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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?
Even though the animosity on the ice between the Blues and the Canucks is real, it looks like upstairs in the front office it may be quite amicable. The Globe and Mail has recently reported that there is a potential deal in the works, with John Davidson having scouted the Manitoba Moose recently and Mike Gillis taking in the Blues-Habs game rather than the CHL Top Prospects game. <img src="http://assets.espn.go.com/photo/2008/1124/fantasy_g_schneider_300.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">There have been no comments from either Gillis or Davidson, but the Globe suspects that the Blues are keeping their eye on Cory Schneider, whose career as a Vancouver Canuck may not last past this season. The former Boston College standout has voiced his displeasure at being stuck in the AHL and the Blues, with Chris Mason and Ty Conklin manning the pipes, may be looking for a goalie of the future. They do have Jake Allen, Canada's World Junior starter, in the pipeline, but he is a couple years away and Hannu Toivonen has turned out to be a flop. The player coming back, however, is speculated to be David Backes, a player that Gillis has targeted previously. Backes has one more year remaining on his contract at $2.5 million before he comes an unrestricted free agent. The big power forward has only 10 goals this year after potting 31 last year, but offensively the Blues have been inconsistent all season long, which has already cost Andy Murray his job. I'm skeptical of this trade because of the role Backes plays in St. Louis. He's a leader, having worn the 'A', and he brings a rare blend of size and skill to the table. St. Louis would be making a mistake by trading away Backes. He has an attractive contract to go with it and I think the only reason the Globe has mentioned Backes is because Gillis had expressed interest before his breakout season. <img src="http://assets.espn.go.com/photo/2009/0102/nhl_g_backes_300.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Now that Backes' stock has somewhat fallen, he may be easier to pry away from the Blues. Davidson, Larry Pleau, and Doug Armstrong are no fools, however, and the know the value of having Backes in an otherwise smallish (but fairly physical) top six Blues lineup. That being said, as much as Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows and Backes have had http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1angy_kjuk, I would love to see him in a Canucks jersey. League rumour round-up: Asides from Eric Staal, Cam Ward, Tuomo Ruutu, Brandon Sutter, and Tim Gleason, everyone on the Hurricanes' roster can go. I'm a little surprised to see that Joe Corvo isn't on that list. He's one of the few truly underrated players out there and the Sens shouldn't have given him up. Another player of interest is Matt Cullen, a second/third-line forward that is good in the circle and has some offensive ability. Ray Whitney has yet to waive his no-trade clause. Just a note on the captaincy switch - I wonder if it means Rod Brind'Amour's leaving soon? The Caps at least traded away Chris Clark and waited a couple of days before naming Alex Ovechkin as captain, even though everyone saw it coming. It's no secret that the Oilers are going to try and overhaul their roster soon. Sheldon Souray has already said he'll waive his no-trade clause but it's been rumoured that he prefers to stay out west, unless it's a Cup contender. Washington has expressed interest, as have the Rangers, Sabres, and Bruins. The Hawks are reportedly looking for more defensive depth but they'll have to unload Brian Campbell somehow for that to work. Despite reports that Vincent Lecavalier doesn't want to leave Tampa, his name continues to be a staple in the rumour mill. As always he will be linked to the Habs, but given their (ill-advised) splurge this summer they have little room for him. The Rangers are also rumoured to be interested but the Lightning will have to take back significant salary, something I don't think they're too keen on doing given their poor financial numbers. Wade Redden, Matt Gilroy, Michal Rozsival, Brandon Dubinsky, and Ryan Callahan are the names being mentioned. People are still hooked on a potential Tomas Kaberle trade but it's just not going to happen. First, he's the Leafs most valuable player and the only defenseman on that team that can handle the puck with any form of grace and skill. Second, as much as Burke's attitude gets the spotlight, he's a real man of his word and when he says he won't ask Kaberle to waive his no-trade, I believe him. Kaberle's not going anywhere this season. One name that's of particular interest to me is Colby Armstrong. The Thrashers are looking to deal the rugged winger and the Flames and Wild are reportedly interested. I don't know if Armstrong's the solution to the Flames' scoring woes and the Wild have made sideways steps this year at best, but he's a versatile player who can play a physical style suitable for the playoffs. The Wings will probably re-sign Todd Bertuzzi, the Pens would love to have Sergei Gonchar and Kris Letang back but will probably have to pick one, the Stars are looking for a goalie of the future, and the Ducks may become sellers soon. But of course, the Big Tuna here is Ilya Kovalchuk. Sorry Canucks fans, but it's not going to happen. Let's hope he stays out East though. And I'll just end everything with my personal favourite John Tortorella and his post-game interview against Philadelphia last night.