When the NHL announced their plans for realignment, some people (namely us) bemoaned the loss of games against the Chicago Blackhawks, which are always full of emotion and skill. The upshot is that the we’ll get more games between the San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks, which are always a highlight of the schedule.
Quite frankly, it would have been disappointing if the Sharks didn’t tie up this game and force it into overtime. Otherwise it would have been just another ho-hum Canucks victory and I would have fallen asleep trying to write about it afterwards. Instead, I’m wide awake because I watched this game.
With that said, Daniel got the better of Niemi for the Canucks’ first goal, tucking the puck just inside the post on a backhand wrap-around.As Alex Burrows cuts across the top of the crease, the defender in front, Dan Boyle, follows him and briefly tries to tie him up, expecting the pass. It’s a fair assumption and one likely shared by Niemi. Instead, Daniel goes against expectations and goes for the wrap-around as soon as he receives the puck. Clearly Daniel is not an M. Night Shyamalan fan or he’d know that twists like that are meant to go at the end, not the beginning.
Roberto Luongo was fantastic, making 33 saves, including 16 in the third period to make sure the game got to overtime. His most impressive save, however, came in the first period as he busted out his Julie “The Cat” Gaffney impersonation on a Joe Pavelski breakaway. Alain Vigneault clearly told him that Pavelski’s fancy: he’ll go glove.
Ryan Kesler put the Canucks up by two early in the second period with a perfect example of why he’s considered to be one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL. While on the powerplay, the Sharks got a 2-on-1: Kesler skated hard and caught Joe “Fancy” Pavelski from behind, checking his stick and creating a turnover. A minute later he was in front of Niemi, swatting in a rebound off an Alex Edler slapshot. Like Hugh Jackman, he has two sides.
One area of Kesler’s defensive side that was distinctly lacking was his usual faceoff dominance. The Sharks and Canucks are 2nd and 4th in faceoff percentage respectively, so you might expect an even battle. Instead, the Sharks went 37-for-56, winning 66% of the faceoffs. Only Maxim Lapierre managed to finish above 50% for the Canucks, winning 3-of-4 draws. Kesler was 7-for-17, Malhotra 5-for-15, and Henrik 4-for-15.
Henrik struggled with more than just faceoffs: it was his giveaway that led to the Sharks’ first goal, as he made an ill-advised blind backhand pass that was intercepted by Logan Couture. In his defence, most of his blind backhand passes are advised.
Also, Henrik isn’t the only one to blame for that goal. Kevin Bieksa, seeming to think that Henrik was Jeff Tambellini, played the 2-on-1 like it was a 2-on-2, letting Couture go in all alone on Luongo. Couture, who isn’t as fancy as Pavelski, went stick-side with a beautiful wrist shot.
San Jose tied up the game on the powerplay, thanks to some poor decision-making by Manny Malhotra. After Malhotra won the faceoff, Patrick Marleau managed to knock Edler off the puck, freeing it up for Joe Thornton. Despite seeing Thornton pick up the puck with no one to check him, Malhotra peeled off to cover the point, giving Thornton free access to the slot. Thornton is an Art Ross winner: giving him that kind of time and space is like giving the town lothario a key to your house when you have an unfaithful wife. He’s going to score, is what I’m saying.
The referees seemed to be a little off their game tonight: the Canucks’ first two penalties came on slashes that were about as weak as a Sedin body check. Kesler got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for embellishing getting punched in the face. Look, I get that he embellishes things, but he got punched in the face. Most people try to get their heads away from fists.
That altercation led to the best moment of the game, however, as Kesler and McGinn stood opposite each other, casually chatting while their teammates were involved in a regular to do around them. McGinn half-heartedly put his glove in Kesler’s face at one point, as if trying to convince everyone that they were really going at it, but they were clearly just discussing the finer points of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological approach to perception.
That also led to the silliest moment of the game: the referees called the captains, Thornton and Henrik, over to discuss the penalties after the fooferaw had died down. Showing phenomenal leadership and maturity, Thornton took the opportunity to stick his finger up Henrik’s nose repeatedly under the pretext of pointing towards the Vancouver end of the ice. Henrik could only knock his hand away (3 times!) and laugh; he clearly couldn’t believe how idiotic Thornton was. Neither can I. Seriously, that’s just embarrassing for Thornton.
The most egregious mistake, however, was the call on Bieksa for high-sticking when his stick came up on Jamie McGinn…and completely missed him. McGinn grabbed his mouth, which was hilarious as it would have been literally impossible for Bieksa’s stick to have hit his mouth since it was on the opposite side of his shoulder. The worst of it was that the call gave the Sharks a powerplay for the final minute and a half of the game and the first part of overtime. Fortunately, the Canucks’ penalty killers were up to the task.
With Kesler and Burrows out to kill off the penalty at the beginning of overtime, Vigneault went a bit further down his bench to give them a bit more time to rest. After a Sedin shift and a shift from Hodgson and Raymond, he sent out Jannik Hansen and Andrew “Ralph Hinkley” Ebbett, who had only 8:44 in icetime up until that point.
It turned out to be a great move. After Bieksa led the rush up ice, getting a couple good chances himself, Hansen set him up for another shot from the point, which Ebbett tipped past Niemi for the gamewinner. It was so unlikely that he would score that the announcers and his own teammates give all the credit to Bieksa. Ebbett was the last person to get to his own celebratory hug, leaping in like an overenthusiastic dog that isn’t quite sure what all the fuss is about but desperately wants to be involved.
Finally, a shoutout to Andrew Alberts, who had a quietly effective game, particularly on the penalty kill. No joke here, I just liked how he played.
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