What’s the remedy for a team that has very little left to play for? Pit them against a team that never has anything to play for. The Canucks coasted through yesterday’s Sunday matinee game, and probably deserved a loss for such lackadaisical play, but it’s pretty tough to outcoast the Blue Jackets, or, as Rick Nash knows them, the World Hockey Championships preseason tuneup squad. To the passive observer, this one looked like a battle of who could care less, so the outcome shouldn’t surprise; Columbus has steeled themselves on many such battles. The Blue Jackets played their game perfectly, which means the Canucks won the game. And I watched this game:
How can you tell that spending even a short period of time in Columbus absolutely crushes the human spirit? Check out Scottie Upshall’s absentee stat line. When we last saw the man they call “Updog” (okay, they don’t, but they should), he was playing his first game with the Blue Jackets, the day after a trade from the Phoenix try-hards. As of yet unspoiled, he scored a goal to go with six shots, two hits and a blocked shot, and was named the game’s second star. A month later, Upshall’s only contribution to the stat line was a won faceoff. You probably didn’t even realize he was playing, and apparently, neither did he.
Okay, seriously though, the Blue Jackets peppered the Canuck net with shots most of the afternoon. Unfortunately for them, Cory Schneider was in the net the whole time. He made a bevy of amazing saves, rightly earning first star honours and picking up his 15th win in his 20th start. He also pitched a shutout for over fifty minutes, before surrendering the prerequisite Snack Goal, just to remind his teammates that there’s literally no difference when he tends goal instead of Luongo. That marked the 9th time a Canuck goaltender has lost the shutout within the last 10 minutes. They’re addicted. How much of a problem is this? I don’t even mean the last 10 minutes of games. I mean literally the last 10 minutes.
I’ve heard a lot of praise directed at the Canucks organization for coming through on a promise to start Schneider for 20 games. It’s undeserved. First, they never made any such guarantees; the media only inferred it. Furthermore, Schneider played lights out almost all season, and that merited 20 starts. If he had even been average this season, he wouldn’t have cracked 15. Really, the only person who deserves kudos for hitting this benchmark is Schneider for earning it.
I’ll tell you who didn’t have to muster any motivation for today’s game: Chris “Kiss Huggins” Higgins. Safe to say, after seeing this photo, Higgins likely said to himself, I want me some of that. He spent the afternoon doing everything in his power to necessitate group hugs between he and his cuddly linemates. Higgins successfully created three such occasions, finishing with two goals and an assist. He was fantastic. His first goal was the most impressive, as he outskated the aforementioned Scottie “The Drifter” Upshall, picked up the Ryan Kesler pass at a sharp angle, and roofed it. His second goal was a snoozy, late-game powerplay tap-in, but you know Alain Vigneault’s pretty excited at the prospect of a second powerplay unit that creates tap-ins. The secret to invigorating any unit, apparently, is to put Chris Higgins on it. He’ll do anything for the post-goal hug; Kiss Huggins just wants to hold you.
Higgins has looked excellent on the second line since his promotion to it a few games ago, but this is the first game where it showed on the scoresheet, as his line finished with a combined eight points. The success of the Higgins/Kesler/Raymond trio means that Mikael Samuelsson is likely going to get bumped to the third line when he returns from injury. With this in mind, and considering the third line already has two wingers, Alain Vigneault toyed yesterday with moving Hansen to center. It will be interesting to see if Hansen’s pokecheck-rich game thrives with a bit more freedom, or if skating in the middle is akin to knocking Pokey’s head off.
Was anyone else suspicious of this Mayorov character? He claims to be a Blue Jackets’ defenseman, but his name sounds made up. Adding “ov” onto established English words is how North Americans mimic Russians. This guy is clearly a deposed Ohio mayor who’s gone into hiding under the guise of being a Russian hockey player. Thinking about it, the Columbus roster seems like a pretty good place to hide. If this works, expect the ploy to go mainstream, yielding such exilees as Senatorov and Chairmanofthehousov. And if it goes international, expected Derek Brassard to eventually find himself skating between Mubarakov and Gaddafov.
Mason Raymond finished this game with 3 assists. To celebrate, he set an alarm and got up early to watch that famous Ohio sunrise.
Early in the game, Dan Hamhuis suffered a concussion after both he and Kevin Bieksa tried to check Rick Nash at the same time. This is Hamhuis’s second concussion this season and fourth of his career. That’s scary stuff. Last time he was concussed, Hamhuis admitted he’d consider retirement rather than threaten his ability to enjoy life, post-hockey. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. On an ironic sidenote, this is the second time this week Hamhuis and Bieksa have collided while going for the cheque. The first time was yesterday at dinner. Dan “Community Man” Hamhuis always pays.
The Canucks had 25 blocked shots in the game. That’s 25 blocked shots too many this late in the season. Get the Hell out of the way. The worst was a first period penalty-kill where Ryan Kesler took a Jan Hejda shot off the left ankle and, while wincing in extreme pain, popped up and took a Jan Hejda shot off the right ankle. Were he in possession of a third ankle, you got the sense he would have blocked a shot with it. Kesler blocked four total shots in the game. Someone remind him that, if he breaks an ankle before the playoffs, no one will let him cut his feet off and play centre in a sledge.
Keith Ballard blocked six shots, in direct disobedience to Alain Vigneault. For his misdeeds, he was punished with two minutes less icetime than Aaron Rome.
Christian Ehrhoff blocks a lot of shots too (he blocked three yesterday) but it’s worth noting he blocks most of them with his stick. Ehrhoff gets his stick in front of everything. Insert Charlie Sheen joke here. I won’t stoop to Sheen. Insert porn star joke here.
Speaking of Christian Ehrhoff, his goal (above) is created with some impressive vision and quick thinking. The moment Chris Higgins touches this puck, Ehrhoff notices that the Columbus checker up high has turned his back to him. In that instant, he sprints in from the blueline, where Raymond finds him with a nifty little backpass. Ehrhoff now has 48 points. Two more, and he’ll be the first D-man to collect 50 since Jyrki Lumme. Hopefully he doesn’t get there, though, because I’d like the Canucks to be able to afford him.
Speaking of bad defensive zone breakdowns, why was nobody covering Henrik Sedin on the power play? Yeah, Henrik seems like a guy you’d want to watch in front. Who’s got the reigning scoring champion? Meh. What a backhand, too. Henrik went top shelf, where Buzz keeps his life savings.
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