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Growing Pains, and The Peril of Game Managers

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I'm Confused.

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

I was told that the Canucks system sucked.  Liked, sucked, a lot.  The eliteprospects.com and "draft what ever their name is"'s of the world had them in the deep dark recesses of the 20's.  But something funny happened at the start of the season.  Rookies that had the talent and just needed to kick the door in, like Jared McCann, and Jake "Big Country" Virtanen, who was going to be given the Horvat treatment this season, took the nine games given to them and played to their strengths. turning their auditions into a recurring roles.

A 22 year old rookie defensemen out of the University of Maine, one of those guys that would have been a higher round pick if he was not committed to the sheepskin, came in and started to play like he had more ice in his veins than Christopher Tanev.  Ben Hutton, who was a  fifth round pick of Mike Gillis, took his opportunity and ran with it to such a degree that he seamlessly jumped up and covered Dan Hamhuis's injury.  He has even sparked the second unit power play, and shows a little more of his game every time out.  No one talks about him going anywhere, though he could go back to the AHL, so it was different for him than the two forwards.  But I don't really think that has even been a consideration since we first saw him play.  Which is amazing, when you think about it.

Almost as amazing as Brock Boeser ( see his prowess here ) being compared to Mike Freaking Bossy by Craig Button.  Now, he is a TSN guy, and was a scout ( and other things ) at one point in his life, but a comparison to the 1982 Canuck Finals Goal Assassin, one of the best goal scorers ever, that works for me.  So, happy times ahead there.  There are others of course, now.  Jim Benning demands that.  Superscout is out there seeing as many games as he can, and looking for the next 5th round steal ( some good nuggets there.  Like a Nikita Tryamkin opinion from Lars Lingren.  Hell, any report on the Russian Bear is almost like a Bigfoot siting. ).  Boeser might take a while to get here, like Thatcher Demko, another guy playing lights out in the NCAA.  The Canuck goaltending ace in training has had an amazing four shutouts in his last five games.  But if they come in as polished and mature as Hutton has shown, perhaps the long term investments in NCAA picks should be given it's due.  Not everyone can draft 1st overall repeatedly.

Getting creative and believing in your opinion on a player ( or believing in the last guy's opinion, as JB did with MG's Hutton ) can bring in players that are ready to play, and developed into men.  One need only look at the Oilers and their sad recent injury history to see that.  From Connor's recent clavicle, to the various long term injuries to most of their phenoms, you can see the devastating affect that can happen when players are not "physically mature". The Canucks have a couple guys that seem to be beyond that in Horvat and Virtanen, who came into the NHL with "NHL bodies", and one that does not yet in Jared McCann.  Let's hope his strong sense of self preservation continues, and that he does not get a speed wobble and pile into the boards like the Edmonton #1 did. ( he came pretty close in the NJD game eh !? )  Of course, picking first overall multiple times is a trump card.  But one has to like how JB's youth movement is progressing.

The Week That Was

Since we last talked, the Canucks won a game they should have against the Flyers ( although Miller was big with some saves in that one when it as in doubt early on ) , lost a game they could have won with any luck ( though the Penguins are playing well right now, and certainly were the better team on the night ) and while I don't want to say they gave away the game against the Sabres, they certainly did not do themselves any favours

The New Jersey game, there is not really much you can say there.  The Canucks could have and maybe should have won the game outright, but really, with the amount of breaks in the first, it is amazing the Devils did not run away with it then anyhow.  The Canucks got a point, but are still winless in the three on three fun fest.  More on this game below...

Long time readers of my posts will know that I refer to our game as one of mistakes.  It is all about when you make them, how you deal with them, and not making the same ones over and over again.  And while the fact that hockey is a game of mistakes is a truism, the other adage, about young players having to "learn how to win" ( usually by making those mistakes ! ) is a little less so.  The mistakes and the problems that comes with them when it comes to holding third period leads are a team thing.  Some of that is growing pains of the youth playing minutes.  Some is just shoddy play.  That Edler turnover that led to the shortie was...ummmm....something.

When Ryan Miller said what he said on the subject, it was just pointing out the obvious.  I would think that even he will look at the last one and just shake that one off and move on.  They came back in a game where they were down, and were playing like they probably did not deserve the win, at least in parts of the first, and most of the second.  The real Achille's Heel in this game was a power play that was zero for bazillion.  The Canucks should have had this one put away with even a half decent power play.  The penalty kill is still money, especially on the road, where it leads the NHL.  But the power play is actively losing points.

That cannot be a good thing.  I liked what Whiteboard Willie did with all the lines in the Devil game, taking the dry eraser out and changing them all. Those lines all worked for me.  That was a good reaction to the first period, and the injury to Chistopher Tanev cannot be underrated either.  They were right on the broadcast on Sunday.  With the Iceman out there during that O/T power play winner for the home team, he may have been able to make it a different outcome.   ( Not apropos of anything, but the Canucks see the Devils again, on Nov. 22nd.  That is also a game where the Canucks have to play them on the second half of a back to back.  Even though this one is at home, the previous team IS the Hawks.  Geez NHL.  Lou is not there anymore, they don't need any help ! ;-)

If You Can Manage It...

Speaking of outcomes, the Sunday game was a prime example of the perils of "game management".  The late power play for the Devils simply was not a penalty.  Now, I get that even a hockey neophyte could see that was coming after three straight power plays and a five minute one.  But it is still maddening.  Almost as maddening as seeing a pretty wraparound goal be overturned on a play where the contact looked to be minimal, but more importantly, at such a time as to deny logic when you come back and overturn it.  There was no way in H-E-double goalie pads that Kinkaid would have got there to deny that nice play.  That is a decision made illogically.  That is maddening.  But bad calls happen, and even out anyways.

It is easy to harp on the refs after a game, and when the result is not to your liking, even more so.  This is not that.  This game reeked of game management.  When you are making judgement calls that are in denial of the rule book ( for what it is worth, both Tootoo and Dorsett should have been in suits to start the third.  Tootoo was running around like he always tries to do anyhow, but we should not have had to watch that in the final frame, because the rulebook simply reads that his actions should result in expulsion.

The goal denial was one thing, but the calls both ways were horrible all night.  The only one they really got right was the five and a game for the hit on McCann.  Though that one was pretty easy.  Watch Adam Larrson on the play.  As the puck arrives and goes by, he does not look at it once.  He does line that elbow and shoulder up with the head of the rookie however.  But this is the NHL though people.  With McCann playing after the head shot, the ironically named "Dept of Player Safety" will not have to even come into the office for this one.  No matter how textbook it was.

I get that refs should not always use the rules as written, or that literally reading them can make for mistakes the other way too.  The very best older refs had a feel for the game, but they still were game managers.  They just knew how to attempt that very difficult task.  I freely admit that I do not know the names of these two.  Nor do I care, really. You can use this excellent follow to "scout the refs", and there is some merit to that, especially if you are a gambler.  Handicapping the "third rail" of the game might get you an edge.    To me, it is more about the perils of game management, unless you are someone like Kerry Fraser.  Even then, this practice should have been eradicated when the two referee system came in.

Instead, it has gotten worse.  You often get dueling refs making a suspect call to balance out one that their partner did, or, more often, reacting to an entire arena up in arms because the big screen just showed how much of a dive that was that said referee's partner just got fooled by.  This is the fastest game in the world to call, and our refs are the best that do their job.  But even then, mistakes will be made.

Video replay took away a call today, and maybe that is called different if it is in T.O's hands, maybe it isn't.  But the logic of a guy moving only as the puck is entering the net, and then saying "I would have stopped it ref, challenge that..." and winning, perhaps there is some bias inherent in that all that could be gotten rid of it it just goes to the Ivory Tower of Goal Deciders in Toronto.  Just a thought.  More important though, if the game is so fast and difficult to call, why not just call it by the damn rules ( and in those rules, there is written "in the referee's judgement" so often that there will still be calls and noncalls agreed and disagreed with by someone anyhow, no system is going to be perfect.  Refs will still get their "air time".) without adding what any hockey fan that has watched the game for a while would call "game management" ?

The Devils got all those calls against because they broke the rules.  They had a player ejected because he tried to injure someone.  Rewarding them because Edler is going to the front of the net to cover someone is wrong.  They did not score on it, though they did on another questionable call in O/T ( seriously, I get what interference is, but there was the same action that always happens three on three, basically a cycle in the middle of the ice.  Hammer just ran into a guy that ran into him.  Maybe they thought a goal was going to come, I suppose...)..that seems to be not in the spirit of the rules, at least as they were intended to be used.  By the way, please, none of the "you're just blaming the refs homer" in the comments.  This is not about that.  It is about the practice of some penalties being different than others based on the game situation, and how that is wrong.  Though the refs were pretty shitty in the Sunday game !

Ok Canuck fans, two games of the seven game odyssey are down.  They could have had all four points, but only have one so far.  Shake it off, and go kick the ass of Tort's new team.  They are first up on Tuesday, then Ottawa on Thursday.  Then of course, the Leafs on Saturday.  There are points to be had in all three of next week's games.

But then I thought there were points to harvest in this past week as well !  Until then... happy thoughts !