On Cody Hodgson, Christian Ehrhoff, David Booth, and Flaws
Norm Hall/Getty Images

Canucks fans who were sad to see Cody Hodgson leave on Monday at the trade deadline didn’t have long to wait for him to return to Vancouver. He’s back in town tonight, albeit with the Buffalo Sabres. Also back is Christian Ehrhoff, who left town in the offseason, signing a 10-year, $40 million deal with the Sabres. Both Hodgson and Ehrhoff make me think about how our perceptions of players are formed. In particular, they make me think of David Booth.

When the Canucks drafted Cody Hodgson, I was thrilled with the choice, even though I had never seen Hodgson play. All I had to go on were a few scouting reports, his point totals in junior, a scant few highlight videos on YouTube, and the opinions of commentators that I trust, like Bob McKenzie. But from all of those, I was fairly certain that the Canucks were lucky Hodgson had fallen to the 10th pick.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

That opinion solidified over the next year. All I actually saw of Hodgson was at the World Junior tournament, but the accolades rolled in: OHL player of the year, CHL player of the year, smartest player, hardest worker, best penalty killer, etc. Then, of course, there was the back injury and the long recovery. It was heartbreaking to see such a hardworking, humble player like Hodgson have such a setback.

So when he finally solidified himself in the lineup this season, it felt like the culmination of a long, difficult journey. Since I already had the predisposition to like him, his success was such a feel-good story that I was perhaps a little blinded to some of his deficiencies as a hockey player. They’re the same deficiencies that most young rookies have: lack of defensive acumen and core strength. In the offensive zone, he was impressive, and he showed potential to be a strong, two-way centre, but he just wasn’t there yet.

But any mistakes that Hodgson made in the defensive zone, I brushed aside as being no big deal: they were just rookie mistakes.

When the Canucks acquired Christian Ehrhoff, I was similarly thrilled as when they drafted Hodgson. Ehrhoff was coming off a 42-point season with the San Jose Sharks, including 5 powerplay goals. The highlights I had seen were impressive: a great skater who could jump up into the rush and had a great shot. I read about Sharks fans calling him Errorhoff and questioning his ability in the defensive zone, but I shrugged off those reports and decided I would see for myself.

The problem was that it was too easy at first to also shrug off his defensive miscues in Vancouver. They were more than offset, I opined, by his offensive ability and his prowess on the powerplay. But, over time, that opinion shifted, both for myself and for the Canucks fanbase. By the time he left town, refusing to sign a contract for a similar amount to that of Kevin Bieksa, I reasoned that his defensive lapses were simply too costly.

In the words of Harvey Dent, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

When you don’t see a player night in and night out, they’re essentially just a pile of stats and highlights crafted together in your imagination. You create a mythology of a certain player based on what little you’ve seen in actual games, on TSN Sportscenter or Sportsnet Connected, or on highlight reels on YouTube. Or worse, you add in how he plays in a video game to the mix. A defenceman who can score 40+ points in a single season or a prospect named the CHL Player of the Year becomes an idealized figure.

But every player has flaws. You just don’t see them unless you watch those players night after night. It’s the same reason why Roberto Luongo is frequently vilified by a certain segment of Vancouver fans. His flaws are magnified because we see him so much. When a mediocre goaltender comes into town and has one good game, seemingly outperforming Luongo, we get frustrated, wondering why he gets paid so much money. When that mediocre goaltender gets shelled for 6 goals in his next game, we don’t see it.

This brings me to David Booth. When he was first acquired, I was thrilled. Booth has a reputation for being strong on the puck and was able to produce offensively on a below-average Florida Panthers team. He had a 31-goal, 60 point season in 2008-09 and it was easy to dismiss his subsequent offensive drop-off on the difficulties coming back from a concussion.

Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

The highlights I had seen showed a powerful skater with slick hands, a good wristshot, and a nose for the net. I had created a version of David Booth in my imagination that portrayed him as the perfect linemate for Ryan Kesler. It was tough seeing Mikael Samuelsson leave Vancouver in the trade, but the Canucks got younger in the deal and jettisoned Marco Sturm, who was pretty clearly not working out.

After some initial struggles, Booth started winning over the fans with his hard work, ability to get to the front of the net with authority, and, most importantly, finish.

But now he has been with the team long enough for some flaws to show. He has been criticized in some corners for being too limited. When he has the puck in the offensive zone, he generally has just one thing on his mind: going hard to the net and shooting the puck. He’s not a passer, he’s not a finesse player, and he’s not incredibly patient with the puck. He has also shown a tendency towards streakiness, scoring goals in bunches and then going on a long drought.

Heading into tonight’s game against the Sabres, Booth hasn’t scored in 8 games and he’s been demoted down the lineup a few times. The flaws in his game that we couldn’t see when we just had a pile of statistics and highlights are showing up now that we see him game after game, night after night.

In some ways, that’s okay. Booth is who he is and he’s still an effective player at pushing puck possession into the offensive zone. And not all of his flaws are actually flaws. I would argue that his single-mindedness of going hard to the net isn’t a flaw; it’s a feature. The Canucks need a player like Booth who will head straight for the dirty areas of the ice at all times. If that’s the type of player he is, then it’s simply up to Alain Vigneault to put him in situations that use that ability to its full effect.

That’s why Hodgson was sheltered when he was with the Canucks. That was the best way to use his abilities at this point in his career. It’s also the same reason that Ehrhoff started so much in the offensive zone when he was with the Canucks. Vigneault recognized his defensive deficiencies and put him in a position to succeed.

Will Ehrhoff and Hodgson see the same level of success outside of Vigneault’s system? Possibly. Ehrhoff has struggled at times in Buffalo, but is on pace for a 40-point season, or would be if he hadn’t been injured. He has only scored 4 goals this season, however, and just 1 on the powerplay. As for Hodgson, it’s possible that he will be able to adapt to the heavier responsibilities in Buffalo, as he is a very intelligent hockey player, but it won’t be easy.

After all, like all players, he has flaws.

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39 comments

  1. Zach Morris
    March 3, 2012

    How dare you imply that Aaron Rome has flaws.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      March 3, 2012

      Obviously I wasn’t including Aaron Rome. I just figured that went without saying.

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  2. dSuico17
    March 3, 2012

    wow. well said.
    level-headed analysis from a first-person POV where we actually admit it is us (as fans) who put the players under the microscope.
    great read, as always.

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  3. Chris the Curmudgeon
    March 3, 2012

    I think comparing 29-year old veteran Christian Ehrhoff’s ingrained flaws with rookie Cody Hodgson’s flaws is a flawed approach. Ehrhoff is what he is: a puck-moving defenceman with good offensive skills but a tendency for sloppy play in his own zone. Cody is a raw rookie, with undeniable offensive skill, but room to grow both physically and to have his defensive abilities groomed. To say that his flaws are his flaws ignores the fact that with players his age, the possibilities for improvement are considerable, and Cody’s a hard enough worker to try to improve. Trading him was not just trading 2012 CoHo, it was trading 2017 CoHo too, the one who’s grown into himself and developed all aspects of his game. 2017 Ehrhoff on the other hand is probably just like 2012 Ehrhoff, but with grey hair.

    As for Booth, you could probably make the same argument about a lot of players on the Canucks: what you call his flaws could just as easily be his “style of play”. Henrik Sedin doesn’t shoot enough, Kesler is too selfish with the puck, Edler makes too many drop passes at centre ice, Hansen has no finish, Zack Kassian is a glorified goon with no skill, etc. Really, outside of a select few players like Crosby and Datsyuk, I can’t think of many players you couldn’t come up with some flaw about. Probably the most well-rounded player on the Canucks, in my opinion, is Alex Burrows.

    Besides, Booth is kind of like an anti-Raymond. Booth takes the puck to the net and shoots, Raymond takes it to the corners and passes. In theory they should have great chemistry.

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    • Lenny
      March 3, 2012

      I originally wanted to make a similar post as yours in fewer words, but I reminded myself that Daniel’s blog is about OUR PERCEPTIONS of players, how they are shaped by media, stats, selected video clips and our own hopes and biases, NOT the players’ attributes themselves.

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      • Chris the Curmudgeon
        March 3, 2012

        Yes, the article is about “perceptions” and how over time, flaws that we initially ignored can become obvious. However, I think it’s being presented in a one-sided way. Because when the player gets traded or falls out of favour or something, the shoe is on the other foot and we tend to overstate said flaws, kind of a “seek and ye shall find” thing. Certainly Ehrhoff and Hodgson both have some holes in their games like many players, but the flaws are being played up into more than they are. Ehrhoff wasn’t great in his own zone but nor was he as abysmal as some would have you believe. Similarly, Cody was no Selke candidate but he wasn’t a complete dud either (and he’s young and likely to improve to boot). My point was simply that if you go in ready to ignore flaws in someone’s game because you like that player, you probably won’t see any, but equally, if you go in determined to find something wrong with player X (because they are traded, or you don’t like them, etc), chances are you will and it’s no less subjective. In that vein, one could perceive nearly any player as having weak points. In the case of Booth, something that could be characterized as “style of play” is being skewed into a flaw largely because one is seeking to describe a flaw with David Booth.

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    • tj
      March 3, 2012

      This whole stats vs scout argument reminds me of Moneyball.

      I would like to point out a recent interview w/ Kassian on, of all places, 1040, where he explains why he didn’t fight Biznasty, as part of a directive from the coaching staff not to fight. So, the ‘goon’ label I’m not buying. But it’s only been two games. Cody’s not got a goal in that game, although he’s been on the ice in order to get some points. If two games aren’t enough to judge Cody’s performance, we can’t write off Kassian as a ‘goon’ either.

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      • Andre
        March 3, 2012

        Actually, the Moneyball strategy applies very much to the Canucks, via ownership and GMMG. He has acquired reclamation projects (e.g., Higgins, Lapierre) and turned them into valuable assets. I think this is a deliberate strategy under the salary cap system. The players salaries are capped, but not the support provided to them, like coaches, psychologists, training facilities, etc. The way to game this system is to acquire low value assets with good potential, then increase their value through a support structure that is unaccounted by the salary cap.

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    • akidd
      March 3, 2012

      good points, chris. and well said!

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    • Daniel Wagner
      March 3, 2012

      I agree with you on this. I did not mean to imply that Hodgson’s flaws are in the same class as Ehrhoff’s, and I thought I made that clear when I said that his flaws are similar to most rookies’ flaws. Those flaws can be overcome with time and experience, whereas Ehrhoff is, as you say, what he is.

      The issue is that Hodgson’s flaws could have potentially caused problems this season. That said, maybe not.

      I also agree that Alex Burrows is probably the most well-rounded player on the Canucks. He is grossly underrated around the league. But I refuse to rise to the bait of you calling Kassian a goon. I see what you did there. ;)

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  4. Knight of Cydonia
    March 3, 2012

    so true. Thank you for putting into words what I would so often like to tell people I watch the game with. Now I can direct them here.

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  5. B
    March 3, 2012

    @Chris the C. – Granted it has only been two games but I haven’t seen anything to suggest that “Zack Kassian is a glorified goon with no skill”. If you are going to use the “raw rookie” argument for Cody, then I think Kassian’s potential to grow as a player and person (i.e. no more dirty hits like the ones in junior) deserves the same respect.

    The Pass It To Bulis boys made a good point in the Blues game blog re: Kassian stepping in front of the whole Blues team after Manny took an extra poke at the goaltender; Kassian effectively backed off five players who wanted nothing to do with him, even though Manny had gone in late. That type of presence is going to pay huge dividends in the playoffs. Trust me it will relieve/eliminate some of the wear and tear we saw last year. Great work PITB.

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    • Chris the Curmudgeon
      March 3, 2012

      That was meant tongue in cheek (somewhat). One can’t adopt the nickname “curmudgeon” without playing the part a little bit, right?

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  6. Dazza23
    March 3, 2012

    Good article. Have to admit i read it as ‘why AV is a very good man manager and coach’. You can’t win this much without something no one else sees.

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  7. sarah
    March 3, 2012

    Great article. It’s funny, but I made a perception vs. actuality comment on a previous post. It’s becoming a bit of a theme. I remember reading an article on religion a couple years back and it contained a great quote on how we’re more likely to accept paradoxes, muddied histories, problematic tenets, etc. in one’s own religion for the entirely human, if not particularly cogent, reason that it’s our own.

    I wonder if that same behaviour translates with sports. I know I’ve done it. Some of the stuff Burr and Lappy do, I find endearing but would probably be bothered by in an opponent. Or some of the things Juice says I find amusing but would probably think he’s a bit of an arrogant you know what if he played on say Chicago.

    I realize that’s not entirely what this article is on, but it got me thinking about it. Once again, well done.

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    • Nee
      March 3, 2012

      Good point. Perception is a funny thing, as is fandom.

      Something is funny if my guy does it, but may be obnoxious to an opposing fan. Bieksa is a good example…the things we love about him (chatty, lots of jokes, truculent play) is exactly what some opposing fans find irritating about him.

      Exception would be those punks who call the Sedins ‘sisters’. That’s not perception…they’re just bat-poop insane.

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  8. Lortimer
    March 3, 2012

    …That’s why Hodgson was sheltered when he was with the Canucks. That was the best way to use his abilities at this point in his career….

    Almost all great offensive players are sheltered (especially those in the east)
    Henricks average Quality of comp. is as low or even lower than Codys
    and the Sedins are veterans. This trade EXPOSES the Sedins as a team cannot have two
    weak defensive centers!

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  9. Brent
    March 3, 2012

    Agree with your comments on Booth but not so much with Cody. Booth certainly can drive to the net and can make some exciting plays, but when he doesn’t have the space to blow around a defender, he doesn’t pass very often and seems to subsequently loose the puck. My Spidy senses tell me that there is friction between Booth and Raymond, likely because Booth doesn’t seem to want to pass. Bit if a puck hog, although he did make that drop pass for Raymond’s goal agains the Devils.

    In terms of Cody’s defensive liabilities, I think there are overstated. Sure he has made some bone head moves in his own zone, but so do the Sedine’s, although in their defence, it is usually when they get caught in their own end at the end of a long shift. I think it is pretty evident now that Cody (or those around him) wanted him traded, so weather he wanted to or not, Gilles hand was forced. I would have to replay his TSN interview but I think he said something like “My family is fine with this” somewhat implying that they already knew about the trade. I am sure that Daniel and Harrison and most of the contributors know way more about this that I do. The interview in the Sun was fairly telling, he was like a teflon politician avoiding answering the question.

    Be interesting to hear Don Dinosaur’s take on the trade. Or has he already pontificated?

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    • Nick
      March 3, 2012

      Cody stick-handled around questions like a teflon politician, perhaps in part, because his father Chris was in fact a prominent politician in Ontario.

      He was about a cabinet minister in Mike Harris’ conservative government in the 90s, and purportedly a nasty piece of work.

      His wiki page mentions him winning his northern Ontario riding by appealing to homophobic prejudice, and also his apalling racist attitude toward first nations people during the Ipperwash inquiry.

      Sounds like an extremely aggressive dude who would have no qualms about trying to push his son’s hockey team around.

      Also explains why Cody seems to be such a meek choir boy who stands to the side when his domineering father pushes his agenda.

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      • Brent
        March 3, 2012

        Yikes! Bring out the garlic.

        Maybe Cody always looked sad because he really wanted to be a ballet dancer but it wasn’t manly enough for his dad.

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    • Brent
      March 4, 2012

      OK I am officially over te Cody trade. Kassian played really well tonight against Buffalo.

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  10. Chubster
    March 3, 2012

    Pressure changes everything. Why stats, especially reg season don’t always mean a lot. Guys like Ehrhoff and Ballard get flaky and fold, vs Hamhuis. Or, Art Ross Sedins vs Kes.

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  11. akidd
    March 3, 2012

    great article, daniel! i’m not saying that i agree with everything you said in it but i’m glad you wrote it. and i’m glad to see you changing your opinion a bit on an issue(booth) based on observation. just as i’m growing to appreciate booth’s energy out there you’re starting to notice booth’s limited vision on the ice(i think.)

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  12. I'mjustsuggesting
    March 3, 2012

    Great analysis. In a study done a few yrs ago, it found hockey fans were the mist intelligent, educated fans from a higher socio economic status in all of sports. Most fans were aware of the Ehrhoff errors and that Cody needed time to work on his defensive issues.

    But Booth is really the unknown here. Booth’s time in Van has been short, due to injuries we’ve only seen a small sample size. But from what I’ve seen, I’m not a fan. He doesn’t push play into the ‘offensive zone’, either the d-men or Kesler/Raymond do that. He may push the play to the net when the pucks in the o-zone, but that’s about it. He’s a one trick pony. He’s usually a mess in the d-zone, hence AV sheltering him defensivly. And most importantly, he has ZERO playoff experience. Will he be able to handle the pressure of playoff expectations? I don’t think so. In his 1st game back in Detroit (a high pressure situation for him), he was an absolute mess.

    I wish Canucks still had Sammulesson, he was one of the few Canucks who had increased PPG in the playoffs.

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    • Jon
      March 3, 2012

      Come playoff time, Booth’s ‘one trick’ will prove to be a useful one IMO.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      March 3, 2012

      Unfortunately, the advanced stats disagree with your assessment of Booth. Booth’s Corsi rating has consistently been beastly, even with a poor possession team like the Panthers. With the Canucks, he’s been ridiculous. He’s fourth on the team in Corsi, behind only the Sedins and Burrows, who benefit from the highest offensive-zone deployment in the league. Booth gets slightly sheltered in terms of starting a bit more often in the offensive zone against middling competition, but he has also had to play some quasi-shutdown minutes while playing on Kesler’s wing.

      Now, I agree that this doesn’t gel well with the eye test. Booth doesn’t look like the type of player who pushes puck possession, but the fact remains that the Canucks drastically out-shoot their opposition when Booth is on the ice. When he’s on the ice, the Canucks allow the second fewest shots on net per 60 minutes, behind only Daniel Sedin.

      I mean, I don’t entirely get it, but I have to admit that the numbers support Booth as not just good at puck possession, but great.

      It’ll definitely be interesting to see what he can do in the playoffs. His style of play seems well-suited to the postseason, but he is entirely untested, as you say.

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      • I'mjustsuggesting
        March 3, 2012

        Booth’s good Corsi numbers can in part be explained by his zone starts. Only Sedins/Burrows and Raymond start more shifts in the offensive zone than Booth. If he starts more shifts in the o-zone, he’s less likely to face shots against while he’s on the ice. It inflates his corsi and shots against per 60 mins.

        Also, he’s 8th on the team (forwards only) in quality of competition. Only Hansen and the 4th liners face lower quality of competition than Booth.

        I also hope that his willingness to ‘go to the net’ will be a bug plus in the playoffs.

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        • Daniel Wagner
          March 3, 2012

          He does have high offensive zone starts, but they’re nowhere near high enough to explain his high Corsi. Also, Booth started more often in the defensive zone than in the offensive zone while playing in Florida and still put up very good Corsi numbers.

          He does face much lower quality of competition, this is true. From what I’ve been reading lately, quality of competition actually has a much lower influence on Corsi than originally thought. Still, it’s something to consider when looking at his Corsi. His Corsi is still ridiculously high, though.

          Incidentally, if you look at his Corsi Relative QualComp, he actually fares worse. He’s 10th on the team in quality of competition by that metric.

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  13. Al
    March 3, 2012

    For years, we have been searching for a forward that drives hard to the net and shoots from everywhere on the ice. David Booth is not a playmaking centre. David booth is a power forward who drives hard to the net. I would gladly take Booth and his flaw of not passing over Samuelsson and his flaw of not passing. Maybe, booth needs to play with the twins, he might score 60 in a season!

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    • Nick
      March 3, 2012

      Well said Al. I, too, agree that Samuelsson was on the downside, and that Booth is an upgrade.

      Booth scoring 60 with the twins, I assume, is tongue-in-cheek; but AV is a good teacher and player development is one of his strengths. Booth is said to be quite coachable, and should develop into a more well-rounded player over the next couple of seasons.

      Samuelsson, on the other hand, is no longer a top 6 forward for most (or any) teams; is not a good fit on anyone’s 4th line or PK; and will likely be out of the league before too long.

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  14. Andre
    March 3, 2012

    There is a corollary to your Perception vs Reality argument that is worth mentioning. Sometimes, the impression we form of a player prevents us to see improvement when it occurs.

    As you indicated, Luongo has been vilified for years because we remember well his bloopers, his so-called choking during the playoffs, etc. In my eyes, he has improved in the past two years, firstly through his positioning in the crease area (last year), and secondly through how he holds his glove (this year). Although he is a markedly improved goaltender, I don’t think our perception of him has not registered his improvement.

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    • Andre
      March 3, 2012

      Oops: typo messed me up. I mean that our perception of Luongo, how we pigeonholed him, prevents us to recognize his recently improved goaltending.

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      • Nick
        March 3, 2012

        Luongo hasn’t improved that much … those 3 softies he let in against Buffalo in the first 5 minutes killed whatever chance the Canucks had to win.

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        • Warpstone
          March 3, 2012

          Yah, what a crappy goalie! He only had a shutout last game and carried his team for a month or two when they couldn’t kill off any opponent. Pfft…

          It’s not like Cory Schneider whiffed hard on an opening period (at home… against a divisional opponent… rhymes with Gnash-bill).

          Gee Luongo, you’re such loser for not being perfect.

          Look at Ryan Miller, he’s always been awesome….

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        • itsentertainment
          March 4, 2012

          The team wasn’t mentally prepared at the start of the game. A lot of turn overs at their own blue line. After the first shot went right through Luongo, the entire team got easily rattled. The second goal ugh… The puck was going wide before Luo pushed right onto the shooters stick.

          It was a bad start, but when was the last time Luongo has let in a softie early in the game? I can’t remember.

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  15. Nick
    March 3, 2012

    Kassian looked pretty good against Buffalo … Cody, aside from one rush, was invisible.

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    • Warpstone
      March 3, 2012

      In defence of Cody though, that’s basically his game. We never really noticed him much with the Canucks until he did pot a point in a game. I think he’s better thought of as that guy who can burn you if you stop paying attention vs the sort of player that’s harrying the defence on every shift.

      What a stark contrast to Kassian though, eh? Of the two, it’s easy to pick out who is likely to make a bigger post-season impact in the short term.

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  16. foobarbear
    March 4, 2012

    ah, okay, so there is actually justification for booth’s low PDO.

    maybe like how certain players elevate teammates’ shooting percentages in the NBA, in the NHL on the other end of the spectrum booth is the kind of player who lowers PDO.

    it’ll be great to be able to use at least part of PDO as an indicator of what kind of player he is. PDO has got to way too crude, though i could be proven wrong if it turns out to be a surprisingly robust indicator.

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  17. shoes
    March 4, 2012

    I agree 100% with your comments on certain Canucks fans and Luongo. For many he is dead to the team, because of a certain percieved history in the playoffs. He has had some bad “big games” ….also an equal number of great or even fantastic “big games”, but his good games are expected and taken for granted and his bad games are simply proof he chokes.

    The slaggers never ever finish their posts with the observation that “however we are in first place”…….funny that.

    Booth and Kassian will contribute big time in the playoff type atmostsphere, especially since both have finish skills……because we will not be seeing the same level of “rule changes” applied this year as last…..this year is the year of clutch and grab, not a repeat of the “Bruins inspired..anything goes year”

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