Tonight, Daniel was busy writing “I Watched This Birth”, a hilarious, point-form recap of his first child’s arrival on this planet. (Welcome to Earth, Ozymandias Lovecraft Wagner!) Meanwhile in the dark recesses of his criminally insane mind, Harrison was diligently preoccupied with his other chosen profession: burglary. With real-life preventing your two usual bloggers from taking in tonight’s grudge match between the Sharks and Canucks, I, Thomas Drance, was asked to make like Gasper Noé and enter the void.
Whenever you’re the backup, there’s a lot of pressure on your shoulders. But I fought through it and paid such close attention to tonight’s affair that some are saying I stole the game for Vancouver (at least, I think I’m the backup they’re talking about). Regardless, whether you run a hockey blog or a hockey team, having a worthy backup is a useful luxury.
Now, I’m not sworn for life to Pass it to Bulis or the Nights Watch. I’m not celibate, I don’t only wear black and I may not guard Westeros from the wildlings that live north of the Wall. But, “as night gathered”, I watched this game.
In the last two outings against the Avalanche and the Coyotes, the Canucks put in two complete and tidy defensive performances. Tonight, it was immediately apparent that the Sharks would not be so easily stifled. Or maybe that they were better.
A minute into the game, Patrick Marleau took advantage of a sloppy Canucks change and polkaed in on a breakaway. The Canucks skaters basically looked at each other and asked “Where’s Marleau?” They lost him so completely that he may as well have been dressed in red and white stripes, blue pants and the stupidest hipster tuque imaginable while occupying a world filled with identically dressed Marleau’s. Luckily for them, Schneider was Marleau’s Odlaw.
A minute later, Alain Vigneault gave his fourth line a rare offensive-zone start. When the Sharks’ fourth line center Andrew Desjardins jumped the gun on the draw against Maxim Lapierre, the referees waived him out of the circle, forcing Wannabe Canuck Brad Winchester to take the face-off in his place. But Winchester clearly had other things in mind, such as staging a rematch with Aaron Volpatti for that one-punch in the preseason. While Winchester won the fight, he ducked taking that face-off with the same panache the Canucks exhibited when they tactfully avoided offering him a professional try-out deal this summer.
The sequence that led to the Canucks’ opening goal began when Jannik Hansen dumped the puck into the Sharks’ zone, and Keith “jerk-puck expert” Ballard crashed the net, softly bumping Antii Niemi in such a way that caused Niemi to lose his stick. As the puck went to the far side of the ice, Niemi slowly crab-walked along his goal-line, stickless, following the play on both knees, and Manny Malhotra smartly threw the puck towards the goalmouth. His centering pass took an “arrogant” lucky bounce off of Douglas Murray’s skate, and somehow beat Niemi top-corner. While this goal was pure luck, Malhotra’s game has picked up lately. Also, his PDO heading into tonight’s game was sub-970, so he was due for a beneficial spin of lady fortuna’s large glittery wheel.
Andrew Alberts has played solid, no-frills hockey over the past week, but clearly he’s still insecure about his role on the team. Midway through the first, in a desperate effort to earn the good will of Alain Vigneault, Alberts laid a vicious hit on rookie Cody Hodgson, whom, as we all know, the Canucks’ head coach regards with deep-seated enmity. Joked Vigneault to Alberts post game: “What can I say about Hodgson that hasn’t already been said about Afghanistan? He’s bombed out and depleted.
The Sharks tied the game on a nice fourth-line sequence from Desjardins and Andrew, the other Murray. Murray took the puck wide and sent a pass behind the net to Desjardins while taking a hit from Maxim Lapierre. Desjardins skated to the other side of the net before sending a back-pass into the slot. Ryane Clowe whiffed on the “chance at a chance” in the slot (probably because he’s a “perimeter player”) but the puck slid back to Murray, who made no mistake, ending Cory Schneider’s shutout streak.
In the second period, the game really started to get good and “grudgey.” First, Winchester and Clowe targeted Bieksa repeatedly on a shift. Then Lapierre boarded Andrew Desjardins from behind at the same time that Dale Wiese went to deliver a cleaner, legal hit on the Sharks centerman. Lapierre took the brunt of Wiese’s hit and was called for a penalty for good measure. Then Joe Thornton tried to turn Alex Burrows into Salad Fingers (try saying “Win da Turd” in Salad Fingers’ voice – it’s both fun and wickedly creepy). Finally, Jamie “clean hip-checks are mean” McGinn collided with Alex Edler behind the Canucks net, injuring the Swedish tank, who didn’t return for the third frame.
Less than a minute later Andrew Alberts scored on an ugly knuckler from the point that beat Niemi. Seriously, Andrew Alberts scored a goal cleanly from the point. How could this have happened? Well it’s probably related to the fact that Niemi is, at best, a slightly above average NHL goaltender.
In the third period, Henrik Sedin took his obligatory hooking penalty with an irresponsible bit of stick-work on Sharks defender Jason Demers. Something I’ve always wondered: if Henrik Sedin is Captain Hook, then who is Smee? I nominate Kyle Wellwood. The ticking clock crocodile who traumatized him? Probably Tim Thomas.
It was nice to have Jim Hughson calling tonight’s game, if only for the return of the verb “Smeagoling.” Every play-by-play guy has some verbal tick that makes me chuckle (for John Shorthouse it’s “Willie Mitchell’s long reach”), and Hughson’s use of smeagoling is pervasive and brilliant. As a side note: If you look up “Smeagoling” in the dictionary, I assume you’d find a photo of Chris Higgins. That guy smeagols like Andy Serkis. Winning puck battles is his “Precious.”
On a pivotal third period offensive zone draw that followed a Canucks’ icing, Joe Thornton broke his stick taking the face-off. This wasn’t bad-luck; it was karma. Thornton only racked up four penalty minutes in the game, but deserved at least eight. The hockey gods punished him, even if the refs were reluctant too.
Ultimately, Patrick Marleau and Kevin Bieksa conspired to make the game more interesting than was necessary. Kevin Bieksa, who was the Canucks’ worst defender tonight by chance differential, personally iced the puck three times in the game’s last six minutes. He also partially blocked a Marleau shot from the slot that ended up caroming past Cory Schneider to make it a one goal game.
Forget the relatively facile shutouts he put up earlier this week — tonight was far and away Cory Schneider’s best game of the season. Frankly, the Canucks had no business being in this game and were handily out-chanced and out-possessed. Not only did Vlasic and Burns totally dominate their matchup against the Sedins, but the entire team struggled to deal with the Sharks’ forecheck and had no answer for San Jose’s “behind the net” game. No answer, that is, besides Schneider, who was so big and so red that he looked like Clifford in the net. I still think any talk of a “goaltending controversy” is premature and foolish, but Schneider’s play is clearly adding fuel to the conflagration.
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