Opening night at Rogers Arena was an awkwardly bitter sweet affair. The Canucks’ impressive trophy haul from last season was on display as Al Murdoch recapped the stellar 2010-11 season, while quietly avoiding the topic of the biggest trophy absent from centre ice. Then the awkward subject of the post-game-seven riots came up, leading into the inspirational honouring of the heroes who helped the city both during and after the riots. Henrik gave the ceremonial game puck to the incredibly shy little girl who had helped her dad clean up the streets the next day, which was adorable.
The game itself: also bittersweet. Having hockey back is like sampling the sweetest flavours at La Casa Gelato; seeing the Canucks lose in the shootout is as bitter as poorly-made hummus. I watched this game.
Did anyone else notice the plastic bracelets on Pascal Dupuis’ wrist? I’m guessing he promised one of his three daughters that he would wear them. Either that or he raided their dress-up jewellery.
Both goaltenders let in goals that they’d like to have back. The difference tonight is that Roberto Luongo let in two of them and Marc-Andre Fleury let in only one. The Penguin’s first goal banked off Luongo’s right leg from the goal line, while their third goal was a short-handed wrister off the rush by Matt Cooke that sneaked between Luongo’s blocker and pad. Or snuck. Or, since it was Cooke, weaselled.
Cooke deserves full credit for his first goal. It came off a bit of a broken play that left Dupuis all alone behind the net and Cooke all alone in front of it, and he snapped it top shelf where Daddy keeps the handgun. The second assist goes to Aaron Volpatti, who misread the play and threw the puck behind the net hoping to find Ballard rather than Dupuis waiting for it. Volpatti was streets behind on that one.
Back to the weak goals: Maxim Lapierre scored a candidate for Ugliest Goal of the Season, flinging the puck towards Fleury from the corner behind the goal line. Fleury went to parry the puck away with his stick and instead had it slip by, then accidentally kicked the puck in as he attempted to recover. The goal came off a fantastic forecheck by Lapierre and Dale Weise to turn the puck over.
Chris “Kiss Huggins” Higgins was the most consistent forward on the Canucks in this game: if it were actually possible to give 110%, I’m pretty sure he would. Higgins led the way physically with Maxim Lapierre, as both logged a team-high 5 hits each. Higgins added 3 shots on goal and 3 more attempts, along with 2 takeaways. Still, he was pretty disappointed in his game: since no one scored when he was on the ice, he couldn’t get into any group hugs.
The Canucks second goal was a thing of beauty and it kicked off what I am optimistically calling The Redemption of Keith Ballard. The much-maligned defenceman had a solid game at both ends of the ice, capped off by a gorgeous goal off a slick feed from Henrik. After starting the breakout in his own end, Ballard took off down the wing, showing up wide open at the back door while the Penguins were focussing on shutting down the Sedins. Ballard’s finish is impeccable. His Finnish, on the other hand, is awful; Salo cringes every time he tries to start a conversation.
Every Canucks centre finished at 50% or above in the faceoff circle. Their biggest victim was Evgeni Malkin, who won only 25% of his faceoffs, losing draws to Hodgson, Sturm, Malhotra, Henrik, and Lapierre. Despite scoring to seal the game in the shootout, Malkin did not have a good game, frequently losing his feet and the puck. He finished with no shots, though he was on the ice for both Penguins powerplay goals. Speaking of, the Canucks penalty kill was pretty terrible: not much more can be said about it.
Ryan Kesler was fully clothed when he was honoured in the pre-game ceremony, but he wasn’t dressed tonight. Ba-dum psssh. Also, CBC showed the naked photo during the second intermission with no warning: guys, kids watch Hockey Night In Canada. Just saying.
Daniel Sedin was robbed by Fleury in the first period when he couldn’t get the puck over Fleury’s glove after Gilmouring him from behind the net. He did not make the same mistake when he got another scoring chance, tucking the puck just under the bar to tie the game 3-3.
The NHL.com video shows the entire sequence leading up to that goal, and it’s a beauty. After Malkin misses the net from the slot, Daniel and Burrows break up ice. Daniel makes a slick drop pass to Burrows to get across the blueline, then Burrows makes a slick drag move to get a step on Paul Martin, drawing a penalty in the process. Burrows gets stuffed on his wrap-around attempt, but manages to keep the play alive with one hand on his stick as he falls to the ice, hooking the puck to Salo in the slot. His shot is fought off by Fleury, but Daniel gets the puck to Henrik along the boards, who flips it back to Daniel once he gets to the slot so he can finish the play off with a goal. It was a brilliant play by Burrows, who may not be a wizard, but spellcasters need a tank to draw aggro.
The deadly duo known to all Bulies as HamJuice led the Canucks in icetime, with Bieksa topping the list at 26:27 despite spending 2 minutes in the penalty box. Dan “Community Man” Hamhuis had his best moment when Malkin attempted to deke him out 1-on-1: not only did Hamhuis stand him up and come away with possession of the puck, he did it all while telling Malkin about how he can help donate to East Africa drought relief.
Cody “Silent G” Hodgson needs that nickname to stick. Mark Lee and Kevin Weekes couldn’t get his name right, pronouncing the “G” every single time. Lee also had issues with Aaron Volpatti’s name, pronouncing it three different ways through the game. It’s not that hard: just imagine you are making a burger out of a vole. Make a volepatty.
Silent G struggled early on in the game but became one of the Canucks’ most dangerous forwards late in the third period and overtime. He came just short of scoring the gamewinner late in the third, busting through the slot and patiently out-waiting Fleury: unfortunately, Fleury managed to lunge across and get just enough of the puck to send it inches wide. The scoring chance bore a remarkable resemblance to his first ever NHL goal.
The second line as a whole, however, was not as good. I was surprised by the choice to use Mikael Samuelsson in the shootout as I thought he had a pretty poor game. Marco Sturm was also disappointing, as he seemed to get knocked off the puck far too easily. It was not a promising start for the Candy Striper line.
While neither Samuelsson nor Burrows were able to score in the shootout, Luongo fell prey twice to similar dekes to the backhand from Kris Letang and Malkin. Yes, they were gorgeous moves, but it makes me wonder if that’s the book on Luongo in the shootout or if Malkin just saw what Letang did and copied him. It makes me wonder which one’s Annie and which one’s Frank.
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