Just like last season, the Canucks opened their California road trip a perfect 2-0 and, just like last season, the second win came over the Anaheim Ducks on the second night of a back-to-back. But the similarities don’t end there.
In both Anaheim games, Cory Schneider got the start and the win, the Canucks scored the first goal a minute in, and Daniel Sedin scored the final Vancouver goal, beating Dan Ellis and stretching the lead to three. Of course, there were some differences. For instance: I attended last year’s game. I watched this game.
Canucks 5 – 2 Ducks
Another difference: the Ducks are a different team. Last year’s coach had more hair. Last year’s captain too.
Okay. Hockey. Henrik Sedin opened the scoring in this game after Alex Burrows centred the puck to him on a Ducks turnover, and I’m curious: do you think Daniel Sedin lunged for this puck and simply missed, or do you think he lunged to act as a decoy and a screen? Many on Twitter claimed the latter, which I could buy, especially since Daniel almost always knows where Henrik is. But, while I’m usually the first guy to claim everything the Sedins do is brilliantly intentional, I think this might have been a beautiful accident, like when Regina gets hit by a bus in Mean Girls.
Definitely not an accident: Cody Hodgson’s great play on the Canucks’ second goal of the game. He makes a quality drag move to get the first shot past Toni Lydman, but after Jonas Hiller spits the puck into the slot (likely because Lydman’s in his way), Hodgson shows great strength to shrug off Lydman’s check, step around him and swat home the rebound.
Speaking of Hodgson’s great strength, we’ve already established that it’s definitely not faceoffs, but he wasn’t terrible in this regard Thursday. The rookie centre went 3-for-7 in the circle, even being given two defensive zone draws, which is almost unheard of. Here’s why: he lost them both. The first came after his line got trapped on an an icing, and Bruce Boudreau sent the Getzlaf line over the boards to capitalize. They did too, as the Ducks won the puck and got two good shot attempts before the puck left the zone. If you’re wondering, Hodgson’s second defensive zone faceoff seemed to be a sign of good faith by Alain Vigneault, although there wasn’t much to lose with the Ducks down 3-0 and looking about as disinterested as freshmen in an 8am lecture.
While we’re talking faceoffs, it’s worth noting that Hodgson effectively gives the Canucks a third scoring line, making them a full line deeper than they were last year. Meanwhile, Alain Vigneault has begun to use the fourth line — which now boasts Maxim Lapierre and Manny Malhotra — the way he did last year’s third line, deploying them almost exclusively in the defensive zone. Here’s your big stat of the night: of the 22 defensive zone faceoffs for the Canucks this evening, 18 were taken by Lapierre and Malhotra.
Since we already established that Hodgson took two, this only left two for Ryan Kesler, his lowest total of the year. This is something to keep an eye on: If Alain Vigneault can get his offensive zone starts up, that bodes well for the Canucks.
Speaking of Kesler, his play to set Mason Raymond up for the Canucks’ third goal may be the best thing I’ve seen from him so far this year. He came flying across the blueline the same way he usually does, but rather than fire the puck off the defender’s shinpad, he turned back and looked for his winger. I’m not sure which surprised Cam Fowler more: that, or the speed with which he gained the zone. Either way, Fowler was completely turned around as Kesler centred for Raymond, who did a great job to reach out and touch the puck like it was faith.
Cory Schneider was excellent in this game, making 30 saves — 22 in the final two periods — to keep the Ducks from mounting a comeback. He also got lucky a few times, getting bonus saves from Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa, and the crossbar. The crossbar save was the luckiest of all, as the puck went off the metal, off his rear, and then stopped on the goal line. The Anaheim announcer on that play: “Cory Schneider has a horseshoe somewhere.” I do believe he was suggesting that Cory Schneider had funky butt luck. (Note: read that slowly. If you misread it and are offended, you have only your own eyes and brain to blame.)
It was interesting watching Francois Beauchemin get really frustrated throughout this game. First, there was his crosscheck to Henrik Sedin after Daniel Sedin’s first goal of the night. Then there was his attempt to chirp Ryan Kesler into a fight in the third period. Silly Beauchemin: Kesler’s like John Wayne in The Quiet Man. You can’t reason him into a fight. You have to earn it.
For the second game in a row, Jannik Hansen bailed on a 2-on-1 to go for a line change. Honey badger really don’t care. Either that or honey badger is really smart. If the play doesn’t work, he won’t have the gas to chase the puck back up the ice. That’s an unselfish play.
On fatigue management: people often criticize Alain Vigneault for the way he works to keep the minutes of his offensive players down and their shifts short, but those people are crazy. Consider the alternative: the average shift length of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf tonight was 1:09 and 1:15, respectively. Again, that’s the average. Getzlaf was especially egregious: on three separate occasions, he was on the ice for over two full minutes. Dante from Clerks thinks those shifts are too long.
Meanwhile, the average shift length of the Sedins: 37 seconds. They played only 15 minutes. In that time, they scored thrice, Daniel had six shots, and Henrik won 11 of 14 faceoffs and was named the game’s first star. Granted, some of that is just the Sedins being fantastic but, like cinnamony breath, big red freshness plays a major role.
More examples: the Sedins’ first goal was scored eight seconds into their shift. Their last goal, a typically wizardous passing play, came ten seconds into their final shift of the game. It’s a simple principle: the more time you spend out, the less likely you are to score. It’s why I kept most of my dates short in college. My last date has gone on forever and I’m really starting to see this principle at play.
Another brilliantly quiet game from Dan “Community Man” Hamhuis. Sure, he took two penalties, but I think he just sensed that the timekeeper needed someone to open up to.
And finally, the win gave the Canucks 50 points on the season, tying them with the Chicago Blackhawks for first in the league, although Chicago retains top spot by virtue of reaching the half-century mark in one fewer game. That said, if Chicago loses to Detroit Friday night, the Canucks officially take over top spot in the West. Furthermore, with a New Year’s Eve win over the Los Angeles Kings and a little luck (Boston and New York have to lose their next games as well), the Canucks would find themselves back where they were at the beginning of 2011: first overall in the NHL. It’s unlikely, but it’s possible, and that’s a nice thought, no?
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