For many, the big story of Game 1 will be the return of the Sedins, who broke out in a big way, leading the Canucks to a third period comeback with two huge goals. It’s true — this was a big deal. That said, I’m more excited about the return of something else: blown coverage. Defensive lapses! Odd-man rushes! Sweet, sweet space! After the Nashville series, which was tighter than a hipster’s trousers, I had forgotten how much fun it could to be to watch the Canucks versus a team that can blow an assignment. It’s downright refreshing. All three Vancouver goals tonight came off defensive errors, one on each San Jose D-pairing’s watch. Oh, and speaking of watches, I watched this game:
One of the most entertaining moments of the game came before it had officially started, as Joe Thornton and Ryan Kesler jostled for position on the game’s first faceoff. Eventually, both would be thrown out of the circle, leading to a much less interesting opening draw: Patrick Marleau vs. Mason Raymond. The two wingers said “Hello,” smiled politely at one another, then exchanged e-mails before the linesman dropped the puck.
Thornton and Kesler will be an interesting matchup throughout this series, especially because of the reputation each has accrued. Kesler has a reputation as a shutdown guy; Thornton has a reputation as a guy who can get shut down. You’ve got to imagine Jumbo Joe will be motivated to win this this series battle, and he certainly did tonight, notching two points, and winning 6-of-9 draws against Kesler, including 5-of-5 in the neutral zone. That said, tonight played out a little like that commercial where the old lady in the motorized scooter beats the two sports cars to a parking spot. In this metaphor, Henrik Sedin is that old lady. While Thornton and Kesler battled it out, kindly old Henrik Sedin wound up moseying into top spot, with the two points of his own, including the game-winning goal. This is probably the most frustrating thing about the Canucks. It’s not enough to outplay Ryan Kesler. You also have to outplay the Canucks’ first line center.
The Sharks opened the scoring on a bad giveaway by Roberto Luongo, who has become famed, in these playoffs, for allowing freaky goals only. He’s the NHL’s kinkiest goaltender; normal stuff simply doesn’t appeal to him anymore. Attempting to clear the zone, Luongo instead made a perfect pass to Joe Thornton right in the slot and, unlike Luongo, Thornton made no mistake. Now, Luongo claims that his stick broke on the clear, which it may have, but I’d question why a goaltender so prone to losing his stick is using one that can also break. Luongo’s stick should be made of adamantium and surgically fused to his bones.
The goal — which couldn’t possibly be blamed on any Canuck skater — occurred when both Sedins were on the ice, adding to their bogus plus/minus woes. Thankfully, they were able to generate some offense tonight and dig themselves out of that early hole. Still, Daniel Sedin couldn’t avoid another mediocre stat line. He had no goals, no assists, and finished even in the plus/minus category. Just goes to show that the stats don’t always tell the story. No reasonable person could argue Daniel Sedin had a bad game tonight, which is why Damien Cox stands alone.
Let’s talk about San Jose’s defensive lapses. Ian White is the victim on the Canucks’ opening goal. After a Maxim Lapierre dump-in, Jannik Hansen pins White along the end boards to take away the passing option, so Antti Niemi leaves his net and throws the puck up the boards the other way. White immediately begins to exit the zone, but it’s a premature evacuation. When Torres cuts off the puck and dumps it back in, White has put the net between himself and Hansen, and has to go the long the way around to catch him. By then, Hansen has already centered the puck to Lapierre to tie the game.
The line of Lapierre, Torres, and Hansen was excellent tonight, scoring a goal, and hemming the Sharks in their own zone for numerous shifts. They also had a combined 10 hits tonight, with no member of the line registering less than three. It’s early, but it bodes well for Vancouver if their third line can outplay San Jose’s. Come to think of it, it would also bode well if their first, second, and fourth lines could outplay San Jose’s, and their goaltender could outplay San Jose’s, and their defense, too. In summary: it would bode well if all of Vancouver’s parts outplayed all of their opponent’s.
Kevin Bieksa’s third period game-tying goal, too, comes off a mistake, as Dan Boyle and Devin Setoguchi misplay a relatively friendly-looking 2-on-3 rush. San Jose looks to have things well in order when, all of a sudden, Setoguchi takes a run at Henrik, who avoids the check and chips the puck past Boyle, who swings at the puck while skating backwards, rather than turning to retrieve it. By the time he does, Alex Burrows is in behind the defense with possession, leaving him plenty of space to find the trailer. Bieksa’s shot is a laser.
You’ve gotta like the nerve of Christian Ehrhoff on Henrik Sedin’s goal. After Marc-Edourd Vlasic chases Kesler way too far up the side wall, Ehrhoff has his pick of Sedins to pass the puck to. Daniel is frantically calling for the puck, but Ehrhoff looks him off and makes a cross-zone pass to Henrik Sedin instead. Gutsy. Granted, Daniel was going to pass it to Henrik anyway, but still. When Daniel Sedin calls for the puck, you pass him the puck. If I’m Daniel, I’m sending a threatening text message. Anyway, Henrik Sedin received the pass and, in a move that is marginally wizardous, fights off a desperate Vlasic slash (that actually knocks his stick out of his hands) to drag the puck past a sprawling Niemi. Divine is jealous of that drag.
This game might have been even more lopsided, but Niemi kept San Jose in it. The Canucks really made him look good, however, by keeping a lot of their shots low. It should be interesting watching them adjust to Niemi’s style of goaltending, which differs greatly from Pekka Rinne. Whereas Rinne had a fabulous glove that you wanted to avoid by going low, usually to the stick side, Niemi is vulnerable up higher, and almost unbeatable along the ice. This was no more evident than on a late second-period goal mouth scrum, where the Canucks tried and failed to power a puck past a sprawled Niemi, but were unable to lift the puck. Silly Canucks. To beat Niemi, you have to get high. You’d think a team from Vancouver wouldn’t have so much trouble with this.
At one point during the game, Glenn Healy claimed that Ian White did a lot of things well, but he struggled with defense. That’s probably not ideal when you’re a defenseman.
Late in the game, an icing call trapped Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows on the ice for a defensive zone faceoff, so Alain Vigneault called a timeout to discuss what they were going to do. Henrik Sedin suggested he and Daniel switch jerseys, which got everybody laughing. Of course, Henrik was serious, and his feelings were hurt by the laughter. After the game, he treated himself to a fudgesicle.
Kevin Bieksa was incredible tonight. He played mean, registering five hits, and he played smart, with two takeaways and a blocked shot. A lot of San Jose’s offensive zone forays ended when the puck made its way to Bieksa’s corner. My favourite Bieksa moment was when he responded to Ian White kicking a puck into the zone by kicking it out even harder. Hilarious. If you’ve watched Bieksa’s game for any amount of time, you know he’s pretty skilled at kicking pucks. Here was an instance where he seemed genuinely offended that anybody thought they could outkick him.
The Canucks outshot the Sharks 38 to 29 and outhit them by an almost identical margin, at 38 to 26, but the territorial advantage is even more impressive when you look at shot attempts rather than shots on goal. Including blocked and missed shots, the Canucks directed 71 shots on the San Jose net. San Jose, conversely, directed 45 at the Vancouver net.
And finally, Maxim Lapierre has had an excellent postseason in the faceoff circle, but tonight, he only won 2 of 10 draws. Those are Alexander Hamilton numbers.
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