This was an odd game. At times it was thrilling, at other times, excruciatingly slow. It was the I Am Legend of hockey games.
While Edmonton relied on their high-flying Kid Line to create offense, the Sedins and Burrows provided the bulk of the offensive push for the Canucks. In the end, however, the hero came from neither trio: it was the secondary scoring from senior citizen Sami Salo that pushed the Canucks’ veterans over the Oilers’ youth. I watched this game.
Keith “Hips” Ballard may have finished minus-1 in his 17:58 of icetime with no shots on goal, but he had a solid game and was the star of a series of hipcheck highlights: early in the game he devastated Taylor Hall with a hipcheck as clean as the one he laid on Henrik Zetterberg that earned a clipping call. Later in the game, Hall tried to avoid a similar fate by stepping around Ballard and instead had his feet swept out from under him. Hall needs to be careful or he’ll blow a knee out.
The hipcheck everyone will be talking about, however, is the one that sent Darcy Hordichuk flying. Hordi chirped pre-game about going after the Sedins. Perhaps as a tuneup, he attempted to lay out Ballard with a late hit early in the game, but Ballard got set and lowered his hip into Hordichuk, sending the Oilers’ grinder arse over teakettle. Hordichuk left the game with a knee injury. In his 5 seconds of icetime, he was somehow credited with one hit. Incidentally, Ballard was also only credited with one hit. That’s right: they counted Ballard’s destruction of Hordichuk as a hit for Hordichuk. If you need evidence that hit-counters in NHL arenas are either terrible or biased, here you go.
Ballard is the only player in the NHL whose defense mechanism is a spectacular hipcheck. Heck, he’s the only mammal. Faced with a larger predator? Hipcheck. Surrounded by howler monkeys? Hipcheck. The only reason there are no photos of Ballard fighting bears is that the bears have all been flipped head over heels and are lying on the forest floor in pain before the photographer can even get his camera out.
For the first time this season, the Canucks opened the scoring, as Sami Salo stepped into a slap shot from the slot that broke both the plane of the goal line and the sound barrier. You have to give Devan Dubnyk a lot of credit for playing the rest of the game deaf.
The craziest thing about that goal is that it only looks like it bounces into the slot by accident. Watch closer. That was actually a blind backhand pass from Cody “Silent G” Hodgson to set up the goal. It’s an absolutely incredible play. Surprisingly, the crew in charge of tallying goals and assists managed to actually see it and credited Hodgson with the primary assist. The combination of Salo’s massive shot from the point and Hodgson’s savvy playmaking has made the second-unit on the powerplay dangerous. Best of luck killing penalties against the Canucks once Kesler returns, rest of NHL.
The reason it’s surprising they saw Hodgson’s assist is that they managed to incorrectly credit Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with a hat trick. He scored his first on the powerplay as Daniel Sedin took two straight offensive-zone penalties. After Roberto Luongo robbed Nugent-Hopkins coming across the crease, the rookie managed to chip the rebound over Luongo’s pad. Nugent-Hopkins’ second goal came off a faceoff win by Manny Malhotra that the Oilers recovered immediately, making it look a lot more like a loss. Tom Gilbert’s shot from the point was perfectly tipped by Nugent-Hopkins on the backhand, sending it just over Luongo’s shoulder.
Nugent-Hopkins’ supposed hattrick goal was actually shoved in by Taylor Hall, but it seems unlikely they’ll change the goal now that such a fuss has been made. With Hansen in the box for his second unnecessary penalty of the game, Nugent-Hopkins threw the puck on net and the rest of the team swarmed the crease. After a couple deflections, the puck was on its way in as Hall gave it the final push. With an Ovechtrick defined as 9 goals, can we define a Nugetrick as 2?
Incidentally, the Oilers’ announcer probably should have waited until a stoppage in play to announce the first hattrick of Nugent-Hopkins career, as hats littered the ice while the Sedins were setting up in the offensive zone. Frustratingly, the fans were subsequently warned that any further debris on the ice would result in a minor being assessed to the Oilers. After the puck dropped again, another hat flew on to the ice: no penalty. Expect another tirade on hypocrites and pukes from Don Cherry.
Faceoffs were an issue all game for the Canucks. Malhotra was the only centre who finished above 50%, though a couple of his faceoff wins were quickly recovered by the Oilers. Hodgson and Lapierre both finished 3-for-10, with Lapierre losing all 6 of his defensive zone faceoffs. As much as Nugent-Hopkins was praised for his faceoffs constantly in this game, he actually had the worst faceoff percentage of any centre in the game, finishing 4-for-15.
The broadcasting team of Mark Lee and Daryl Reaugh may have been a little overenthusiastic with the superlatives for “the kids” in this game. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins got more love in this game than Vince Carter. Luongo better ask Lee and Reaugh for his tire pump back. It wasn’t just Lee and Reaugh, however, as Scott Oake threw in a comparison to Wayne Gretzky (didja know Gretzky took longer than 3 games to score his first hattrick?) and spent almost an entire interview with Alex Burrows trying to elicit more praise for Nugent-Hopkins. In case you were still wondering, yes the Canucks won this game.
Here’s how: after Hodgson drew a tripping call, Ryan Smyth caught Sami Salo in the face with a high stick, sending the Canucks to a 5-on-3 powerplay. The Oilers actually played the 5-on-3 very well, playing high on Salo at the point, attempting to take away his big shot. It was the right move, as they blocked two of his shots before one fluttered through to Devan Dubnyk. The puck deflected off Dubnyk’s shoulder and bounced in front of Henrik, who caught it on the second hop, barely inching it over the goal line.
Then, after Nugent-Hopkins put the Oilers ahead again, Marco Sturm made an intelligent play with time running out in the second period, sending a wristshot on net and forcing Dubnyk to cover up for a faceoff in the offensive zone. Tom Renney made the baffling decision to send lumbering Andy Sutton and 27-year-old rookie Corey Potter out against the Sedins and Burrows for the final 24 seconds of the period. As much as I’d like to give credit to the Sedins for the subsequent beautiful play that led to the game-tying goal from Burrows, it’s simply indefensible to send your bottom pairing out against the Sedins.
The Canucks’ top-line makes Renney pay for his poor decision making: Horcoff actually wins the faceoff, but Burrows puts pressure on Potter, who gives the puck away to Henrik up the boards, who immediately sends it back around the boards to Daniel behind the net. Sutton is supposed to be checking Daniel, but instead makes the awful decision to chase him behind the net, giving Daniel obscene amounts of time and space to wheel out in front of the net. Meanwhile, Potter should be sticking with Burrows after his clearing attempt is cut off. Instead, he stops skating. Horcoff desperately tries to check Burrows, but can’t wrap up his stick in time.
The comeback was completed by none other than Sami Salo: it seems oddly fitting that in game where HNIC raved over “the kids”, it was the perpetually hospitalized 37-year-old that was the real star of the game, scoring two goals and an assist. His second goal, the gamewinner, was a slick wristshot after some great work by Chris Higgins on the forecheck. I love how Hodgson is whacking his stick on the ice like Kesler, trying to get the pass so he can score into the open net, but I especially love how Salo doesn’t bother winding up for a slap shot, but flings the puck on net as quickly as possible, seeming to catch Dubnyk completely off guard.
This means, of course, that Salo scored a Nugetrick.
Finally, despite Hordichuk leaving the game ignominiously, this game still had plenty of rough stuff. Aaron “Ratburger” Volpatti chucked knuckles with Andy “So You’re An Expert” Sutton, in a great tilt that saw both get in some good punches. Dale Weise took a run at Eberle and immediately dropped the gloves with Theo Peckham when challenged for a solid fight. Marc Methot could take some pointers from Weise. But my favourite Dale Weise moment wasn’t his fight. It was when he “accidentally” fell on top of Dubnyk after being pushed by an Oiler defenceman: What are you doing? Stop pushing me towards your goalie! Oh no, we’re getting closer to your goalie, I might fall on him! Oh no, whoa! This is all your fault! Classic.
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