Last night’s tough loss to the Boston Bruins keeps the Canucks mired in their pattern of alternating wins and losses, a pattern that’s now persisted for 10 games. That said, you have to think last night’s loss was different–that is was the toughest of the most recent five. Tied at one going into the third period, and poised to do what they do best, which is take over in the third period, the Canucks were instead shocked by a Bruins team that collapsed back in a tie game to block shots and clog up passing lanes. Then, they capitalized on a missed call and a missed defensive assignment to score the game-winner, and wound up skating away from the final frame with two goals on four shots. It had to be sort of infuriating–sort of really infuriating–and I should know, because I felt a similar fury as I watched this game:
The Boston Bruins continued the trend of Eastern Conference teams getting past the Canucks by blocking every possible shot. Boston blocked 23 shots (Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid having 10 between them). The Canadiens and the Rangers utilized this same game plan to success, and it would appear that teams have a book on the Canucks. Before you start to panic, however, realize that it’s no foolproof plan and it can only be exacted if you’re not trailing. Had the Canucks been able to hold a lead against these three clubs, things would have opened up. That said, we are beginning to see how teams adjust and meticulously prepare for the best team in the NHL. The Canucks rely on a lot of down-low passing, so if you collapse around the net, you can cover them and get in passing lanes while remaining in position to block point shots. Unsurprisingly, ten of Vancouver’s blocked attempts came off the sticks of their top four defensemen.
One way to combat a goal crease collapse is to send a big forward into the opponents’ defensive box to wreak havoc. However, among the top six forwards, only Ryan Kesler has the size for this, especially when Zdeno Chara can so ably move a smaller body elsewhere. Worse, as the center, Kesler is supposed to be the first forward back, so he really can’t afford to get caught down low (at even strength, anyway). Tanner Glass’s promotion to the second line was Vigneault’s attempt to combat the net presence deficiency in his top six.
It was also an attempt to get through to Mason Raymond, for whom the problems continue to compound. He’s typically a reliable defensive player, even during scoring slumps, but even that aspect of his game is beginning to drift away. In the last few games, we’ve seen plays die on his stick, then come back the other way without him, and end up in the net. Raymond again played a subpar offensive game last night, but he earned a third period demotion to the fourth line with some brutal defensive coverage on Nathan Horton’s second period goal. Not only does he let Horton get position in front, Raymond takes his stick out of the play and winds up left with no other recourse but a series of ineffective nudges. If his stick’s on the ice, maybe he jams Horton up or knocks the puck away. Instead, one of the spindliest Canucks tosses his stick over his back like a hobo’s bindle and tries to outmuscle a power forward. Unwise. Raymond may not have earned himself a trade out of town last night but, at the very least, he’s earned himself a couple restless nights before the deadline.
In the past, PITB had an oft-used No Third Line For Glass hashtag, which we used whenever Tanner Glass got top nine icetime. We’ve since semi-retired this hashtag (because we love Tanner Glass now), although AV appears to have finally listened, as he bypassed the third line entirely and bumped Tanner to the second. Okay, in truth, this had more to do with keeping the third line intact. They’ve combined for 7 goals in the last 7 games, including this game’s lone Canuck tally. That one came off the stick of Manny “Alternate Captain Mal” Malhotra, who becomes the first Canuck to beat Tim Thomas. Thomas can take solace, however, in knowing that no caucasian Canuck has ever beaten him. Try to remember that, Canucks. Next time the Bruins come to town, we should dress Darren Archibald to take advantage of Thomas’s susceptibility to shots by ethnic minorities.
Brad Marchand’s got a real Inspector Gadget look to him, doesn’t he? With the long face and nose, I half-expected him to skate on a line with Penny and Brain. He’s a bit of a bumbler, too. Twice last night he activated Go-Go-Gadget-Take-Stupid-Penalty.
Rough night for Sami Salo, who was on the ice for all three Boston goals. Silver lining: that means he stayed healthy for the whole game. Offensively, I enjoyed his eagerness to blast the puck whenever possible. It’s nice to have that weapon back. Salo had a game-high 5 shots, and although two were blocked, none missed the net. Can you believe this guy’s one half of our bottom pairing?
People will claim that the Canucks were outmuscled, but that’s not actually true. The Canucks outhit Boston 32 to 22, led by 4 hits by Jannik Hansen, 6 by Tanner Glass, and a whopping seven by Raffi Torres, including this fabulous one on Tomas Kaberle, which might have been Raffi’s best hit of the season. Human bowling ball indeed.
Milan Lucic was the star of the evening, scoring the game-winner and notching a helper on Boston’s other two goals. That said, can we please put the shoulda drafted Lucic talk to rest? It would have been nice to have a Vancouver-born player in a Canucks uniform, but this isn’t another Cam Neely fiasco. He was never going to be a Canuck. He was drafted 50th overall, and scouts at the time thought even that was early. Even if the Canucks hadn’t traded away their second-rounder, they likely wouldn’t have used it on him. It seems foolish now, but I’m a little sick of people forgetting how hindsight works.
Ryan Kesler’s in a bit of a scoring slump, and I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. Who else do you have to worry about when he’s on the ice?
Speaking of Kesler, he took 25 faceoffs last night. The rest of the team, combined, took 29. It was like he and Vigneault were playing a game of Uno, and Vigneault was out to get him. Draw four, Kes. Ha ha, draw four again.
I liked Alex Burrows’ battle with Milan Lucic. During one faceoff in particular, Lucic simply encroached on Burr’s space and made himself unmovable, but what Burr lacks in brute strength, he makes up for in obnoxiousness, so he just chopped Lucic’s stick out of his hands and skated away. Good on you, Burr, you greasy little snot.
The Canucks’ power play looked disorganized and tentative, and it may have cost the the game. Tentative is good for road trip itineraries; it’s bad for special teams.
And finally, Cody Hodgson had a strong game, likely motivated by this being the last of his three-game tryout (of sorts), but he needs to get his shot off a little quicker. His patience is impressive, sure, but more impressive if when one’s shot reaches the goaltender. Cody had 1 shot on goal, but he had three more blocked because he held onto it too long. I have a feeling the knock on Hodgson will always be a lack of urgency, but unlike the Sedins, he doesn’t have an Art Ross trophy to fall back on when people claim he’s not quick enough to fire. He should spend a weekend with Donald Trump.
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