Identical 4-1 wins over Nashville and Edmonton have suddenly vaulted the Canucks to eighth place, finally in the playoff picture at the turn of the new year. A win over Calgary means Vancouver would be second in the division and four points away from first place Colorado, who are 7-3-0 in their last ten and despite a young and somewhat less talented roster have managed to cling onto the division lead halfway through the season.
I had the opportunity to take in both games (from the lower bowl!) and a couple of observations:
Roberto Luongo played strong in both games and needless to say the captain played his best in the clutch. Although Patric Hornqvist and Ryan Potulny's were of the top-shelf variety, for the most part Luongo stayed on his head, making great stops after great stops. In both games the Canucks dominated for the majority of the game and pulled out with wins with strong efforts from Daniel (6 points in those 2 games) and Henrik Sedin (5 points) and strong performances from Ryan Kesler. The usual suspects have struck again.
The Nashville game was a near flawless game and the Canucks completely dominated an uncharacteristically slow Nashville squad. Asides from Jason Arnott and David Legwand, neither J.P. Dumont nor Steve Sullivan generated any offense and for the most part were regulated to the sides of the offensive zone. The Canucks rarely gave away the slot and while the Preds put on a little more pressure in the third Luongo stood his ground but was visibly unhappy that he lost his 50th career shutout when Hornqvist roofed a shot on a semi-breakaway. Kesler and local BC native and Canada hopeful Shea Weber dropped the gloves in a rare fight between two key players and although Kesler landed a couple punches Weber was clearly the strong player and won the fight, but not before a sold out crowd at GM Place stood on their feet and applauded the effort. If anything, Kesler took out Nashville's top defender for five minutes of the game. Nevertheless Weber still logged over 23 minutes in ice-time while former Canuck Dave Scatchard and Jerred Smithson played a combined 4:05.
<img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/ap/20091227/capt.4c313d6b586c437cbc344be36112538c.oilers_canucks_hockey_vcrd109.jpg" class="imageFloatLeftFramed">A scary moment early in the Edmonton game when Kesler was hit and seemed to injure his leg but after a limping PK shift he was fine the rest of the game and seemed to wanted former Vancouver Giant Gilbert Brule's head. It was a physical affair but the Oilers never quite showed up, except for Lubomir Visnovsky, and their playmaker Sam Gagner and power forward Dustin Penner really didn't generate anything. The Oilers had a couple good shots but Luongo was a brick wall, including an incredible sliding, stacked pads stop on Potulny with seconds to go in the first. Other than Potulny's fluky goal that came after a spirited Rick Rypien-Zack Stortini bout that saw both players land plenty of punches, but in the end it was fan favourite Rypien that stood his ground against the much bigger Stortini (5'10", 181 vs. 6'3", 217). Darcy Hordichuk was dressed in place of Ryan Johnson who is out with a sore foot and despite his beef with Stortini and Brule didn't get an opportunity to drop his gloves although being up in the press box for three straight games put a little more jump in his step.
It's not hard to see why the Canucks won both the games. The home team fired more shots, were perfect on the PK, and won a significant number of the face-offs. Nashville's Legwand finished the night going 3 for 12 and Arnott was 4 for 9. Kesler was an outstanding 11 for 16 and Wellwood was up to his usual tricks and finished 6 for 8. Shots were 36 to 21 for Vancouver. Against Edmonton, the numbers followed the same trend. Andrew Cogliano went 3 for 9, Gagner went 4 for 9 before being moved to the left wing, Shawn Horcoff was 8 for 17 and Potulny was an awful 4 for 14. On the other side Henrik was completely dominant going 15 for 23 and Wellwood was 8 for 11. For those naysayers who get fed up with Wellwood's lackluster efforts on some nights, one thing is clear - the guy's a wiz at the circle.
The Flames are quickly falling, losing five of their last six and you can bet that coach Brent Sutter is not happy. The demanding coach will make sure his players are ready for tonight's game and Jarome Iginla always shows his stuff against Vancouver. The Flames have scored only 19 goals in December and only two from big #12. This is great news for the Canucks, who are only 6-10-0 on the road this year and have lost five of their last seven at the Saddledome. The last time the Canucks finished with a losing away record was in 2006 when they went 17-22-2 on the road and missed the playoffs.