Google "Canucks slump" and you're going to get an avalanche of news reports about how the Canucks have had trouble scoring after being shutout twice in three games prior to last night's game vs. Colorado. Isn't it amazing how the media can just pick this team apart? I'm not absolving myself for ripping into this team once in a while, but when I do it's usually for more pragmatic or philosophical reasons. The only time I would rip into this team is if they don't put in the effort I know they can. Teams get shut out, the best ones and the worst ones. It's not a slump and we're not struggling. We're just simply going through the ups and downs of any other regular NHL season.
<img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/getty/4c/fullj.d2c28721d90cd846aae33df7084b590b/d2c28721d90cd846aae33df7084b590b-getty-102843497am012_vancouver_ca.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Had the Canucks had trouble scoring against the Avs, or put in another lacklustre effort like at Excel, I would've been (sort of) ready to jump on the slump bandwagon. But in between the two shutout losses I think everyone's sort of forgotten that we beat Washington 4-2. I wasn't able to watch the game, but from what I heard we weren't bad and a much better overall effort than against the Rangers. Although, to the Rangers credit, they played excellent hockey, a defensive, grinding style that John Tortorella's effectively used this year. (If Tortorella wants to be considered for the Jack Adams, losing Brandon Dubinsky for 3-4 weeks with a fractured tibia is the ultimate test. If the Rangers can still stay afloat without Dubinsky give Tortorella all the credit).
The Rangers stuck to their game plan and executed it to perfection. Despite the Canucks firing 31 shots at King Henrik, the big chances only came when Vigneault had pulled Schneider. Most of the shots were relatively easy for the Swedish netminder and he had lots of help from his defense. Even Lundqvist said so himself: "...they didn't get that much. We had a couple of big blocks here and there." (And for those of you who read my previous Mid-Season Awards post, I bet you Girardi played a big part in some of those!) It was a one-goal game and it could've gone both ways. Both goaltenders were excellent but the Canucks were simply outplayed. It happens. Nothing unusual here, nothing that would indicate to me that the Canucks are in a slump.
Then that awful game at Minnesota. Schneider was once again in net and I thought he was great. Of the four goals two came on breakaways and John Madden scored an easy tap-in from three feet when the Canucks defense completely forgot about him. Schneider's SV%, .840, was not indicative of how well he played. Two of Minnesota's biggest goals were scored on special teams, the opening PPG by Brunette and the third, a SHG by Matt Cullen that gave Minnesota a more comfortable lead and seemed to suck the energy out of the Canucks. We fired 32 shots at Anton Khudobin, who is starting in place of injured netminders Niklas Backstrom and Jose Theodore, and while I thought the Canucks' effort was better than the one at MSG, we still didn't look particularly dangerous. Let's also not forget that Khudobin has been lights out since his call-up: 2-1, .942 SV%, 1.59 GAA. It's no fluke, in Khudobin's two starts last year he was unbeaten with a .979 SV% and 0.87 GAA. Again, despite being shutout, I don't think this qualifies as a slump.
Now Colorado. What a game last night. I'm a regular poster at www.canuckscorner.com, although not as frequently as in years past, but I noted that this Avs team should be a team that the Canucks might have a little trouble with if they met in the first round. The Avs skate extremely well and are relentless. The Canucks may be a mobile team and much better at moving the puck but we had trouble keeping up to their footspeed. John-Michael Liles was particularly effective with his speed and Matt Duchene was all over the place. And, oh yeah, we weren't shutout, scoring three times, twice on the powerplay that was the result of fantastic puck movement and quality scoring chances.
We lost the game because Luongo was average and Raffi Torres took two dumb penalties, the first an interference on Philippe Dupuis that led to Milan Hejduk's goal, and another holding call early on the third period that gave a well-oiled Avs PP another chance. I would've benched Torres for the rest of the game after that interference call. The Canucks had gained so much momentum from Sergei Shirokov's highlight goal but that needless Torres penalty just completely killed it. Completely. And then instead of redeeming himself he comes back early in the third and takes a hold. What was he thinking? Again, giving that we had some great chances, peppered Craig Anderson with 40+ shots, scored three times, twice on the powerplay, I don't see any signs of a slump.
<img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/getty/8d/fullj.709db74e2528be4d55a9dd9ea32164fc/709db74e2528be4d55a9dd9ea32164fc-getty-102982596dp008_vancouver_ca.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">There were three things I took away from the Avs game, asides from re-affirming the fact that the Avs' speed could be a problem. First, Shirokov was fantastic. One reason why he's been so good: he's always moving. He opens up new lanes and angles by moving his hands when he's got the puck and moving his feet when he doesn't. He was our most dangerous player all game and it really made me wonder why Vigneault used his so sparingly in the third and on a crucial PP late in the same period on a Paul Stastny interference call why he still went to a struggling Raymond and snake-bit Tambellini on the second unit. Wouldn't it have made much more sense, considering how the game was going and which players were responding, to at least give Shirokov some ice-time there? It was a crucial powerplay and I think Vigneault blew it. Second, Chris Tanev looked tentative, but good. He made a nice play, if a little lucky, in breaking up that 3-on-1 before getting up, losing control of his body's momentum, and then falling on his butt. He's a guy that I can see log regular NHL minutes down the road, but not before another year or two in Manitoba. It's been awhile since Canucks fans have gotten excited about players in the pipeline and there are plenty to keep an eye on. Third, Kevin Bieksa was fantastic. Asides from one boneheaded giveaway I thought he was great defensively, breaking up at least 3 plays, all without any fanfare. He's played himself back onto the top 4 and won't be moved for Salo, if he even comes back. Henrik giving Bieksa that 'A' has done wonders.
The Canucks have gone 2-4 in their past six, and only in one of those losses did I feel like we really deserved to lose, and that was against Minnesota on the road, which is always a tough match-up. We could've won that Detroit game had Jimmy Howard not stood on his head, the Rangers' loss came in a lack of effort and a well-executed gameplan by Tortorella, and that Avs game could've easily gone either way. Not exactly what you'd expect from a first place team but not exactly what I'd call a slump, but just a little up-and-down. This is traditionally the toughest stretch of the season, where players start getting injured and hurt. If you want to talk slumps, talk about Edmonton's 0-for-40-something powerplay. ... Actually, that's not a slump, that's... I don't know. I'm lost for words on that one. A slump is when a supposedly good team, like the Kings, go 2-8 in their last 10 and fall out of playoff contention. The Canucks? Still 6-2-2 and first in the conference. Two shutout losses in three games does not mean a slump. Got it?