If you were not at the St Augustine for our meet up ( for an actual win! ), well, I can only say you should be at the next one. Great people, great beers, great times, and a fairly entertaining hockey game.
So, as I meandered home on the Skytrain, listening to the post game, the confusional state was not so much from the fine selection of barley sandwiches, but at how truly hard to satisfy we are in Vancouver, at least as to how it pertains to the starcrossed hockey club that we are all hopelessly addicted to.
Tonight, the Canucks entered into first overall in the West with a loss for the Blues against the suddenly playing better Blue Jackets (at home, for only the 5th time this season). They got more production from a first line that has Maxim Lapierre as the trigger guy ( think about that for a second ), a sweet step up and blast by Marc Andre Gragnani to tie it up in the third, and a game winner in O/T from the B.C boy that just seems to score big goals, Andrew Ebbett.
Yet, the post was all about how the Canucks do and don't deserve the reputation the media has attached, how troubling it is that your single digit scorers filled the score sheet ( because its a no win. If the stars are filling the net, its where are the other guys, and visa versa ), and how troubling it must be that Mason Raymond and David Booth were benched in the final period.
I'm not complaining about the Team, because that is what it is. They just open the line and respond to the folks calling in anyhow. It is enlightening that we / they seem to gravitate to the cloudy side of the day. I thought I watched a hockey game where the opponent showed up, tried to play hard, and just does not have the horses. The Canucks are a very deep, dangerous Cup contender. They have solid depth at every position, the best 1 / 1A goaltendering tandem in the NHL, and a rabid fanbase that wants that trophy at the end of the touney almost as much as the actual team.
Its not embarrassing or detrimental that the Flames lost tonight. It just means they are not quite as good a team as their opponent.
That is not to say that the visitor tonight did not have a chance. They very well could have won this game. It was not because of Karlsson, as he played better than Kipper has lately anyhow. Though, they did put themselves in a hole. The Canucks are deadly when they score first. The Flames played hard because its Vancouver, and they always do. But. while they did, they did not have the wherewithal to play together in their own end. All three Canuck goals were defended poorly.
- Watch that clip for the first goal, and you notice a couple things. One, that Henrik Sedin is just a wizard on the backhand. He may be more dangerous passing it from the back of the stick than from the front. Two, driving the net is a good thing. Maxim Lapierre does not pound the puck through the net. He does get the better physically of both defenders back, and just directs the puck at the net. Thats a typical greasy goal. He showed last game that he can rocket it when given the time. But this was more the kind of goal the man can score when given the chance. He might have been the most engaged Canuck tonight. Check this stat line ; 1 goal, a +2, 2 shots, a takeaway, a giveaway, and an ( again ) team high 7 hits. That was in (all 5 on 5 )19 shifts and 16:28 TOI. The humour of the officials giving both him and Sarich 2 minutes for "boys will be boys", and them continuing the discussion through most of the two minutes instead of "feeling shame" was so typical for this player. I'm loving #40 on the first line right now.
- The Flames had a couple goals from a couple of their more highly paid workers tonight, and both were on plays that I want to not really blame the goaltender for. Roberto Luongo made some pretty sparkling saves that prevented the Flames from getting anything in a first period where they might have been the better team. They had more shots ( 12-7 ), and had some solid chances on their other 21 attempts at goal. Maybe the most deft save might have been a reaction pad save ( in the clip above, right after they show Lappy being yappy in the box ) on Bouwmeester on a simple point shot that was off a skate. Perhaps its just the fan in me, but he seems to be making those quick reaction saves ( the Kopitar one comes to mind ) fairly often lately. In a game where the Flames were playing loose, regardless of their position in the standings, the goaltender was once again one of the best players on the ice for the home team. Jokinen's one timer was not a "blast" ( though it was quick, sometimes thats enough ), but Camiellieri's was. Both could have been defended a little better ( Kesler got turned around on the 2nd one, and caught out as a result ), but apart from those two tallies, whenever the home team needed a big stop, he was there. The "LUUUUUUs" were coming from our table tonight maybe the loudest of them all!
- Sometimes, there has to be a player that we worry about. Right now, according to the pundits, its Ryan Kesler. Of course, they point to the 19 less goals than last year so far. "Of course" they mention the hip injury being a concern early. All of that is true. But I don't think Ryan Kesler is playing all that much different. Some things are not going his way on the power play like they did last year. The linemate carousel cannot be great, though his usual running mate did not have a typical David Booth game. Sometimes, the other team makes the right reads, and both those players play a straight ahead style. Kes had 2 of his 5 shots hit the net, a minor for high sticking, 1 hit, and 8 of 16 draws won. Of course this was not his best game. But his line without the linemates he started with ( he finished the third with Ebbett and Zack Kassian ) was clicking. The man always works hard, even when he is not working smarter. For that reason, and because he has earned the benefit of my doubt, thats about all I have to say on him. Kesler will be fine.
- Instead of breaking down the lines and defense partners, I am just going to give you a few players I noticed throughout the night. Alexander Edler. The man is so good he does not even know it. I know that we have heard the coaches want him to engage even more, but he was pretty well into this one. I think the coaches noticed as well. In addition to playing a team high 30 shifts and 25:25, he had 2 assists ( a second assist on the opener, and a nice play at the line to feed Salo for the shot Ebbett tipped ) 5 of a team high 8 shot attempts forcing the save, a team high 4 blocks, and a takeaway. He was strong on the puck in both ends, made some nice rushes, and looked every bit the top pairing defenseman he is.
- Another guy with a special mention is Marc Andre Gragnani. The goal was nice. The +2. while getting 3 shots, a block and a hit in 17:41 was pretty cool as well. His game seems to be getting better, and his play along the boards in his own end is underrated.
- How about Andrew Ebbett. In his first game back from a collarbone break so serious he is playing with a steel plate in there right now, he looked like he was really trying to get the coach's eye. With Kesler double shifting, AV had no problem throwing him out there to try and turn the tide down one. He hunts the puck so well for a smaller player, seems to have a knack for finding the spots that he can score from ( that tip on the game winner was in a lot of traffic in front ), and while scoring the goal, he also had 5 shots attempts, 4 of which were on net. He even went 1 for 2 on draws. All that in 19 shifts and 12:29 ( :33 on the PP he found himself on as well). Well done.
- Another player who gets a metaphorical slap on the back is Zack Kassian. That was a much more "thats like it " game from the big rookie. In only 11:54, he had 3 shots ( 1 miss) , and 4 hits, most of them of the board shaking variety. His speed was noticeable, his hands looked as underrated as ever for a big fourth liner, and he simply seemed to be in the right place a lot more often.
- OK. One line. That third line. Its an insult to call them the "3rd line". They need a nickname. It seems that the duo of Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen have quickly morphed into a dangerous duo on the breakout. The chance for the Professor that started off a block by him, and a swift rush by Beaker, was a perfect example. While it was on a turnover, the Flames did an OK job getting back to try and prevent the 2 on 1. But Higgy and Hansen made it a chance anyhow, with great speed and underrated ( well, I am sure Higgins hands are not being labeled as underrated too much after this week!) hands. Put them with a guy that always seems to be in the right place in Samme Pahlsson, another player who we were told did not have offensive skill ( though both Twins, who played with him at the 2006 Games in which they won Gold vouched for his skills other than defensive when asked before the trade ), and you have a line thats maddening to play against on offense. More important, one in which those stars they are going to be matched up against had better play a 200' game when they are on the ice. Tonight, Hansen did not have a shot, and Pahlsson had only 1 of his 3 hit the target. Higgins, however, had 6 of his 7 attempts make Karlsson work. Thats the secret with this line. They work hard, and make "stars" work. Not all of the folks that inhabit the top of the scoring for their teams actually work hard at both ends of the ice. Amazing huh? The secret to their success is something anyone on the team can do.
Well, thats about it for tonight. I want to watch this on the big screen, but will leave you with Cory Schneider's appearance on After Hours. I have not seen it yet, but I imagine it was great. That suit sure was styling!