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I thought I was in for a long night when Phil Kessel scored just minutes apart and Jamal Mayers wired a shot past an uncharacteristically mediocre Roberto Luongo. It always stings to lose to the Leafs on every level, but Vancouver's big line came through and scored 5 straight goals to seal the win. I don't think the Canucks came out flat in the first, but more so that the Leafs really capitalized on what few chances they had. Vesa Toskala was good in net despite letting in four goals and I think this is the first time in awhile the Leafs have played with some jump in their game. The loss shouldn't be attributed to their lack of work ethic but more so the personnel - they couldn't find a single pairing or line that could match up against the Sedins. Admittedly it's difficult for any team to cover the league's leading scorer but the Sedins completely dominated. Andrew Raycroft rubbed it in to the crowd who obviously really relished the win against his former employers and was happy to get some playing time. Don't worry, Andrew, I think we'll see some more of you on this big road trip. The Canucks have started off quite well. There's little to write on on a big win like this, in part because it's easier to criticize after a loss. All hockey teams in Canada know this. <img src="http://scrapetv.com/News/News%20Pages/Sports/images-2/brian-burke.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">After their monumental collapse, in which the Leafs fell for the fourth time this season after leading in the first (11-4-3), Brian Burke made some sweeping changes. I honestly thought the Leafs would at least be in the hunting for a playoff spot with their upgrades on the back end and with Kessel coming in, but their disastrous season thus far is worth examining. Anyone who thought this re-building process was not going to be painful and slow should have another drink or two, and let me preface this by saying that I'm a fan of Brian Burke - but you have to like his move to get Dion Phaneuf. Blowing a 3 goal lead, especially to Vancouver and the big Sedin line, must've hurt Burke than the other 39 losses. So amidst the rumours that Phaneuf was the block, which was vehemently denied by Darryl Sutter, Burke went out and got the big fish for literally nothing (at least in terms of long-term assets). As much as I criticize Phaneuf for his bone-headed play, he is a remarkably talented player with a big booming shot. He's a one of a kind defenseman but really lacks that level-headedness that separates him from the league's elite. The Flames also sent Fredrik Sjostrom, a serviceable depth player and good penalty killer to the Leafs, but I think the name that everyone should keep tabs on is Keith Aulie. The 116th overall pick in the 2007 draft, the towering 6'6" defenseman was a stalwart for the 2009 Canadian World Junior squad and the Brandon Wheat Kings. He's the type of player that Burke loves - big, strong, and full of sandpaper - kind of like another Robyn Regehr, whom he idolized. I have no idea what made Sutter give up on him. Aulie has appeared in 43 games for the Abbotsford Heat this season, along with 6 points, 32 penalty minutes, and +1. It would've been nice for Burke to stockpile picks, but this package is probably better than that. You get an established player in Phaneuf and a potential blue chipper in Aulie. So what did the Flames get? Quantity over quality in Matt Stajan, Nik Hagman, Jamal Mayers, and Ian White. While I think all four are serviceable players, none of them are what the Flames are looking for - the big playmaking centre for Jarome Iginla. Stajan has the potential to be that guy, especially if he's paired with Iginla, having notched 40 assists in 76 games last season. Inconsistency is a problem here but like Ron Wilson, Brent Sutter demands a lot out of his players and really keeps them accountable. Hagman is a strong two-way player and a hard worker I think Sutter will like, as well as Jamal Mayers who approached Burke about a trade a couple days ago. Ian White is a versatile player and can play defense or wing. White, Stajan, and Mayers are all free agents at the end of the season, although I do believe White is a RFA. The Flames get cap flexibility now that Phaneuf is gone, and you have to wonder if this means more moves are in the works for the Flames, who have been linked to Ilya Kovalchuk. And as I'm writing this, I hear the Leafs have packaged Vesa Toskala and Jason Blake to Anaheim for JS Giguere, who obviously has waived his no-trade clause. The writing was on the wall with Jonas Hiller's recent extension and this move had been rumoured for months. When it becomes a staple in the mill for this long, it was probably bound to happen, much like Burke's departure from Anaheim to take the Leafs job. Despite what anyone says about Giguere being a pads goalie, check his stats - his .922 SV%, a career high, came after the league decided to cut down on pad sizes. He's now re-united with not only Burke, who helped him out with his baby who had eye problems (which led to the no-trade clause), but also highly regarded goaltending coach Francois Allaire. Despite the Leafs having zero offense outside of Phil Kessel and Alexei Ponikarovsky now, Burke has really made progress with these trades. He's building a solid team from the net out. Even if Giguere is not the long-term answer he's a great short-term solution until we can really see what Jonas Gustavsson can really do. The back end is good enough for now, although with Phaneuf you have to wonder if there are more moves coming (cue Tomas Kaberle rumours). Up front it's still a mess, but Burke can address those problems in the off-season. This gun-ho attitude has just landed the Leafs a premium defenseman, a good prospect, and a solid goaltending while giving up players that meant little in the long-term. What does this all mean for Vancouver? Well, for one, we'll really be missing the opportunity to see Phaneuf get completely owned by the Sedins. We also won't be anytime soon either. I don't particularly like the package the Flames got and in the other deal the Ducks mainly benefit from cap relief this summer. Is this a playoff push by Burke? Well, it seems like it, but it also addresses long-term goals as well. If Giguere does re-sign in Toronto, I highly doubt it will be for the same salary he's earning now, which is $7 million. At 33 he's still got some years in him, enough time anyway for Burke to find a more suitable solution. But I think an interesting point to ponder here is Burke. After another playoff collapse, he promised sweeping off-season changes but neither him nor protege Dave Nonis had the opportunity. You have to really wonder what sort of changes Burke had in mind - the big Irishman is no stranger to bold moves.
I'm convinced that the Calgary Flames took a page from so I really wonder how much the Calgary Flames gave veteran referees Bill McCreary and Stephen Walkom before the game. The problem tonight with the NHL's inconsistent reffing wasn't the fact that there were a lot of phantom or soft calls, but rather that they didn't call anything. It's one thing to let the game play on without any sort of stoppages, especially a match-up as crucial as this one, but it's totally another to let the lack of calls dictate what kind of behaviour the players can engage in. Case in point, Dion Phaneuf. Just by my count, Phaneuf should've been called for penalties on at least four separate occasions, some of them committed right in front of McCreary, but no whistles. FOUR. Letting one go is something, but once Phaneuf realized that his after-the-whistle shot on Daniel Sedin wasn't going to called for a roughing or unsportsmanlike, he took advantage of it and did the same to Ryan Kesler. Had McCreary or Walkom remembered they had whistles on their hands, Phaneuf would've put his team in a giant hole against Vancouver's vaunted powerplay. His antics were dumb and pointless and one day it's going to come back and really hurt his team... and to think that a lot of people picked him for Canada. He's just not a very smart nor disciplined player. Speaking of penalties, where was the call for the slash on Christian Ehrhoff that snapped his stick in half in overtime? I seem to remember that a slashed stick that broke always resulted into a penalty. <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/ap/20100110/capt.dc63729580e341d28ff45831ce0a9801.flames_canucks_hockey__vcrd108.jpg" class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Kudos to Kesler for fighting back against Phaneuf because no one else seemed to want to do it. Someone needed to respond with either a big hit or fight to show that Phaneuf's antics won't be tolerated. Instead, we got two Rick Rypien-Brandon Prust scraps that, while entertaining, sent the right message to the wrong player. It should've been Phaneuf there, but I guess with the new "fighting code" in the NHL a fight would've only been warranted had there been a big, clean hit. I'm tired of players thinking it's their job to respond with a fight only after a good hit (see and ). I also have to disagree with Hordichuk's comments on HNIC as well, just because while I do agree that it's his job to spark the team, I think it's almost been ingrained in players' heads that after they make a clean hit someone will always come after them. Even if Hordichuk didn't want to fight, he would've had to because it was clear Krys Barch was looking to do something about it. If the NHL wants to do something about cracking down on these "unnecessary responses" throw in a 2-minute instigator for the guy who responds to a good, solid hit. The league should promote good, legal, physical play and letting the players police themselves in this way doesn't help. The league has refs to prevent escalation but tonight they could've failed miserably in that department. Phaneuf could've been hurt bad had the Canucks really lost their composure (like Tanner Glass in a brief hiccup in an up-and down third frame). The Sedins were up to their old tricks again with a beautiful feed from Alex Burrows to Henrik to Daniel, and once again the twins weren't afraid to mix it up in the scrums. The new-found swagger, I think, has given them confidence and propelled Henrik to the top of the Art Ross race. The Canucks played a confident game all night despite being heavily outshot (quality over quantity, I say) and it has translated over to the penalty box, where in a hilarious sequence the gatekeeper told Rene Bourque (I believe it was him, serving Mark Giordano's penalty, although I could be wrong) to scoot down the bench so he had some place to sit. Bourque proceeded him to give him a little stare while the gatekeeper continued to ignore him. Jarome Iginla was 1-1 against Henrik tonight in the circle and 1-2 overall, but it might as well be 0-2 because neither Shane Heyer nor Brian Murphy could agree on the proper way to drop the puck, something which has drawn the ire of many players and the league had set a standard for the proper technique before the season. Here's an idea: never mind if the player is ready or not - just drop the puck and if one player doesn't have his stick down, well, too bad. I understand that the linesmen are trying to make the face-off fair at a crucial moment in a crucial game, but c'mon, these are pros and if they don't pay attention then make them pay for it. Mikael Samuelsson had a chance to end the game in overtime but missed the net, something that Detroit fans knew all too well about. Other than that miss he had a great game and really showed some great stickhandling and passing. Willie Mitchell also had a big lane to fire his slapper through, but it wasn't a particularly good shot (it kinda fluttered) and it was one of the few instances in which his extra long stick has a drawback. You can bet that the Canucks missed having Sami Salo at the point. In the shootout Kesler's post was the ultimate decider of the game because both goalies were beat three times each. What a call by Brent Sutter though, to use Jamie Lundmark as his last shooter. He played a heck of a game and Roberto Luongo's unfamiliarity with him must've made an impact. It was a hard-fought and great game overall but it's tough to lose in a shootout like that. Until we meet again, Flamers (March 14).
I have to admit that I was never quite convinced that the Sedins could carry this team. First, there were naysayers that their offensive success had come because opposing teams' top defensive pairings regularly drew the famed West Coast Express. After Todd Bertuzzi was shipped off to Florida, Brendan Morrison signed with Anaheim, and Markus Naslund left for Manhattan before retiring, there is no higher scoring duo than Dan and Henrik. Since the lockout, Henrik is ranked among the top five playmaking centres in the league while Daniel has become a legitimate 30-goal scoring threat. After establishing early in the season that the pair can be legitimate top-liners, with Henrik on pace for a 100+ point season and well on his way to establishing a new career high in goals, the new question that has emerged is whether or not they can carry the team to the promised land. While I don't think the Canucks are considered favourites to win the Cup, I think that the most important aspect about this coming-out party for the Sedins is their new-found swagger. Back when the WCE was at its peak, the Canucks stepped onto the ice knowing that they could score 4, 5, or even 6 goals against their opposition no matter who was in net. They were confident and cocky in their abilities. They took risks, they mouthed off, and they weren't backing down to anybody. When the line began to falter and Naslund no longer had his seeing-eye wrister, the Canucks lost that swagger and what followed was an bout of inconsistency, hesitancy, and lack of execution in key situations or games. Four seasons since the lockout, two division banners but also two playoff misses. <img src="http://beta.images.theglobeandmail.com/archive/00297/Samuelson26_297301gm-a.jpg" class="imageFloatLeftFramed">In today's Winter Classic (a great game, by the way), Don Cherry made a point about the recent Calgary-Vancouver tilt in which Henrik was knocked down by Dion Phaneuf but proceeded to get back up and score in the same shift. Ignoring his celebrating teammates, Henrik proceeded to skate by Phaneuf and let him know that he's not going to take that kind of hit and not do anything about it. I noticed that while watching the game as well and had a good laugh. It's always nice to see that dumb look on Phaneuf's face. It was much of the same in St. Louis, except it was brother Daniel that wasn't afraid to run his mouth against Barret Jackman while Shane O'Brien, ever the consummate teammate, jumped to his defense. While I do agree that Dan Carcillo's post-fight celebration was a bush-league move, I personally like the cocky confidence the Sedins now exude. Scratch that - I friggin' love it. Five years ago, or even a year ago, I don't think we would've really seen the Sedins really stick up for themselves like that. Perhaps it was because we've always had a Jarkko Ruutu or Matt Cooke on our team. And remember the Wade Brookbank experiment as the third brother? Perhaps it's because the Sedins have now really embraced their roles as the leaders of the team, especially with the new 'A' on Henrik's sweater. Perhaps Mikael Samuelsson's rubbing off on them. Whatever the reason is, expect more great things from the Sedins. Why? Because this new found aggression has always served players well. Defensemen now know that you can't push the Sedins without getting a response. When's the last time anyone called them the sisters? The Sedins are smart players and they'll hit you where it hurts most: the scoreboard.