The Columbus Blue Jackets are like Dan from Dan in Real Life (or any other advice columnist from the movies): they can help everyone but themselves. Are your superstars struggling to score? Has it been awhile since your best defenceman wowed everyone? Has your team looked listless for weeks? Well, then you’re in luck, because the Blue Jackets are in town to get your game back on track. They’ll encourage you, set you up to succeed, and even play alongside you, gosh darn it — they want you to do well.
Columbus was exactly what Vancouver needed Saturday night: a beatable opponent. Granted, the Canucks still weren’t perfect, but if there’s one thing you don’t have to be to beat the Blue Jackets, it’s perfect. In the end, the secret to beating Columbus is simply to “score one more goal than them,” as Kevin Bieksa so succinctly put it in the postgame scrum. And that’s what the Canucks did. I watched this game.
Canucks 4 – 3 Blue Jackets
You’d have thought that Cory Schneider had ridden into town on a cloud like Jesus (or Goku) by the crowd pop he got when his name was announced as the starter. But, after all that fanfare, he was only okay tonight, allowing 3 goals, all of which were arguably stoppable. Of course, because this is Schneider and not Luongo, the shaky start was chalked up to the fact that he hadn’t started in awhile. A similar performance from Luongo would have been chalked up to the fact that he should never start ever again ever.
Sammy Pahlsson saw the bulk of the d-zone starts Saturday, taking 12 faceoffs in his own end and winning 7 of them. Interestingly, Maxim Lapierre only took two defensive zone draws. It looked to me like, with Kassian and Weise making up two-thirds of the fourth line, Alain Vigneault didn’t trust his bottom trio with the same defensive responsibilities they usually get. And, after both Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski scored goals immediately following faceoff wins in the Canucks’ end (one off Kesler and another off Pahlsson), I’d wager that Malhotra will be hurried back into the lineup for Monday.
Speaking of lost defensive zone draws, that’s what cost the Blue Jackets on David Booth’s game-tying goal in the first (although Aaron Johnson’s brutal defensive play after Kesler won the draw was definitely a factor). After Alex Edler gained control of the puck, and Chris Higgins tipped his shot through traffic, Booth made like Johann Strauss II and Blue Danube Waltzed past Johnson to the front of the net before promenading the rebound past Steve Mason.
Aaron Johnson had 8 blocked shots in this game, and not because he “wanted it more” or he “had more heart” or he “was willing to pay the price” or whatever: it’s because the puck was in his own end most of the night. In his case, 8 was a bad number. If you want a good number from a Johnson, I recommend Strawberry Letter 23.
Sprung on a breakaway in the first, Zack Kassian tried to go blocker on Mason but wound up going glove because, unbeknownst to him, Mason catches right. In his defense, he’s probably never seen Mason catch before, and not because he’s new to the Western Conference or he’s a rookie — Mason just doesn’t usually make saves.
Not long after Booth scored, Daniel and Henrik combined for a long overdue piece of Wizardous Sedinerie to put the Canucks up 2-1, moving the puck around beautifully on the goal line. Not only did they silence critics claiming they didn’t have it anymore; they silenced critics claiming Mason Raymond would hamper their line. On the goal, they showed they could produce regardless of who the third forward was. To prove this beyond the shadow of a doubt, they used Brett Lebda.
Speaking of Raymond, clearly, whatever’s ailing him is contagious, because early in the second period, Daniel Sedin overskated the puck on a scoring chance, then fell down. Raymond was immediately quarantined by Morgan Freeman and Dustin Hoffman before the virus could spread any further.
Okay, we should lay off Raymond. Yes, he fell down a few more times Saturday, but he had 8 shot attempts, the most among forwards on either team, and only one fewer than Dan Hamhuis and Alex Edler’s game-high of 9. Still, despite the multiplicity of opportunities, the dude can’t catch a break. Right after James Wisniewski’s goal, Raymond had quick two scoring chances. He couldn’t get either on net, and after the whistle blew, his body language told the story: his shoulders were in a slump.
After Jack Johnson’s shot went off Ryan Kesler, Kevin Weekes and Mark Lee spent an absurd amount of time trying to figure out what part of Kesler the puck hit. I’ve never seen Kesler’s body examined so thoroughly. Oh wait. Yes I have.
Speaking of creepy ogling, Wizardous Sedinerie wasn’t the only big return Saturday: we also saw the return Chris Higgins’s abs-traordinary abs. The cameras caught the undershirt-spurning forward adjusting his equipment (not a euphemism) behind the Sedins at the bench. With an assist and a Twitter-exploding ab shot, Higgins finished a goal short of the Chris Higgins hat trick.
Alex Edler’s end-to-end rush sure was lovely, huh? Granted, most NHL defences will force a streaking defenceman to make, like, at least one move (Edler looked like a rod hockey centre with that straight track), but still, he showed some nice speed on this play. After taking the puck from Cory Schneider in his own end, Edler morphed into Bobby Orr, going coast-to-coast for the goal. Not since Alex Mack have I seen an Alex morph so fluidly.
The new powerplay formation, with Kesler at the point and Alex Burrows down low, produced two goals tonight, giving the Canucks 4 powerplay goals in their last 2 games and bumping their success rate back to an NHL-best 21.6%. One thing I like about this group is that it allows Burrows to do what he does best: free pucks for the Sedins. No one frees pucks like Burrows. He’s like Aladdin, but for pucks.
For instance, Burrows didn’t get an assist on Daniel Sedin’s second and eventual game-winning goal, but he made the play when he jumped in front of Henrik to poke the puck up the wall to Alex Edler. From there, Edler moved it to Henrik, who attempted a slap-pass with Daniel. It didn’t get through, but the puck came off the skate of the redundantly-named Nikita Nikitin and back to Daniel, who tucked it in like Buffalo Bill.
I like Bieksa, and I like Edler, but I don’t like the Bikesa-Edler pairing. I just don’t like it. Make it stop.
And finally, I thought Chris Tanev had a great game Saturday. Yes, he made a brutal turnover to Ryan Russell in the third, one of the few times I’ve seen him screw up an outlet pass, but he was jumping into rushes, making smart feeds, and doing a lot to move the play in the right direction. Tanev has grown exponentially even since the Canucks brought him up for this most recent stint, and I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. Considering he grew nearly a foot in one summer, freakish growth is sort of his thing.
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