Some were calling it ( OK, no one, I made that up ) the "Curse of Luongo's Hurt Feelings", or a similar sentiment was being espoused amongst some of the Twitterati. Not scoring since that game on home ice, when the fans gave Lui his proper sendoff, was troubling. It kind of eats into the win column when you can't put the biscuit in the basket. Never mind what it does to the bottom line when you can't entertain the home fans with a goal or two.
They were getting chances in those games. Well, not against the Ducks, that game was not their best. But you could see they were squeezing the graphite out of their sticks. It was just what the doctor ordered then, having one of the top contenders for Connor McDavid's services in town.
It did not seem that way off the hop in this one, as the Sabres tried to get a good start on the road. That start was aided by an early power play for the Canucks favorite offense, as a bad change resulted in another in a season of too many men calls.
The Canucks have one of the best penalty kills though, and the Sabres actually own the worst power play in the league. Unfortunately, no one told Chris Stewart that he is supposed to suck ( or maybe he knew Jim Benning would be watching, and is smart enough to realize that every night is an audition. ) and he helped a puck into the net to get his first of two on the night.
Another power play ( for a needless slash by Yannick Weber ) was killed off, and while the Sabres rode the momentum a bit, and actually led the shots 8-7 at about the 15 minute mark, you knew it wouldn't last. Would it ?
"The Streak" was being muttered about with increasing volume by Shorty, and evidently, the Canucks had had enough of this not scoring on home ice thing. After a great Sedin shift in the offensive zone, the fourth line ( well, it is up in the air a bit with the injuries, and Horvat, Kassian and Matthias aint exactly a fourth line anyhow ) came out, and they ganged the puck. The Canuck rookie made a nice play on the puck after one of Hackett's many good saves, and poked it home for the late tying goal, at 19:36.
The Canucks ended up getting a power play of their own to start the period, as Mezaros hooked Hamhuis at the death of the opening stanza to give the home team a chance to get the special teams back on track. They did jut that, and it was, glory be to the Puck Gods, the second unit !
After Linden Vey rushed the zone with speed, he and Chris Higgins worked the puck to Weber in the high slot, and he made no mistake ( the defenseman may have got a touch on the attempted block as well...maybe ) to give the Canucks the lead. It only got better, as Gionta interfered with Hamhuis to put the Canucks right back on the power play.
This time, it was the Sedins setting up Nick Bonino in close, and he made a deft play on the rebound to give the Canucks the two goal lead. Suddenly, memories of not being able to score on home ice seemed so long ago. And getting them on the power play can't hurt the percentage as well.
Unfortunately, of all the impacts Zack Kassian can make on a game, not all of them are good ones. I am sure he will say he was going for the tip, but the puck was already there, and in the goalie's glove, when he slashed the crest of his old team. It was a dumb thing to do.
And, as always, it is the dumb penalties that come back to bite you, as the league's worst power play once again succeeded against one of the elite penalty killing teams ( and while one of them was interceded by the other, resulting in a power play for each team of a minute instead of the usual two, the Canucks did kill off the rest of their six total penalties on the night, and quite handily too They went 2 for 4 with the man advantage themselves ). Chris Stewart got his second, casting a glance up at the Canuck box and mouthing "you can get me at the deadline for next to nothing Jimmy...". He was the most notable of the players on that team from Buffalo. But that aint saying much.
The Canucks were just in need of that knockout shot. The Sabres had played before in Alberta, and when losing becomes a habit, it becomes expected. Almost a self fulfilling prophecy. They were sure playing like that, as most of the game was being spent in their own end by this point. Only Jeff Hackett and his gymnastics were keeping it close. Hell, he prevented at LEAST a Shawn Matthias hat trick tonight. Unfortunately, nothing went in for #27 on this night.
Speaking of slumps, of all the players who deserve to break out of their own slide, it was Chris Higgins. The man plays hard, is a two hundred foot player, and a top penalty killer. He was finally rewarded on maybe the prettiest goal of the night. You will find it towards the end of the game highlights here.
It was worth the couple minutes, right ? The rush by Hamhuis, the perfect pass from Christopher Tanev. All Higgy had to to was bury it in an empty net. Great play.
The Sabres had lost thirteen straight coming into this one. They were done. There were a couple shifts here and there where they got a little zone time, but the Canucks were just grinding and playing in the other end. A pretty hard combination to return from.
Even a late power play ( Girgensons fooled the refs with the old "chicken wing", holding Vey's stick to himself. As it came right after a Daniel Sedin crash into the boards that sure looked like boarding to me, it reinforced that this maybe was not the best effort on the night from the striped shirts It is a tough job though. The game is too fast for them sometimes ) was not enough. It forced a couple great saves from Miller, and he got another late to seal it in a tidy 20 shots effort, as Ryan Miller got a win against his former team to now have at least one against every team in the NHL.
The Canucks were simply better on the night. They led the shot count in all periods, finishing with a flair, outshooting the visitors 15-6 in the last period, after edging the other team 11-8 and 12-8 in the first two...
41 - He gets the top spot on the list. It was Ronalds Kenins first game in the NHL. He got on the ice for 10:33, had 1 shot on net and 1 miss, and tied Eder for the lead in hits on the night with 3. Not bad for the Latvian rookie.
-22 - One of the reason Chris Stewart can be gotten for nothing. Sure, it was a woeful performance for a woeful team by the numbers. But check the Corsi disaster here ( from our friends at hockeystats.ca ) Only Girgensons -24 was worse than Stewarts -22 in 5 on 5 Corsi Events. Mind you, there were six players on the opponent tonight -20 or worse, and no one on their roster was a positive in that stat, but those other four were defensemen !
27 - If aliens came down to Rogers Arena to catch a game, and knew nothing, they would ( after having the Cap explained to them ) have surmised that Shawn Matthias must be the richest guy on the team. He was clearly playing at a different level on the night. One assist, +1, 4 shots and 1 miss on the night. ( regular stats here ) He could have scored four goals with the chances he had, and was a load for the Sabres all night. They should room him with Kassian to show him how it is done. Reportedly, he is one of the hardest workers at practice as well. Maybe Zack could try that too ?
16 and 2 - Well, he is not that bad. Here is some food for thought. Zack Kassian played 11:26, had an assist, a +1, 1 shot, and 3 hits. In that time he was on for 16 even strength Corsi Events for, and only 2 against. That is the exact same as Nick Bonino ( who also had a good game, with a goal, 5 shots and a block ), who was on the ice for 19:52. Eight and a half minutes more time. And Matthias had zero hits as well. He played a great power forward game, but while he was a load to handle, he was not credited with one at all. I thought he hit SOMEONE ! Weird eh ?
2 - Dan Hamhuis. Glad you are back and playing well sir. Check the line from the man that steadies the blue line so well. 23:38 TOI, an assist, +2, 3 shots, 2 misses, 2 hits and a 1 takeaway. His pairing with Frank Corrado was excellent.
6 - The entire defensive core had a solid game, but I had to mention the Swiss Mister. He was very noticeable, rushing confidently, passing it well, and in addition to scoring the goal, he had the same amount of shots and missed as Hamhuis in 10:07 less ice time. Another benefit of the Clendening trade. Guys know ice time is up for grabs.
23 and 8 - Except for these two guys. They are the clear number one pairing. Edler had 3 shots and 2 misses, and 3 hits, in a team leading 25:10 of ice time. He was a beast all night, grinding away. Want a clue how important this guy is to the team ? Well, 10:11 of that time was on special teams, with just under 5 minutes on the PK, and just more than the same on the PP. Tanev ? Dude is going to get paid. He had 2 assists, a +2, 1 block in 21:38 TOI. The only difference with his partner is that his only special teams time was %:31 on the PK. I am thinking Doug Lidster has had some influence, but these two deserve the praise.
So, after a night where they beat a team they are supposed to beat, the Canucks gave up the first goal, and even let in more than one power play goal against. But they were simply the better team on the ice.
Next up, with a game time moved up a half hour to Noon, to give you time to get to whatever Super Bowl ( Go Hawks ! ) thing you have going on is a date with the Wild. They are playing better, and could be a team to compete with in the Wild Card hunt, depending on how things go down the stretch.
And I hear they are supposed to be our "rivals" around here. ( Just kidding, but that fanbase sure gets every drop of mileage out of that playoff win about a dozen years ago, eh ? ) Either way, it should be a more competitive affair. It was good to get healthy against the bottom feeder. Now is the time to put the Wild in their place.