The Canucks had 29 shots tonight, but I’m far more interested in the fact that they only had 3 blocked. The team has struggled so far this season getting shots through, often finishing the night with as many as 20 attempts that fail to reach the opposing goaltender. Tonight, rather than trying to force things, they made smarter decisions with the puck. The results were longer offensive zone shifts and sustained offensive zone pressure at even-strength for the first time all season. It was weird. The 2011-12 Canucks looked like a dangerous team even when both teams had the same number of guys on the ice. Unheard of. But not unseen — I watched this game.
Congratulations to Alain Vigneault, who won his 247th game as the coach of the Vancouver Canucks, making him the all-time winningest coach in franchise history. Maybe keep that in mind the next time you think you know better than he does how to manage Cody Hodgson’s icetime.
Alex Edler broke another two hockey sticks tonight, pushing his total twigs snapped through the season’s first quarter to about fifty… thousand. It’s beginning to get ridiculous. While one broke on a one-timer attempt, which is somewhat conceivable, the other broke on the most harmless wrist shot I’ve ever seen. I’m wondering if Edler ordered a season’s worth of Pocky sticks by accident? That would explain all the chocolate smudges around his mouth.
Additionally, until his weird stick-breaking curse passes, he should hire someone else to clean his ears. Unless he wants to lose a Q-tip in there.
As you may know, it is impossible for notorious frenemies Alex Burrows and Shane O’Brien to go a whole game without incident, and they had two pretty great interactions tonight. The first came when O’Brien hit Burrows well after the whistle at the end of a first period rush. Point to SOB. The second came when Burrows scored a goal on a second period 2-on-1, dragging the puck around an outstretched O’Brien (who bowled over his goaltender like the fat kid from Hook) then burying the puck in the open net. Game, set, match to Burr.
It was interesting to see Henrik Sedin streak to the net on that rush like a goalscorer. Who does he think he is? Daniel? His sudden interest in scoring goals is beginning to make me wonder if the Sedins recently realized the only possible tiebreaker in their trophy fight is the Rocket Richard.
It was kind of hilarious to see Milan Hejduk somehow avoid being penalized after he managed to get his stick inside the collar of Andrew Alberts’ jersey. It was like a hook and a high stick at the same time. I wanted him to get two minutes for human fishing.
Speaking of high sticks, Sami Salo is a champ, huh? He took a stick and a puck to the face in the first period and stayed in the game. This is unlike him. Unfortunately, after the game he laughed at a joke too hard and his tongue fell out.
Give it up for Ryan Kesler, who finally scored a goal at even-strength. Granted, it was into an empty net, but I can assure you that he did not mind the circumstances. The look of relief Kesler wore after that puck went in was priceless. It wasn’t a normal look of relief, like when you get the garbage out just as the truck turns onto your street. It was more like the look of relief after the heroes of an adventure movie make it across the decayed rope bridge just moments before it collapses into the river full of bloodthirsty alligators. Epic relief.
Kesler wasn’t the only Canuck centre to get his first even-strength goal tonight — Manny Malhotra scored his first, period, after opening the scoring in the first period, finishing off a beautiful passing play with his linemates. Jannik Hansen makes the first great pass, swiveling as he slides up the boards to send it down to Cody Hodgson. Then Hodgson shows that superb playmaking skill, making a brilliant touch pass to Malhotra, who gets off the schneid with a perfect one-timer.
Speaking of The Schneid, Cory Schneider was brilliant tonight, making 24 saves for the second shutout of his career. His best saves came during a zany scramble in the Canucks’ crease on an Avalanche powerplay, but he didn’t have to make many like that because he was in excellent position all night. Also because the Avalanche played kind of crappy. That helped.
Back to the Malhotra goal for a moment. While the three forwards will get most of the credit, the play really begins when Dan “Community Man” Hamhuis steps up at the blueline like there was a call for someone to lead a strata meeting. He doesn’t get an assist, but the goal doesn’t happen if he doesn’t stymie the Avalanche breakout with a big hit and send the puck back into the zone.
In the faceoff circle, Cody Hodgson went 2-for-6, while Manny Mahotra went 4-for-6. This is especially interesting because the two played most of the game on the same line. The initial arrangement was that Malhotra would take the faceoffs and then play the wing once the play started, but clearly, Coach Vigneault decided not to push that too hard, since both guys finished with the same number of draws. The exception was in the defensive zone, where 5 of Malhotra’s 6 draws took place. He won 3 of them.
Actually, Malhotra was the only centre in tonight’s game to win three defensive zone faceoffs. For whatever reason, all the other centres were allergic to draws in their own zone. For the Canucks, Ryan Kesler went 2-for-4 and Maxim Lapierre went an abysmal 1-for-8. For the Avalanche, Paul Stastny went 1-for-4, Matt Duchene went 0-for-4, and Jay McClement went 0-for-3. Curiously, the defensive centre won only 9 of 32 faceoffs tonight. Needlessly hospitable.
And finally, Aaron Rome left tonight’s game with an ouchie of some sort on his thumb after blocking a shot, just adding to the bizarrely up and down season he’s having. I’m sure he’ll be back by Saturday to pull a Gettysburg (that’s four goals in a week, often described as “fourscore in seven”) and then he’ll come down with the chicken pox or something.
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