No, Canuck fans, there is not a "goalie controversy". What there is in Vancouver is the best 1-1A tandem in net in the entire NHL.
With Roberto Luongo in a groove, Cory Schneider even better statistically ( in less games ), there can be no way that anyone can turn that around into a negative, right?
Add to the superlative goaltending a very deep team that seems to have flipped the switch to playing like the #1 defensive team in the league that they were last year, and it is hard for Canuck fans to not feel good. They outscored folks along the way last season, but this year, it seems that the defensive side of the game is even more paramount with a dip in scoring.
Its a weird feeling for us, I know. Revel in it. The big shiny thing is going to be tougher than ever to attain, what with all the very good teams in both the East and the West. But, for me, I feel confident that the offense is still there ( I know, back to back 1-0 games, but the talent is there, and they don't forget how to score suddenly ), and that this renewed commitment to defense is nothing but a good thing.
Thats four straight now against desperate teams playing their hardest to get into the dance. Maybe the Blues are a little too far ahead, but it sure looks like this team has "something to play for".
"Right, come at me with this banana..."
- How good is Cory Schneider? Well, his GAA is now below 2, and his save % is north of .935. But more important than the numbers is how quiet he looks in the net. Power plays, empty net end of game situations, odd man rushes ( of which there have been far less than before the Hawks game ), it just does not seem to matter. He looks like Luongo has in net recently. His rebound control is superb. His strength against down low plays is brilliant. He stopped 43 shots tonight, and was the MAN when the Avs made their big push in the third period. I even did not mind him thinking about going for the empty net late in the third. Yes, he turned it over. But that save was pretty good as a result huh?
- Its funny, the team recommits to defense, and its the "checking" line that becomes the most dangerous. Samme Pahlsson should have had one in the first, and had a gorgeous assist to spring Chris Higgins for his shorthanded and game willing tally, waiting just long enough to hit Higgins as he broke clear. Jannik Hansen did not get credited with a single item on the stats sheet, but skated miles. That line seemed to set the pace for the work along the boards, where the Canucks were superb against a desperate team. Like their puck possession game. The third line set the pace tonight. By the way, how about that hustle by Higgins to cancel out a late icing and steal the deal at the end? All effort that guy. Its great to see him getting points to reward that kind of "give a sh!t".
- That same pace was heeded by the Kesler line as well. They had some chances and were strong along the boards as well. Varly made some good saves, the Avs blocked a couple bombs from Kesler on the power play, and both Burrows and Booth were into the game. How great was David Booth's fight with Mr Olver? The rookie was shown that you can't just agitate and crosscheck everyone with impunity. I like that Grizz' has gotten his inner bear on. Normally, I am not that bloodthirsty as far as the fighting goes, but that one was seemed to be a continuation of something from the game last week, and was organic, not staged. Don't worry Mad Max, Booth had that one. Kesler was only credited with 1 shot, Burrows 2, and Booth 3. Thats only part of the story. Ryan Kesler going 10 of 15, having over 4 minutes of a penalty kill that was superb, ( going 5 for 5 ), and being his normal grating self was a decent contribution. Same with his Terror Twin Alexandre Burrows, who always works hard, and was a big part of that penalty kill. Do I want the 2nd line to hit the scoresheet more? Of course I do. But they are working hard, and I have every confidence that the scoring will come from those guys.
- A moment to praise the opponent tonight. The fact that the Avs were swept this year in the season series probably cost them a shot at the playoffs, and they are young, but I like how this team plays the game. There was no quit in them tonight. Gabriel Landeskog is my pick for the Calder, Shane O'Brien has become a leader, and Semeon Varlamov has become a #1 goaltender and justified the trade that everyone was scratching their heads about it before the season started. His robbery on Booth kept the game within reach, and he made several very good saves in addition to that. They need to improve their team defense, and can look at the Canucks for tips there tonight. But this is a team is going the right way.
- The 4th line has a top penalty killer in Manny Malhotra and an adaptable, "play me anywhere" hard charger named Maxim Lapierre. Mad Max was good enough to replace Zack Kassian on Henrik's line in the third, and led his team once again with 6 hits. But of course, when you talk about the 4th line, its all about the face offs. Manny was money, going 12 of 17 on draws, to which Lappy added a 2 of 3. ( Manny really should have had the game's 2nd shorthanded goal on a nice play by Honey Badger late in the second as well ) Thats pretty daunting for the other team, when a team is playing lockdown defense and getting the puck first 75% of the time. With Manny leading all forwards with 4:24 PK TOI, and Dale Weise having a solid game as well, with a hit, 2 shots and 8:29 TOI where he knew his role and fulfilled it nicely. Zack Kassian? He was not quite as noticeable as he was in the L.A game, but I thought he was a better fit on the fourth line tonight. There was that one dominant shift in the second where he showed his skills. As always with a rookie, sometimes the consistency is lagging. But its coming for the 21 year old.
- Do not think that just because I got to them last that the "first" line was all that bad. Its not going to be a first line without Wonder Twin powers activating. But Henrik Sedin was not able to get a shot on net, had a "good" penalty to prevent a scoring chance, and went 9 for 15 on draws. Perhaps he is missing his brother. Thats understandable, and his line did play the same solid defense that the rest of the team played. Mason Raymond, while noticeable as well, had 3 shots, and had his moments from time to time. He also had only 00:15 on the PK, where he is usually up the list in that regard. Oh, and lets not neglect to mention the toughness the captain showed once again, going down awkwardly in the second and still playing after stretching it out for a bit on the bench.
- Its hard to get too down on the blue liners when they are missing Kevin Bieksa. The pairings were all askew as a result, but the de facto "shutdown" pairing was very good once again. Consider this ; Dan Hamhuis was on for 6:05 of 10 minutes of penalty killing, by far the most on the team. A shot, 3 blocks, and a hit offset the 2 giveaways and 2 takeaways he gave up and took back, and there can be little doubt that he is the backbone of that back end. His young in age only partner, Chris Tanev, seems to have a solid handle on playing low event hockey, and while his only contribution on the stat sheet was a team high 5 blocks, his 20:06 TOI speaks volumes about what confidence the coaches have in him. Compared to rookie Marc Andre Gragnani, who had only 14:33, and was not as good while under pressure, ( 1 shot, 1 block, and a giveaway where he gave up an excellent scoring chance ), it is becoming obvious that we got a steal when GMMG and his scouts found young Mr. Tanev.
- Alexander Edler was the leading ice time guy once again. with almost 24 minutes. 2 shots, a hit and a block, while having over 3 minutes on both the PK and the PP speaks volumes about his value to the team. He seems to get his game dissected more and more as his value to the team increases, but consider this. He's only 26 years old, playing top minutes at a position where that seems to be the age that they just start to "get it". Together with the "old guy" Sami Salo ( 3 shots, 2 blocks, 21:27 TOI ) getting back to his own underrated game, and Andrew Alberts contributing a block, 2 hits, a takeaway and a giveaway in his 14:20, and I can't help but feel good about the depth of the blue line going into the playoffs.
- But really, this game was all about Cory Schneider. Deflections, traffic, getting bumped, it just did not matter tonight. He had 27 saves through 2 periods, and a virtuoso performance in the third. The Avs outshot the Canucks every period. Sure, not every one was a gold plated scoring opportunity, but a good many of them were. In a third period where the Avs were definitely the better team, the work of the Canucks' "1A" goalie was the main reason they won this one.
- Lets not panic on the power play though folks. Not yet, anyhow. Sure, with 1:34 of 5 on 3 time, you should score. You also should not break (what was it?) 3 sticks in that time. I thought Kesler's shot that Hejda blocked was labelled, and that they threw the puck around very well. Its strange though, it seems that the 5 on 3 is almost easier to defend than a one man penalty! They have to have something to work on right? I know the post game folks are going to kvetch about it and the offense. To me though, watching this team all year, it is easy to see that the greater commitment to defense. It is working. Sure, it makes them look a bit like the St Louis Blues. ( who are playing the same defense first style all the way to a possible President's Trophy!) But lets not forget that this is still a Top 6 offense, and like I said at the outset, you don't suddenly forget to score. Sure, a desperate couple teams are coming up. But the residual disgust with the Stars' antics, and the always prevalent "rivalry" with the Flames ( you know the Canucks would love to affect both teams' post season chances, if they are not already on life support with a loss to the Kings tonight ) should make this a spirited back to back on Friday and Saturday. I am going out on a limb and predicting more than a goal in both those games!