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A "No Excuses" Game Recap ( 5-1 L )

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There is that old saw out here in the Western Reaches of the NHL, that the first game back after a lengthy road trip is like another road game. A classic "trap game". There is something to that, even with an Eastern opponent flying across the country.

Rich Lam/Getty Images

But that is usually said after a loss.  The CBC guys between the periods certainly went through the list of distractions, holidays, and everything else that comes with coming home after two weeks away.  But that was Tuesday.  The guys had a couple of days off.  Perhaps the reports of "sluggishness" at practice should have been heeded more ?

There are alway reasons when a team loses, and struggles doing so.  But excuses, reasons, mitigating factors, and the amount of rain in Vancouver over the past week can't begin to explain THAT start.

1st

The Canucks looked to actually be starting brightly in this one.  They had their new BVB second line to start the game, and Bonino, Vrbata and Burrows got in the offensive zone, and the Sedin line with Hansen looked even better on their first shift.

Unfortunately, that is about where it ended as far as good starts go.  The New York Rangers had obviously made it a point of pre game emphasis to force the play when the Canuck defensemen pinched, but that can only partly explain the landslide of odd man opportunities that each and every line seemed to be giving up.

The first goal, Yannick Weber did not play the pass on very well, and the second one Sbisa did but it did not matter.  Just watch the clip and assign the blame where it should be.  I am seeing plenty to go around, but hell, why up the word count on it ?!  I will say that I cannot remember seeing that many odd man rushes against with this team in a long ti.... ( recalls that it was a Hallmark of the Torts Lost year... )...nevermind.

Each and every time the Canucks looked to be getting something going in response they would give up a counter the other way.  You can not really fault the goaltender on any of the three quick goals to silence a Rogers Arena seemingly primed to actually make some noise to welcome their team home, although it would have been nice to get a game defining save on one fo them.  ( that crowd was chanting "Go Canucks Go" in the 3rd period of a 5-1 game.  They sang the anthem as loud as they have  all season ).  It was not Miller's fault, but, damn, the team wasted a primed crowd in this one.

3-0 is also a tougher lead to come back from than the toughest lead in hockey that a save would have brought, and that is pretty simple to explain, even without the math of three being greater than two.  When you get one back in response, a one goal game is a lot different than a two goal game.  As soon as that third one went in, the "WTF is going ON?!" feeling fell over the bench,( and I am sure the fans in and out of the rink ).

That brings us to the other problem of playing the Rangers, especially with a three goal lead in the first period. Henrik Lundqvist was there to stop the Canucks when they did get the opportunities.  The second goal came directly off his save on Vrbata and the quick up play.  As each one went in, the hill became higher and higher, and you could see the jump in the visiting team as the home team sagged as well.

2nd

The second brought, thankfully, far more structure and a cohesive attack for the home team.  Sure, there was a four on two after a foiled rush, and the odd man rushes did not end entirely, although the torrent was reduced to a trickle ( well, maybe a bubbling brook instead ) , but this time it was played well by Edler, and no harm was done.  The Bonino line continued to look pretty good at pressing the play.  The same could not be said for the Hansen addition to the first line to this point in the game, as it seemed that the cycle was going to him to die.

The Sedins require a high level thinking player to make it really click.  I have seen Hansen do it at times with them, but when you have two other guys on the bench who have proven to be great at thinking the game at the Twin level, the reflex to go back to the known must be there for Willie when the struggles are that obvious.  It was not surprising to see the change in the third.

The fourth goal in this one was felt so much more "dagger-ish", even in a blowout.  Bonino lost a draw, and Bieksa might have had a play on that puck to do something, but it was a shot from the point from Staal. The screens may have prevented the goalie from seeing it.  It was one of those goals that makes one realize it might not be their night.

But the fact is that the Rangers got a "seeing eye" goal on a shot that found it's way top corner against the run of play.  A fourth goal on the goalie that you really could not blame him for ( and look, this game will further the " Bad Miller / Good Miller Hypothesis ", but this was the definition of a game where you really can not blame the goalie.  Most of the ones that he saw he stopped tonight.  He just could not make the highlight reel saves to "steal" one for the guys that were not giving him much support tonight )...this was not a game where the blame should lay at the feet of the last line of defense.  There is plenty of that to go around.

The way that Miller batted away the puck after making two saves on Marty St Louis kind of said it all.  The Rangers made another nice pass, and the fact they were skating better in this game than their opponent was pretty apparent.  But even with Bieksa hooking away at the Ranger, Miller made a nice save the first time, and then just outwaited him on the penalty shot to follow.

Look at the comedy of errors on the five to nada goal.  Sure, the Rangers made some nice plays.  But Sbisa and Bieksa looked liked Larry and Curly, and any one of the forwards was auditioning for the role of Moe.  How would you like to be the goalie trying to react to that play?  Yeesh.  A second period where they looked better was only one goal less better.

3rd

I am sure that more than a few folks thought Eddie Lack would be in the net for he third period, but Willie put Miller back in.  Like I said, it was not his fault that it was five zip going into the third.    The lines went into the blender though, as the coach looked for any spark he could.  The third line and fourth lines stayed the same,  as Hansen was now with Bones and Burrows, and The Twin Assignment went back to Radim the Dream.  You can probably put the fact the Canucks Corsi was good ( see hockeystas.ca here ) The Rangers took the foot off the pedal just enough a bit in the third.

Even still, it was a nice thing to see Kevin Bieksa cause a two on one the other way, and Nick Bonino beating Lundqvist clean over the glove was something he needed bad. It ignited the period in another way, as suddenly the Rangers just rolling four lines to an obvious victory was morphing into something a bit more fun to watch.  Sure, they were going to lose.  But at least they were skating and playing the game as they wanted to.

The game saw it's first power play with 10:00 min left, and we got a slightly different look to the first power play unit, as Burrows moved into the Vey slot.  He ended up in close with a nice Sedin set up, but whiffed on it.  That kinda said it all... that unit looked pretty solid, and forced more quietly effective saves from Lundqvist.  No surprises there !

The Rangers had only 2 shots in the first fourteen minutes of the third.  They looked like there could be a window there, perhaps against a bit more inferior goaltender.  But against the Swedish National Goaltender, the wobble in their game steadied, ad they got their grind back on, putting the finishing touches on the victory. ( 29 saves on 30 shots tonight )

Excuse me

- In a recap titled "No Excuses", it seems odd to absolve the goaltender in a 5-1 loss, but that is by design.  This was the epitome of a team loss.  You can use whatever narrative you like about their "legs" after the longest roadie of the season.  The Rangers did look like they were skating better in this one.  The Canucks will need to skate and play better at the start of the next one.  They just were not ready for what came at them in this one. ( Miller is now hovering around .900 on the save percentage though.  That is not good.

- But please, media, pundits, and "experts" all, enough with this "Canucks have problems with fast teams" bull****".  Please.  Everyone in the game has a problem with speed.  It is kind of the essnse of the game ! The Canucks can handle a team that skates just fine when they are skating and playing their game.  I hope I don't see the "Good Miller / Bad Miller" one floating around in the coming days in response to this score as well.  It would seem cruel after he could have sued for non support in this one.

- No excuses extends to the coach as well.  The Twins were ( Henrik and Danie a +11 and +10 in E.S Corsi For respectively, to lead all forwards ) in the third with their regular linemate back.  The Hansen Experiment actually looked better with Bones and Burrows.  His game suits them better, one would think.  But putting him with the Twins, while the advanced stats guys love him ( and I do too, who could hate a Honey Badger ? ) , might have been one change too much.  Maybe you are trying new things to prepare for the changes that have to come with Kassian getting back into the team soon ?

- This IS an excuse, sort of.  Dan Hamhuis is missed on the blue line, big time.  The way his loss has forced guys out of their roles is quite apparent.  Lucas Sbisa and Kevin Bieksa were a +6 and +5 in Even Strength Corsi For in this game.( this game a prime example of how score effects can skew the Corsi table ) but look at how that has to conflict with the traditional stats. Sbisa was a -4, and the only reason Juice was a dash three was because he was in on a goal !  Either one of them looks desperate for the cool, confident stylings of Hamhuis as a partner right about now.  There is only so much Tanev to go around, and he is taken with Edler's resurgence, thanks.  ( Tanev and Edler having a +10 and +11 Even Strength Corsi For respectively, and in a game that had 5 goals scored, both ended up as an even ).

So, now another "skating team" is up on the docket.  The Stars did outskate the visiting Canucks in previous meeting.  They won tonight, but have had struggles of their own in the interim.  Please, in the meantime, as the other teams all play games that will make the standings look less impressive than they did only weeks ago, lets relax.  We know that when this team skates and pays their game, they can compete.  Yes, this game now becomes one where they REALLY want a win, after losing four straight now.  But still, as Aaron Rodgers says "R-E-L-A-X"...

The fact they did not do it again, in the first one back off the road, does not mean that they are not capable of it.  Sure, a fourth straight loss sucks as well.  But they deserved to lose this one based on the way they started it.  There will be no more excuses if they do the same against a team they should want some "payback" on in their next one.  No matter who is in the lineup.