Archive for December, 2007

Aren’t we supposed to play the Philadelphia Flyers tonight?

With Gary Bettman’s new intra-conference heavy schedule firmly entrenched, it appears that the old tradition of the Canucks playing the Philadelphia Flyers in Vancouver on New Year’s Eve has been put to rest.

Instead, the Canucks get served with a visit to the Library to play the Flames (again). After beating Calgary last Thursday, the ‘Nucks hold a 4-0 season series lead.

Tonight, however, presents advantageous circumstances for the Flames. The Canucks played last night at home and the Flames have been off since Saturday.

This does not necessarily translate into veritable ‘winning conditions,’ however. In fact, I fully expect the Canucks to continue owning the Flames, making the season series 5-0 with another win tonight.

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Kicking ass and dousing Flames

For the fourth time in a row this season, the Canucks defeated their arch rivals from Cowtown.

Winning the game 5-3, the Canucks managed five goals from five different players, a statistic not to be easily overlooked considering the oft-repeated criticism of the team’s putative inability to score (excepting, of course, the top line of Naslund and the Sedin twins).

The Positives:

  • Rookie Mason Raymond, in his second stint with the big club this season, is looking every bit the player he has been (highly) touted to be. The kid is quick as lightning with the puck (not just without it), he has impressively soft hands and a deft touch around the net, and he has that intangible all gifted players rely on: hockey sense. Make no mistake, this kid is going to be a terrific player. It is early stages yet, but I suspect once he puts on a few more pounds (as Jim Hughson suggested last night on the Hockey Night In Canada broadcast) he is going to be a 25-30 goal scorer and a 65-70 point-player. The most important improvement in his game since his first call-up, however, is that he is playing with confidence. As Hughson and Craig Simpson also noted, Raymond was hungry for the puck all night long; he wanted to make things happen.
  • The Sedin twins are simply amazing when in possession of the puck. In fact, I think it is worth suggesting that they might be the best tandem in the league with the puck. (The goal by Henrik to make it 4-3 in the Third was spectacular. He put the puck past Kipper off a perfect pass from Daniel before the Calgary netminder even knew the puck had been passed.)
  • Byron Ritchie was outstanding against his former team. Charged with the responsibility last night to shut down Flames sniper Jarome Iginla in the absence of Ryan Kesler, Ritchie performed admirably, effectively neutralizing Iginla for most of the game.
  • Sami Salo looked his (old) dangerous self again. Not only did he score his first goal of the season, he looked like he wanted the puck at the point, and could have scored a couple.

The Not-so-positives

  • What is with all the tip-in goals? All three of the Flames goals, not to mention the fourth (disallowed) goal, were scored off tip-ins in front of the net. Granted the Lombardi goal was simply an amazing piece of skill, but both goals by Iginla and Conroy were largely the result of having a free pass to and in front of the Canucks net. The Iginla goal, in particular, highlighted a problem Canucks fans may have over looked since the Bieksa injury: with Bieksa out, the Canucks rely entirely on Mattias Ohlund and Willie Mitchell for physical presence in front of the net. Last night, with Ohlund injured and Mitchell in the box, it was remarkably easy for Iginla to get advantageous positioning in front of Luongo. As much as guys like Edler and Krajicek (and, even, Miller) have stepped up since Bieksa went down with injury, I will be much more comfortable when he returns and the Canucks can depend on three tough, physical defencemen to clear the front of goal.
  • Why on earth do the Canucks never seem to hold leads well against Calgary? Don’t get me wrong, it is hard to complain when you are 4-0 on the season and 10-2 in your last 12 against the Flames, but let’s not ignore the observation that the Canucks regularly piss away two and even three goal leads against the Flames with frightening regularity in too many of these games.

At any rate, a win well deserved and much appreciated by a Flames-hating Canucks fan such as myself. More of the same on New Year’s Eve at the Library, please.

Boxing Flames

Ah yes, the familiar post-Christmas bout with the much-despised Calgary Flames.

Last year, if you recall, the home-and-home games against the Flames on Boxing Day and December 27 arguably rescued the Canucks season, which had been terrible leading up to Christmas. It began an 11-1 run catapulting the Canucks, in the end, into a Northwest Division title.

This year, the Canucks are in much better shape, comparatively speaking, but nevertheless in a tough fight for the Northwest Division title and advantageous playoff positioning.

In fact, the Calgary Flames, who seemed moribund a few short weeks ago under the coaching of ‘Iron Mike…er…Can’t Finish a Season, Keenan’, have somehow managed to go on an impressive run of late, winning six games in a row on their most recent road trip. (Fortunately, two straight losses at home have cooled the Flames, somewhat.) The Flames now sit only three points back of the ‘Nucks.

In other words, the annual Canucks/Flames post-Christmas matchup is as much a need-to-win as it ever is between these division rivals.

Game Preview

According to Vancouver media, both Mattias Ohlund and Ryan Kesler are expected to sit out tonight. Ohlund previously missed the most recent game in Denver against the Avalanche, while Kesler was hurt in that game during the third period.

Fortunately, the Canucks have grizzled sniper Trevor Linden to carry Kesler’s usual responsibility of shutting down Jarome Iginla, all the while filling the net on breakaways.

I am not going to bother talking about the Flames as, frankly, I could not care less about which clowns they are dressing tonight. Suffice it to say Iginla is terrorizing the league, Tanguay and Huselius are floating with the clouds, Owen Nolan is inexplicably still employed in the league with them, and Mikka Kiprusoff has been decidedly ordinary this season.

Predicition: The ‘Nucks more quickly shake off the effects of tryptophan and ride Luongo in the latter stages of the game to win 3-1. ‘Nucks goals by Daniel, Trev, and Markus Naslund; Flames goal by Joel Otto with the side foot from inside six yards.*

* Side historical note: Kirk McLean, Jim Robson, and anyone alive following the Canucks in 1989 still knows Otto kicked it in.

Marty Turco: clown of epic proportions

Marty Turco, perrenial regular season hot-shot and playoff liability, likes to be viewed as ‘more’ than a goalie. Hence, his career-long efforts to establish himself as a third defenceman, handling and playing the puck more than most defencemen ever dream of doing.

What is infuriating, however, is Turco’s propensity to take on the role of on-ice court jester, laughably attempting to induce referees into awarding phantom penalties to those who dare breathe in the vicinity of his goal crease.

Last night, for instance, I highlight two examples.

First, in the second period Canucks Lady Byng man Henrik Sedin dared to put a hand on Turco’s shoulder to prevent himself from falling after being checked at the side of the net. Turco’s response? Establish grounds for a penalty by making it appear to the ref as though Sedin was trying to remove his mask, then, for good measure, test the bonds of Sedin’s dental work by introducing his goal stick to Sedin’s face. The result? Hilariously (not to mention justly), a Turco penalty, even after he started to skate to the bench on the assumption Sedin was going off for two minutes.

Second, in the third period Jason Jaffray rushed in along the side boards, cutting to the front of the net, moved around the haplessly out of position Turco (flopping on the ice) and scored a pretty goal putting the Canucks ahead 4-1. But, wait. Taylor Pyatt happened to have grazed the Dallas defenceman (well outside the crease, mind you), providing Turco the perfect opportunity to make the referee think Pyatt had recklessly bowled into him. The result? The referee, mesmerized by Turco’s perfectly executed clown show, not only disallowed a perfectly legitimate goal for Jaffray but, additionally, saw fit to award a penalty to Pyatt for goaltender interference. Pyatt, who was not even within breathing distance of Turco, was left to wonder why.

Unfortunately, for Turco’s credibility that is, this is rather typical. Too bad he doesn’t see fit to concentrate on playing his position to the best of his ability. As Canucks fans know well, it makes all the difference.

Eschewing responsibility

Eschewing responsibility. We have all done it, from time to time.

In some cases, the undesirable consequences of our actions leave us searching pointedly for an excuse, a source (beyond ourselves) of blame for an act(ion) we might otherwise wish had not been initiated. We would have others believe or, at least, consider the possibility that we were compelled by some external force to behave in a condemnable manner.

It seems that Todd Bertuzzi is taking precisely this tack in the case brought against him and Orca Bay Sports and Entertainment by Steve Moore, who Bertuzzi infamously injured with a sucker punch in a game against Colorado on March 8, 2004.

For instance, Bertuzzi suggests to the court that if he did not do ‘something’ to Moore, he would be ‘challenged’ by Canucks coach Marc Crawford:

“I think in general if I didn’t go out and do something, fight someone, it would have been a pretty long week for me,” Bertuzzi said, answering questions from defence lawyer Tim Danson.

Asked what that meant, he replied, “It means I would have heard about it from him. I would have been challenged the next day in a meeting.”

Excuse my skepticism but, as a Canucks fan all too familiar with Bertuzzi’s responsiveness to being challenged by Marc Crawford in particular, I implore you to consider some context here.

It is widely known now and was common knowledge during his time with the Canucks that Bertuzzi had little time, if any, for Crawford. In fact, one could say without much argument that the two despised one another.

More to the point, Bertuzzi was frequently criticized in his latter days with the Canucks (in particular, during the earlier part of the season in which the incident with Moore occurred) for expressly ignoring any kind of challenge(s) from the coach to be better, to work harder, to be more disciplined, to impose himself (physically, in particular) in hockey games.

Thus, I think it is worth questioning whether it is simply convenient for Bertuzzi to suggest that, in a moment of epiphany, he decided it was high time to heed the urging of his coach, lest he be ‘challenged’ for not doing so at the next day’s team meeting.

My sense is that Bertuzzi is doing precisely what many people do when they do not want to confront and accept the consequences of actions they are ashamed of. He is eschewing responsibility for them.

Gus

(Greg ‘Gus’ Adams)

Over at the Canucks official website, there is an interesting story looking back at the confusion that reigned in Vancouver after the Canucks acquired Greg Adams from the Edmonton Oilers in 1988, adding yet another, er, Greg Adams.

I still remember listening to games on CKNW 980, with Jim Robson and Tommy Larscheid trying to distinguish between the two for the (often confused) listeners, calling one ‘Gus’ and the other ‘Greg C’.

Gus (the original Greg Adams, acquired in 1987 along with Kirk McLean from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Patrik Sundstrom) was a gifted finisher and a consistent offensive performer for the Canucks for many years. (Greg C. was much more of a checker/agitator, with a much shorter NHL and Canucks career.)

Gus was also one of my favourite players for the Canucks in the 1980s/early-1990s. Number 8 is fondly remembered by most Canucks fans for his OT goal in game 5 against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1994 Western Conference Finals, which put the Canucks into the Stanley Cup Finals for only the second time in team history.

My lasting memory of Gus? He always seemed to score the big goals.

Dispelling myths

It is a presumed axiom that the Vancouver Canucks are ‘nothing’ without goaltender Roberto Luongo.

(Believe me, listening to Toronto sports radio and being exposed to the Toronto media writ large, most of whom never actually watch the Canucks, is testament to this. The familiar refrain is that the Canucks are only competitive because of Luongo; that they are, essentially, a one man team.)

I think this is a preposterous assertion, for a number of reasons.

1. Even if you want to entertain the ‘one man team’ nonsense, in the post-lockout NHL most teams are dependent on one or two highly-paid ‘star’ players. In this sense, similar sentiments can be expressed about many teams. Where are the Penguins without Crosby? Where are the Sharks without Thornton? Where are the Lightning without Lecavellier?

The only difference, perhaps, is that a goalie, unlike a position player, has arguably more of an ability to single-handedly prevent losses and garner wins. Be that as it may, however, this does not make the Canucks a ‘bad team’ because they have such a goalie. The fact they chose to invest $6.75 million per year in Luongo does not mean the rest of the team, as a matter of course, ‘sucks’.

2. One can easily identify, if s/he cares to actually watch the Canucks, a number of gifted players on the team.

The Sedin brothers, for instance. As much as many people would like to think they are one person, we are talking about two players, both of whom contributed around 80 points last year and are on pace to do it again. They also have a remarkable ability to dominate shifts when they are on their game. (Take a moment next time you watch the Canucks and try to account for how much time the Sedins spend in their own end of the rink.)

Also, a resurgent Markus Naslund. Now that Naslund has thankfully rediscovered his scoring touch, he is a potent offensive contributor, on any team in this league.

Finally, the Canucks have among the strongest defensive corps in the NHL. Find me a team that would not want and could not use the likes of Willie Mitchell, Sami Salo, Lukas Krajicek, Alex Edler, or Mattias Ohlund.

Say what you like about the greatness of Luongo (I certainly do) but do not lose sight of the fact the rest of the Canucks should not be taken lightly.

3. An example of 2, is the Canucks’ play in the absence of Luongo. To be sure, back-up Curtis Sanford has only started in three games. But, he is 3-0.

4. The Canucks are the 7th highest scoring team in the Western Conference. Not exactly the 1980s Edmonton Oilers, I admit, but not exactly a team that, beyond the goalie, is a bunch of plumbers and jobbers filling up ice-time. Make no mistake, this is a team that is much-improved offensively since last year.

Strangely, the team is comprised of roughly the same players. The difference? As any Canucks fan would tell you last year, the only reason the Canucks were such a low-scoring team was because of the inexplicable absence of offence from Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison.

With both of these players reasonably back on track offensively, the Canucks are right where they should be. A team back-stopped by one of the best (if not the best) goalies in the league and can score enough to make the opposition have to be very good to win on any given night.

Perhaps the naysayers might want to pay more attention to the games, rather than joining in with the kind of cursory analysis of this team that suggests nothing more than ignorance.