Everyone in Vancouver remembers well how our last two playoff series went against the Chicago Blackhawks: ashes, sackcloth, gnashing of teeth. I also recall some wailing and saw a few torn garments on the streets. It was, like the Chicago Blackhawks, bad.

But neither the Blackhawks nor the Canucks are the same team as they were in those match-ups. I went over some of the changes to the Blackhawks lineup on Monday, but the Canucks have also experienced a fair degree of turnover. The bottom-six was completely remodeled: gone are Kyle Wellwood, Pavol Demitra, Steve Bernier, and Ryan Johnson. In are Raffi Torres, Cody Hodgson, Victor Oreskovich, and Maxim Lapierre. Unfortunately, this isn’t as big an upgrade as it would be if Manny Malhotra hadn’t had his season ended by a malicious puck.

On defense, Mike Gillis pulled off the extremely rare double cannonball, making two big splashes. He acquired Keith Ballard in a trade with Florida and Dan Hamhuis in free agency. Then the most unlikely event in the history of the world occurred: Sami Salo got injured. With the injury, Kevin Bieksa miraculously did not need to be traded. A combination of seemingly convenient injuries throughout the season allowed the Canucks the luxury of entering the playoffs with a top-six defensive corps making 22.3 million dollars per season while still employing other hockey players.

While the core of both teams has remained the same, the surrounding flesh of the hockey apple has changed significantly. So how did these two new teams match up in the regular season. And are the Canucks a Golden Delicious or a Granny Smith?

 

Season Series Recap

October 20, 2010: Canucks 1 – 2 Blackhawks (SO)

The Canucks first meeting with the Blackhawks of the regular season was a shootout loss, causing minor outbreaks of hysteria throughout Canuckistan. To be fair, the Canucks only had 2 wins through their first 7 games, so it looked at the time like the pre-season hype, like that of the Red Sox, was entirely unwarranted. They then proceeded to win 6 straight, erasing most of the complaints.

Regulation time goals were scored by Viktor Stalberg and Daniel Sedin, the latter lacking severely in wizardry. Turco was outstanding for Chicago, while the Canucks got a solid 31-save performance from Luongo. Unfortunately, this was the game with the infamous almost-saves in the shootout. Oddly enough, it also featured a slick shootout goal from Daniel Sedin, who was soundly mocked for his lack of success with penalty shots later in the season. Ryan Kesler also scored, but Mikael Samuelsson lost the handle on his attempt. Meanwhile, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, and Patrick Kane scored in the shootout, the Patricks only barely squeezing it past Luongo.

Harrison’s start of the season Bieksa-hate manifested here as his pairing with Ryan Parent was disturbing. My defense of him shortly thereafter caught Harrison and others a little off guard, but I was ultimately vindicated as Bieksa has been stellar. #PositiveSelfTalk

November 20, 2010: Canucks 1 – 7 Blackhawks

One month later came the infamous Voldemort game, which has unfortunately been mentioned continuously throughout this season. This was easily the worst performance from the Vancouver Canucks this season, causing many to claim that the Blackhawks were in the Canucks’ heads. It was a terrible, terrible game, featuring 6 goals against at even strength, awful performances from essentially every player on the team, and Joel Perrault on the powerplay. Yikes.

We watched this game at a Canucks blogger meet-up in Vancouver and it gave us ample ammunition to do what bloggers seem to love best: complain. Harrison, to his credit, saw the silver lining: this would surely be the wake-up call the Canucks needed to turn the season around. It was. The Canucks had a closed-door meeting after the brutal loss and have frequently credited the loss and meeting to their following success. After losing their next game, they didn’t lose two games in a row in regulation until their early April losses to the Edmonton Oilers after clinching the Presidents’ Trophy.

The Canucks’ first two games against the defending Stanley Cup Champions resulted in losses, both of which led to long winning streaks. Still, the Canucks had yet to beat the ‘Hawks and their two previous playoff exits still hung over their heads.

December 3, 2010: Canucks 3 – 0 Blackhawks

It didn’t take long for the Canucks to get another crack at the Blackhawks: just two weeks later, the Canucks played one of their best games of the season. Roberto Luongo was at the top of his game, making spectacular save after spectacular save, shutting out the Blackhawks and shutting up his detractors. Tanner Glass, Christian Ehrhoff, and Daniel Sedin scored the goals. Glass scored a classic grinder goal by being the first to a puck sitting just outside the crease during a scrum, while Ehrhoff whipped a wristshot past a Ryan Kesler screen for the second goal of the game.

The best goal of the bunch, however, is Henrik’s. Watch the replay closely: Daniel gets in behind the defense on a breakaway and appears to attempt to deke out Turco and tuck it five-hole. I think, by now, we should know better than to assume that a Sedin will try to score when on a breakaway. If you watch, just before Daniel crosses the blueline he checks behind him to see Henrik. He then cleverly banks the puck off Turco’s pads to set up Henrik for the goal.

Ha, just kidding. They’re good, but not that good.

February 4, 2011: Canucks 4 – 3 Blackhawks

Their final meeting of the regular season was messy, physical, and controversial, just like the upcoming playoff series is likely to be. The Canucks benefited from two controversial calls: Ehrhoff’s goal was millimeters offside and a Blackhawks goal got called off due to the tiniest possible amount of contact on Luongo. It was a game where the Blackhawks outplayed the Canucks, but gave up the lead twice.

Meanwhile, the Canucks best offensive players stepped up:  Ehrhoff opened the scoring with his bullet of an offside slapshot, then Samuelsson came through on the powerplay with a goal and a ridiculous assist on a goal from Henrik. Finally, Daniel clutched up, scoring the gamewinning goal to pass Naslund for the franchise record in that stat. In addition, he took the lead in scoring in the Art Ross race and, unlike a certain hare, refused to take a few naps prior to crossing the finish line. This season, Daniel was truly out for blood.

Despite giving up three goals, Luongo was dominant, making 42 saves, many of the category holey-moley. As observed at the time, it took a wide-open all-star and two unfortunate bounces to beat him that night; that and phantom goaltender interference. That game also featured the first reference to Christian Ehrhoff as the Flail Snail. It was a solid finish to a solid season series.

Series Statistics

Season Series Record: 2-1-1

Chicago Blackhawks

# Name GP G A P +/- PIM Shots
2 D. Keith 4 0 0 0 +2 2 2
4 N. Hjalmarsson 4 0 1 1 +2 2 5
5 J. Cullimore 3 0 0 0 +1 0 0
7 B. Seabrook 4 1 2 3 +1 6 6
8 N. Leddy 1 0 0 0 +1 0 1
10 P. Sharp 4 1 0 1 0 2 21
15 J. Skille* 4 0 1 1 0 4 8
15 F. Pisani 3 2 1 3 +2 0 3
19 J. Toews 4 2 1 3 +2 2 8
22 T. Brouwer 4 1 1 2 +3 2 10
24 N. Boynton 4 1 1 2 +3 0 10
25 V. Stalberg 4 1 0 1 +2 6 1
28 J. Dowell 4 0 2 2 +1 2 1
29 B. Bickell 4 0 2 2 +1 2 3
32 J. Scott 2 0 0 0 -1 0 0
36 D. Bolland 4 1 1 2 +2 0 13
51 B. Campbell 3 0 0 0 +2 0 6
81 M. Hossa 3 0 3 3 +3 0 12
82 T. Kopecky 4 0 1 1 +1 4 10
88 P. Kane 4 1 2 3 +2 0 18
Goalies Name GP W L O SA SV SV% GAA
30 M. Turco 3 1 2 0 87 79 0.908 2.62
50 C. Crawford 1 1 0 0 28 27 0.964 1.00

 

Vancouver Canucks

# Name GP G A P +/- PIM Shots
J. Perrault* 2 0 0 0 -1 0 1
2 D. Hamhuis 3 0 2 2 -2 4 3
3 K. Bieksa 4 0 0 0 -5 4 5
4 K. Ballard 2 0 0 0 0 2 0
5 C. Ehrhoff 4 2 1 3 0 6 10
10 J. Tambellini 3 0 0 0 +1 0 4
13 R. Torres 4 0 0 0 -5 4 4
14 A. Burrows 3 0 2 2 +2 0 9
15 T. Glass 4 1 1 2 +1 2 3
17 R. Kesler 2 0 2 2 0 6 8
18 P. Schaefer* 2 0 0 0 0 0 2
18 C. Tanev* 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
20 R. Parent* 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
21 M. Raymond 4 0 0 0 -2 0 7
22 D. Sedin 4 2 3 5 -1 2 9
23 A. Edler 3 0 2 2 -2 2 4
26 M. Samuelsson 4 2 1 3 -4 6 16
27 M. Malhotra* 4 0 0 0 -4 0 6
29 A. Rome 3 0 0 0 -1 2 0
33 H. Sedin 4 2 2 4 -1 0 12
34 G. Desbiens* 1 0 0 0 0 0 1
36 J. Hansen 4 0 1 1 -4 0 6
39 C. Hodgson 1 0 1 1 0 0 3
41 A. Alberts 3 0 0 0 -2 4 2
Goalies Name GP W L O SA SV SV% GAA
1 R. Luongo 4 2 1 1 129 121 0.938 2.18
35 C. Schneider 1 0 0 0 21 18 0.857 7.40
*Not currently on active roster.

 

Here’s Your Opinion

Reasons for Optimism

  • The Sedins have had no trouble scoring against the ‘Hawks, leading both teams in point-scoring in the 4 games. What’s most encouraging is that they were able to score in multiple ways, both ugly and beautiful.
  • Roberto Luongo has been just as good, if not better, against the Blackhawks as he has been against the rest of the league. As long as the team in front of him doesn’t play like they did in the Voldemort game, Luongo will give the Canucks a chance to win every single game.
  • Take note of some of the names on the Canucks stat-sheet: Perrault, Tanev, Desbiens, Schaefer, Parent. Those players won’t be playing. Instead, we’ll see Higgins, Lapierre, and Salo. In addition, the Canucks will have an incredibly deep and potent group of top-six defensemen and all of them will be, shocking as it may be, healthy.
  • The Canucks powerplay is very, very good. The Blackhawks penalty kill is very, very bad. This is a good combination. #ObviousStatements
  • A loss in game one or two is not the end of the world: the Canucks have responded very well after tough losses to the Blackhawks this season. Don’t flip the pool.

 

Causes for Concern

  • Despite winning the season series against the Blackhawks, every point they earned came while Marty Turco was in net. Turco won’t be in net during the playoffs. This is a concern.
  • Yes, the Canucks won the season series; one of their wins, however, came via two blown calls by the officials. One bad bounce or blown whistle and the outcome could have easily been different. The Canucks can’t rely on luck.
  • Cody Hodgson will likely be the third line center instead of Manny Malhotra. While I like Hodgson a great deal, I don’t think he’s ready for the responsibility. In his one game against the Blackhawks this season he had a decent game, netting one assist, but Vigneault clearly had no faith in the youngster, giving him only 7:11 of icetime. He also won only 1 of his 5 faceoffs in the game. While it’s foolish to judge a player based on one game, the rest of his games during the regular season didn’t give much more reason for optimism. Combine that with his team-worst minus-12 for the Manitoba Moose, and it’s definitely a cause for concern. And, even at his best, he’s no Manny Malhotra.
  • Secondary scoring: the Canucks haven’t had any against the Blackhawks this season. The only goal scorers for the Canucks have been Daniel, Henrik, Samuelsson, Ehrhoff, and Tanner Glass. Only one of those players doesn’t regularly play on the first-unit powerplay. Take a guess which one. Hint: it’s the one that plays scrabble.
Daniel Wagner
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6 comments

  1. antro
    April 13, 2011

    My guess on the Cody Hodgson is that he isn’t there to replace Malhotra. Kesler will be doing the heavy lifting defensively. Thus it makes sense that Mason Raymond was being featured on the 3rd line, kinda as a stand in. Hodgson’s line is probably going to be expected to generate secondary scoring chances, while being responsible defensively. It’ll still be a big test for the kid.

    Btw, this is what Tom Benjamin suggested should happen, when Manny Malhotra was injured.

    Btw2, according to many metrics, reviewed by behindthenethockey, Vancouver and Chicago are very close. Goaltending and PK seem to be the Canucks’ main advantage. This is going to be a very hard series.

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  2. Daniel Wagner
    April 13, 2011

    Oh, Cody Hodgson obviously won’t be expected to play the same role as Manny Malhotra. There’s no doubt about that. My concern is that Hodgson doesn’t bring as much to the team at this point in his career as Manny does. Obviously they have different skillsets, but the amount of defensive work Manny took on himself really freed up Kesler to step up his offensive game. Without that, Kesler will need to focus primarily on his defensive work.

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  3. Dave
    April 13, 2011

    If I read that correctly, it boils down to each team having one real win and one luck win.

    Only difference is that both their real and luck wins came before the Canucks turned around. It’s going to be exciting, but there’s no reason why the Nucks can’t take the series.

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  4. antro
    April 13, 2011

    Actually, if Kesler plus Bieksa/Hamhuis are going to get Toews line, then I guess the question will be if Hodgson with Raymond or Samuelsson plus Hansen can take Frolik with Kane & Smith (assuming Yankee’s got the basic lines right for Chicago). That’s probably less of a challenge, and I think Hansen can shadow Kane with help from Hodgson. I assume Cody gets 2 games to show his stuff before Torres comes back.

    Btw, is PITB live-chatting or blogging games somewhere? Speaking of which, if I could watch the game with anyone, it would be Torres. How much fun would that be? Chew, beer, and talk tattoos.

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  5. Francis
    April 13, 2011

    Does anyone else find the plus-minus stats a little shocking and worrisome? Nearly all Blackhawk players are either a plus or even against the Canucks, while many of the Canucks are minuses against the Blackhawks. And are Hamhuis and Bieksa supposed to be the shutdown pair against Toews and Kane… they’re a combined minus 7 against them. I’m a little concerned because surely powerplay chances will go down in the playoffs and the Blackhawks will devote more time to shutting down the Canucks PP. Don’t mean to be the glass half empty kind of guy, but it seems five on five play is dominated by the Blackhawks.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      April 13, 2011

      Keep in mind that the 5-on-5 stats are ridiculously skewed because of the 7-1 thrashing in the Voldemort game, where Chicago scored 6 ES goals and the Canucks scored none. That said, you do have a point. The Canucks will need to be a lot better at even strength against the ‘Hawks if they want to win this series.

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