Going into the third period of last night’s contest, I began to wonder if these two teams were stuck in some sort of Groundhog Day (or classic X-Files episode “Monday“)-style time loop, fated to repeat game one over and over again, until they got it right. Everything was just a little too familiar: Vancouver’s inability to put distance between themselves and Nashville, Ryan Kesler’s dominance, the one-goal lead heading into the third period. I soon suspected that Barry Trotz’s trap wasn’t a neutral zone trap at all, but rather, a time trap, where time just reset itself after undesirable outcomes. It was terrifying to consider the possibilities of a coach that could manipulate time, but it might explain why Trotz had retained his NHL coaching job for an absurd 11 years– David Poile still thinks this is Nashville’s debut season. Thankfully, however, Ryan “Timecop” Kesler broke through the time trap with a Van Dammean solo dash, preserving both the win and the natural progression of time. Yeah, I watched that movie. I also watched this game.
For the second consecutive game, Kesler scored the game winner on a powerplay that he had drawn, although this was no tip in front. Kesler comes flying into the zone, then goes Optimus Primal supergorilla beast mode, splits Shea Weber and Shane O’Brien like Kenny Wu, and beats Pekka Rinne low to the stick side. Sidenote: you know what’s the most unbelievable moment of that Mighty Ducks clip? Fulton making a tape-to-tape pass. Anyway, Kesler was incredible tonight, as he has been all series, with a goal, two assists, six shots, and three hits in over five minutes more icetime than any other Canucks forward. One minor quibble: on the game-winning goal, he denied that it was a set play, claiming he was just “freelancing”. I believe he meant freestyling, unless the goal was actually credited to a third team with whom Kesler has a contract on the side. Freestyling would make a lot more sense, especially considering Kesler grew up in Livonia, only about twenty minutes from 8 Mile, Detroit, the freestyle capital.
In the “huh” moment of the night, the HNIC crew named Christian Ehrhoff the game’s first star. Um, no. Ehrhoff was good, with a goal and two assists, but Kesler he was not. That said, Ehrhoff was instrumental in breaking through the Predator defense. Nashville’s defenders are so big and so mobile that they’ve been able to win a lot of puck battles and move the puck out of the zone with relative ease in this series. To combat this, Ehrhoff’s been given the green light to drop down below the goal line and give the Canucks an extra body. It worked on Alex Edler’s goal, when Ehrhoff is the man down low, centering the puck from behind the net. Mind you, that was the luckiest goal ever. Ehrhoff centers to Hansen, who whiffs, and the puck slides to Kesler, whose stick breaks, and the puck slides to Edler, who scores. More fans than a geisha house. Ehrhoff couldn’t have been luckier unless he shot the puck from behind the net, just hoping for a whistle, and it bounced off the goaltender’s stick, then his skate, and in. But that would never happen.
Joel Ward scored again tonight, and added an assist to go with it. For whatever reason, he’s looked like Jarome Iginla in this series. Not literally, of course. I only mean that he looks like a formidable power forward. Why would you think I meant literally? They look nothing alike.
Normally, there isn’t too much to say about an empty-net goal, but Henrik Sedin’s insurance marker was quietly brilliant. Just prior to a late-game defensive zone faceoff, Alain Vigneault calls a timeout, during which time he draws up a gutsy set play. He sends out a makeshift line of Henrik, Kesler and Burrows, with Henrik, rather than Kesler, curiously slated to take the draw. Henrik wins it, at which point Kesler and Burrows spring into motion. Kesler jumps on the puck. As a right-handed wing, he’s now perfectly positioned to ring it hard around the near boards on his forehand. Burrows, meanwhile, sprints to the far boards, narrowly beating Shea Weber to the puck and making an incredible chip out of the zone. The first one onto the puck is Henrik, who blows the zone the moment Kesler gets possession, and puts both the puck and the game away. It’s a cold-blooded execution.
Speaking of Henrik Sedin, he had three points last night, so people are saying he had a bounceback game. That said, he was really no better than in game three, where his strong play was not reflected on the statsheet. He wound up with better stats last night. Apart from the empty net play, his best moment came on the Ryan Kesler goal, which landed right on Kesler’s skate as he burned through the neutral zone at top speed. It was actually a pretty dangerous cross-ice pass with Martin Erat right there to intercept for a breakaway, had his stick had been on the ice. Give Henrik credit for attempting it despite the criticism he’s taken for his bad plus-minus. Of course, if Erat had intercepted it, we’d be having a different conversation, likely one about how Henrik is the worst player in the world.
Speaking of the worst player in the world, Sergei Kostityn is having a brutal series. He’s Nashville’s best offensive player, but he had more giveaways (3) than shots (1) last night. He’s actually playing so badly that the Canucks are forcing the Predators to pass the puck to him. Case in point: the 5-on-3, where Alex Burrows played unreasonably high on Shea Weber, taking away his big shot, and leaving the down-low passing option for Kostityn wide open. And somehow, with all that time and space, Kostityn couldn’t generate a shot. Once, he was blocked, and once, he lost the puck to Luongo without even testing him.
Speaking of blocks, the Canucks had 16 last night, only five less than the Predators’ shot total. Kevin Bieksa, whose pairing with Hamhuis has been a timer and 25 plastic polygons away from perfection in this series, led the way with three. Shea Weber didn’t even get a single shot on goal. He had four blocked before they got to Luongo — one by each of Higgins, Salo, Bieksa, and Edler. Poor Weber. His shot is capable of tearing a hole in the net, but the human body appears to be made of stronger material. There’s an idea: if the NHL wants to prevent players from shooting through nets, they should starting making them out of human skin. If the NHL announces it’s hired Buffalo Bill as an equipment consultant, you’ll know what’s up.
As frustrated as Weber was, Pekka Rinne was moreso. His body language in the last two games reminds me a little of Luongo’s in 07-08, when the Canucks didn’t have the offense to support his stellar netminding. With the weight of the game on his shoulders, Luongo couldn’t hide his disappointment when a puck got past him, and it threw him off his game. Rinne has developed a similar comportment. He’s slamming his stick down on the ice, arguing calls, throwing his head back, and generally losing his cool. It’s no surprise he looked shaky tonight for the first time. Meanwhile, the Canucks are exacerbating his frustration by bumping him at every opportunity, especially on the opening goal, where Burrows spun him right round, like a record. But, in Burr’s defense, Rinne was outside the crease, and the DJ was playing classic Kenny hit, “The Bump”.
At the second intermission, the green men had an amusing encounter with Nicole Kidman (and also Keith Urban, but no one cares about him). At least, I think it was the Green Men. It might have just been Andy Serkis. It’s possible they were filming that classic scene from The Hobbit where Gollum wins the One Ring from Bilbo Baggins in a shootout.
I thought Alex Edler had a shaky game. Alain Vigneault did too. Edler’s averaged 24:56 a game in these playoffs, but last night, his minutes dropped to 16:21. To put that in perspective, he only played three more minutes than Aaron Rome. Is Edler the new Ballard? Hopefully not, but you can see Vigneault’s tenuous trust in the Swedish d-man eroding. It’s not undeserved. After being the best defenseman at times in the previous series, Edler’s game has cooled off considerably. His puckhandling has become an adventure, and he’s lost the puck in the defensive zone a few too many times. Even the timing on his hits has gone a little askew, although he tallied three last night. My best guess is that, after returning from surgery in seeming midseason form, he actually saw a few too many minutes too soon, and is in dire need of a break. Here’s hoping the Canucks can finish off Nashville on Saturday night and give him some rest, before he starts sleeping through shifts (like Sergei Kostityn) or wanders into a tattoo parlour during a micronap and gets an unfortunate backtat.
And finally, I really liked Don Cherry’s take on Ryan Kesler’s chicken-wing from the other night. Rather than decry it for its immorality, Cherry simply pointed out that no one pulled that little trick better than Mario Lemieux. In short, selling calls is not only part of hockey, it’s a special skill. Scott Brown felt Kesler pulled another fast one on the Ryan Suter “holding” penalty, doing a triple lindy on the way down. He may have, but that was still a pretty clear penalty. Were there a call for mangling, it would have been that. I liked Suter’s shock when the ref pointed at him. I’m not allowed to do that? Since when?
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