Tonight, the Canucks hosted the Orange County team formerly known as the Mighty Ducks in a game stuffed with hyperbole. The greatest one of all time and space was in attendance (Mooney was there too), there was a first period penalty shot (only the most exciting play in hockey), eight pucks heroically rippled the mesh, Jonas Hiller made several acrobatic glove saves, and Henrik Sedin and the puck played a masterful sixty minute game of Cat’s Cradle.
Oh. And somewhere along the way, the Rogers Arena’ faithful chose to serenade Roberto Luongo with a loud chorus of Luu’s. After all, it’s his birthday! But he’s been so good for so long that the birthday boy deserved the appreciative support of the fans, who gave it to him even though he had a rocky outing. At least I think it was a compassionate, grateful crowd that was Luuu-ing, because anything else wouldn’t make much sense!
As a staunch proponent of hockey math, I usually miss out on this sort of drama. I trust the numbers, so there’s no real need to tune into the contests. Tonight, for Wagner and Mooney, I made a rare exception: I watched this game.
Canucks 5 – 4 Ducks (SO)
If malt-shops still existed in this century, I’d buy Henrik Sedin’s game tonight a banana-split. His assist on Burrows’ first goal came off of a double forehand-backhand deke, and on the second forehand-backhand move, he saucer passed the puck to himself over Koivu’s stick and retrieved it seamlessly on his backhand. That move allowed him to draw a second Ducks defender before he sent a dainty backhand pass to Burrows, who shot the puck top-corner and beat Hiller. It was such a mind-bending sequence that one might even describe it as illogical, and it was so illogical that it roots for the Canucks.
While that was the highlight that’ll get most of the attention, Henrik had a shift about four minutes into the first period where he started a rush with a beauty backhand pass, and then on his way back down the ice quick-stopped, completely left Francois Beachemin in the dust and zipped a second backhand pass to Burrows for a scoring chance. The quick-stop was marvelous, I really haven’t seen anything stop that abruptly since
Oh boy, it’s the story that just won’t die: the Canucks goaltending controversy! You have to feel for Luongo — he’s been inscrutably good for most of this season, but he gets lit up in a meaningless game on the eve of his birthday and the crowd gives him the Big Boo. It’s especially ridiculous because the Canuck defence was appalling at times tonight. Yes the first goal he allowed was soft enough to wipe with, but Corey Perry’s backhand was clinical, and on the third and fourth goals, the defensive gap control was so bad a Thomas Pynchon novel could have finessed its way through the slot untouched.
You know Luongo is a polarizing figure because both sides (Pro-Louie, and Pro-Schneider) obnoxiously overreact to everything. The crowd, obviously, behaved embarrassingly tonight. The Bronx jeers for Luongo were uncalled for, especially considering the low stakes of the game, how strong Luongo’s play has been over the past couple of weeks, and the way the team was playing in their own end through thirty minutes. That said, the pro-Luongo folks are hilarious as well. Sure, only one of the goals was a pure “softy,” but just admit it: Luongo had a really bad game tonight. He got beat five-hole three times, and saved only eleven of fifteen shots. He was swiss-cheese tonight: stinky and full of holes. Look, Luongo is a great goaltender – easily the best in franchise history – but I don’t care who you are, that’s a blow-up (Luongo’s seventh of the season) and an example of a goaltender not giving his team a chance to win – even if the team did ultimately bail him out.
Luongo wasn’t alone in the dog-house tonight; he had company in David Booth and Marc-Andre Gragnani. Booth has struggled to produce offence of late, and has been putting in extra time with the team’s skills coach before games. Early in the first period, he was awarded a penalty shot and all of his extra work… well, it didn’t really show. Booth’s not a reliable penalty-shot or shootout option, and he made a predictable move on his attempt that Jonas Hiller rather easily foiled. By the end of the night, Booth was the only Canuck skater who Hiller managed to stop in a shootout situation.
Gragnani and Booth teamed up with Alex Edler to compose a symphony of lazy defensive play on Rod Pelley’s go-ahead goal in the second period. Smith-Pelly entered the zone and briefly made contact with Edler, but it was weak contact, like travelling to a planet revolving around Vega and meeting your father. Edler at least succeeded in knocking the puck up the boards to Booth, but Bobby Ryan followed up the play, met David Booth along the wall and, obviously mistaking Booth for Luongo’s five-hole, went right through the Canucks forward. Ryan then skated towards the slot and sent a perfect backhand pass to Pelley, who was being ostensibly covered by an indifferent Gragnani and made no mistake, sending the puck right through Luongo.
Moments after the Ducks fourth goal, Alex Burrows collided with Smith-Pelly, fell awkwardly and left the game. Luckily, he returned, and scored a cheeky goal as he quickly poked a loose puck through Jonas Hiller’s five-hole to make it a one goal game. I really enjoyed watching Hiller’s head drop skyward once he realized what had just happened. So dramatic.
Booing Luongo is bad, but yelling at Henrik to shoot, or booing the world’s best playmaking centreman for holding the puck for too long on the power-play is probably even worse (even if it won’t get nearly as much attention tomorrow). Henrik with the puck on the power-play is raw, kinetic energy. He has the potential to put the puck on any of his teammates sticks at any moment. He can go over sticks with his passes, or through defenders, and when he’s got the puck every player on the opposition’s short-handed unit stands there transfixed. Henrik is as creative with his passing as any active hockey player, so can we just agree to trust the offensive instincts of a former Art Ross winner?
The Canucks have been in fifteen shootouts now this season, which, sucks because shootouts are the worst. The good news, however, is that Alain Vigneault has figured out exactly how the play them: Burrows and Edler go one-two, and then you take your chances with one of Lapierre, Raymond, Ebbett or Kesler. Lapierre’s game-sealer was the perfect end to a gong-show game. It was probably the ugliest shootout move you’ll see this season, but he followed it up with a dirty finish that even knocked Hiller’s water-bottle off of the net. It was the second dirtiest bottle pop I’ve ever seen. The dirtiest is this Pussycat Dolls video.
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