Part of me wonders if the Canucks decided to only dress the Sedins for one game out of the seven preseason contests they’ve played so far in an attempt to make us miss them. At the end of last season, all Canuck fans could do was grumble about the twins, but after being reminded Wednesday night of how much better they are than anyone else on the team, another game without them was an exercise in dull pain. The Sedinless Canuck team dressed for the penultimate preseason game was about as threatening as a kitten in a felt hat, and nowhere near as adorable.
I ask you, is there anything worse than the realization that you just sat through a three-hour preseason shutout? No. There is only shame, and I feel this shame, because I watched this game.
In his brief callup last year, Aaron Volpatti struggled in adjusting to the pace of the NHL game, and early this preseason, I observed that this was still the case. I was wrong. Over the past few games, Volpatti’s speed has increased and, now that he can get to the puck-carrier in time, he’s begun to look like the effective energy guy he was last season for the Moose. Tonight, he crushed Jason Demers with a clean, shoulder-to-chest hit in the first period, and dished out another three big hits besides. He may be the heir apparent to Raffi Torres’s thundering hittiness. I say we make him wear the number thirteen and dye his hair orange. It’ll be like the movie Vertigo, except with Raffi Torres in the Kim Novak role.
As Brad Winchester later discovered, Volpatti hits hard after the whistle too. As a guy who isn’t much of a fan of fighting, I hated to see Winchester go down like that, but it’s not like Volpatti did anything untoward. It wasn’t a sucker-punch. Both guys agreed to fight, four gloves hit the ice, and then Volpatti threw a right hook and Winchester walked into it. I hope he’s okay. Winchester doesn’t have a contract, and he’ll be hard-pressed to get one with a lingering concussion.
Speaking of unfortunate fights, I didn’t like Todd Fedoruk’s attempt to goad someone into a one immediately after Volpatti’s. No doubt that, after Keith Ballard and Volpatti stood up for themselves, Fedoruk felt a little pressure to prove his worth, but it was silly watching him try to sell someone a fistfight like a door-to-door salesman. First, Jamie McGinn rebuffed him. Then, when Jim Vandermeer eventually answered, it seemed anticlimactic and inconsequential. I’ve never seen someone disprove his worth by fighting. Actually, that’s not true. Kimbo Slice.
More Volpatti: he was also excellent on the penalty kill, blocking four shots, getting into passing lanes, and applying pressure at the point. While the fighting and the hitting certainly helped, this is likely the aspect of his game that may have won him a spot in the lineup come opening night.
One night after failing to capitalize on a 6-on-3, the Canucks squandered two 5-on-3s. So, in case you were wondering: yes, this is indeed the same team as last year.
I had high hopes for the Hansen-Malhotra-Higgins line, but they looked rustier than an old tugboat (also, Higgins was covered in barnacles). They overskated pucks, never really got any offensive zone pressure, and looked disjointed all evening. Consider, for example, a late second period 2-on-1, where Jannik Hansen was easily caught from behind by Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Yeah, that’s a guy playing his first game of the season right there.
That said, Manny Malhotra is already in top form when it comes to taking faceoffs. At the end of the first period, Malhotra was 6-for-7 in the circle. At the end of the second, he was 10-for-12, and he finished the game 12-for-17. Don’t shrug this off because it’s the preseason. The Sharks were the second best faceoff team in the NHL last season and all of their top centres were in the lineup. In other words, Malhotra is about as good at taking a faceoff as Hannibal Lecter.
Hansen took three shots from behind the net tonight. One of them was a slapshot. Now look, I get that the Canucks learned a lot from last year’s playoffs, but the rest of the team is taking lessons from the series in Boston, not Nashville.
Though Cody Hodgson marginally outplayed Andrew Ebbett, frankly, neither looked particularly good at all tonight. You wonder if Jordan Schroeder will get an opportunity with Marco Sturm on Saturday. Or maybe the Canucks will convince Mats Sundin to come out of retirement.
Man, Mark Mancari really is slow. I wouldn’t have noticed it until someone pointed it out to me, but now that I know to look for it, it’s really noticeable. If that makes any sense whatsoever.
Cory Schneider was fabulous in this game. He made 33 big saves to keep it from getting out of hand. Still, there are going to be plenty who won’t be able to see past the three goals he allowed, even though he couldn’t be faulted on any of them. It’s going to be interesting watching the love affair Canuck fans have for Schneider deteriorate this season. Last year, little was expected of him, so it was easy to exceed all expectations. This year? Canuck fans think he’s better than Luongo. The eventual realization that he isn’t should be very, very entertaining. It’ll be like watching the Star Wars, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace on opening night — nothing but that slow realization that you only have yourself to blame.
Nicklas Jensen isn’t just big, he’s shifty. I was continually impressed at the way he shook off defenders. I know most people think he’s going back to junior, but I still think it’s possible that he gets nine regular-season games.
Ryan Parent had another forgettable game. His first touch of the puck was a dump-in from the wrong side of centre that led to an icing. Little mistake. The Sharks’ first goal was his fault too, as he lunged for Joe Thornton behind the net when he had no need to, leaving Joe Pavelski open in front. Big mistake. If Parent makes the team, it’s evidence that Alain Vigneault sleeps through these games with half a ping pong ball over each eye so it looks like he’s paying attention.
Keith Ballard had a hot and cold night. He had two beautiful hipchecks, a fight, and made a number of smart, defensive plays. There were even times, such as during the first period, that he looked, as he should, like the best defender on the team. But he also finished the night minus-2, and he was directly responsible for the Sharks’ third goal after drifting into the middle of the San Jose zone and turning the puck over for a 2-on-1 the other way. It was sheer luck that the puck squirted to Jamie McGinn — whose backhand was gorgeous — but that rush doesn’t happen if Ballard protects the puck better. It doesn’t help his cause that he’s falling down as the puck is going into the net. It never looks good when the red light is on and you’re on your duff.
You know what else doesn’t look good for Ballard? The fact that Andew Alberts played a solid game. Alberts is looking surprisingly mobile these days, and he dished out three big hits. Then, after the game, he put on MuchDance 1999 in the dressing room, thereby dishing out seventeen more big hits.
And finally, I hate to say it, but Anders Eriksson was solid tonight. He had 2 shots, 3 hits, 2 blocked shots, and was the good kind of hardly noticeable. I wonder exactly how the Canucks would manage his contract, but I bet they’d much rather be paying him than Ryan Parent. Eriksson may be old and weird and Swedish, but so is Ace of Base, and they rule.
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