The Canucks have played three games since you and I last spoke, but the outlook for the rest of this season has changed quite significantly since last Monday. The team took advantage of a much needed four-day break and looked like the team we've been waiting to see all season against the Kings on Hockey Night in Canada. They limited quality chances, took advantage of their own, and matched the league's best possession team pound-for-pound. Hopefully the win over the defending champs is a harbinger for success this season, rather than the emotional peak that it was last year when they beat the Bruins mid-season.
The Flames game...well, whatever.
Last week we talked about the forward lines finding their groove with Ryan Kesler back in the mix. Well, good news, they don't have to worry about that anymore! Kesler's injury hurts, but the Canucks have more than enough depth to stay atop the Northwest Division in his absence.
Swapping Aaron Volpatti for Tom Sestito through waivers is a negligible downgrade in hockey ability, but a clear upgrade in size and fisticuffs. Not to marginalize Volpatti or Sestito as players, but when Kesler is healthy I don't think either would be in the lineup.
This team still needs another quality centre, even with Kesler. In hindsight I'm not that surprised Andrew Ebbett was sent back to Chicago, as Sesito proved to be a useful asset against the enormous Kings. Mason Raymond (1/9 in the dot vs. LA. Yikes.) and Alex Burrows can fill in down in the middle in a pinch, but it's not ideal; the team needs another centre who can win draws and contribute at both ends of the ice. Sort of like Sammi Pahlsson, but less useless.
THE PERFECT PAIRINGS
So far in this short season Alain Vigneault and Rick Bowness have been like a couple of wine connoisseurs, searching for those perfect pairings. The positive development from the past week was the emergence of Hamhuis-Garrison as a shutdown pair. Out of all the left-handed defencemen the coaches have tried on the right side, Jason Garrison has looked the most comfortable. This is a very positive sign, because aside from a centre a right-side defenceman was the only glaring hole in the lineup.
But as one mystery is solved, another presents itself: what the hell is going on with Keith Ballard? Just a few weeks ago we were reading praise on how he's turned his game around this season, now after a couple bad outings (in which the whole team was sub-par) he's back to the press box? It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and makes me wonder if there's another force at work here.
LUONGO TO FLORIDA?
Jose Theodore was injured in Florida's game against the Hurricanes Saturday, and it doesn't look good:
This reignites the Luongo trade speculation, which has taken a backseat to other narratives over the past few weeks. Will this force Dale Tallon into a move, even though the Panthers are pretty much out of it already? Would Luongo waive his NTC to go to a basement dweller? What kind of return should fans expect from Florida?
Presumably, an injury like the one to Theodore is one of the reasons Mike Gillis has held on to Luongo this long, as what may have been a dormant trade market in the summer changes drastically as soon as teams start playing games and injuries accumulate. If Gillis is going to make a deal before the deadline, this seems like the window of opportunity that he's been waiting for.
Henrik Sedin had a very impressive game against the Kings on Saturday. Him and his line were dictating play all night long, getting in the faces of Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty and creating havoc around Jonathan Quick's crease. Henrik and Daniel are so consistently amazing that they rarely have "statement games", but that was one.
Mason Raymond continues to build his case as the Canucks comeback player of the year. The extra velocity that he has on his wrist shot this year is obvious. Who knew breaking your back was a serious injury requiring tons of time and rehab to fully recover from?
Cory Schneider had a very solid night against the Kings, after sort of calling himself out after the Phoenix loss. You have to wonder if the two-goalie system is making it hard for Schneider to find his groove.
Kevin Bieksa re-aggravated his groin injury against LA, and I'm not surprised: he was everywhere in that game, punishing any King that came near the crease. The Canucks are 0-3 in their last few games without Bieksa.
Home for one against the Sharks on Tuesday, then it's the three-game road trip from hell with one in Minnesota and two in Columbus. Any chance we can fast track that realignment plan for, say...next week?