Early in Saturday night’s affair, it was clear that the Ottawa Senators had heard the rumours that the Canucks wilted at physical play, and playing rough appeared to be their strategy from the outset. Unfortunately, when your strategy involves giving Chris Neil more icetime than any other forward, it’s probably not going to win you many games.
What people don’t seem to realize is that it wasn’t the Boston Bruins’ toughness that won them the Stanley Cup Final — it was their skill. It’s just that their skill happened to also be tough. Anybody that thinks you can beat the Canucks by gooning it up with less skilled players will see results like this game — results that I saw as well, because I watched this game.
Canucks 4 – 1 Senators
Like Sweet Sweetback, the Canucks scored early in this one, getting on the board only 1:10 into the first. But the score was quick on two levels — the goal also came four seconds into the first powerplay of the game. After Ryan Kesler won the draw, Henrik Sedin moved it to Alex Edler at the point, and Edler wristed it at Craig Anderson, who was being screened by Chris Phillips (while attempting to keep Kesler from screening him). Before the Sens’ goalie knew what hit him (which was nothing), the puck was in the net.
Kesler scored a goal of his own not long after, as he and Jannik Hansen broke into the Senators’ zone, 2-on-1. As Hansen always does on a 2-on-1, he passed. It was a lovely saucer pass, up and over the defenders’ stick, and Kesler’s redirect was equally lovely. Unfortunately for Anderson, unlike another Mr. Anderson, he wasn’t able to move fast enough to stop the shot.
More Kesler. Just like the Canucks’ first goal, their third was the result of Kesler getting the better of Chris Phillips in front of the Senators’ goal. Something Kesler is really good at: allowing himself to be pushed into opposing netminders, then taking his sweet time vacating the area. That’s what happened on this goal, as he allowed himself to be ridden into the crease like a swimsuit at the waterslides, then just stayed there. Once the Sedins brought it to the goalmouth, he was in perfect position to bang it home. Seriously, Kesler spent more time in the blue paint than Tobias Funke.
In case it wasn’t already clear that Kesler was fantastic Saturday night: In 32 shifts (a game-high), he had 2 goals, 1 assist, 6 shots (a game-high), 3 takeaways, 2 blocked shots, won 13 faceoffs (a game-high), and rendered the Senators’ first line completely invisible. And after the game, he laid hands on Cody Hodgson and healed his concussion.
Speaking of Hodgson, here’s hoping he’s okay after taking that shot to the head from Nick Foligno. It looked accidental, what with Hodgson trying to make a sudden cut inside on Foligno and losing an edge in doing so, but that certainly didn’t mitigate the damage to the rookie. Between the Bambi legs and the Dopey simper, a concussion seemed likely. I know Alain Vigneault said Hodgson was “fine” after the game, and I’m sure they’d like him to be, so as to avoid another games of Andrew Alberts at forward (or worse, Victor Oreskovich, amirite Alain Vigneault?), but that looked serious, and I hope they treat it accordingly.
Shortly afterward, Dale Weise had a spirited scrap with Foligno, which was impressive since neither guy was overly into it. (Weise told reporters he simply approached Foligno and said, “Hey, we’re going to have to go here.” Intimidating he ain’t.) But good on Weise for doing something. If he hadn’t, Tony Gallagher would have written another article about the Canucks lacking team toughness, because without a friendly fistfight after an accidental headshot, how would anybody know not to mess with you?
Weise has begun to face some criticism from people upset that he doesn’t win his fights (and he didn’t win versus Foligno), but he showed Saturday night that he wasn’t just picked up to pound on guys. Sure, he can scrap, but he can also play hockey. Consider his fabulous goal, which iced the game. It wasn’t just that Weise scored on a skilful power move. It’s that he was on the ice with Kesler and Mason Raymond at the time. Unlike a goon, Weise has the actual hockey skill to move up the lineup in case of an injury like the one to Hodgson.
There were, by my count, about 52,000 mentions of the penalty box door incident in this game. By the end, it felt a little played out. I loved when Ron Maclean tried to bring it up again and Don Cherry just made fun of him for not liking Alex Burrows. I’m not a huge Don Cherry fan, but I have time for anybody who takes time to make fun of Ron Maclean.
During one of the early post-whistle scrums, as everyone paired off, Dan Hamhuis wound up next to Jason Spezza. Neither had any interest in rough stuff, so they simply put a hand on one another’s shoulders and smiled, relieved, like middle-schoolers at a dance.
Chris Neil was more into the rough stuff. He was all over Saturday night’s affair, running around and picking fights with whomever he could. He had a cheap shot to the back of Burrows’ head, he got at Daniel Sedin (prompting a hilarious response by notorious goon Henrik ), and he slashed Dan Hamhuis, which is like punting a baby.
It was interesting to see the way the Canucks responded to Neil targeting their stars, going after Daniel Alfredsson in particular. Kesler ran into him after the whistle, Jannik Hansen gave him a nasty crosscheck to the midsection. How the Hansen cheap shot went unpenalized is beyond me, but I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the Canucks returning the favour.
Speaking of returning, Nick Foligno returned to his head-hitting ways midway through the second, going after Kesler as the Canucks’ centre was falling along the boards. While the hit on Hodgson was somewhat excusable, this one was less so. Foligno appeared to have plenty of time to not hit Kesler in the head, and instead drove through him. Then, afterward, he (and the Ottawa media) had the gall to claim Kesler embellished. Embellished what, exactly? Being vulnerable to a headshot? I bet these guys think zombies embellish constantly.
The refereeing in this game was infuriatingly even. Both teams finished with 29 penalty minutes, but considering the Senators’ gameplan, this seems absurd. As Kevin Bieksa divulged after the game, one of the officials admitted to giving Neil the benefit of the doubt because the two were friends. Was there a bias at play here? No sir. The refs were just crummy. Case in point: play was blown dead for a Daniel Sedin interference penalty 15 seconds after the referees’ arm went up for it. In that time, the Canucks had managed to get Roberto Luongo to the bench, get the extra man on, and attempt a shot on goal. Not since the film Fubar have I seen a fubar so fubared.
Yet another head hit, as Zack Smith took advantage of Alex Edler being on his knees to run the Canuck defender over. I loved the aftermath of this one, as Maxim Lapierre rose to Edler’s defence with a diving tackle like Hobbes greeting Calvin at the door. Some of you have criticized the Canucks’ passive response to stuff like this in the past, so I ask you: was that enough, or did you want Lapierre to also charge and fire his X-buster like Megaman?
The Canucks pretty much rolled three defense pairings all night. Hamhuis saw the most minutes 22:13, and Ballard saw the fewest, with 17:05. That’s not much of a discrepancy. It would seem Alain Vigneault is very happy with his defense.
And finally, despite many Canuck fans insisting that Schneider deserved the start after Roberto Luongo allowed three goals in Montreal, Alain Vigneault chose to start Luongo anyway. Luongo was fantastic. He’s now riding a four-game win streak and is looking quite good. The only time he didn’t look good was in that brief segment of his pregame stretches. Bleh. What a lanky man.
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