While those experts, and the self appointed ones of the call in variety have had a field day with the recent "win one, lose one" malaise they are currently in, that tends to happen to teams that have their scoring dry up. The Canucks have been a better team this year than last, at least in my eyes. But one place where they have faltered greatly is their record at home this year.
We all know the heights of 2011 and 2012 in the standings. That was fueled by an outstanding record at home. Both those years, the Canucks had 27 wins. ( '11 ; 27-9-5 / '12 ; 27-10-4 ) In the lockout shortened season that followed, against the West exclusively, the Canucks lost six times at home, going 15-6-3.
The Canucks finished 1st, 1st, and 9th in the NHL those years. Even with a 20-15-6 Lost Year home record that was part of a 25th place finish, Rogers Arena was a "fortress", as our Whitecaps brethren like to say. The Canucks are only 13-11-1 at home this year.
That is not to compare this team to the 11 and 12 teams. But they already have more home losses than those teams, twice as many as the lockout year, and only four less than their worst year in ages. Now comes the Penguins and the Hockey Night in Canada
crew, press team, personalities, ####oles circus to try to get to just .500 on a six game homestand.
The good thing to date has been being the fifth best road team ( 15 -8-2 ) in the NHL, buttressing their record. With eight of the next ten on the road ( and the next home game is the Bruins next Friday, after playing the Hawks in Chicago two nights before ), let's hope those road warrior ways continue.
While it was Bortuzzo getting the first shooting chance ( he missed ), it was Bonino and Matthias, with two good shots, the second on the rebound, forcing Thomas Griess into a couple good early saves. After a Lapierre rush was stymied, Shawn Matthias did his "bull rush to the net" thing to force a Letang penalty.
The first unit could not get set up though, and the second unit, with a couple dynamite chances in the dying seconds from Bonino, was the most dangerous. The referees decided Sidney Crosby was not above the law, with a hold on Sbisa 200" from his own net, and suddenly it was back to back power plays.
This time the first unit did what a first unit should. It was dangerous from the puck drop, and Radim Vrbata's shot from his favorite shooting spot was perfectly tipped by Alexandre Burrows in front for a goal that gave Vrbata his 500th NHL point, and his team a 1-0 lead.
The Canucks were clearly the better team, with the Pens only having 1 shot ( of 5 attempted ) after about 10-11 minutes, and after another strong shift from the Sedin line, the Bo & Co came on and pounced. Dorsett was able to get the puck to Bo Horvat off of a rebound, ( after Bo had forced the original turnover at the blue line ) and the rookie got another goal in his burgeoning young career to stretch the lead to 2-0.
After a Perron high stick to the face of Hamhuis was responded to, Bortuzzo ( obviously the Pen's designated "dickhead" ) took a needless shot after an offside, and Zack Kassian did what hockey players do when that happens, and fought him. Because all the penalties were offsetting, we did not even get four on four hockeyfor all the above hitting the sin bin.
The Canucks dominated the zone time, and it was not until the last minute ( Perron got a chance in the slot and hooked it way wide ) that the Pens looked as dangerous was their reputation. As opening periods go, after the Sharks game, this was more like it for the home fans.
- The Canucks have two shutdown defensemen. Even with the injuries, it is nice to see Edler anchor one pairing, and Hamhuis the other. Edler mainly had #71, and it was Hamhuis who had to deal with #87. Sid was the only one of the two to tally a shot on goal. I am fine with the -3 and -4 in 5 on 5 Corsi each posted in the first. They did their jobs very well against top talent.
- Willie Desjardins loves Bo Horvat. His line, with speed and hitting on both sides in Hansen and Dorsett, was the best line to this humble scribe's eyes in the first. They got a goal. Hansen and Horvat each had a SOG, Horvat was 5 of 8 on draws. They had as much TOI as anyone not names Sedin or Burrows. What a bonus, when it is your "fourth" line that can check one of the other team's top lines. They had Malkin playing in his own end most the time he was out against them ! Bo & Co was definitely setting the tone tonight.
The Sedins got the first shift to start the middle stanza, and they did pretty good, but it was the Horvat line that was next over the boards, and they had a dominant and dangerous shift, all over the puck and the defenders. Not that all the time was in the offensive zone. Yannick Weber made a sublime save off of Lapierre. Maxim was stopped on the initial shot by Miller, but he would have had the empty net on the wrap around, but for Weber's denial. The Canucks got back to the offensive zone time to put more pressure on.
The Penguins are a dangerous team though, and it was Pouliot who hit the post. off of one of their few dangerous rushes of the period. The puck wobbled in the crease toward the line, and it looked to be over the line before the net was knocked off by Stanton and his check. It resulted in a lengthy delay, as T.O and the refs huddled. In fact, it might have been the longest delay of the year. The call on the ice was obviously no goal however, and the explanation was " no conclusive proof" to keep the visitors off the scoreboard. After recently having a ref decision go against them, this time the Canucks were the ones to get the "break".
The Horvat line was out on the Crosby line ( and under pressure for one of the few times on the night ) when Dorsett froze with the puck in his hand. You are not allowed to hold it like that, of course, and the Canuck PK got to work. All the offensive stars were out first for them, and they had some good pressure, but the PK held the fort. This is the Pens though, and Malkin and Sid decided they would stay out with the second unit as well. They were not able to do much with the remaining time, and Dorsett even got a chance out of the box after a successful kill.
The game had settled into much more of a back and forth affair, as the Pens got more zone time and pressure. The Canucks were trying to keep the offensively dangerous team to the outside, and they were mostly successful. When the shots did come, they were making sure Ryan Miller could see them.
Perhaps the Pens got a gift back from the Puck Gods, or Brad Meier blew the whistle too quick. Maybe the German goalie was hot dogging the glove save a little bit. It should have been 3-0. The Pens definitely would have to say they got their disallowed goal back on this one. The puck was obviously still free. The Puck Gods giveth, etc, etc...
With the step "up" ( or maybe a lateral move ? Both lines feature such luminescent stars ) for the Horvat line to getting some shifts on the Crosby line, they were going to give up a chance or two. Perron made a nice drive to the net. Miller was there ( as was Edler, going hard on the check ) to make a nice save.
After a won draw for the Pens offensively, a dive that went uncalled by Malkin led to a two on one for Matthias and Hamhuis. Big Shawn was looking shot all the way, and his quick wrister went post and in for the third goal of the game on hom ice. Imagine that !
After a dominant Sedin shift should have led to a goal, it was the Penguin goaltender who gifted the Canucks with the 4-0 goal. He flubbed a clear behind the net right to Linden Vey, who sent it to Zack Kassian for a goal that must have felt good for the young man. Sure, it was a gift into an empty net, but they don't ask how, just how many. The Penguins were losing their cool now too, as Letang took a penalty for saying something to the referees. ( after an uncalled trip in the offensive zone, in his estimation ) . The visitors were able to kill it off to keep the damage to a minimum, and even got their own late power play when Dorsett went off. They would take that man advantage to the room. Perhaps the Pens deserved better, or maybe not. Either way, the 4-0 sure felt good for the home team fans for a change.
( Contrast that with the NIC guys, and in particular Craig Simpson, who was just horrible once again. He was basically cheering for the Pens when it was 2-0, and could not be more biased and silly in his demeanor. His comments at the end of the period about Burrows "hooking" Kunitz was such a stretch it was hilarious. That was two guys coming together in a game where one team is frustrated with the result Craig, not what you were trying to describe... #yeesh )
- The Sedin line was driving possession. Daniel was +10 in 5 on 5 Corsi. Burr' was +9, and Captain Hank was +8. The top defensemen were Weber and Edler, at +4 after two.
- Check that pretty graph at hockeystats.ca here, This game was actually pretty close as far as the chances and Corsi went. The results were just looking much better for one team after forty minutes. The possession graph looked like a DNA strand to this point. It looked better for the Pens at the end, but that was about the only thing that did on this night.
Shawn Matthias had the best chance on the penalty kill to start the period, and then Hansen was sprung by a nice pass by him on his next shift on the PK. That gave the Canucks slightly shortened power play to really put it away, and after the Pens fumbled the clear at the line, Burrows went to the net, and then made the nice pass to give Daniel Sedin the empty netter for the 5-0 tally.
It also set a record for Daniel Sedin for power play goals scored by a Canuck. I love his reaction below to it, but it is what he says about the way this team has to play that had me nodding enthusiastically.
The Penguins were really "dumbassing it" at his point, as they were on the wrong end of a blowout. Hornqvist should have been off for his own penalty after some shenanigans in front, but Dorsett obliged him and went off with him as well. That led to Millers best save of the night on a Letang tip Dorsett got in on the rush out of the box, and almost got Horvat another, as the rookie did the right thing yet again, driving the net.
Miller made another nice save on a shorthanded chance by Sutter, as the game wound down with some power play time back and forth. The Canuck penalty kill was doing the job on the "stars" once again, working hard to keep the percentage 100 % for this one.
The Penguins late power plays and score effects made their third period shots look better ( regular stats here, thx ESPN ). Let's just say that 14-3 edge in shots in the third was less dangerous than it seems. Don't get me wrong. Miller was outstanding and earned the shutout. But the game was never that close the rest of the way home.
#9 - Zack Kassian had a gift goal, was a +1, had a hit, and was cheered lustily by the crowd in his ( by far, the only guy with less than 10 min ) 8:21 TOI.
#30 - He made 31 saves, and apart from one break on the disallowed goal, was a brick wall to earn the shutout.
#53 - It was maybe Bo Horvat's best game of the year. He played against anyone put in front of him ( the Pens have a deep roster at centre ) well. A goal, a +1, 2 blocks and 14:59 TOI over 24 productive shifts. going 13 of 22 at the dot was pretty good too.
10-1-0 - The Canucks have that gaudy record versus the Metropolitan division. Wow.
Three and three looks better than two and four, and now the Canucks hit the road for Minny and the Hawks. I will be back for the Bruin game at home Friday, and the road game in Calgary the next night. Until then.
Sorry for the supersize Saturday night special, but a lot of things happened tonight ! Here is your cookie for hanging in. It's Archer though, so make sure the kids can't see...