I didn’t just watch this game, I was at it, as my older brother took me to a game as an early Christmas present. Unfortunately, it didn’t come with a gift receipt.
The Canucks played this game like anyone else with one last shift at work before Christmas: they showed up late and mailed it in. The Flames, on the other hand, showed up in Vancouver with the work ethic of Dwight Schrute and dominated. I had to suffer the ignominy of seeing the Canucks perform worse than the Flames in person. As tough as it was, I watched this game.
Canucks 1 – 3 Flames
With his 534th consecutive game, Henrik Sedin tied Brendan Morrison for the franchise iron-man streak record. With Morrison playing in this game for the Flames, I half-expected the Pitt Meadows native to pull a massive heel-turn and go knee-on-knee with the Canucks captain to prevent him from beating the record. Fortunately, Morrison is composed of 60% class, having long since replaced all the water in his body with it.
It looked like the Canucks would have a lot more emotion at the start of this game as Kevin Bieksa squared off with Tom Kostopoulos just 3 seconds in to the first period, in an apparent re-match of their January 22nd fight last season. Bieksa started the fight off with a bang, catching Kostopoulos with a quick right reminiscent of his Superman punch on Mike Richards, but Kostopoulos scored the take down. A closer review reveals, however, that it was Kostopoulos’s left elbow that scored the decisive blow.
Five minutes into the game, the Flames had 8 shots while the Canucks had none. Through two periods, they out-shot the Canucks 24 to 13. Fortunately, Roberto Luongo, unlike most of his teammates, actually decided to show up, stopping all 24 shots he faced through 40 minutes, keeping the team in the game despite their seeming disinterest in playing it.
Two of Luongo’s biggest saves came after miscues by Alexander Sulzer, who may have been the worst Canucks skater in a game where no one was particularly good. He had an awful giveaway just 6 seconds into the game, leading to a stellar glove save by Luongo off Rene Bourque. Then 12 minutes into the second period he slipped in the neutral zone, allowing Lee Stempniak to get behind him on a breakaway. Fortunately for him, Luongo stopped Stempniak cold. Sulzer may accomplish what no one else has been able to do: make Alain Vigneault miss Keith Ballard.
Vigneault wasn’t too fond of any of his skaters, saying after the game, ”Do I sound like I liked anybody else but Roberto?”
One of the few highlights for Canucks fans came 5 minutes into the second period, as Burrows responded to being interfered with by Iginla by taking Iggy’s stick as he fell, then “accidentally” kicking it down the ice away from Iginla as he skated back into the play. The referees saw fit to ignore it, probably because they had just blatantly ignored Iginla’s inteference.
It’s tough figuring out who to blame for the Flames’ first goal, not because it was lucky, but because there are so many candidates. Do we blame Hamhuis for his lack of anticipation that allowed Jarome Iginla to beat out the icing call? Do we blame Bieksa for not picking up Curtis Glencross coming into the zone? Do we blame Maxim Lapierre for being late to back check Glencross? Or do we blame Henrik Sedin for being too casual going back to the bench on the change, which caused Lapierre to be too late? To keep things simple, we’ll just blame Luongo.
The goal occurred just after the Canucks had failed to score on a crazy goalmouth scrum initiated by a Kevin Bieksa wristshot. The puck deflected into the crease with Leland Irving way out of position. It looked like an early Christmas present for Henrik or Burrows, but Jay Bouwmeester played the role of Krampus the Christmas Devil, and swatted the puck out of harm’s way with one of his birch rods.
Luongo’s one moment of weakness came on the Flames’ second goal, as he was caught off guard by a quick and unexpected shot from Mikael Backlund. The puck slipped between Luongo’s pads along the ice as it appeared that Backlund was going to make a pass to Glencross in front of the net instead of taking the shot. The bigger problem, however, was Cody Hodgson getting caught watching the puck and looking for a breakout pass instead of watching his check, Backlund. To help him learn, the Canucks will have him pick up the check for all the team dinners in January.
I don’t know how it looked at home, but the fourth line appeared to be the best line for the Canucks and it appeared to be Andrew Ebbett leading the way. Ebbett was continually around the puck when he was on the ice and he combined with linemates Dale Weise and Maxim Lapierre for the Canucks’ longest shift in the offensive zone halfway through the second period. That shift received the largest ovation of the night from the Rogers Arena crowd, who had less to cheer for than Minnesota Vikings cheerleaders.
Ebbett was rewarded for his strong play late in the third period with a brief promotion to a line with Hodgson and Raymond, setting up the latter for a great scoring chance in the slot with 3 minutes left. While Raymond just missed stick side, Dan “Community Man” Hamhuis hit the exact spot Raymond was aiming for just a few seconds later from the point, cutting the Flames’ lead to one. It was meant to be symbolic of his support for ONE and their efforts to end extreme poverty, but the Flames ruined it by scoring an empty net goal.
Leland Irving, who BC hockey fans may be familiar with as the starter for the Abbotsford Heat, was superb in net for the Flames, stopping 29 of 30 shots for his first career NHL victory. His biggest stop came with less than a minute remaining, robbing Daniel Sedin as the Canucks pulled Luongo to try to tie the game. Personally, I think they should have replaced Luongo with Russ Tyler in the final minute instead.
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