Chris Higgins went down to Utica and, by all accounts, was a quintessential pro while he was there. He was called up after the latest spate of injuries in this Season of Pain, and was back in the lineup after a long trip to get here.
He joined a bunch of players that must be getting a little frustrated, both young and old alike. The young players on the team are learning through what is a pretty tough on the job training program in the NHL. Sometimes the parity and who is hurt is enough to turn the tide. But it is the veterans that are probably secretly seething. Not too long ago for them, they were in the playoffs yearly. For a bunch of them ( those not on that long, long injury list, and those that are ), the idea of a Cup was not in the abstract, but right there in the building to play for.
Henrik Sedin and his eight minutes younger brother Daniel Sedin have talked about not getting used to this shit, and needing to "hate to lose". Alexandre Burrows did so by his play last night, and even if he is not scoring like those more glory filled days, he always gives an honest effort. After the team lost Vrbata and Tanev to injury, Burrows played while battling the flu tonight, and did a good job considering. So did most of the team. They just don't have the horses to hang with a team like the Blues, if that team is playing as hard as they were tonight.
The guy that showed how much veterans hate losing was Ryan Miller tonight. Man, that guy must really, really, really hate losing. Like, how Trump hates Muslim and Mexican people, or maybe how his supporters feel about facts and stuff. He resisted losing all the way to the end.
Checking the stat sheet ( thx ESPN ) here is only going to make you feel bad for him. The Canucks were outshot three to one ( 18-6 ) in the first, a relatively improved just over two to one ( 19-8 ) in the second, and just under three to one ( 13-5 ) in a third where they only trailed by one for quite a while. Brian Elliott, in the parlance of the game, "made the saves he had to" on 19 shots against, but if your math is slow, the shots against Miller were basically 2.5 times as man. 50 shots, ( after 40 on Markstrom last night. ) That's 50. He hates to lose as much as Sally O'Malley... ( seriously kids, click the link, for shits and giggles )
- It was ridiculous. I usually jot down a few decisive plays to remind myself of later on, but just ran out of time to do so and. you know, actually watch the virtuoso performance the veteran goaltender was turning in. Every player on the Blues was credited with at least one shot. Tarasenko had 8 ( 1 goal on a RB chance Miller had little chance on ), Upshall 5, with Fabbri, Schwartz, and Shattenkirk all getting 4 shots on the embattled goaltender. Miller was so locked in, you could see the Blues muttering to themselves, until a pretty, pretty play by Robbi Fabbri ( more on that in a sec ) gave them a goal 36:18 into the 60 minutes. Tarasenko got his 34th of the year 11:34 into the third, before an empty netter with 1:06 left. Did I mention that they got, I think it was, 2-3 shots in that last minute to get it to 50 ( actually, he was in for 49, and stopped 47, but what the hell... ) ? No ? His .959 save % was pretty impressive in a losing effort.
- The other vets were in this one as well. The very best chance for the home team was a save on Daniel before the first goal, just one of the younger Sedin's 7. That is Seven. Of 19 shots. His brother had 3 more. The Twins hate to lose, obviously. Daniel Sedin also had 2 hits in his 18:54 TOI. The other lines had their moments, but the Twins and ( mostly Grenier ) their line were the most dangerous for the home team.
- The special teams had a great many chances to get the team onto the scoreboard, but ( credit the Blues a bit, I suppose ) did the pretty passing thing instead of bombs and traffic thing. The power play is now 0 for, I think it is, it'''s last 23 now. ( alas Alexander Edler, you are missed ), An actual pretty good ( 10th going in, and pretty good recently ) penalty kill was actually good at times, but gave up a bunch of shots and a goal, going 1 for 4 tonight.
- They were actually very good when in the zone or forechecking. The only goal came off the rush, and it was a pretty pretty play by Fabbri to give the local boy Brouwer the tap in. The Blues have a good power play, but it seemed a shame to have to give up that one, what with the effort by everyone. Usual suspect Dan Hamhuis topped the PK with 4:26 TOI, but check some of these other names amongst the PK tonight. 5th round pick Ben Hutton had 3:12, Bo Horvat 3:06, Alex Biega 2:51, and returning fave Chris Higgins clocked in 8 seconds under that. Hell, even Brendan Gaunce, at 2:04, was above the two minute mark, as the sick Alexandre Burrows only had 1:59 tonight.
- So, once again, effort is there, ( and, of course, it is never JUST the youth ) but mistakes ( from vets too ) cost the PK, on the first goal. That was a big one, as the frustration level often rises as a team can't score on a hot goaltender, and they never score that night. Burrows missed a chance to check at the Blue line, and both Hamhuis and Gaunce went to Fabbri instead of seeing Brouwer as the real danger. It was a great play by the young Fabbri however. ( 2:48 in ) He made the goalie commit, and fooled two players before feeding te pass just under Hamhuis's stick.
- On the second one, it was also a nice play on the rush by Lehtera, but Etem and Gaunce both basically ignored the most dangerous player on the Blues to give the visitors an, on this night at least, insurmountable lead. That play on the rush was one of several odd man rushes given up by the home team tonight, and it was then that they were at their most weak. Their game actually showed some structure five on five, even in the face of all the pressure against them tonight.
- Nikita Tryamkin continued to impress me. In a game so tilted, he stood out as a steady defender who makes the right play. His huge reach helped fend off a 3 on 1 before a Horvat back check on Tarasenko snuffed it out ( on his knees and using that long stick effectively ) He had 4 hits and 4 blocks, and 20:07 TOI, more than anyone but Hamhuis. I mean, Ben Hutton had 19:55, and he usually has been over 20 minutes regularly.
- When a team is chasing, they sometimes have an elevated hit count, and that was apparent in the three to one ( 30 -10 ) hit edge for the home team. Rogers seems to be a pretty fair place as far as arena bias goes too, so that is probably an honest enough number, Only Baertschi, Higgins, Henrik, and Vey did not have one, and the Twin Towers had 4 each.
- Speaking of the other big rookie defender, Andrey Pedan seems to be reacting a touch slower than the big Russian he has been helping assimilate by translating for him and the coaches, but mostly he has used his size pretty decently. He was a -1 tonight, but continues to show flashes of why JB traded for him.
- Was it nice to see, for a change, David Backes having to leave the ice after being hit by someone bigger than he is ? ( instead of his sometimes desire to look for the smaller guys on the opposition when he can get a lick on them? ) He stopped dead in his tracks along the boards at the Blue line when the Russian Bear ran into him. Not to wish evil on a guy ( he missed just a bit, and finished the game ), but DAMN those big guys can hit. Pedan hit a couple guys impactfully as well. And there was one play that exemplified "that size thing "pretty effectively, and funnily. Edmundon, on one of the numerous drives to the net by Blues' defenders ( 13 shots from blue line ), ran into Tryamkin and stopped dead. Literally. Well, not literally. He did not fall over dead. He did stop in his tracks with some decent momentum, though and had to try a manful push to reclaim his dignity ( that Big Nik' ignored as he skated away ) afterwards.
- Gaunce had 2 shots, and worked his buttocks off once again. Sven Baertschi, in addition to being tough on the puck all night ( his effort on the Lehtera hooking call was top notch ), had 3 blocks. Although the Blues ( after a 1st where their edge was only 12-10 ) dominated the faceoffs at the end ( 40-29 ) was 50% on 20 draws, and Henrik was 48% on 25 draws ( 12-13 ). The Blues torched Vey tonight, as he only won 2 of his 10 draws. Hell "Teacher's Pet " ( and you should hear the disdain and hatred for someone who has been a pretty hard working guy for the team, and who has shown improvement...the disdain for him on TSN1040 and the #CanuckTeaParty is palpable. Vey has gotten better this year, even if his talent and ceiling are up for debate ) ) I know, I know, I never give the "callers" any praise, and rarely listen, but it is on in the work vehicle sometimes ! Anyway, even the rookie McCann had a 38.5% and went 5 for 13.
- The Canucks lost back to back shutouts for the first time since December 1998 against the Sharks and Oilers.
So, another game where the effort was honest. The veterans, who may have been a little deficient there ( not Burrows, of course ) last night, mostly did their level best against the Blues. Ryan Miller was sensational. The team continues to deal with injuries, and lose begrudgingly as Hell, fighting it every game. That is good.
Lastly, let's give Tank Nation a shout out. The Canucks currently sit with 66 points, tied with Calgary and Columbus for 4th worst. The Leafs are at the bottom with 61, and with their 19 ROW, they probably have the most ping pong balls locked up. But if the Canucks continue to play hard and just not have the horses in a stacked West ( the rest of the month, they play Winnipeg, Nashville, St Louis again, and then the Hawks and twice against the Sharks to end March.). Four of those next six are on the road. Mind you, knowing this team, they probably sweep the damn three game road trip to start the next half dozen and neener neener Tank Nation all the while. I know Hank hates that question to his core.
Again, which is good. You don't want to get used to losing like some teams we know, regardless of how many times you pick in the Top Three as a result ( Oilers have done that nine of the last ten drafts ). Yes, I would love Auston Mathews in Blue and Green, but the Canucks are fighting this "habit of losing" all the way to the end, and that is a good thing.
See you for the Blues and Hawks next week.
Oh hell, we need a giggle, here is some laughs. You've earned it.
They say the old cast is not as good as the old ones, but I thought this was so perfect in tone and timing. See you next week. Maybe we actually have a win to smile about by then.