Like the opening scene of Carrie, this game was all about the 1st period. In the opening twenty minutes, the Canucks jumped out to a 3-0 lead after a quick one by Raffi Torres (above), and two debilitatingly effective powerplays. While Minnesota would regroup and take over the game in the second and third, it wouldn’t be enough to overcome the big lead they spotted Vancouver in the first. Granted, a total effort would perhaps have been preferential, as the Canucks spent the last two periods on their heels, but seriously: Vancouver has 101 points. They win more than you do. Quit complaining. By the way, I watched this game:
There have been games this season where the Canucks’ powerplay has taken blame for a loss, but really, it’s only because of the high expectations they’ve garnered. Here’s an example of what the unit can do: in the last two games, the Canucks have gone 5-for-5 with the man advantage, which is impressive, but even more impressive in that, of the ten penalty minutes alloted them, they’ve only used 2:36. They’re almost as efficient as this loser.
Daniel Sedin’s powerplay goal was gorgeous. It’s interesting to juxtapose it with Ryan Kesler’s goal from Saturday night, which is quite similar, but also very different. Kesler’s wrist shot is pure force; he curls above the faceoff dot and snaps it past Kiprusoff. Daniel Sedin’s wrister is tactical. He curls above the faceoff dot too, but when he gets to that sweet spot where a sniper normally fires the puck, he gives himself an extra yard by pulling the puck back and sliding further into the middle of the ice. Greg Zanon expects the shot and drops to a knee, and in that moment, with one drag move, Daniel drifts away from him, nearly to the center of the offensive zone. Nobody creates space in traffic like the Sedins. Except James Bond.
Ryan Kesler’s first goal in this game is the result of some beautiful puck movement by the whole unit. What amazes me so much about the unit is that all five guys are fabulous passers, and any one of them can orchestrate a beautiful play. Not just the Sedins, and not just the point men. Kesler starts and caps off this play, first making a pretty backpass along the boards, then drifting to the center of the ice to cap off a beautiful passing play with Ehrhoff and Samuelsson, then being the first one to his own rebound.
If there was a downside to the first period, it’s that Sami Salo’s 16-game health streak came to an end when he took a shot off the elbow and left the game. It’s hard not to be incredulous at Salo’s commitment to winning Injury Bingo, but I’m sure he’s more frustrated than any of us. Here’s hoping this is just a stinger (or whatever else they call it when the player’s hurt and the coach makes him play anyway). Better yet, here’s hoping that, whatever it is, he gets proper treatment and is healthy for the start–if not the duration– of the playoffs.
That said, Salo narrowly survived getting his nose lopped off when Cal Clutterbuck had an epic hit fail in the first. In the highlight of the night, Clutterbuck took a run at Alex Burrows, missed, and went over the boards, ass over teakettle. But don’t feel too bad for Clutterbuck. He may have missed Burrows, but he hit the bench, which had 14 guys on it, so he was credited with 13 hits (Cory Schneider doesn’t count; he wasn’t playing).
We’ve had numerous opportunities to point out how crucial Manny Malhotra and Ryan Kesler are to this team, but it may never have been more apparent than when both of them were in the penalty box while the Canucks tried to kill off a 5-on-3. It left Alain Vigneault with no faceoff men for those crucial defensive zone draws. Yes, Henrik Sedin and Maxim Lapierre are both centers, but on twenty defensive zone faceoffs last night, they took three. Clearly, Vigneault doesn’t trust them to do it. Pressed, he deployed Henrik Sedin for the first faceoff, which he won, but the Canucks couldn’t get the puck out. Henrik found himself trapped in the zone for thirty-five seconds. Not ideal. Rather than risk having another player who doesn’t practice five-on-threes trapped on the ice for one, Vigneault then tempted fate by letting Jannik Hansen take the next draw. Hansen lost it, wound up hemmed in the zone to near-exhaustion, then lost his stick and took a tripping penalty. The Canucks were lucky to get through this stretch without a goal against.
Immediately upon leaving the box, Ryan Kesler won a defensive zone draw to finally alleviate the Wild’s pressure and keep the penalty kill perfect. In fact, after that little scare, the Canucks didn’t lose another faceoff in their own zone for the rest of the game, one major reason Minnesota finished 0-for-5 on the power play.Speaking of faceoffs, Manny Malhotra was especially effective, going 9-for-12 on the night, including 7-for-7 in the third. Kesler was 10-for-14 last night, and on two of the four faceoffs he lost, he registered a takeaway to immediately regain possession (he had a game-high four takeaways). On the flipside, Henrik was 5-for-13 and Lapierre was 2-for-9.
More evidence of Kesler and Malhotra’s importance? Consider the empty-net goal. Manny Malhotra wins a neutral zone draw, forcing the Wild to regroup before they try to gain the blue line. Then, when they do, Malhotra sends the puck back to the neutral zone before they can organize. There, Ryan Kesler pounces on it and ices the game. If there’s one thing that separates this Canucks team from last year’s Capitals, it’s that we have two defensive superstars.
I loved Garrett and Shorty’s banter about the filming of Mission: Impossible 4 on the Granville Street bridge. Garrett says something to the effect of: you should try to get in as an extra, and Shorty rebuffs it by saying he’s not much of a movie star. Garrett: “You’re taller than Tom Cruise.” Shorty: “And yet they call me Shorty.” Funny.
Chris Higgins looks pretty good out there, doesn’t he? He seems to have instantly made the fourth line more dangerous, and he’s good insurance in case either Raymond or Samuelsson forgets to be good, as they are sometimes wont to do. Frankly, the line of Lapierre, Tambellini, and Higgins has been perhaps the best fourth-line trio we’ve seen this year. Once Glass gets back, Tambellini will likely sit, but he had five hits in ten minutes of icetime and used his speed to great effect. Vigneault has options, is all I’m saying.
Christian Ehrhoff can have his defensive deficiencies, but the team is inarguably more offensively threatening when he’s on the ice. With two more assists last night, Ehrhoff jumped to 46 points on the season. It’s a new career-high for him. He’s also sixth in the NHL in defensive scoring. Granted, his numbers are buoyed because he’s the only Canucks’ D-man that’s stayed healthy all season, but a good way to set career-highs is to play in every game. You can’t fault him for being resilient. If anything, he deserves praise: Ehrhoff has been the backbone of this year’s defense. That’s right: without Ehrhoff, the Canucks’ are Bryozoa.
And finally, Dan “Community Man” Hamhuis was pressed into additional action when Salo went down, playing 26:31, including a whopping 7:15 of the Canucks’ total 10:26 on the penalty kill. He was pressed into even further additional action when the Red Cross needed a switchboard operator to receive donations, and he wound up playing the entire game with a headset on.
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