The Canucks gave up 7 goals against only once this season, in the infamous Voldemort game against Chicago on November 20th. Though “Voldemort” implies that it shall not be named, like Dumbledore, I have never seen any reason to be frightened of talking about it. After all, the Canucks followed up the game by going on an incredible run, winning 17 of their next 21 games. The two games are remarkably similar actually: both games were tied after the first period, the Blackhawks scored four goals in the second period of both games, and Canucks fans collectively flipped the pool after each game. Also, both games were excruciating to watch. I should know: I watched that game and I watched this game.
Harrison called me in a panic after the game and I had to convince him that the Canucks were not out of the playoffs. I made him promise to stop listening to the callers on the TEAM 1040 after a loss.
Everyone on the Canucks was, at best, mediocre tonight. They were outshot, outhit, outplayed, and, of course, outscored. It was frustrating, demoralizing, and embarrassing. And it was one game. It was an ugly, ugly game featuring far more than a game’s worth of awfulness. But it still only counts as one game.
After the first period, it looked like this was going to be a very different game. Sure, Bryan Bickell made Kevin Bieksa look he was one-year younger with his pretty opening goal, but the Canucks responded quickly on the powerplay, as Salo got a couple lucky bounces off Blackhawk hips enroute to the net. Meanwhile, Luongo made save after save, including this rob-job on Toews to keep the game knotted at one in the first period. The crowd went from raucous to deathly silent, afraid that they were about to witness the dreaded sweep. Then everything went horribly, horribly wrong. I haven’t seen something go that wrong after a decent start since I watched The Forgotten.
Time to look at some major problems for the Canucks: the examples given are just when they lead to goals against, but they were a problem throughout the game:
Major problem #1: bad line changes. The Canucks got into the bad habit of heading for the bench while the Blackhawks were attacking through the neutral zone. Brian Campbell scored the ‘Hawks second goal of the game by taking advantage of one of these changes as the Canucks’ penalty killers change for the Sedins, leading to an odd-man situation that is poorly played by Mikael Samuelsson. That’s an undeserved -1 in the Sedins’ plus-minus column. They deserved one, however, for heading for a change just before Dave Bolland’s goal, the fourth for the Blackhawks. The turnover by Tanner Glass isn’t pretty, but the fact that no one was there in support is due to the bad change. Kesler gets a turn as well: on the Blackhawks’ sixth goal, he goes for a line change while on the penalty kill as the Blackhawks are crossing the Canucks’ blueline. The timing is atrocious and is exacerbated by Jannik Hansen’s aggressive hit in the neutral zone, turning the 5-on-4 powerplay momentarily into a 4-on-2. Patrick Sharp makes no mistake.
Major problem #2: forwards losing their checks in the offensive zone. Duncan Keith pots the ‘Hawks third goal when Daniel Sedin loses track of him as he slips into the slot and rips a slapshot top corner. That’s a deserved -1 in the Sedins’ plus-minus column. The goal comes just 17 seconds after Campbell’s 2-1 goal, but the Canucks can take solace in the fact that it wasn’t the shortest time between two goals tonight: the Kings scored two goals in 16 seconds.
Major problem #3: poorly timed pressure in the neutral zone. Dan Hamhuis is at fault on Michael Frolik’s goal, the fifth for the Blackhawks, as he is over-aggressive on the puck, turning a potential 2-on-1 into a breakaway. Clearly the normally steady Community Man had something on his mind: turned out he was in the middle of volunteering for Kids Help Phone and was counselling a young teenager through some tough issues at school via the bluetooth headset in his helmet.
On the plus side, Sharp’s second goal of the night, the seventh by the Blackhawks, didn’t fall under one of these major problems. It was just a simple conversion on a 4-on-3 powerplay that the Canuck penalty-killers don’t care about at all. With the score already 6-1, they half-heartedly waved their sticks in the vague direction of passing lanes. Jannik Hansen recognizes early that the pass is going to Sharp at the goal line, but he’s clearly in no rush to get there. It’s the least motivated I’ve seen Hansen since I invited him to sing bass in my barbershop quartet.
While driving home, my wife and I stopped at a gas station. A fellow customer loudly complained that Luongo was terrible. He wasn’t. As you can see from the major problems above, Luongo can’t really be blamed for the loss. His performance in the first period was superb and his performance in the rest of the game was as good as could be expected. The team in front of him was atrocious, getting outworked in every facet of the game and giving up far too many prime scoring chances. I have a suspicion the man in the gas station went home and called the TEAM 1040. I feel bad for Blake Price sometimes.
The Sedins were atrocious 5-on-5 tonight, which will likely be attributed to the play of Dave Bolland, who made a triumphant return from injury by netting a goal and 3 assists. Henrik Sedin, on the other hand, was minus-4 and had just one shot. Brother Daniel didn’t fare much better, finishing minus-3. The Sedins couldn’t thread passes together at even strength and frequently got caught in the defensive zone, leading Alain Vigneault to experiment: after trying Mikael Samuelsson in place of Burrows, he tossed Raffi Torres on their line in the third period. Torres could be considered more of a physical deterrent than a linemate, along the lines of carrying mace if you walk home late at night in a big city.
The Sedins were much better on the powerplay, creating good scoring chances as soon as they had a bit more room on the ice. On a late powerplay, Daniel Sedin scored the meaningless goal seen above off a pretty slap-pass by Christian Ehrhoff. It’s followed by the most moribund celebration you’ll ever see unless you get a chance to go to a zombie wedding. If you do go, get used to hearing this song at the reception.
One of the main subplots of this series has been between Jonathan Toews and Ryan Kesler, as two of the best two-way centers in the NHL battle for supremacy. The way this story has been told is Kesler shutting down Toews, but as neither player has a goal in this series, who’s shutting down whom? Without secondary scoring from Kesler and his linemates, the Canucks are a little too dependent on the Sedins and the tertiary scoring provided by the bottom-six.
Jim Hughson succinctly summed up the last two days of Canucks’ coverage with this gem: There’s Torres, who was suspended by everybody but the NHL.
There were a few positives: the third line of Raymond, Hansen, and Torres managed to create some sustained offensive pressure in the first period and were not a defensive liability. Raymond actually had a decent game: he was one of the few forwards to finish even in plus-minus and was the only Canuck to finish above 50% in the faceoff circle, winning 6-of-9. Unfortunately, when Mason Raymond is your best forward, you’re in deep trouble, similar to when Kyle Wellwood is one of your strongest forwards in the playoffs.
Keith Ballard was the only defenseman who wasn’t a minus player. Sure, he only played about 15 minutes, but that was 15 minutes in which the Blackhawks did not score. I would have liked to see a few more of those minutes. I saw far too many minutes in which the Blackhawks did score. I did not like those minutes and I will never get them back.
Kevin Bieksa got into an old-fashioned knuckle-duster with Viktor Stalberg after the latter blatantly interfered with the former, knocking him into the boards. It’s just the excuse Bieksa needed to let loose some of the frustration of the 7-2 loss, as he bloodies Stalberg’s face by punching it repeatedly. It was only the second fight of Stalberg’s career and, to his credit, he owns up to the rash of late (and early) hits he had just thrown by facing the facial onslaught. It was disappointing, however, that CBC cut away from the fight just as it began. It wasn’t a long enough fight to get reaction shots.
The referees in this game, Dan O’Rourke and Brad Meier, did an effective job policing this game as it started to get out of hand, levying minors and misconducts liberally to dissuade any potential goonery. While a couple of their calls were questionable (goaltender interference on Ehrhoff and charging on Edler in particular), it’s hard to complain about the reffing when the score was so one-sided. It was odd, however, to see them break out their Precrime division, and kick Raffi Torres and John Scott out of the game for what amounted to a brief chat. Clearly, the refs were worried about a red ball.
And finally, there’s a picture of Vince Vaughn laughing at Roberto Luongo. In it, he is laughing harder than anyone did while watching “Fred Claus.”
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