Hey, remember when I said the Canucks would be sashaying into the postseason at half-speed? Yeah, they’re not doing that anymore. With the playoffs now 6 games away and 1st place in the Conference somehow well within reach, the boys in blue have dispensed with the body break and ratcheted up the intensity for the final two weeks, setting their sights on the boys in darker blue.
Suddenly, the Canucks are testing their playoff wheels, embracing activities they’ve spurned over the past month and doing the little things you need to do to win playoff games, such as throwing hits and blocking shots to protect one-goal leads. And what better way to test a team’s ability to protect a one-goal lead than scoring 3 minutes in and spending the next 57 holding on like Wilson Phillips? It may not have been pretty, but if it’s pretty you want, watch that Wilson Phillips music video. As for me, I watched this game.
Canucks 1 – 0 Kings
Manny Malhotra and Maxim Lapierre stunned the Kings just over 3 minutes in by scoring on a 2-on-3 rush while the rest of the Canucks were in the middle of a change. The pairing of Willie Mitchell and Slava Voynov gave Lapierre far too much space at the blue line, and he took advantage of it to gain the zone and feed Malhotra on the left wing. Then, ever the team player, Johnny Quick made his contribution to enabling the enablers, overshooting the near post at the same time Malhotra was undershooting the far post. Meanwhile, Jannik Hansen found himself with the easiest plus-one of his life. He immediately invited it to a wedding.
While Quick lost his post on the game’s lone goal, Roberto Luongo scored a flawless victory, making 38 saves for his 4th shutout of the season. His best came in the final five minutes, as Funny Bob somehow managed to get a glove on a puck that was redirected by Anze Kopitar about a foot from the goal mouth. He was such an Italian wall in this game that it was a wonder he wasn’t covered with lizards.
But, like Malhotra and Lapierre, Luongo’s best moment came just after he’d secured the win, when the final horn sounded and a frustrated Justin Williams — who had been stopped by Luongo six times — grumpily kicked the netminder’s goal stick away. Luongo extended his blocker for a consolatory handshake, then waved the Kings’ winger off and celebrated with his team.
Luongo could do no wrong tonight. He even managed to draw two penalties — one after Dustin Penner bumped him at the side of the goal and another after Kyle Clifford sprayed him too hard with snow. Yes, you read that right. The NHL is like recess in grade school now. No snowballs. There could be rocks in there. That’s how someone loses an eye. (For what it’s worth, I didn’t mind the Clifford call. When you give a netminder a snow shower, you’re supposed to try to make it look like an accident, and Clifford didn’t bother. That’s just unsportsmanlike.)
Is Darryl Sutter the worst-dressed coach in the NHL? His canary yellow shirt says yes, although the season ticket-holder in the black ice jersey right behind him somehow managed to mitigate the LA coach’s abominable fashion sense. The sight of those two sharing the screen was an argument for the seven-second tape delay — that’s how offensive it was.
Did Jeff Carter play tonight? You’d think, in a game where the Kings desperately needed one goal, you’d hear his name a few times. Of course, maybe he was hoping to earn the goal by sulking and disappearing? Typically, that’s how he gets what he wants.
The TSN crew heaped praise on Manny Malhotra, but I thought Maxim Lapierre was the real standout tonight, leading the team in hits with 6 and by inspiring his team to do the same. Dale Weise followed suit with 5, giving the 4th line more crunchy hits than a Nine Inch Nails record. And Jannik Hansen was no doubt feeling inspired by the big hit that led to the game-winning goal on Saturday, because he dished out 6 hits of his own on the third line. The Canucks were taking the body like the parasites in The Faculty.
They were also sacrificing the body, with 18 blocked shots on the night. Remember when they weren’t doing that? Now they’re absorbing more shots than the alien force field in Independence Day.
Ryan Kesler led the team in defensive zone faceoffs, taking 10. He won 3 of them. Meanwhile, Samme Pahlsson, Manny Malhotra, and Maxim Lapierre all took 5 apiece and won 3 each. In short, it’s not overly necessary for Kesler to take so many of these draws anymore. You’ve got other guys to do that. I understand the man is a beast, and when you have a beast you ride it like the guy on the buffalo, but still. Kesler’s line straight-up dominated when they were matched up against inferior competition Monday. Now that the Canucks are flush with defensive centres, I’d like to see Vigneault look for those matchups more often.
I haven’t liked Sami Salo’s game recently, and I didn’t like it tonight. He looked slow and he was muscled off the puck too easily on a few occasions, such as on this chance for Kyle Clifford. It looks like his job in the top-four may have been usurped by Chris Tanev, who saw the fourth-most even-strength icetime behind Edler, Hamhuis, and Bieksa, but Salo can still be a valuable bottom pairing and special teams guy if he can re-find his game. On the bright side, the fact that people have hardly noticed Salo’s recent struggles is a testament to how well Chris Tanev has played.
And finally, the Canucks’ powerplay looked pretty dreadful tonight. I would suggest that the absence of Daniel Sedin played a major role in this. It’s hard to adjust when you’re powerplay alignment is designed around a complete set of twins, and all of a sudden you’re twinless. What the Canucks need are backup twins, like the final three seasons of Full House.
After a win over the Detroit Red Wings, the Canucks are sitting in second in the Pacific and boast the division's best goal differential. That said, a big part of that goal differential comes from the Canucks' league-leading 10 empty net goals. […]