With tonight’s victory over the Minnesota Wild, the Canucks successfully staved off their first two-game regulation losing streak since November, when they went three straight games without collecting a point against Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Phoenix, in that order. Again: that was in November. This stat, incredible as it is, never seemed more in jeopardy than heading into tonight’s game. And, unlike Watson the computer, it had every right to be in jeopardy: the six-man defensive unit iced by the Canucks tonight was about as green as a Lamborghini Murcielago; the team was playing in a very unfriendly building; the Canucks were on the second night of a back-to-back. Yet, somehow, they won. Breaking news: this team is resilient. Also breaking: I watched this game:
Outshot, outhit, and outplayed for the second night in a row, the Canucks submitted a pretty paltry effort, even going so far as to play the entire third period without putting a shot on Nicklas Backstrom. They had 14 shots total. Like the movie Crash, they didn’t deserve to win anything, but somehow, they did. Unlike the movie Crash, however, the Canucks did it with a pretty thin cast.
If you’re wondering how, exactly, the Canucks eked this one out, look no further than Cory Schneider, the Canucks’ backup netminder, who stopped 28 of 29 shots on the night to keep the Canucks in it. Having watched Schneider for awhile now, I feel fairly confident in saying that he’s going to be a very good goaltender for a long time. He does two things incredibly well: the first is getting in position to make the save. The Wild tried all night to get him moving side to side, but Schneider always seemed to be in the right position to take the puck squarely on the chest. The second thing he does well is sweep the puck away with his goal stick. I don’t remember the last time a Canuck goaltender was as active clearing pucks out of his crease. Schneider is turning himself into a very hot commodity. I should say that it seems a downright shame to be salivating simply at Schneider’s trade value (the NHL equivalent of Grampa Simpson’s classic “I can’t wait to eat that monkey” quote), but that’s where this is headed.
The only downside to any Canuck victory against Minnesota is the inevitable “Canucks Tame Wild” headline. We get it. It’s been done. You can do better, everyone. May I recommend: “Canucks Poach Wild”, “Canucks Stuff and Skin Wild”, “Canucks Put Wild in Small Cage and Allow Flash Photography” or, if the Canucks are at home, “Canucks Abuse Wild Domestically.”
Any hope of easing Sami Salo back into the lineup went out the window when the rest of his defensive cohorts fell down that mine shaft, but he’s proved capable of the big minutes almost right away, and begun producing immediately. Salo played over twenty minutes tonight, picking up an assist for the second straight game when his powerplay point blast was tipped by Manny Malhotra. I like that the Canucks are playing Salo on the second unit of the powerplay, and resisting the urge to float him to the top spot in Alex Edler’s absence. Salo has immediately improved the B unit with his threatening shot, the unit scoring in two of the three games since he’s been back. Interestingly, both times, the goal was the first of the game and the Canucks went on the win.
Do people in Minnesota wear anything other than flannel and fleece? HD TV indicates that they do not.
Ryan Kesler’s empty-net goal was the Canucks’ only shot of the period, and a source of a triple upstaging. 1) The Canucks upstaged the Wild by scoring the empty-netter. 2) Alex Burrows missed the open net for a goal that would have extended his league-leading point streak, then Kesler upstaged him from further away. 3) John “King Homer” Garrett made a passionate case for Burrows receiving a point, claiming he may have touched the puck when it came off the boards. It was not to be. However, Christian Ehrhoff then upstaged John Garrett by making a passionate case for himself: This, from a Michael Russo tweet: “Hilarious, but Christian Ehrhoff is begging for assist on empty-netter. Hit his shin pad. The off-ice officials having passionate debate.” Ehrhoff got that assist. Everyone was upstaged tonight.
The reunited third line of Manny Malhotra, Raffi Torres, and Jannik Hansen combined for the Canucks’ second goal, and it was great to see that line create offense for the second night in a row. This has been our most successful third line trio, and I’m of the mind that you keep it together now, no matter what. Let them work through their problems as a unit, like Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz in What Happens in Vegas. It will be a lot easier when Malhotra has games like tonight. Manny finished the night with a goal, an assist, and a +50% faceoff percentage.
Say you’re Alain Vigneault: what do you do when your team is exhausted and your defense corps is decimated? You hand the keys to your two Selke-calibre centers and you instruct them to trap the Hell out of the mother. Manny Malhotra and Ryan Kesler both took 28 shifts, game-high among forwards, as well as taking twenty faceoffs apiece. For contrast, Henrik Sedin took only eleven. In fact, Vigneault played the Sedins sparingly, only skating Daniel Sedin for 15:55. Kesler and Malhotra did what Selke-calibre centers do, winning faceoffs, making the smart, defensive play (which, in this case, was chipping the puck out of the zone), and pitching in a goal and an assist each. Suffice it to say, Vigneault’s decision to ride these guys worked. I tell you all of this so that, if anybody tells you the Wild play a boring system, you can point out that it was the Canucks, in fact, who turned this one into a snoozefest. The Wild play a fairly uptempo system these days.
Apart from one ugly giveaway, I hardly noticed Yann Sauve at all. Good.
Martin Havlat somehow managed to finish the game minus-3. This is especially cathartic when you recall the defensive acumen he appeared to have in the Canucks last visit to Minnesota. Q: Martin Havlat is defensively sound. A: False.
When did Cal Clutterbuck become amazing? The NHL’s next great agitator did it all for the Wild tonight, scoring their only goal and narrowly missing on a number of other great chances, and getting away with a couple cheapies by high-sticking Christian Ehrhoff and butt-ending Henrik Sedin. Guy’s a total jerk, but wow, is he good. And what a name. If I didn’t so wish a pox on him, I’d think he was pretty fantastic.
Christian Ehrhoff had four blocked shots tonight. It’s gone completely unnoticed, but Ehrhoff has become a major shot-blocker in a very short time. Last year, in 80 games played, Ehrhoff had 82 blocked shots. This year, he’s tied with Kevin Bieksa for the team lead at 81. He’s done this in only 55 games played. Yes sir, Ehrhoff is singlehandedly taking this team to Blockoland.
And finally: Mikael Samuelsson has improved on a lot of things since the All-Star break, but if I can highlight one, it’s been his ability to find space to get his shot off. Watch him drift into the open area on the Canucks’ third goal. Not since Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift have I seen drifting of this magnitude.
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