Four games into the preseason, the Canucks continue to hide their veterans in a cave in the mountains. As a result, tonight’s lineup was again a combination of AHLers, fourth liners, invitees, and animals dressed as people. Meanwhile, for the second game in a row, their opponents — tonight, the Anaheim Ducks — dressed something akin to their opening night roster. Needless to say, Vancouver did not win. The Canucks came out strong in the first, but by the second period, they’d run out of moxie (and some of the animals’ moustaches had fallen off). From that moment on, the discrepancy in talent was impossible for those that watched this game to miss. Hence, I saw it, because I watched this game.
I think it’s probably safe to say by now that the only training camp battle involving Alexander Sulzer and Ryan Parent is the one for the ninth spot on the defensive depth chart. Worse, neither seems particularly motivated to get it. Both played badly tonight, costing the Canucks two goals apiece.
Sulzer was the culprit on the opening goal, displaying poor gap control and giving Saku Koivu far too much room to enter the offensive zone with speed, then cut into the middle and shoot. He was at fault on the second goal as well, getting crossed up with a teammate at the high slot, then opting to chase Jason Blake across the crease. However, rather than shade Blake away from the goalmouth and take his stick away, Sulzer stopped directly in Cory Schneider’s line of vision. When the puck came through, Blake was free to redirect the puck, and Schneider couldn’t see anything. If the Ducks are smart, when Sulzer is waived, they’ll claim him to be a powerplay net presence.
Ryan Parent’s errors came under sixty seconds apart. On the third goal, Parent simply lost track of Corey Perry on the powerplay. Rather than stay near Perry (which is ideal, since he’s pretty good), Parent planted himself about a foot higher in the zone, where he was useless to prevent a cross-crease pass and tap-in. Then that happened. On his next shift, less than a minute later, Parent made a terrible pinch, giving Anaheim a 2-on-1 that began inside their own blueline.
Speaking of defensemen whose defending is suspect, Kevin Connauton scored the Canucks’ only goal — a beautiful powerplay wrist shot — and he had a number of standout forays into the offensive zone. He also finished the game a minus-2. Consider: the quality of Kevin Connauton’s game depends entirely on whether he’s jumped into the rush or he’s trying to defend it. If he’s the last man back, you’d better hope the puck jumps over a stick.
It doesn’t mean much when you consider his competition, but Cody Hodgson has been the best Canuck forward through four preseason games. Tonight was perhaps his best performance yet. He showed strength that we’ve never seen before, both in his stride and along the boards. His puckhandling and vision was excellent too. Hodgson appears to be getting better with each game. It’s weird — he should be getting worse, both because he’s played a lot of hockey this week and because Alain Vigneault’s been poisoning his quinoa since Monday.
All joking aside, it seems to me that Vigneault is doing his best to get Hodgson acclimatized to lots of minutes and difficult defensive assignments — suspiciously, Ryan Kesler’s second line centre role. Not only has Vigneault been throwing Hodgson out against other team’s top lines as much as possible, but he’s been sending Hodgson out for every second draw. Tonight, Hodgson took 22 of the Canucks’ 50 faceoffs, and he had a rougher time in the circle than Thursday, winning only 8. He especially struggled against Ryan Getzlaf and Saku Koivu, going only 4-for-14 against the Ducks’ top two centres.
Speaking of Getzlaf, Mike Duco fought him, and it was sort of hilarious. Two nights removed from getting into it with Taylor Hall and Ryan Smyth, Duco took on Lubomir Visnovsky and Getzlaf at the exact same time, punching Visnovsky with his left hand while he punched Getzlaf with his right. Eventually, Getzlaf took offense to this and they dropped the gloves for real. Later, JF Jacques really took offense to this, jumping Duco with four minutes to go in the game. Duco curled into the fetal position like a champ, but Jacques continued to wail on him. In the end, he received 2, 5, and 10 for being a bonehead.
One day after Duco achieved a 4-Raffi rating on our scale of Raffi replacements, Mark Lee called him a bowling ball. Also, two nights after scoring a goal, he didn’t score one. Is it too early to call him streaky? Because if so, we have a streaky ginger bowling ball on our hands. All we need now is for Duco to start photo bombing his own photos and we’re set.
Keith Ballard looked good tonight. It was especially nice to see the return of Hips, Ballard’s hipchecky alter ego, when he stepped into Ducks’ winger Devante Smith-Pelly just inside the defensive blue line. It was lovely. Derek Jory had the money line here, so I’ll simply defer to him: Ballard with a solid hit on Smith-Pelly. He nearly broke the man’s hyphen.
Chris Tanev, Ballard’s likely partner on opening night, continues to impress. I thought he acquitted himself especially nicely on a 1-on-1 versus Bobby Ryan. Ryan has stepped around numerous defenders in just such a situation, but Tanev coolly poked the puck away before Ryan could get fancy.
And finally, I hardly noticed Mark Mancari, but he finished with a pretty solid statline. He had a game-high four shots on goal with another six attempted, three hits and a takeaway. He’ll need to be less invisible, if he wants to make the team, however. Unless his plan is to be so invisible the Canucks forget he’s at camp and he never gets cut.
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