The Canucks dressed their complete roster for the final game of the preseason, setting up a terrifying possibility: considering that a shoddy Vancouver group full of fourth liners, AHLers, and since-cut veterans on tryouts was able to beat this same Edmonton Oilers team only a week ago, a loss tonight by the opening night lineup would have been irrefutable proof that the Canucks made all the wrong choices coming out of training camp. Dan Hamhuis is a flop; Ryan Parent’s where it’s at. Chris Higgins sucks; Antoine Roussel rocks. Mark Mancari and Todd Fedoruk should still be here; the Sedins should have been cut instead. Thankfully, the Canucks justified the decisions of the coaching staff by winning this game. And I watched this game.
There will be plenty of postgame discussion regarding Alex Edler’s hit to the head of Taylor Hall and whether this hit warrants further discipline. It’s a curious case. Undoubtedly, Edler’s elbow catches Hall right on the top of the helmet. It’s clear on the replay and it’s an alarming sight. With disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan’s crackdown on headshots fresh in our minds, it’s easy to see this as another suspendable play. However, this headshot differs from the previous incidents in that Hall makes a sudden movement prior to contact: while Edler is preparing to stand him up as the two charge into the corner (knowing full well that, as the bigger man, he’ll win the collision), Hall (knowing the same thing) instead decides to back off Edler and reaches underneath him for a pokecheck. The result is that, when Edler moves to make the hit, he suddenly catches a crouching Hall in the head, rather than in the chest or the shoulder. Shanahan has explained the “sudden movement” angle a number of times, and this may be the first instance where it becomes an absolving factor.
That said, Edler needs to tuck his freaking elbow in. If you look like you’re about to grab a new partner at a hoedown, you’re doing it wrong.
I would be less surprised if Marco Sturm were suspended for his hit on Lennart Petrell. While this also looked unintentional, it was exactly the sort of blindside headshot Shanahan has been punishing severely since the start of the preseason. Sturm has no suspension history and Petrell wasn’t hurt, but I could see a one or two-game ban here. That would be unfortunate. Sturm still looks like a guy trying to get his timing back, and having to sit out the opener wouldn’t help.
Speaking of hits Brendan Shanahan will probably look at, I imagine he’ll take a look at Victor Oreskovich’s bone-rattling check on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Not for disciplinary purposes, mind you. Just to weep at the very idea of a clean hit. That hit was so clean you could eat off it.
Cody Hodgson’s passing ability may be the perfect complement to Sturm and Mikael Samuelsson, both of whom are shoot-first wingers. That line had ten shots on goal tonight, with Samuelsson and Sturm registering 3 and 5, respectively. I say we call this line the Candy Striper line, what with how young Hodgson will be spending most of his time feeding two old men.
Did anyone else notice how hard Hodgson played during his final two shifts of the game? It was kind of hilarious. With a minute to go and the Canucks up one, Hodgson raced the puck into the Oilers zone, starting a play that would result in Mikael Samuelsson’s 3-1 insurance goal. Then, with mere seconds remaining and victory all but assured, Hodgson needlessly hustled to put the puck into the Oilers’ empty net, which he did with a second left on the clock. When it comes to being in the lineup on opening night, he’s not taking any chances. Someone should make sure Andrew Ebbett isn’t locked in a furnace room somewhere.
Even without the strong finish, Hodgson was mighty good tonight. He won 71% of his faceoffs, tying Manny Malhotra for the game-high, and he made the second unit powerplay look dangerous for the first time since 2009-10. Hodgson knows he only has to fill in for the Ryan Kesler from last year, right? Someone should talk to him before he tells David Backes to say hi to Kelly.
Midway through the first period, Mark Lee called Aaron Volpatti “Aaron Vol-potty”. I may or may not have snickered like a schoolboy. Tee hee, potty.
Speaking of Lee, is Teemu Hartikainen listed on his lineup card as “Hartikainen, the gritty Fin”? Because that is how Lee referred to the Oilers’ centre every time he touched the puck. We get it. He’s gritty and he’s Finnish. It’s not necessary to be so descriptive every time. He’s not Puff, the Magic Dragon.
While we’re ripping the broadcast team, Kevin Weekes may have given us his greatest quote of all time tonight when he said, ”People really don’t understand how important their back is.” Weekes comes correct. Without a back, your head would rest on your hips. Can you imagine how silly that would look?
Raffi Torres has been somewhat deified in these parts, but it’s important to understand why the Canucks were willing to let him go: he never played all that well with his linemates. Torres contributed big hits, to be certain, but he was a fairly individualistic player. Chris “Kiss Huggins” Higgins, on the other hand, Torres’s third line replacement, plays very well with his linemates. Consider that Higgins had three assists tonight, including the primary feed on Jannik Hansen’s game-winning snipe; Torres didn’t have a single multi-assist game during his tenure with the Canucks. Sure, the third line will miss Torres’s unpredictability, but they’ll be a much more cohesive unit with Higgins. It’s basically the same thing that happened when Two and a Half Men replaced Charlie Sheen with Ashton Kutcher.
The Canucks’ first unit powerplay looks a little rusty, although some of this may have been the Oilers’ heady decision to go with a four-man diamond rather than a four-man box on the penalty kill, opting to pressure the half-wall rather than the point. This formation was effective in staying close to the Sedins and cutting down on the time they had to make plays., meaning we can expect to see it more often. When a team employs it, it’s up to Alex Edler to capitalize on the room he’s being given and be a lot more active as a shooter. As it stands, he’s about as active as a past participle expressed in a passive voice.
Dan Hamhuis attempted eight shots tonight. Six were blocked. He also finished with two assists. Is Hamhuis attempting to pick up his offensive production in order to make up for Christian Ehrhoff’s departure? Sounds like the Community Man. I’m still waiting for the day Derek Jory and Nicole Van Zanten both call in sick and Hamhuis runs the @CanucksGame account from the bench.
Marco Sturm looks a lot like Manny Malhotra. They’re basically weird, cross-ethnicity doppelgangers. It’s up to us to determine whether Marco is the white Manny or Manny is the brown Marco.
And finally, Roberto Luongo was basically flawless tonight. He made 28 saves, several of them lovely, and far too many of them on 2-on-1s. The lone Edmonton goal came after Magnus Paajarvi bowled him over in the crease. Heck, even then, Luongo nearly stopped it. He was lights out, like a camp cabin after midnight.
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