There were a number of storylines heading into Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada match-up versus the Buffalo Sabres. There was the obvious one, as Cody Hodgson returned to Vancouver less than one week after being traded to Buffalo, but there was also the undercard of the Olympic re-match between Roberto Luongo and Ryan Miller in the same building where Team Canada won the gold medal two years ago.
Oh yeah, and Christian Ehrhoff returning to Vancouver for the first time since leaving for a bigger contract in the summer. And Alex Sulzer was there.
But it turned out the real storyline was a desperate team battling for a playoff spot coming out firing on all cylinders against a complacent team sitting comfortably in first place. The game was essentially over after 5 minutes, but my job wasn’t. I didn’t just watch the first period, I watched this game.
Canucks 3 – 5 Sabres
The first five minutes of this game were more painful than Billy Crystal in blackface. While part of the blame has to be placed on the team in front of him, Roberto Luongo was shakier than the handheld camera in Paranormal Activity, allowing Ville Leino of all people to score two quick goals. The first was a weak one-timer through Luongo’s legs, while the second came on a bizarre rebound that saw Luongo swat at the puck with his blocker right to Leino in front of the net.
Brad Boyes sent Luongo packing with a perfectly placed shot that rang off one post and into the net in the opposite corner. The puck flew out of the net so quickly that it initially appeared to ring off both posts, but was clearly in on further review. Though Zack “Bic Mac” Kassian has showed good defensive awareness in his first few games with the Canucks, he completely missed checking Boyes in front of the net on this one.
Cory Schneider coming in to the game seemed to be the wakeup call the Canucks needed, as they outshot the Sabres 34-17 through the rest of the game. That’s the trouble with playing at home. When on the road, they can just have the front desk call them in the morning.
Spotted an early three-goal lead, Ryan Miller had a relatively easy time of it in the Sabres net. Considering this was the first time in 5 games that the Sabres have scored more than 2 goals in a game, Miller must have appreciated the support. He likely appreciated the way his teammates collapsed back towards the net to defend the lead. The Sabres’ skaters were like rickety scaffolding: plenty of support, but ready to collapse at any moment.
In commemoration of Ehrhoff’s return to Vancouver, Alain Vigneault experimented with an Ehrhoff replacement on the first unit on the powerplay. Marc-Andre Gragnani took on the roamer role, but mostly set up in the slot looking to deflect a slap pass. His best moment came when he didn’t touch the puck, allowing a cross-seam pass to slip through to Henrik, who unfortunately couldn’t beat Miller. The jury’s still out on whether this new wrinkle on the powerplay will be a permanent fixture.
It was the second powerplay unit that got the Canucks on the board, though it came just after a penalty (on Alex Sulzer, natch) expired. After a great zone entry, David Booth found a soft spot in the Sabres’ penalty kill while the rest of the powerplay unit worked the puck around. Alex Burrows got the puck behind the net and metaphorically loaded Booth’s gun backstage.
According to Kevin Weekes, Burrows learned how to make plays from behind the net from “number 22 and number 23.” Defenceman Alex Edler, of course, is well known for setting up plays from behind the opponent’s net. Really, he’s the biggest innovator of the position since Bobby Orr.
Maxim Lapierre was once again a physical presence for the Canucks, recording the second highest number of hits in the game, with 5. Mark Lee claimed that he was “hitting everything that moves.” Apparently, like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, Lapierre’s vision is based on movement. If you stay absolutely still, you’re safe.
Christian “This was supposed to be my return to Vancouver” Ehrhoff seemingly put the game out of reach early in the third period, as his point shot deflected in off Aaron Rome’s skate in front of the net while Rome boxed out Corey Tropp. It was the kind of lucky bounce that the Canucks just couldn’t buy in this game.
Of course, no one informed Zack “Sea Bass, Jr” Kassian that the game was effectively over. He once again joined the second line in the second period, this time replacing Mason Raymond, who took on a checking role. Booth, Kesler, and Kassian formed the B2K line so they could bump, bump, bump. Kassian finished with a game-high 7 hits and made up for his early defensive lapse with some offensive output in the third period.
First, he picked up a pass from Kesler and pulled off a nifty toe-drag before snapping a shot on net that handcuffed Miller. Booth jumped on the rebound and lifted it over the sprawling goaltender to pull the Canucks within two. It was Kassian’s first point as a Canuck, Booth’s first multi-goal game with the Canucks, and Booth’s 100th career goal. It was also the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Kassian and Booth.
Zack “Casablanca” Kassian then scored his first goal as a Canuck, picking up a loose puck in the slot and whipping it top corner past Miller. It was a perfectly placed shot, but I’m more impressed by the speed of his release, as he wasted no time getting the shot off once he had an opportunity. Kassian was pumped, and showed off some celebratory moves that he learned from Bill Nye and the High Five’n White Guys.
David Booth had a great game, snapping his goalscoring drought at 8 games, but he has to be held responsible for the empty net goal that sealed the victory for the Sabres. Booth had possession of the puck through the neutral zone, giving Vigneault confidence to pull Schneider from the net for the extra attacker. Unfortunately, instead of getting the puck deep, Booth attempted an ill-advised backhand pass that was immediately picked off and sent back the other way so Tyler Ennis could tap the puck into the empty net.
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