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California Dreaming

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The last time the Canucks went two for two on a road trip through any of the three California teams was four years ago.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Those were heady times, of course, and that team was in a different place than this one.  Still, it shows that the start the Canucks are having is a good one.  When you play teams like the Ducks and Kings, it is going to be tough to be physical and impose your will on the game.  More like the other way around, usually.

Now, I am not saying they did that in Anaheim, though they did outhit the Ducks 29-26.  In that game, they were trying to hit everything they could, and so were the Ducks, but it was a ( not surprisingly, theses two teams always play entertaining hockey ) a game with plenty of excitement and chances for a 2-1 shootout win.  Things were simply moving too damn fast up and down the ice to get the hits in.  No, the game where I thought the Canucks showed their physicality was against the Kings.  Even though they were outhit 25-22.

Were there times that the Kings had them hemmed in, with that heavy forecheck ?  Absolutely, especially in the third.  That is their game, and when they can pull it off, it seems that there is always someone hitting you in your own end, grinding you down.  Maybe it is just me, but they look slower than I remember.  Maybe it was just the Canuck Dee' getting the puck out quicker than they usually can against the Kings and their Big Boy Hockey style.  The part I loved about that game though, apart from the result ?  This time, the Canucks were pushing back.

It was Jake Virtanen, who had 3 hits in his 9:18 ( as well as a shot and a block, in a pretty decent debut ), and who probably would've played more if the Canucks did not have to kill off three straight third period penalties.  It was Alexander Edler, who had his best game of the early season, one of "those" games.  Check this stat line.  3 hits.  3 blocked shots, 2 shots ( 2 misses ) , 2 takeaways, and a goal off a point shot bomb Quick never moved on, and an assist on the empty net clincher.  Not a bad 25:27 TOI ( tops in the game, but for Doughty, who had 1:59 more )

And it was Luca Sbisa.  Luca Sbisa was the second best Canuck defenseman on this night.  They all played well.  When you hold an NHL team to 15 shots, and give only six shots in the third period of a game where the home team is desperate, your defense had a good night.  Like Matt Bartkowski, who had an assist on the opening goal, and had 3 hits.  He played a very solid game, and that speed and ability to make the first pass was welcome to see against a "heavy" team like the Kings.

But Luca Sbisa was the man.  He had 17:42 TOI, which was actually less than his partner Hutton's 18:37. It was the 2:59 ( leading the team, tied with Hammer ) with Dan Hamhuis on the penalty kill that was my favorite part of his game.  I would imagine several of his team leading 4 shots blocked were in that 6 minute span in the third period.  He tied with Virtanen and Edler for the team lead with 3 hits. ( in the Ducks game the night before?  3 hits, 3 blocks. Luca had a good trip to the Sunshine State )  And, like his rookie partner, he made good outlet passes in a game where the other team excels at getting on you and forcing you to make decisions quickly.

Part of that is something that bears mentioning, four games in.  The Canuck breakout is so much more under control.  Under pressure, they support each other well for the passes back and out.  But it is the ability to read off each other and make those quick little passes, or to use the opponent's aggression, when they gang the puck, like the Kings, Flames and Ducks all like to do.  Wether it is Tanev or Tanev2.0 Hutton getting hit and poking it to someone anythow, or Edler standing back up to a hitter and doing the same, the centre or winger that has gotten free for him is getting the pass, and then the far winger is getting the next one.  Everyone in their place at the time they should be.

Time and again, the Kings would try to get in on a defenseman and have the puck end up flashing by them as the guy they are trying to whallop is doing just enough to avoid the brunt of their attack, while sending the play the other way.  They used the same type of set up agains the Ducks and Flames as well.  Someone would get free in their own middle at just the right time that the defenseman needed him there for the outlet pass.  Teamwork.  It sure is fun to watch when they are all working in concert.  Which they have been so far this year on the breakout.

That is going to be important in the West.  The Canucks play another "heavy" team on Friday night, the Blues of St Louis.  Substitute David Backes for Ryan Getzlaf or Anze Kopitar, and it is another similar opponent that awaits, before the herculean task of taking on the Edmonton McDavids ( just kidding, they are still looking for their first win after three games.  ), who do boast the top ranked penalty kill in the NHL so far this season.  They are at 100 %.  The sample sizes being so small makes the team stats a little meaningless, but the Canucks are 5th in goals against to the Oilers ( better than last year so far ) 17th, and the Canucks are 14th overall in scoring goals, which is better than the 27th place the rumoured to be "high flying" Oilers were supposed to be at.  All of which means that the Oil will be pretty desperate on Sunday night.

First up is the Blues though.  They'll be playing the Oilers tomorrow night, so the Canucks will get the supposed benefit of the "tired" team back to back.  Some teams are better than others at the back to backs, and the flight from Edmonton is short enough.  The games with the Blues are kind of like the games with the Ducks or Kings were.  They will try to physically intimidate you, and when you stand up to them ( the Blues are more like the Kings, actually.  I don't remember as many dirty hits from the Ducks as the Kings after they fell behind.  The one on Daniel Sedin especially.  ) , they will probably resort to the same things the Kings did when they got behind.  The Blues can put the puck in the net more than the Kings are doing right now.  While only Adam Cracknell has more than one goal for the Canucks, the Blues already have three, with Tarasenko, newcomer Troy Brouwer ( one player I have always wanted on our roster ) and newcomer defenseman Parayko, who scored twice against the Flames.

It is heartening to see the results come to fruition so early.  With young players like Hutton, McCann, and Virtanen, getting results as soon as they play in the NHL is going to give them confidence, and once a young player gets that going, it tends to snowball.  That is certainly not to say that the kids have been leading the team.  Far from it.  They've been pretty good, of course, but there has been contributions up and down the lineup so far this year.  Check here.  The team is currently led in scoring by Jannik Hansen ( the Honey Badger has a goal and 3 assists ) Mr Everything ( 1 goal, 2 apples ), and newcomer Brandon Prust ( 3 helpers to go with his pugilistic contributions ), and you have to go to the second page to find the only four guys that have not gotten a point.  And of those four, two are snipers who should score sooner than later ( Vrbata and Virtanen ) one is a power play guy when he gets in the line up ( Yannick Weber ), and the other is Sbisa.

That kind of thing is going to make folks have a jump in their step.  Well, that and the fact that the Canucks look noticeably quicker so far this year.  Matt Bartkowski and Ben Hutton can both motor it on the rush, to go with Alexander Edler 's skills in that area, and it seems that everyone can make a good first pass out of the zone most of the time.  Up front, in addition to the guys that could already skate pretty well, Hansen and Burrows, there is the burst of youth and the speed that brings. Sven Baertschi is a good skater, as is Bo Horvat.  Virtanen and Jared McCann look pretty good on their skates.  Spread that out through the lineup, and soon the Sedins are looking faster.  No, really, they do.  Don't look at me like that...

The first and second lines are acting like those lines should, whomever makes up the third line is doing well ( my fave incarnation as McCann between Burrows and Hansen.  That line is really a "2A" anyhow ! ) and Cracknell between Prust and Dorsett really has been "Snap Cracvkle, and look a that, Cracknell Popped another one !" as a 4th line.  The defense has been doing their job at getting the puck out a lot more than not, and what can you say about Ryan Miller ?  Apart from keep doing it man.  It seems he has taken the coaching of Rollie and meshed it a lot more with his organic game.  Ryan Miller, at his best, is a reader of plays and a reaction save guy, and that kind of guy is sometimes better when he is challenging more.  That is not to say he is out of the paint more and ignoring the coaching, but maybe just being himself more.  When the opposing offense is set up, and especially on down low plays, he is using Rollie's teachings very well.  His saves against both California teams down low showed how well he is gluing himself to the post.

Win or lose on the weekends upcoming games, it is nice to see that the youth and veterans are meshing so well.  It's not the Blue Jays ( take a look at that roster for a mix of youth and experience.  Go Jays !  ) or anything yet, and of course we are talking about only 5 % of the season, but the points still count the same.  The Canucks now have a seven point edge on the Kings, and six on the Ducks.

No one was saying that before the first puck drop of the season, were they ?  If this is dreaming, don't wake me up !