Karate, diamonds, and Cody Hodgson

In an old Legion of Super-Heroes comic, a group of super-villains known as the Fatal Five sets a trap for the 31st-century teenage heroes that teleports each of them to a prison specifically designed to counteract their specific powers. Val Armorr, the master of martial arts known as Karate Kid, is teleported inside a giant, hollow diamond, which is too hard for him to break with his precise blows.

Knowing that even the most beautiful and finely cut diamond will have a flaw, and reasoning that a giant diamond will have a flaw large enough to be seen with the naked eye, he searches the inside of his prison and locates it. As his oxygen is running out, he uses the discipline of his martial arts training to focus and draw upon all of his strength for one final blow, striking the natural weak point of the diamond, shattering it and escaping.

It’s a metaphor, you see.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Phoenix Coyotes, February 28, 2012

For the second time in as many weeks, the Canucks faced a fellow Western Conference division leader, though this meeting was a little less hyped than the previous one. Last week, the Canucks visited the leaders of the Central Division, the Detroit Red Wings, in a game that was everything a fan could ask for in terms of entertainment. This week, they faced the Pacific Division leading Phoenix Coyotes. The Coyotes are like a magic trick with just a pledge and a turn: no prestige.

That said, the Coyotes entered the game as the hottest team in the league, with a 10-0-1 record in their last 11, making them a tough test for the road-weary Canucks. There was also the intrigue of seeing the newly acquired Sami Pahlsson and Zack Kassian wear the Scowling Orca for the first time. I watched this game.

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Examining the pros and cons of the Cody Hodgson trade

Mike Gillis surprised everyone Monday with the announcement that beloved nerd Cody Hodgson had been traded to the Buffalo Sabres for budding power winger Zack Kassian. Many simply didn’t know how to take it. Some were sadder than Sad Cody and Sad Keanu put together. Some were angrier than angry Bieksa. Others could only make nonsensical Luongo faces.

Emotions were flying high. (Frankly, it’s a wonder there were no police cruisers overturned. Clearly, the Heart of a Canuck fan re-education campaign is working. We tip our hat to you, kinder, gentler Canuck nation.)

But now, with the benefit of a good night’s sleep behind us, we at PITB thought it might be time to recompose ourselves, gather our wits (obliterated as they were after yesterday’s gruelling all-day chat), apply a little reason to the situation, and weigh the pros and cons.

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Pass it to Comics: Hodgson and Booth watch Disney movies

Pass it to Comics is a regular collaboration between PITB and cartoonist Chloe Ezra, whose Tumblr page, Blue Soup, is a must-follow for any Canuck fan with an appreciation for quirk. Today: Cody Hodgson’s had some dark times, but as David Booth recently tweeted, he’s also had good times.

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Trade Deadline Summation: What the heck just happened?

Heading into the trade deadline, Mike Gillis was expected to be active. It looked like the Canucks, who are currently first place in the NHL, just needed to make a minor move or two to address issues of depth. Instead, Mike Gillis made arguably the biggest trade of the deadline, sending Calder candidate Cody Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres for burgeoning power forward Zack Kassian.

The move was shocking: there had been little indication that Hodgson was the block and Zack Kassian wasn’t on anyone’s radar in Vancouver. But it wasn’t the only trade that the Canucks made and, when taken as a whole, they do make sense. Let’s take a look.

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It’s Meme Time! Alain Vigneault laughs at things

When Alain Vigneault launched into a giggle fit during Sunday’s game against the Dallas Stars, the video went viral like crazy. Apparently people can’t get enough of an NHL coach, who is normally grim and serious during a game, laughing like a fool.

He was supposedly laughing at Vernon Fiddler’s impression of Kevin Bieksa’s angry face, but I don’t buy it. Fiddler’s impression was amusing, sure, but not enough to make someone laugh in such an uncontrollable fashion. He must have been laughing at something else. Here’s my guess:

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Chat it to Bulis: NHL trade deadline day live blog extravaganza!

Right off the hop: that graphic is terrifying. Absolutely spine-chilling. We didn’t make it.

NHL trade deadline day is reaching national holiday status here in Canada. Though very little actually happens, the entire afternoon is filled with talk of what might happen, and that’s good enough for most. For Canucks fans, the place to stage such Vladimir and Estragon-esque chatter is right here. PITB is livechatting the whole freaking day.

If we know Gillis, he’ll give us absolutely nothing to talk about until the final hour, which the rest of the chat will be taken up with nonsense: speculation, grumbling about sore legs, caffeine-fueled ranting, and debates about the merits of the final two-thirds of the Back to the Future trilogy. We’ll be joined by special guests from the Vancouver Sun and Canucks Army, and we’ll waste the entire day talking about nothing, much like the suits on TSN.

Deadline coverage begins at Monday, February 27 at 8am ET and ends at 3pm ET, with a great many deals trickling in after the official deadline has passed (there’s usually a backlog of paperwork). That means this Hellish chat goes live at the disgusting hour of 5am PT, and carries on until 1pm PT. Join us, won’t you?

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Dallas Stars, February 26, 2012

On Thursday, the Canucks snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, scoring the game-tying goal in the final minute and winning the game in extra time. On Sunday, Dallas turned the tables on the Canucks, as if the tables were stacked on top of an over-sized Lazy Susan that was resting atop of another, even larger table.

Since it’s the Canucks, there had to be a healthy dose of controversy, as the Stars’ last-minute, game-tying goal came after a blown icing call brought the faceoff all the way down into the Canucks end of the ice. I guess there has to be something to complain about when you get to game 63 of the schedule. I watched this game.

Since it’s the Canucks, there had to be a healthy dose of controversy, as the Stars’ last-minute, game-tying goal came after a blown icing call brought the faceoff all the way down into the Canucks end of the ice. I guess there has to be something to complain about when you get to game 63 of the schedule. I watched this game.

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Video: Alain Vigneault’s hysterical laughter at Vernon Fiddler’s ‘Angry Bieksa’ impression

It was a slow first period Sunday in the Canucks’ afternoon tilt with the Dallas Stars. When the horn sounded, the shots were 8-6 Vancouver, but you’d be hard-pressed to remember any of them. In recent years, with Marc Crawford coaching the team, these games have been played at a fairly nice clip, but with the Stars’ new system under Glen Gulutzan, this one was reminiscent of the 2007 playoff series between the two teams (which, coincidentally, is where the “Pass it to Bulis” name comes from).

But there was one standout moment. With four minutes to go in the period, the Stars went offside near the Vancouver bench, and when the camera cut to Alain Vigneault shortly thereafter, he was caught cracking up so badly he had to cover his face with his lineup card.

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Did the Canucks cross the line with their celebration in Detroit?

It was the quintessential Alex Burrows moment. The game on the line, he found himself with the puck on his stick, skating in alone on the opposing goaltender. And, like he does so often in such situations, the Canucks’ winger converted, unsurprisingly, by way of the backhand move he employs so regularly we call it “Blue Steel”.

I asked him once if he worried that goaltenders were wise to it.

“I’m sure goalies have seen clips of it,” he said. “Personally, I think if I execute it like I can, it’s a tough move to stop.” Clearly, Burrows trusts the backhand shelf like Gordon Bombay trusts the triple deke.

Jimmy Howard soon learned why, as Burrows executed the move perfectly, leaving the Detroit Red Wings’ goaltender on his belly and putting the puck up high to give the Canucks the come-from-behind win. It was the second time in Burrows’s career that he had broken a meaningful streak with the move, so it wasn’t surprising to see him make reference to the last time in his celebratory gesture: to signify the broken streak, he feigned breaking his stick over his knee.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at New Jersey Devils, February 24, 2012

One night after accomplishing the nigh-impossible in Detroit, defeating the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, Vancouver set out to unlock an even more elusive achievement: winning a game with offence exclusively by Aaron Rome and Mason Raymond. It wasn’t easy, but after becoming the first road team in 24 tries to leave Michigan with two points, the Canucks were clearly feeling capable of anything.

Granted, it wasn’t exactly an exciting accomplishment to witness, especially after the high standard of entertainment set in the game prior. As sequels go, this was the Staying Alive to Thursday’s night’s Saturday Night Fever. Yes, I have seen both films. I have also seen this game, because I watched this game.

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I Find This Video Odd: Jannik Hansen’s teammates attack him with tape

If you want proof that Ryan Kesler is a strong leader in the Canucks dressing room, consider the growth of interview ruining in the team. It started with Kesler’s obsession with Keslurking, but he started recruiting his teammates earlier this season, ruining Aaron Rome’s moment in the sun.

Now the team has started ruining interviews even when Kesler isn’t around, attacking Jannik Hansen with rolled up balls of hockey tape as he talked to Joey Kenward prior to Thursday’s clash with the Red Wings.

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Drance Numbers: Harry Potter plays soft minutes; the Sedins play optimized minutes

The Canucks blogosphere (lovingly called the Smylosphere by those working within it) has been talking about zone-starts and what they tell us about this team for well over a year now. Lately, however, the conversation has gone mainstream, and articles and broadcast segments about this topic are beginning to appear in places like Hockey Night in Canada and the Vancouver Province. Between the team’s sustained run of success, the uniqueness of their zone-start deployment patterns and, hopefully, several well argued blog-posts on the subject, more people are coming around to the idea that this stuff matters.

But the data remains somewhat problematic, especially for Corsi skeptics. Where shifts begin has a demonstrable impact on possession stats, sure, but what about production? Gabe Desjardins, who runs Behindthenet.ca, suggested that the Sedins benefit from being sheltered to the tune of 7-9 points per season, but that figure was questioned elsewhere.

One of the key things I use zone-starts for when writing about the Canucks is that, if nothing else, they tell a story. If a head coach is relying heavily on a particular skater to start more shifts in his own end when the team is on the road, that’s a pretty good indicator that the coach has a lot of trust in that player’s two-way game.

To put it most simply, zone-starts and quality of competition metrics have improved our understanding of “how NHL players are deployed.” As a result, hockey math nerds have come up with labels over the years to more accurately qualify and describe the roles of certain players. I figured it might be instructive to go through them.

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Video: Roberto Luongo is coming to get this kid

Roberto Luongo has become a very divisive figure in Vancouver. Either you love him or you hate him, and if you hate him, you hate him vociferously. He wilts under pressure. He’s not clutch. He loses his stick too often. He flops around like a fish. These are just some of the oft-voiced criticisms.

But people wouldn’t say these things if Luongo-hating summoned his ghost like saying “Candyman” or “Bloody Mary” three times into a mirror, now would they?

Of course, only a five-year old could believe something that silly. Take Jordan, for instance, a youngun who backs off on his “Carey Price is better than Roberto Luongo” argument the moment his Auntie suggests she might just tell Luongo where he lives and let the Canucks’ netminder come get him.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Detroit Red Wings, February 23, 2012

The Detroit Red Wings had won 23 consecutive games at Joe Louis Arena, their advantage at home reaching Kevin McAllister-levels of unbelievability. Visitors to the building were bombarded with a dizzying array of booby traps — flamethrowers inside doorways, tar on the steps, paint cans thrown over balconies, Micro Machines on the floor, and, of course, Pavel Datsyuk lying in front of the doggy door, firing his air soft rifle into the unsuspecting groins of those that dare oppose him. It was a nightmarish place for unwanted visitors.

However, despite the Red Wings’ best efforts to break the Canucks’ spirits like the Wet/Sticky Bandits, they forgot to account for the flooded basement next door (played in this metaphor by Alex Burrows). And sadly, like the pigeon lady in the sequel, Jimmy Howard was unable to be the creepy bearded neighbour with the snow shovel. Yes, I’ve watched Home Alone many times. But tonight, I watched this game.

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Who the heck is Herb Bagel? Is Roberto Luongo on Twitter? PITB investigates

When Kevin Bieksa joined Twitter back in September, signalling the successful end to our Twitter Needs Juice campaign, we rejoiced. The Canuck blueliner is a funny guy, and we were confident that his Twitter account would provide an additional resource for Canuck fan amusement. What we didn’t expect, however, was that Bieksa would also wind up making more work for us. Not cool, bro.

Wednesday, as the Canucks enjoyed a day off prior to Thursday’s big game in Detroit (where the home team has won a noteworthy 23 straight), a few of them took to Twitter to pass the time. Eventually, old man Sami Salo instituted a “no tweeting on the bus” rule, but this was after Ryan Kesler mocked the mysterious @strombone1 account that appears to belong to Roberto Luongo and Kevin Bieksa tweeted that the man behind the equally mysterious Herb Bagel (@slavy_72) account is part of the team.

Now, while Bieksa never said that this guy was a player on the Canucks, that’s what most took this to mean, and our readers demanded answers. Let’s investigate the clues, which will attempt to prove who Herb Bagel is and isn’t, and will most definitely prove that I have too much time on my hands.

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The Canucks are much fightier than last year: Top 5 fights of the season

A weird thing happened over the weekend: Don Cherry, that great defender of toughness in hockey, actually called the Canucks tough. I’m not joking. It actually happened.

The main (and only) reason that this is significant is that Cherry is the king of the surface-level observation. He seems to look at something once, get an impression, and immediately have a take. If Cherry’s first impression is that the Canucks are a tougher team and that “Boston’s not going to push them around any more” that is a positive for the Canucks, because that means that other teams are getting that same impression. If “toughness” and “Canucks” can be put together in people’s minds more often, that can only benefit the team.

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Breakdowning: Fire drill on the penalty kill in Nashville

The Nashville Predators don’t seem like an offensively-gifted hockey team. Built from the net out with an emphasis on defence and one of the lowest payrolls in the league, they simply haven’t sunk a lot of money into big offensive talent. You would think this lack of high-end scoring punch would be especially apparent on the powerplay.

Nope. The Predators have the second best powerplay in the NHL, behind only the Vancouver Canucks. And, given the way the Canuck powerplay has performed recently, the Predators might actually be the best team in the league with the man advantage these days. On Tuesday, they showed exactly why that might be the case, making one of the best penalty kill units on one the best penalty-killing teams look completely foolish.

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Spitballin’ on kicked groins, dancing cheeseburgers, tossed salmon, and Mason Raymond

Spitballin’ (or Super Pass It To Bulis: All In, if you love adventurous acronymizing) is a feature that allows us to touch on a multitude of things really fast, because in the world of hockey, there are always lots of things to find and colour. Here are a few topics that deserve mention.

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Pass it to Comics: Sometimes it hurts to be overrated

Pass it to Comics is a regular collaboration between PITB and cartoonist Chloe Ezra, whose Tumblr page, Blue Soup, is a must-follow for any Canuck fan with an appreciation for quirk. Today, the Canucks put on a brave face, but secretly ache.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Nashville Predators, February 21, 2012

This game was meant to be all about Alex Burrows, as it was the 500th game of his career. For someone who started his professional career scoring just 32 points in 66 games in the ECHL, it’s a tremendous achievement. He worked his way into the Canucks lineup by being an agitating checker, but has become a sparkplug, top-line forward alongside the Sedins.

The Predators ruined everything, however, by not letting Burrows score 5 goals so someone could win Safeway’s Million Dollar Score and Win. So Burrows instead celebrated by getting under an All-Star’s skin, just like old times, taking Shea Weber off the ice with a coincidental roughing minor when the Canucks were down by one. It was a savvy move, but his teammates couldn’t take advantage. His 500th game was ruined, but I still watched it. I watched this game.

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I Find This Photo Odd: Sad Cody is a lot like Sad Keanu, but sadder

Photographers take photos, but the best photographers tell stories. In sports photography, if you want your photos to be used, you’ll take shots that complement the stories already being told. The Canucks are slumping? Take photos of the team looking down. Roberto Luongo’s struggling? Take photos of the man on his belly — there will be numerous opportunities. Cody Hodgson’s centering fourth line while Mason Raymond’s getting sexy top-six icetime despite far less production?

Take a photo of Raymond and Hodgson on either side of the Sedins, with Raymond watching the results of a shift with the Sedins on the Jumbotron while Hodgson stares straight ahead, clearly miserable.

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Anti-Fantasy League: Week 19

Things are tight at the top of the Anti-Fantasy standings. It appears that many of you are very talented at picking the worst players, which means if I’m the captain in a pick-up game of road hockey, I want one of you to be the other captain.

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Breakdowning Sami Salo’s 5-1 goal versus the Toronto Maple Leafs

It’s not hard to spot the big mistake the Toronto Maple Leafs made in allowing Sami Salo’s 5-1 goal midway through the second period of Saturday’s game in Vancouver. With the Canucks on the powerplay, James Reimer makes a save on an Alex Edler shot, and the rebound bounces into the slot, where Matthew Lombardi has a chance to fire it the length of the ice. He whiffs on the clear, however, instead putting the puck right back on the stick of Edler at the point. The next time the Leafs touch the puck, they’re fishing it out of their net.

It was one of a salad bar of errors the Leafs served up to the Canucks.

It’s not difficult to see why many in the Toronto media call for Ron Wilson’s head on a regular basis: his team is abysmal defensively. All six Maple Leaf goals against Saturday were the result of defensive errors. Furthermore, four were the direct result of a senseless turnover, and two of those four were the result of a series of defensive errors after a senseless turnover.

Salo’s goal falls into the final category. Lombardi’s failure to ice the puck is one of two mistakes he makes on this play. Furthermore, while the flubbed clear undoubtedly enables a goal, it’s not the mistake that eventually causes it. Let’s take another look at this one:

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Edmonton Oilers, February 19, 2012

Sunday afternoon, it was announced that the Canucks had topped a poll asking NHLers to name the most overrated team in the league. This was just after Vancouver had pulverized Toronto 6-2 and just prior to making short work of Edmonton, 5-2. One wonders: if the Canucks are truly overrated, then how much worse are these teams than they seemed?

Of course, when it comes to polls of this nature, “overrated” is little more than a synonym for “disliked”, which makes sense: the Canucks are, as we know, loathed throughout Canada, and when you consider that they’re 11-2-1 and just spent the weekend batting Toronto and Edmonton around like a ball of yarn, it’s not difficult to understand why. Canada has one good team right now, a fact of which I would bristle at being reminded, were I not a fan of that team. But I am, so I was as bristle-free as a knitted moustache when I watched this game.

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