than the pudgy defenseman they kept!
So, now its Monday on the road against the Wild, before a Wednesday matchup in Chicago against a resurgent Hawks team. They know they have to play well in both places, and I have a feeling that the sparks and flashes we saw tonight are much brighter on the road. This looks like a team about to break out and go on a run. You could not say that the last two games, huh?
OK, now I want all you whippersnappers to listen to the CSN&Y harmonies...thats Woodstock BABY!!! Summer of Love...Groooovy man... What, you mean you parents weren't even alive then... "sigh"