There was a surprising amount of hand-wringing following Wednesday night’s loss to the Anaheim Ducks, especially considering the Canucks hadn’t dropped two consecutive games in regulation since November. Suffice it to say, there was little to worry about (unless you’re Brad Zeimer, the Freddy Kreuger of Vancouver hockey reporting, in which case the possibility that people will realize there’s nothing to worry about threatens your very source of power). Bearing in mind recent trends (such as zero pointless streaks in 2011), it was highly likely that we would see a bounce-back of flubberesque proportions. Unsurprisingly, that’s exactly what we got. The Canucks gave themselves a pre-game Flubber rubdown and bounced back harder, even, than the laws of physics allow, capping off another fantastic Hockey Day in Canada with a win over the Calgary Flames. I watched this game:
It was a tight game, and I need to state, for the record, that I’m thrilled by this. I love that the Flames are back to playing good hockey. While I relish watching them lose, it’s not nearly as much fun when it’s a foregone conclusion. The closeness of the last two contests has increased the entertainment level exponentially.
The Sedins and Kesler combined for one paltry point last night–a Daniel Sedin assist, because he’s still out for blood–but Alex Burrows and Mikael Samuelsson had two goals apiece. These guys are on fire right now, and it can only bode well for the Canucks if they jump from three scoring threats to five. Samuelsson turned the entire tide of the game with two great shots, including the game-winning goal. And, if you think the Sedins and Kesler weren’t factors, consider that both his two goals don’t happen without perfect screens by Kesler and Daniel Sedin, respectively.
Samuelsson has really picked up his play, most notably getting his lethal wrist shot back, but it should also be noted that he’s now getting first-unit powerplay time and he’s back playing on Ryan Kesler’s wing. Those are plum offensive minutes, and they factor into his uptick in scoring. Consider this effect the next time you bemoan the trade of Michael Grabner.
Good eye by Craig Simpson on Samuelsson’s even-strength goal (above). It was a set play. After winning the draw cleanly to Bieksa, Kesler heads to the net while Mason Raymond inches up the wall towards the blue line. Meanwhile, Samuelsson parks himself in an open area, high above the right faceoff dot. After Bieksa and Raymond open up a passing lane, Raymond feeds him for a quick snapshot. Both the shot and Kesler’s screen in front are perfectly placed, and Kiprusoff has no chance. Now, how do you know it’s a set play? Because nobody ever goes there. It’s like the back corner of the Costco parking lot. You know that anybody who parks there is up to something.
Mason Raymond is often infuriating, but he’s also got 9 points in his last 8 games. I hate the way he circles the zone (a move I heard one guy call the MayRay-Go-Round), but it’s hard to fault a guy that can be counted on to keep the puck 200 feet from his own net, even if he rarely takes it to the other team’s. Plus, he had two assists. His goal-mouth pass to Alex Burrows for the opening goal looked accidental, as Raymond appeared to lose the puck while trying to shoot it. However, he went to the net and got a fortuitous bounce, and that’s a common string of events. Furthermore, Raymond nearly had another assist when he beat his defender with a wicked head juke before centering the puck for Kesler, who couldn’t bury it. Heck, the way Samuelsson and Kesler are going, if Raymond can continue to buy space and get them the puck a little more often, he’ll be fine.
A while back, Justin Bourne wrote an article on the ways players slow down the game. One of them was to have wingers kill time getting waved out of the faceoff circle on purpose. We saw another use for this tactic last night, as Niklas Hagman got himself intentionally tossed in order to give his linemates a bit more rest after an icing call. It was amusing to watch Henrik Sedin just stand there, waiting for Hagman to get kicked out, as if to say, go ahead, idiot.
Manny Malhotra had a two-point last night, picking up assists on both of Alex Burrows’ goals. In both cases, all he did was win a faceoff. He won 13 of 16 faceoffs last night. One faceoff win led to the vital opening goal; one led to the empty-net goal that sealed the win. As Skeeter said last week, Malhotra is an enabler, and his remarkable faceoff prowess bookended this victory. Stuff like this happens more often than you realize; he just doesn’t always end up on the scoresheet for it.
Jannik Hansen had a game-high six hits, and continues to be the best forechecker and pokechecker the Canucks have. He’s a pokechecking monster (a pokeymon, if you will). It’s like when your parents first joined Facebook: he pokes everything. He’s also a huge part of the Canucks’ penalty-kill, which killed off all three penalties the team took and now has a streak of 40 kills, more than enough for Halo 2′s Overkill Medal. Like M.O.D.O.K., one of the greatest comic book villains of all time, The Canucks’ penalty-kill is a mental organism designed only for killing. Jannik Hansen is a huge part of this.
Speaking of the penalty-kill, I liked Alex Burrows’ heads-up play when Andrew Alberts broke his stick. First, Burrows gives Andy Alby his stick, then stickless, he skates right up to Jarome Iginla and nudges him away from everything. It takes them both out of the play, turning an effective 5-on-3 with Jarome Iginla on it to a 4-on-3 without him. Clever.
Kevin Bieksa was, again, the rock of the Canucks’ defense, and he played some delicious defense on Jarome Iginla. Not since Brach’s Rocks have I seen such a deliciousness from a rock. Bieksa took his lumps, too. In one instance, Jarome Iginla took him out with a Mario 64-style butt drop. Bieksa had a team-high 25:24 of ice time, which is impressively low considering the injuries on the back end. For contrast: Jay Bouwmeester had over twenty-six minutes of ice time, and the Flames’ defense is healthy.
The Canucks were able to keep Bieksa’s minutes down somewhat because they got some great play out of their bottom-three guys, especially from Aaron Rome. He picked up an assist, finished the game a plus-2, and dished out three hits, including one Ballard-esque hipcheck along the boards. It’s a little easier to understand Vigneault’s man-crush on Rome when he plays like that, but here’s something I’ll never fully understand: the philosophy of Martin Heidegger.
And finally: Sami Salo had a nice, quiet first game back. Give Rick Bowness and the rest of the coaching staff credit for resisting the urge to give him a (Byfuglienian) buttload of minutes. He looked a little shaky at times, including a seriously foolish interference penalty in the third, but that’s okay. He’s rocking a four-game health streak now.
After a win over the Detroit Red Wings, the Canucks are sitting in second in the Pacific and boast the division's best goal differential. That said, a big part of that goal differential comes from the Canucks' league-leading 10 empty net goals. […]