Vancouver scored five goals in four regular-season games versus the Nashville Predators last season, so it’s safe to say that nobody was expecting a blowout tonight. But that’s what we got. Rather than allow the visitors to showcase their superstar netminder for the second game in a row, the Canucks chased him in twenty minutes this time around, scoring four goals on sixteen shots and rendering the second and third period of the game a relative formality. And, like Pekka Rinne in the final forty minutes, I watched this game.
The play of the game tonight belonged to Alain Vigneault, and it happened just before puck drop when he decided to send the Sedins out for the opening faceoff. Far too often this season, the Canucks have taken a penalty (or two) before the Sedins’ first shift, and then it’s anywhere from two to four minutes before they get on the ice, and often as much as half a period before they’re really into the game. That couldn’t happen against the Predators, a team that seems to get harder to score on the longer the game goes scoreless. Vigneault played the Sedins early and often, and they rewarded his wise coaching decision by scoring on their second shift, only two minutes into the game. And then they rewarded it again with noogies at the bench.
The Canucks’ first goal comes off a won faceoff and two mistakes: Henrik wins the puck back to Daniel and heads to the net, hoping for a return pass. When his lane is cut off, he hovers there for half a second — just long enough to convince Blake Geoffrion he’s going to stay put — then, as soon as Geoffrion briefly looks away (the first mistake), Henrik darts behind the net. Daniel sends the puck to him. Geoffrion tries to cut it off, but it gets past him, and Henrik wraps the puck around the other side. He’s stopped, but Pekka Rinne loses his post in the ensuing melee (second mistake) as the puck comes to Daniel behind the goal. Daniel cleverly banks it in off Rinne’s back to open the scoring.
Unfortunately, Roberto Luongo misplays a puck off the end boards less than two minutes later, giving Matt Halischuk a tap-in to tie the game. No bones about it, this one’s his fault. Luongo needs to get back in his goal and let his defenders handle that puck. Instead, he takes a wild swipe at it like it’s some sort of evasive debit machine.
Lucky for Luongo, the Canucks would retake the lead less than two minutes after that, when, on a powerplay, Henrik Sedin’s slapshot deflects off of Kevin Klein. Hold on, slapshot? From Henrik? Not possible. Henrik must have briefly confused Klein with his brother and inadvertently incorporated him into a slap-pass.
Jannik Hansen hasn’t been playing all that well lately, but if anything is going to wake him up, the beating he took tonight seems reasonable. He got absolutely drilled with Colin Wilson’s stick in the first, cutting the bridge of his nose wide open, and then he took a rough hit from behind courtesy of Shea Weber in the third and went busted nose-first into the boards. I haven’t seen anyone give a Dane such a rough ride since the Internet caught wind that Dane Cook was stealing jokes from Louis C.K.
Sami Salo finished tonight a plus-2 with six shots on goal, two blocked, and three missing the net. He played just over 20 minutes, only 10 of which came at even-strength. It’s clear the Canucks have a plan for his deployment this season, and it primarily involves special teams work. Contrast his icetime with Keith Ballard’s, for instance: Ballard played just over 18 minutes tonight with 16 of those minutes coming at even-strength. Perhaps the Canucks feel Salo has a better chance of not getting hurt if there are less guys on the ice for him to get hurt with?
Keith Ballard had another solid game tonight. I especially liked a third period shift where he got into it with Chris McGrattan: First, McGrattan hit him up high (which is only slightly better than being hit up style), so Ballard sought revenge the only way he knows how — with a hipcheck. It’s odd for that to be kneejerk revenge tactic. One wonders how hard it was for him not to hipcheck Alain Vigneault when they passed each other in hallways last year.
Ballard also had seven blocked shots in the game. Seven. He was blockier than the cast of Reboot.
Dale Weise had his best game as a Canuck, scoring his first career NHL goal on a savvy Alex Edler tip and nearly setting up another on a 2-on-1 with Marco Sturm. He was grinning from ear to ear after the goal, and for good reason: he’s been in pro hockey since 2008-09. This was a long time coming.
Not long after the goal, Weise saw a shift with the Sedins that many probably saw that as a reward for his play, but that’s not really what it was. Weise was picked up on waivers precisely because the Canucks’ felt he could handle a shift with the twins here and there better than Victor Oreskovich. With Samuelsson out of the lineup, Weise got his first chance. He would have gotten it either way.
Marco Sturm had a goal disallowed after he directed it into the net with his skate. It was a call not unlike the one Daniel Sedin had waved off in the Los Angeles series in 2010, a goal that should have counted because, according to the letter of the law, there has to be a distinct kicking motion, and there wasn’t one. Still, the league can’t stand the clever veterans that know to turn their feet and come to a convenient stop just in front of the puck, creating goals that are legal in motion and illegal in intent. I’d imagine there will be some clarification to this rule in the new CBA, because the league is calling it different than it’s written out.
On the plus side, any bitterness towards the officials was erased when Chris “Kiss Huggins” Higgins scored on a 2-on-1 immediately after. He was initially trying to pass to Cody Hodgson, but the pass was blocked and the puck came right back onto his stick. And then, afterwards, everyone hugged, and Higgins briefly went to heaven.
Higgins’ goal was Rinne’s fourth allowed goal of the night, so obviously, he’s crap and overrated and should be traded for Vincent Lecavalier and the fans have every right to stick it to him. And maybe it’s not just tonight, it’s about the playoffs, okay? Because Rinne’s so bad he couldn’t even beat Roberto Luongo in a playoff series, and Luongo’s a huge, sucky choker. Couldn’t help but notice that Anders Lindback only let in one goal and Rinne let in four, so clearly, Rinne is four times worse. Why isn’t Lindback getting more starts? Too bad he’s stuck behind that loser Rinne.
The Canucks’ last goal was Ryan Kesler’s first, a one-timed wrister on the Canucks 5-on-3 in the third period. It was a bit of a lucky goal, as the pass from Daniel Sedin was an uncharacteristically wobbly saucer and Kesler sort of fanned on it, but it still beat Lindback.
And finally, it was interesting to see Dan “Community Man” Hamhuis go after Jordin Tootoo for a perfectly clean hit the Predators’ forward laid on Alex Edler. The hit was Hamhuis’s fault; he threw the puck back to Edler just as Tootoo was coming through. Part of me suspects Hamhuis went after Tootoo to show solidarity as a defensive pairing after throwing Edler a suicide pass. Hamhuis should know there are better ways to show solidarity. I’m sure Edler would have been just as happy with a bag of bubblegum cotton candy.
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