I’ve been saying it all year. The Canucks have played hard. Even with them being the “spoiler” team now, and the Kings just holding onto the playoff bar by the skin of their teeth, this was going to be a hard working team against another that tries to outwork their opponent.
You also got to see your “captain of the future” with a letter, as Bo Horvat took over the “A” Burrows wore for the first time tonight. And Nikolay Goldobin get his first start, with the improved Brendan Gaunce and Brendan Sutter.
You move forward, not back folks. Your team plays hard, and all these close games and (damnit ) close losses ( even 3-5 different results from having all those close games going into the third, and the narrative is 180 percent different at the moment ) will mean something in how this team grows together in the future.
The folks that were begging for the “total rebuild” ( led by their sideline GM Botch’ ) were all over the airwaves and in the sports media ( see the above mentioned scribe ) with their “now you need to trade EVERYONE and take it to the bones” I told you so’s, but the truth is, this is all part of the process, and the common pain now will transform into common gain later.
But that is for later...how did they do tonight as they tried to cost the Kings a trip to the dance ?
- The Canucks are 30th in first period scoring, and the Kings are 27th. So, 0-0 in the first for sure, right ?
- The last time these two teams played, Ryan Miller was the story, making 37 saves as the Canucks won 2-1. He was once again solid in this one, from the opening frame onward. It is not like the Kings were flying and dominating the Canucks ( that came later ) , though they did have a bit more of the ice in the firsthand a 9-7 edge in shots. Miller made smart saves on Carter and Gaborik ( his best, I think, in the first, a shot with traffic from the high slot that he got high in the shoulder ), and his rebound control was once again perfect.
- The line of Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi and Loui Eriksson is maybe the first line now ( two “1-A’s”, so to speak, or do we have three “2nd” lines now that Sutter is centring Goldobin and Gaunce ? ) , and it was the speed of the young guys once again. That line, and Sven’s enthusiasm for the corners that has revolutionized his game, is so good on the forecheck. They opened the scoring off the rush this time though, as Loui took a pass from Bo and cut to the net. His backhand gave Bishop enough trouble that he put out a huge rebound, that found Baertschi. He made no mistake to open the scoring for the visitors.
- A parade to the penalty box started a little later, as Cramarossa decided the middle was a better place to get the puck out of his own end than, instead of the boards. It left Henrik Sedin trailing and hooking. The penalty kill was doing alright with the King’s pressure though. In fact, better than OK, they were very good. Iginla blocked out Edler ( a comically easy call to make Iggy, why get pissed ? ) at the line during the man advantage, trying to gain entry, and it was four on four.
- That even strength did not last long though, as the home team had some pressure, and were gifted the ever dangerous four on three power play when Michael Chaput made a lazy one handed check that turned into a high sticking call. The penalty kill, especially Sutter, was very good for that odd man pressure, and in fact were able to benefit at the end of it.
- Bo Horvat found Henrik Sedin out of the box, and with Edler smartly jumping into the play to create the two on one, he tried the pass...which promptly found a sliding Doughty’s stick and bounced into the net for a 2-0 lead for the Vancouver team.
- Of the 7 shots the Canucks had in that period, the Bo(2), Loui(2), Sven trio had five of them. The Canucks were standing up to the Kings, outhitting them 12-8 after twenty. Again, know your role. The fourth line of Chaput, Cramarossa and Megna had 7 of them, with ( say it like Dr Evil with me ) “Liquid hot MEG-na” had 4 of them. And all the centres certainly knew their roles. They were dominant on faceoffs, winning 14 of 19 first period draws. ( Henrik 4 of 4, Sutter 6 of 8 ). That can help withstand a heavy forecheck and enable you to get that puck out more easily too.
- In the second, well, it probably goes against the Corsi Gods to say the Canucks had a solid period when the Kings had a 25-9 edge in shots. But they did. The Kings came hard, of course. They were down 2-0 and desperate for points. But the defensive structure of the Canucks was able to withstand most of the worst of that pressure. Ryan Miller, was of course the difference. Anytime a team only gives up one goal on that many shots, the goalie is pretty awesome, usually. The difference was on rebounds, or in the clearing of the net. Against bigger guys, players like Biega and Stecher were boxing guys out, and defending physically. Everyone of the forwards was coming back and not cheating, and the entire team was doing the #FourLineGrind .
- The other thing that happens when a desperate team is pushing, is they leave themselves vulnerable on the counter. That, and a little puck luck can do wonders. Consider the third goal for the Canucks. Once again, it was the Swiss, Swede, and Canada connection. A Baertschi pass sprung Bo Horvat, who did his patented drive to the net, beating McNabb and getting a backhand off. That was saved, but McNabb swung at the puck, which may have went off Bishop, and then Dowd before bouncing in. Horvat got the 20th of the season... at least until it was taken away, as an even closer forensic look at this goal ( see highlights below ) determined it was off of Baertschi’s stick in the slot somehow. So, a third assist for Bo instead.
- The main reason the Kings kicked ass from the second period on was simple. After getting schooled in the faceoff circle early, they were pretty good the rest of the way. In fact, in the dominant second, they won 16 of 20 draws. Starting with the puck, whether in your own end, or, as was more the case in the second, in the offensive end, is a very good thing. Miller was once again awesome in response, of course.
- First, let’s get to what turned out to be the winner. As was often the case, even against the bigger and “badder” Kings, a Canuck, this time Ben Hutton, won a battle on the boards. He made a long aerial pass, and the new guy did his thing. Nikolay Goldobin read the play well, and was breaking up the ice. He beat the defenseman on the puck dropping from the sky, and then pulled away like he was standing still. That speed gave him the time to pick his spot, and he beat Bishop low blocker with a sniper’s shot for his first as a Canuck.
- The Kings got one back, and it was Kopitar, on a power play. The Canuck penalty kill was actually pretty good in this game. They just had a bit too much work. On this one, Kopitar beat Miller on a screen by Gaborik, and the Canuck goaltender never saw it. Late in the middle period, the home team had their first tally.
- After two, the numbers were different. The Canucks still led on the hits count ( 22-19 ) , but the shots were now 34-16, and the draws were 21-18 for the home team as well. Megna was up to 5 hits, and Sven “yeah, I was concussed, but that does not mean I shy away from physical play” Baertschi now had 4 hits after 40 minutes, to go with his two goals.
- The Kings pushed hard in the final frame, of course. With the Jets winning tonight, they were even more desperate for the points. They were greatly aided in that push by the referees, and the Canucks though. The Canucks, maybe, did not deserve seven calls against tonight. ( They did deserve most the calls, just not all of them ) The last one on Henrik Sedin late was a joke, and the one on his brother for tripping looked more like two guys coming together, but whatever. The more aggressive team usually gets the calls, and the Kings were that.
- They were given a chance to get back into the game by the goaltending of their new guy in net in the final frame as well. The Canucks were only credited with 4 shots in the third, but Bishop robbed both Chaput and Loui Eriksson to give his team a crack at the comeback.
- They had four straight power plays in the third. They may have deserved less than that many, but they were stymied, at least early, by a superlative penalty kill for the Nucks. The first two, the Kings did not even get a shot. That gave Sutter the great idea of putting out his fourth liners to start the third straight power play. Damned if it did not execute perfectly. They won a draw, screened the goalie, and got the puck to Lewis ( who had won the draw and found some ice in the high circle ), whose shot beat the screened goaltender to make it a two goal game.
- They got the last one ( technically ) shorthanded, as Andreoff basically threw Tanev down in the slot to get a late late penalty against the Kings ( finally ! ). They still pressed with an empty net, and Martinez took a nice pass from Kempe driving behind the net for a goal that went high top glove corner for the goal that made it a one goal game.
- That was it though. The Canucks held up the rest of the way, Henrik Sedin made a couple of good plays on the draw, ( and in fact won the last one with 5.8 second clean ), and the Kings lost a couple of valuable points to a team that played them hard all game. It was so heartening to see the Kings try tohe “bully boy” tactics of running and crowding the goalie after a save, only to see the picket line of Canucks repulsing them from Miller’s crease. All night. Well done everyone.
- The final numbers ? First and foremost, how about Chris Tanev ? After having one block after forty minutes, he finished with 6, and most of those were on the penalty kill. ( Canucks were 20-4 in the column, see the rest of the stats here ) The shots ended up 44-21, and the hits were 25-20 for the Kings. They won the faceoffs 34-31. The Canucks won the numbers on the scoreboard where they tally up the goals 4-3, and that was the only ones that mattered in the end. Special shoutout to Brendan Gaunce on the night. He continued his strong play, with 3 shots, and one post as well. His physical play was very good all night, with two shots as well.
So, after a week where the Puck Gods took away the playoff race, and where the narrative masters decided to call them punks again, the Canucks came out and won az solid win against a desperate team, in a building they don’t win a lot of games in. Let’s see if they can do that again in Anaheim tomorrow.