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A "Big Willie Style" Game Recap ( 5 - 0 w )

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With apologies to the namesake for the allusion. Our coach is so down to earth, he kind of just blows right by things like hype. But we don't. How about that performance tonight ? Balanced scoring, some pretty tight defense, and Willie just keeps rolling the lines over the boards...tonight, three of the four lines lit the lamp. The next game, it will be someone else !

Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

The Canucks have been playing the game "the right way" lately.  Through injuries to several players, and the occasional gaffe that comes with playing an aggressive style ( you are going to make bad pinches, like Bieksa, Sbisa, Edler and yes, Tanev made tonight. ) and hunting the puck.

What matters, and what is so much fun to watch when a team plays the right way, is how others fill in, cover, take away the space of a player who just beat your teammate.  Whatever it takes to get the win.  When a team is rolling, you can see it.  How everyone turns into a Henrik Sedin with their passes.  How a guy like Kevin Bieksa ( and we love Juice in this city, the man is a Canuck for life ), not the very fastest defender on the blue line, can race down a fairly quick forward like Foligno and absolutely and utterly cleanly take the puck away.  I am sure the bench went nuts on that one.

Beautiful plays like that happen all over the ice.  Now add to that goaltending at a very high level.  It becomes pretty inexorable to compete against.  The Columbus Blue Jackets are a game team, and deserve better than their record, based on their play in parts of this game.  But they have been decimated by injuries, and have not been able to overcome the expectations that came with making the playoffs last year.  Maybe when Dubinsky gets back, they might have  chance.  Ryan Johansen can't do it alone.  He was easily the best player on his team tonight  The analytics tell us David Savard and Jordan Leopold were better, with a Corsi For of +16 and  +15 respectively ( see it all here. The fine folks at hockeystats.ca have pretty graphs too.  This one looks like a DNA strand until the Canucks pulled away in the third ), and Scott Hartnell did match the young Vancouver native's +11 CF.  But Ryan Johansen was the most dangerous, and the one that I am sure Willie Desjardins had a big red circle around on the dressing room whiteboard.

In a game that was at times choppy and sloppy, at times back and forth in a low event hockey kind of way that coaches love, and sometimes it was dazzling in the skill, it turned into an entertaining contest.  You cannot blame the Jackets for trying, and this team plays hard. But the "dazzling part"  might be more for Canuck fans.  The Jackets did have some good chances.  Not good enough to beat a goaltender on his game like Ryan Miller , but still.

Honestly though, they were beaten by the better team.  As they are now 14-1-2 against the Nucks in their last 17.  I think this is 7 for 10 at Nationwide for the visitors from Lotusland as well.  When you are rolling, you are rolling.

The folks at Sportsnet take some grief from the average hockey famn.  For good reason at times as well.  But they do know how to tell you the good stuff, on occasion.  Such was the point about halfway through, as Shorty and Cheech unwrapped this little nugget.

Check out the production from the lines up and down the lineup.  These numbers obviously do not include the TOI and the five goals tonight, but this is a perfect indication of Big Willie Style.  He said he was going to roll four lines, and the evidence says that he is a man of his word.  ( I would imagine that the lines are ht usual ones, and include the production of who was playing up or down because of injury ) :

Line 1 -  20 goals 18:46 TOI

Line 2 - 17 goals 16:28 TOI

Line 3 - 14 goals 13:34 TOI

Line 4 -  11 goals 11:06 TOI

That is balance.  Tonight, it was two from Line 2, two from Line 3, and the prettiest goal of them all by Line 1 .  Let's take a look at them, and then get to that superlative goaltending and Wall of Blue.

The first goal came at about the fifteen minute mark of the second period.  The game had been a bit pedantic to that point, with the Canucks maybe having a slight edge in the play.  Most, but not all of the CBJ pressure up to that point was off the rush.  It leaves you open to rushes the other way, but this one came off of a face off win and rush, and as the result of Bonino and his line...wait, I can't.  Look at this shot.  You cannot let a goal in from there Goalie Bob !

The second was simply a case of the Blue Jackets finally getting beat by the Sedin Line.  They had a great game, even if the second line was the one with more score sheet ink.  They sure cannot match THIS though.  Goalie Bob cannot be blamed here.  He turned his head because Vrbata was almost around to the other side when he made the drop pass.  The rest of the shift that got the Jackets running around was fun too.

This one is as much about the pass from Richardson, as it is about the breakaway and deft deke by Shawn Matthias.  He is quickly becoming a fan fave.  Or, if not, he damn well should be.  The man is a beast down low to handle, and is showing more scoring touch.  He has been a staple of that Line 3, as much as Brad Richardson. Tonight, it consisted of three centres, with Linden Vey patrolling a wing

The fourth goal, there is no video of.  But it came off of the perfect example of how desperate things have gotten in Columbus.  With about five and a half minutes left, down three to zip, Todd Richards decided to pull his goalie.  No, not for the back up, for an extra attacker.  It backfired, and Richardson was the beneficiary of some hard work to put one into the goal column.  Thanks guys !

The fifth one was a pretty one.  Maybe not as pretty as the Henrik Sedin dazzler, but the straight ahead skill that Higgins and Alexandre Burrows showed was very nice.  Burrows got his 6th of the year, one better than his entire production last year, and right on pace for that bounce back season to bounce on back.  That is a quick snipe that looked a lot like the Burrows from a couple years back.  He has been flying since his return from injury.

Check the ice times at whatever stat place you fancy. I use the ESPN one. Those times look pretty close to the averages noted above, don't they ?

Now, with all of that, against a team where ( remember how the Corsi For above was so pronounced for the best few Blue Jackets ? )  The defenders for the Canucks, their Corsi For is kind of, well, "meh".

The best pairing was Yannick Weber and Ryan Stanton, who were +7 CF at even strength, and +5 respectively., and played in the 17-18 minute range.  They were mostly solid, and it can't be a bad thing when your third pairing is leading the Corsi For at even strength table.

The second pairing, let's call that the duo of Kevin Bieksa and Lucas Sbisa.  Juice was barely beaten out by Edler on the TOI table, but was out there for 22:22 .   He was credited with one hit ( and only a min rant.  CBJ is a prime example of "arena bias" and how it affects the stat sheet.  The home team was physical, but they were not outhitting the visitors 16-8 after one.  Take it with a grain of salt sometimes folks ! ), and 1 block, and his two penalties were not the greatest, but not only did he have the gem noted above, he was a +3, had 2 shots on goal, and only a couple of his pinches sucked !  His partner, Lucas Sbisa, has a very decent 20:55 TOI.  He got an assist helping to start the play on the first goal, was a team leading +4, and even had a block and a hit.  He is making better plays under pressure in his own end, and his breakout passes are very underrated.

The Top Duo, as fat as the ice time went, was Alexander Edler and Christopher Tanev.  Both were an even on the plus minus, as they did not get on the ice with the goal scoring lines tonight.  Tanev was a -6 on even strength Corsi For, and Edler a team worst -11 on that table.  Hell, there was one shift where Edler fell three times, and STILL made the play to break the pressure his team was under.  Eddie made some nice rushes as well, and had a chance or two to pot one, but the advanced stats did not love him like they have lately.

In the end, however, it was all about Ryan Miller and his second straight shutout.  His reads were beautiful to behold tonight, and he seemed to be so under control in the crease.  He still challenged, at times ( the one on Johansen in the high slot a fine example ), and when he did, was giving them nothing to do but shoot it right at him.  But if it was a sneaky wraparound, a tip, or an against the grain shot for the far corner, Ryan Miller was on his game.  He faced all of those examples and more ( two 2 on 1's ), and was up to the task every time.  In fact, the contrast between his game, and the way Bobrovsky was playing at the other end was startling at times.

An impressive win to start the road trip.  Next up is the Red Wings for a game that starts at 11:00 AM Pacific time !