I Watched This Game: Canucks at Toronto Maple Leafs, December 17, 2011

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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36 comments

  1. Jeff C.Ho
    December 18, 2011

    “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 was trying to figure out what rubbed me so wrong about it but this is EXACTLY it. Kudos, Mooney.

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  2. invisibleairwaves
    December 18, 2011

    Good grief, I think this game might have been the most exciting of the season so far. Having two speed teams in a close game (at least on the scoreboard) is always fantastic. Overtime would have been incredible.

    I don’t really see the point in getting irate about the Maclean/Burrows thing when Hughson and Simpson are such blatant Canucks homers. As a fan of both teams in this game, that actually bothered me more. There’s nothing wrong with some overt homerism in local broadcasts (*cough*ShortyandGarret*cough*), where most of the viewers won’t notice it anyways, but on a nationally televised game with two passionate fanbases a higher standard of objectivity might be a good idea.

    I would also put forth the argument that Glenn Healy is actually the worst broadcaster in hockey, and he was in rare form tonight, calling the Canucks’ third goal the “game winner” well before the end of the game and lauding Hamhuis’s dislodging of the net as a smart play rather than a clear infraction of the rules. It’s not just homerism in his case, either; he pulls this crap in just about every Leafs broadcast regardless of the opponent. This is the man who accused James Reimer of “theatrics” on a hit that put him out for a month with a concussion. While it would be a convenient solution for the CBC to send Hughson and Simpson out west to cover their Canucks rather than the Leafs during the regular season, the best solution for Healy might be to send him to Russia and make him cover the KHL. Or shoot him into orbit.

    So yeah, I have some issues with the broadcast team, nbd.

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    • finefinfan
      December 18, 2011

      Glenn Healy had me cringing. Its NOT the game winner until the game is over…What an incredible game though with end to end, whistle to whistle hockey.

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    • MelT
      December 18, 2011

      I don’t find Simpson a homer at all, but Healy for sure. Simpson observed it was a “good thing” that the high stick on Raymond wasn’t noticed, well a good thing if you’re the Leafs. But Healy made the trite observation that the Sedins are so good because they’ve been playing together since they were six. Really? Then the NHL should be scouting more twins or even triplets because then you’d have a whole line. That line of thinking just denigrates the Sedins’s skills, implying that any two players could do that if they’d been together long enough.
      And Healy calling Gustavsson Monster, was like “Big Country” in the Ottawa game. If you call one team by nicknames, it means you’re not neutral. I’d like to see them using all Canucks animal nicknames to balance things out.

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    • J21
      December 19, 2011

      The idea that Craig Simpson is a “Canucks homer” is out-and-out laughable. He hasn’t been as bad in the regular season, but in each of the last three playoff years, when paired with Hughson, his entire job has been to criticize the Canucks endlessly and pump up the other team, particularly Chicago.

      The guy is an Oiler fan — there is no reason he would have any soft spot for the Canucks at all, and he doesn’t. If he’s saying good things about them in a game against Toronto, it’s because they were playing well and were quite entertaining to watch. But no one could have seen the 2009-2011 playoffs and come away with the impression that Simpson had any desire to see the Canucks advance.

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  3. peanutflower
    December 18, 2011

    Didn’t Hughson call Burrows Alex Sedin? I thought I heard that. It’s true. I never thought of Hughson as being a Canuck homer. I thought he was pretty objective. I think though that he just likes saying “great save Luongo” so much that it seems like that. It does sort of roll off the tongue, no? And I’m not gonna complain about anyone who pumps up the Sedins. I don’t know about the rest of you but I’m pretty tired of hearing how ugly, soft, weird, diving, whining, etc they are and if Hughson want to orate on their greatness on national TV I’m all for it.

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    • Metaxa
      December 18, 2011

      Hughson always uses the “Great Save (insert goalie name here)” call.
      Its just that we notice it when its Loo because it sounds great.

      I will add this, he knows enough hockey that he doesn’t use it unless it actually is a great save.

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  4. jenny wren
    December 18, 2011

    so after one the game was tied
    each team had one and one denied
    then raymond scored bozak replied

    before dank gave the nucks the lead
    forehand shelf from a burrows’ feed
    it proved not all that they would need

    why one would want to win a “turd”
    confuses me and seems absurd
    but burrows clinched in the third

    the leafs did all that they could do
    and gustavsson was great it’s true
    but lui was a “monster” too

    i know you watched this game like me
    as the nucks won five goals to three
    and hansen’s was a sight to see

    now being one who looks ahead
    “they’ll also beat the wild!” i said
    “who then can beat the flames instead.”

    “on monday night against the wild,
    another team that’s much reviled,
    we’ll see what’s what,” the olde coot smiled

    jenny wren

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  5. madwag
    December 18, 2011

    great post, mr. mooney! but is there a problem with the website? the post doesn’t come up directly when i enter the site and i have to enter through the list of “tweets’ on twitter, if that makes sense.

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    • SteveB
      December 18, 2011

      Same here, when I hit the PITB bookmark, it opened on the Test your memory with the 2010-11 Canucks roster quiz page and not the home page.

      I thought for a moment that IWTG hadn’t been written yet (it is an understandably busy time of year), but checking the tweets saw the new post.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      December 18, 2011

      Yeah, I forgot to list the post in the proper feed.

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  6. will
    December 18, 2011

    I almost lost my mind when you combined plus minus. I’m glad you explain need it quickly there after.

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  7. Canucklehead_in_T.O.
    December 18, 2011

    “In truth, the line’s real offender was Joffrey Lupul, who, unlike his palindromic last name, clearly only goes in one direction. ”
    Classic PITB line: just terrible enough to be completely awesome. So in love.

    I was at the game last night, and though being there in person always makes you a little biased, ’twas one of the most entertaining games all season, in my himble opinion. Some great goaltending on both ends, and the Canucks firing on all cylinders. I thought Burr and Raymond (sweet, sweet cherub-faced Raymond) were in particularly fine form, and Hansen’s unassisted goal was like a blanket of silencing Danish snow over the brooding Elsinore of the ACC. (Yes, I tried too hard on that one, but we can’t all be Harrison Mooney.)
    Canucks nation was represented well in the rink last night (as usual). By my very non-scientific and slightly drunk estimate, it looked like the ratio of Leafs to Nucks jerseys in the building was about 70/30.
    Great game. Happy Holiday to me!

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    • Zach Morris
      December 18, 2011

      One of my life goals is to go to a Canucks-Leafs game at the ACC!
      I didn’t know it was possible to get tickets!

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      • J21
        December 19, 2011

        You can always get resold ones (eBay, Craigslist, etc.) if you’re willing to pay. But prepare to really, really pay.

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  8. Canucklehead_in_T.O.
    December 18, 2011

    For the record, my opinions are humble, not “himble” as previously stated.
    *blush*

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  9. Zach Morris
    December 18, 2011

    Ron McLean’s apology was weird and forced.
    It was nice (and suprising!) that he apologised though.
    Next up on the impossible wish list: Mark Messier apologising for his time in Vancouver.

    The actual game was fun, you can be sure it’s a classic when we play the Leafs.

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  10. stathead
    December 18, 2011

    Speaking of Burrows’ 3-2 goal, anyone else think it was funny/annoying that the commentator couldn’t stop talking about how the big story there was that Lupel was tired – went on about it for about 20 seconds and totally ignored some of the byplay. For instance, at 0.45 he’s insisting we watch and keep an eye on Lupel to see how tired he is, and all while Lupel hooks Burrows & the refs miss giving a delayed penalty. But the commentator just ignores that and goes on some more about fatigue – nothing to see there, folks! I don’t even as much mind the possibility of bias there – but if we have to listen to these guys, can’t they say more interesting and relevant things, like what’s going on and how it affects the play or how the players manage to overcome it? I think if a woman watching the game had said what he just said during and after that play, she’d get told to learn more about hockey or stay at home. But this is why I love PITB: if I just listened to the commentators & didn’t read you guys, I’d never learn much about the coolness of what’s going on.

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  11. Maggie Lizer
    December 18, 2011

    What! No comment on Henrik snatching Sami Salo’s stick mid-air? I thought that looked pretty cool: http://26.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lwdxnfhcBh1r6i2muo1_400.gif

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    • peanutflower
      December 18, 2011

      Yah! We watched that about 10 times. That was pretty cool. So nonchalant.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      December 18, 2011

      Ashamed to admit I straight-up missed it. It’s not like me. Granted, there was a lot to see in this game.

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    • Nee
      December 18, 2011

      Henrik is clearly a ninja.

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  12. John in Marpole
    December 18, 2011

    Color me confused:

    While your partner daniel is posting proof positive that both disallowed goals were called correctly, in this IWTG you are claiming otherwise….

    And, if I read the second paragraph correctly you are characterizing Brenden Morrison as a “mediocre” center?

    To quote SNL’s Seth Meyers: “Reeeallllyyyy?”

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    • Harrison Mooney
      December 18, 2011

      No need to be confused. I thought the goals shouldn’t have been called off. Daniel showed me I was wrong. And Morrison was a mediocre top-line centre, just like Bozak.

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  13. Gord R
    December 18, 2011

    @John in Marpole, if you think B-Mo was on the same level as the other two members of that line, you must be a member of his extended family.
    Harrison, I kinda want to take issue with you calling out Hughson for calling Hansen one of the fastest players in the league. For starters, I think he segued into this by saying both teams have some of the fastest players in the league, also mentioning Raymond (and I think Kessel too) by name…then he gets into Hansen because he’s on the ice.
    As for Jannik himself, Michael Grabner won the fastest skater at the All-Star Game last year and correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t Jannik beat him in the Canucks one the year before? Seems like a pretty good resume item for a speedster to me.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      December 18, 2011

      You’re right. He did segue into it and it wasn’t egregious (and yes, it started during a bit where he said both teams had some of the fastest players), but something about the way he focused on Hansen rubbed me the wrong way.

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      • peanutflower
        December 18, 2011

        it’s because it was grudging admiration. that’s why.

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    • John in Marpole
      December 18, 2011

      I didn’t say Morrison was on the same level as his linemates, I just don’t consider him to be a mediocre centre. The original statement does not qualified as him being a mediocre first line centre, either. He was a skilled enough centre to be on the Canucks 1st line, not for a few games, or even for just one season. Were he mediocre he’d have been easiily replaced, no?

      Those 2 high scoring wingers were set up more than a time or 2 by Morrison, not dissimilar to how Alex Burrows has a hand in the success of the Sedin twins. Burrows is a much more skilled player than Morrison, of course.

      I’m not advocating Morrison for the HHOF, I’m just saying that the label ‘mediocre’ is a tad on the harsh, and IMO, inaccurate, side.

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  14. Cha Cha Cha Charmin
    December 18, 2011

    Did you just call Brendan Morrison mediocre? I am disappointed in you PITB.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      December 18, 2011

      He kind of was. We all loved him, but he was far and away the least talented member of the WCE.

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      • John in Marpole
        December 18, 2011

        Being the lesser skilled member of a line doesn’t = being mediocre. Frankly, for the honesty of the effort Morrison put in every night, as compared to Bertuzzi’s spotty intensity, I’d rather a Morrison in the lineup than a Bertuzzi.

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        • Mallick
          December 18, 2011

          Morrison didn’t have the flash or numbers of the other two, that is pure fact. He played a different game. Morrison was a great player though, and he was quite possibly the reason the WCE had such success. He made up for a lot of defensive liability of the other two.

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        • Harrison Mooney
          December 18, 2011

          I don’t disagree. I simply meant in terms of raw talent. We love Brendan Morrison over here.

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    • peanutflower
      December 18, 2011

      At least he didn’t call him “Travis”. As in “Travis Hansen”. Mike Brophy writes another well-researched column.

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  15. Mallick
    December 18, 2011

    Did you see the hug Higgins gave to Jannik after his goal? I’m pretty sure there was some interlocking-knee-action.

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    • Sarah
      December 18, 2011

      I totally noticed that! Ever since the PITB guys started calling Higgins “Kiss Huggins” I’m really inclined to notice Higgins hugging other players. One of my favourite was during a scuffle, all the players paired off and instead of fighting with his man, Higgins just stood there hugging him. Since I can’t remember the game or the player, this is kind of a stupid example, but it was hilarious to me at the time.

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