Vancouver fans may not see the Toronto Maple Leafs that often, but it was still a very familiar squad the Canucks beat Saturday. Consider the following: this was a team built by Brian Burke. Offensively, they were dangerous. Defensively, they were abysmal. They had a backup netminder in goal.
And, most tellingly, they came in boasting a juggernaut first line which featured a mediocre centre and two high-scoring wingers — one a sniper with arguably the league’s best wrist shot, the other a power forward type. This line scored three times and yet finished a combined minus-6. Sound familiar? It should. Saturday night, the Vancouver Canucks beat the West Coast Express era Vancouver Canucks. And I watched this game.
Canucks 5 – 3 Maple Leafs
For the record, I recognize the ridiculousness of combining plus/minus, especially for linemates. But it was the only way to make that intro work. In truth, the line’s real offender was Joffrey Lupul, who, unlike his palindromic last name, clearly only goes in one direction. He was on the ice for 6 goals tonight: two for his club, and four against. He may share a first name with the boy king from Game of Thrones, but he’s far, far more generous with his opponents. (Warning: clip is a massive spoiler.)
For instance, watch Lupul’s abysmal coverage on Chris “Kiss Huggins” Higgins’ goal only a minute into the game. He hardly moves. Granted, Lupul’s movement isn’t the real problem here — it’s Luke Schenn going for a sojourn in the corner. Seriously, what the heck is that? Schenn and Lupul look like they’re at a leisure skate at the pond. I half-expected Kevin McAllister to come sliding through the frame on his knees.
The neat thing to notice on that goal, by the way, is that Ryan Kesler never touches the puck. Schenn thinks Kesler’s going to skate onto it and put it down the boards on his backhand, which is why he heads there, but Alex Edler sees him vacate the goal mouth early. Opportunistically, he steps up on Kesler, takes the puck away, and fires it to Higgins. It’s an incredibly heads-up play.
Poor Keith Ballard can’t catch a break. Not only did he get robbed by goalie Cam Ward the other night, but after taking the penalty that led to Joffrey Lupul’s 1-1 goal, he was robbed again, this time by referee Ian Walsh. After Ballard scored on a blast from the point, Walsh waved it off, claiming Kesler had interfered with Jonas Gustavsson in the crease. It was a nutty call: Gustavsson initiated contact and fell over all on his own. Furthermore, mere moments before, Kesler had been slashed, crosschecked, and driven headfirst into the endboards by Cody Franson with no penalty, so Walsh couldn’t have been watching him all that closely.
Lucky for Canuck fans, Walsh is a referee, which meant an even-up call was forthcoming. Phil Kessel had a goal called off later after Dan Hamhuis fell into the post, knocking the net off its moorings a split-second before Kessel put it past a prone Luongo. According to rule 25.2, that one should have counted too. But this one was an easier blown call to stomach, because it went against the Leafs.
Dale Weise called out our good buddy Thom Drance the other night, presumably for pointing out that he’s not exactly the best fighter. But if Drance is wrong, he’s not the only one that finds Weise less than intimidating: Gentle Tim Connolly seemed to think he could get away with crosschecking Weise in the back of the head about 19 times in a row. And he sort of did.
I make plenty of typos, so I can forgive one when I see one, but if you select someone as the subject of the Subway bio, doesn’t it seem like a good idea to spell his name correctly? Cory Hodgson sure thinks so.
More on the Leafs’ defensive ineptitude: Through the first period, they recorded 16 giveaways to the Canucks’ 1. They finished the game with 24 to Vancouver’s 10. Seriously, Oprah thinks that’s too many giveaways.
Speaking of Luongo, he was absolutely fabulous Saturday. He made some beautiful saves to keep the Leafs at bay, my favourite of which was this glove save on Colby Armstrong. Also, I’m fairly sure he deserved an assist on the Hansen goal, but it doesn’t look like he got one. Ironic that, on a night in which he robbed many, he himself was robbed. Think Cory Schneider paid off a scorekeeper? He remains a point ahead in Canuck scoring.
Don Cherry, during the intermission: “We should always remember. 25th. Baby Jesus. BORN.” Look, as much as I appreciate him campaigning to keep “Christ” in “Christmas” (especially on a public broadcasting network), the 25th is not actually Jesus’s birthday. He was born in the spring. This was a silly thing to say.
Ron Maclean’s apology to Vancouver fans for the Alex Burrows thing was weird. He sounded like a guy trying to explain why he wasn’t a racist. Me? Hate the Canucks? Some of my best friends are Canucks.
I can’t get enough of Ryan Kesler’s work on Mason Raymond’s goal. Watch him come flying in on Joffrey Lupul, force the turnover, muscle off John-Michael Liles, and centre the puck to Raymond, all in about a second and a half. I haven’t seen a play turn that dramatically since Mercutio died in Romeo and Juliet.
Just like the last time the Vancouver visited Toronto, it was the Canucks’ top line that finally put things away late in the game. The difference this time around was that Alex Burrows was the one leading the way. The Leafs twice gave him space, no doubt thinking of what happened last time Vancouver was in the ACC and afraid one of the Sedins would get the puck. Burrows made them pay both times. On the 3-2 goal, he froze Dion Phaneuf by faking a pass to a Sedin about three times before finally making a beautiful backhand saucer to Daniel. On the 4-2 goal, he froze Jake Gardiner by faking another pass to Daniel before stepping around the Leafs’ defender and into the middle to ring the puck off the post and in.
With those plays, I think Burrows finally asserted himself as more than just a third-liner who plays well with the Sedins. Like Mary Katherine Gallagher, he’s a superstar.
Credit where credit is due, though: Henrik Sedin absolutely burns Joey Crabb on the Burrows goal. Crabb comes streaking into the zone after him, and when Henrik cuts across the blue line, Crabb tries to step into him. However, Henrik makes one small stickhandle, and Crabb takes a spill.
People often claim that Jim Hughson is a real Canucks homer, and he sort of is. I especially enjoyed his first period lovefest with Jannik Hansen, whom he thrice insisted was one of the fastest players in the game. I scoffed at that. Hansen’s speedy, sure, but the fastest? Mind you, then the Danish winger blew by Dion Phaneuf for the 5-3 goal. What a beautiful play.
Truth is, Hansen’s lovely play was made possible by a generous line from Dion Phaneuf. Had he simply retreated into the neutral zone, it would have been a 1-on-1. Instead, he came across the blue line, turning the play into a footrace he was never going to win. Speaking of footraces, check out the battle between Kesler and an exhausted Jake Gardiner, who skates his heart out at the end of a shift, only to collapse at the blue line as Kesler cuts off his angle. Aw.
And finally, I talked Friday about the way Alain Vigneault is putting a faceoff specialist on Cody Hodgson’s wing because the young centre struggles with draws. Case in point: Hodgson took 7 faceoffs Saturday night, winning only 2. He took 0 defensive zone draws. Malhotra, his winger, took 16 faceoffs, winning 12, including 9 of 10 in the defensive zone. But there’s another point to be made here: Hodgson’s line was used primarily as a shutdown unit, starting most of the night in the defensive zone against the Leafs top line. Faceoff apprenticeship aside, the kid is killing it: Canucks Army points out that this line didn’t surrender a single scoring chance against the Leafs’ top line. It was the other lines that let them score.
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