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Vancouver and Colorado may have started the season both atop the Western Conference standings, but my, how things have changed. The Vancouver Canucks enter tonights match-up with the Avalanche with 101 points, 11 more than second place Detroit (who hold 2 games in hand). Winners of six straight, even without their full defensive corps. Alternately, the Avalanche have lost 8 in a row, one win in their last 19, and only managed three points in February. I know, February is a short month and all, but it's not that short. Jannik Hansen and Ryan Kesler give Canucks fans another reason to jump out of their seats For some Canuck fans, it's difficult to feel sympathy for the once proud, powerful Colorado organization. During the reign of Montreal-rejected Patrick Roy, Peter "Foppa" Forsberg, "Burnaby" Joe Sakic and Milan Hejduk, many a Canuck dream was dashed. Quebec Nordiques fans had their team snatched out from underneath them just as they entered their prime. I remember grinding out road games on the radio in the ol' Camry. Canucks would be down 4-2 heading into the third at the Pepsi Center. The last thing I wanted to hear was another synthesized horn and sudden crowd outburst. Tom Larscheid would go on for minutes about Forsberg essentially carrying Canuck defenders on his back as he drove to the net. As far as conflicting emotions go, how many people were torn when native son Joe Sakic lit up Vancouver Canuck goaltenders? Jeff Tambellini and Antii Miettinen have a meeting of the minds Monday at Rogers Arena (photo courtesy of Rich Lam/Getty Images) Much has been made of the recent trades conducted by the Avalanche organization. Though the long-term jury is out on Erik Johnson, it sure doesn't look positive that the teams big slide has coincided with the blockbuster shipping Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk to St. Louis. In perhaps a "What have you done for me lately?" moment, 2010 playoff hero Craig Anderson was flipped for Ottawa's Brian Elliot. Along with David "The Swiss Miss" Aebischer, Peter Budaj, in Colorado, may you rest in peace Mr. Elliot. Cory Schneider will get his 19th start of the season tonight against the Avs. Starter Roberto Luongo joked with reporters about the possibility of Schneider getting the prerequisite 25 games to qualify for Calder Trophy nomination. "I don't know what the plan is for the rest of the way. Maybe I'll pull myself from a couple of games. Obviously, whether he gets there (to 25 games) or not, he's very deserving." Dan Hamhuis chalks up another shot block as Ehrhoff and Luongo look on (photo courtesy of Rich Lam/Getty Images) The Canucks were able to beat the Minnesota Wild Monday, but relied heavily on their League-leading special teams to get it done. Captain Henrik Sedin spoke about the win and reliance on a hot powerplay. "With the team and the guys and the depth we have, we aren't always going to have to play at 100 percent, but at the same time that's where we want to be." It appears the Captains example is being followed, right down to the foot soldiers. Re-invigorated from an All-Star break chat with line-mate Manny Malhotra and head coach Alain Vigneault, Raffi Torres spoke to Province reporter Jim Jamieson. "You don't want to go into the playoffs not playing well," he said. "You can't just turn the switch on. You want to be playing at the top level." On the defensive front, the team is still without Kevin Bieksa, who broke his foot February 15th at Minnesota. But he must be closer to recovery, as he's back in the dressing room and having little verbal jousts with the media. It was suggested that either he or Sami Salo would be playing tonight. "Oh yeah?" Bieksa said sarcastically. "That's very presumptuous I don't know, I'm just a player. I'm not a writer or a GM. I don't know what's going on. I've still got a little ways to go," he said, about a week after he'd first hoped to return. Sami Salo will be a game-time decision, his elbow still a little numb after blocking a shot Monday. With files from Getty Images and The Province, I'm Larenzo Jensen on The Canuck Way
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?
In a game that featured two teams struggling to score, it was Anaheim's trio of Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, and Corey Perry that emerged victorious with a combined 7 points in a 4-3 win over Vancouver. The Ducks entered their home opener 0-3, heavily outshot and outscored. After a lambasting by coach Randy Carlyle in this morning's practise, the Ducks responded appropriately, taking advantage of odd-man rushes and scoring chances while the Canucks failed to capitalize on theirs. While the highlight reel goals may suggest otherwise, this was actually a game in which both teams went through stretches of poor play and silly mistakes. Just 36 seconds into the first period Peter Schaefer put the Canucks on their heels with a hooking call despite a flurry of shots by the Canucks to start the game. Alain Vigneault clearly wanted the Canucks to keep firing at the net but Schaefer's penalty gave the Ducks a good opportunity to get their offense going. Another bad penalty, this time by Ryan Kesler, put the Ducks on a 5-on-3 advantage and while the Canucks managed to kill off Schaefer's penalty they couldn't complete the job and the Ducks capitalized first with a powerplay goal by Getzlaf assisted by Ryan and rookie Cam Fowler, who looks like he'll be staying the entire season. The Ducks are talented but struggling and if you give them opportunities they will capitalize. Getzlaf and Ryan needed to get on the scoresheet and Randy Carlyle needed a good start. <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/getty/5c/fullj.d55ad3c38bce204c0c1f5881e883fa63/d55ad3c38bce204c0c1f5881e883fa63-getty-102832475rr028_vancouver_ca.jpg"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">Daniel Sedin tied it moments later on a beautiful cross-ice feed from Henrik and just 17 seconds later Raffi Torres netted his first as a Canuck on a deflection. With 16 shots in the first period it seemed like the Ducks were well on their way to another shellacking and the Canucks' secondary scoring finally putting it together but it was just a tease. While many were commending Torres on his goal and his fight against Sheldon Brookbank in response to a open-ice hit from behind on Schaefer, I thought it was an absolutely terrible time to pick a fight. I appreciate the fact that Torres was protecting his teammate but it was a relatively harmless hit and it certainly didn't warrant an instigator that put the Canucks on the penalty kill again. Putting your team on the PK when you've just gotten the lead is a sure-fire way to kill any sort of momentum you've just built. Torres was barely visible for the rest of the game. The Ducks pulled even on a Teemu Selanne powerplay snipe after Kevin Bieksa was called for slashing when he broke Perry's stick in half. Bieksa's decision-making has drawn the ire of many but I don't think he's really at fault for this one. He didn't touch a single hair on Perry's body and today's sticks snap like twigs anyway. I think it was a unlucky call and to pin this mistake on Bieksa is unfair. But it is what it is and Bieksa allowed the Ducks to tie it up at 2. That's fine because there's still plenty of hockey left to play but I imagine what irks people more is that Bieksa didn't do anything to redeem himself. I thought it was interesting that he was the assistant captain on the road and not at home where I imagine Vancouver's critical fans wouldn't hesitate to lambaste him. Christian Ehrhoff's powerplay marker on a phantom hooking call on Ryan early in the third seemed to have iced the game but then the Canucks started to sit back a little. There was little urgency in their play and the second line duo of Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond has yet to generate any significant offensive opportunities. Each player finished with 3 shots but none of them were particularly dangerous. A strange ricochet off the glass and the top of Jonas Hiller's net left the Canucks stunned for a moment which led to an odd-man rush in which Perry scored his first of the season. Bieksa was left to defend three Ducks players but instead of remaining in position he decided to chase the puck instead which left Perry wide-open on the right side of the net for an easy tap-in. <img src="http://d.yimg.com/a/p/sp/getty/5b/fullj.9cc043dd69cf4516e2237a78e7b3e4d5/9cc043dd69cf4516e2237a78e7b3e4d5-getty-102832475rr030_vancouver_ca.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">The most controversial call, or non-call, in this case, came from Ryan's game-winner. Leading the breakout and carrying the puck through the neutral zone, Ryan poked the puck away from Henrik towards Getzlaf who skated down towards the net on a 3-on-1 and passed it back to Ryan for an easy goal. The problem with that play was that there was supposed to be a penalty on the Ducks. When Ryan jumped over the boards and touched the puck, Matt Beleskey, the player coming off for Ryan, still had his two skates on the ice. It was a too many men call that was completely missed by veteran referee Stephen Walkom and Justin St. Pierre. Still, the truth is the Canucks' offense just didn't look very dangerous and failed to capitalize on a few key chances. The offense the Canucks boasted last year still hasn't shown up. This is the first game that I've kept a close eye on Keith Ballard (playing his 400th NHL game) and I really like what I saw. I have always been a fan since his Florida Panther days but I got a good look at him tonight and the guy plays with an edge. He's not afraid to hit and not afraid to jump up on the play which is why some people have prompted comparisons to Ed Jovanovski. Ballard doesn't quite have the same offensive talents but when and if Bieksa gets traded he may be the only defenseman on our roster that has a mean streak. Early on in the game Roberto Luongo was run over by Perry and then given a snow shower by Dan Sexton but nobody responded. It's the same story as last year. Opposing teams take liberties and take runs at Luongo while the Canucks' defensemen just sort of stand around and look at Walkom for a call. It can't work that way. The Canucks need to play with an edge and protect the goalie when necessary. Ballard certainly does that. Each year, Mike Gillis brings in a new crop of bottom six forwards and every time the Canucks fail to go deep into the playoffs a new bottom six is brought in. This year's group includes free agent veterans Manny Malhotra and Schaefer and rookie Guillaume Desbiens. Given the performance of the bottom six tonight (and the team in general) the Canucks have no shot at going deep. Torres started off great but did his disappearing act. The usually physical Tanner Glass was invisible. Rick Rypien is not a NHL-level face-off guy. Schaefer can be easily replaced with a faster, grittier option. Desbiens, try as he might, and God knows he's worked hard to get here, unfortunately just doesn't bring enough to the table to last in this league. While it is still early in the season, Kesler and Raymond have yet to register a single point. They had a good outing against Florida but were stymied by Tomas Vokoun. Kesler has a team-high 8 missed shots. I have a feeling he's trying to do too much on offense. I have yet to see him create turnovers with his speed and puck pursuit like he did so many times last year in his Selke-nominated season. He needs to do what he does best. Kesler has just two takeaways thus far this season while his biggest Selke rival, Pavel Datsyuk, already has six. The Canucks face the Kings next in LA Friday night. Luongo wasn't particularly sharp tonight but he wasn't bad either and he will obviously start against the Kings in a key match-up. Alain Vigneault has said that he will go to Luongo as long as he has the hot hand, but with a quick one-game homestand (Carolina, 17th) and then two big back-to-back games on the 19th (Minnesota) and 20th (Chicago) on the road, I am curious as to what Vigneault will do. Of the next four games the Carolina game may be the easiest and more insignificant than the rest since the other three are against conference rivals so I imagine that's the game we will be seeing Cory Schneider for the first time this season.