Games against the Minnesota Wild used to be an interminable bore. They still are, but they used to be too.
It was hoped by many that this would be the game that Henrik Sedin tied and then surpassed Markus Naslund’s franchise record in points. It was not to be, as the Wild were intent on making this game a slog with minimal scoring chances and little end-to-end play. While the Sedins dominated the offensive zone, they just couldn’t get the puck past Darcy Kuemper, who was starting his first ever NHL game. As per usual, however, the Canucks found a way to win thanks to great goaltending, secondary scoring, and offensive contributions from the defence.
Frankly, I have no idea why anyone would want Henrik to break the record against the Wild. I would be okay with him going on a brief cold streak, then breaking the franchise record against the Chicago Blackhawks next Tuesday, which would be much more satisfying. So, honestly, I’m kind of glad that Henrik didn’t get a point when I watched this game.
Canucks 2 – 1 Wild
Roberto Luongo was once again excellent, making 25 saves on 26 shots, including a flurry at the end of the game when the Wild pulled their goaltender for the extra skater. His best save seemed to be largely overlooked, a kick save on Charlie Coyle in the slot on the powerplay in the first period that kept the Canucks up by one. Luongo’s best moment, however, came before the game even started, as he took the time to stretch next to Kuemper and chat with him before he made his first NHL start. It was a nice gesture and it had to be appreciated.
Of course, it may have also helped steady Kuemper’s nerves, as he looked marvelous throughout, making 28 saves on 30 shots. His best save came on Daniel Sedin after Alex Burrows sprung him on a breakaway with an aerial pass. Daniel cut across the net and tried to shoot against the grain, but Kuemper stuck out the blocker to keep it a 1-goal game.
Zack “Cantrip” Kassian weaved some minor magic for the Canucks’ first goal, finding Kevin Bieksa streaking into the slot with a slick pass under Justin Falk’s leg as the defenceman tried to kneel down to block it. Kassian has just two assists so far, but they have both been gorgeous.
Despite not scoring, the Sedins and Burrows were the Canucks’ best line, right up there with Show me the money and I’ll have what she’s having. The trio combined for 10 shots on goal and were constantly keeping the puck in the offensive zone. Oddly enough, Henrik’s best shift didn’t come with Daniel and Burrows, but when he got stuck on the ice after a change. He kept the puck cycling with Chris Higgins and Zack Kassian, spinning the Wild defence in circles and the Canucks eventually got a full line change in without the puck leaving the Wild end of the ice.
While the Sedins and Burrows were the best line, Jannik Hansen was the best Canuck, and his linemates, Jordan Schroeder and Mason Raymond, were also solid. Despite lacking the speed of Dale “The Flying Dutchman” Weise, seeing their combined speed in action is more exciting than heating up an electron.
With the Sedins stymied, the second line took it upon themselves to be wizardous, combining for my favourite goal of this young season. It started along the boards, where Jordan Schroeder held off Cal Clutterbuck and Tom Gilbert, who have a combined 9 inches and 70 pounds on the pint-sized centre, until Raymond could dig out the puck. Raymond then toe-dragged between two Wild defenders and found Keith Ballard stepping up from the blueline with a nifty pass. Ballard then passed the puck between Clayton Stoner’s legs to a wide-open Hansen, who went bar-down with a perfect wrist shot.
Incidentally, “toe-drag” is the ugliest sounding name for what is really a beautiful move. It sounds like some oily substance that builds up between your toes instead of a fine bit of finesse. I’ve got a terrible case of toe-drag. I never should have borrowed Chris Higgins’s Crocs.
While Jannik Hansen is due for a regression, I do think that he’ll score a decent number of goals this season, for the simple reason that he’s getting a lot more shots. With his 5 shots against the Wild, Hansen now has 32 shots through 12 games. That would put on-pace for 219 shots in an 82-game season. His career-high is 137 from last year. I expect him to score around 12 goals this season, which would be the equivalent of 20 goals in a full season. If he starts getting more powerplay time, however, he could end up with a few more.
Without Manny Malhotra, who missed the game for “personal reasons,” the Canucks struggled a bit in the faceoff circle. Maxim Lapierre was the only Canuck over 50%, but he did his best work in the defensive zone, winning 8-of-12 draws. The rest of the Canucks combined to go 3-for-12 in the defensive zone, so Vigneault relied on him at the end of the game for a defensive zone faceoff with the Wild’s net empty and less than a minute to go. Unfortunately, he lost the faceoff, then made matters worse by shooting for the empty net from his own blueline and missing, resulting in an icing call and another defensive zone faceoff. He made amends by winning the second one, allowing the defence to run out the clock.
Kassian and Lapierre provided the physical presence for the Canucks, with 5 hits each, but the best hit of the game came from Kevin Bieksa, who steamrolled Clutterbuck like he was Judge Doom.
Lapierre’s physical presence presented a problem, unfortunately, when he somehow ended up with the only penalty after coming to the defence of Daniel Sedin. Falk hit Daniel from behind into the boards, which seemed like it should have been a penalty. Lapierre did the right thing by getting into Falk’s face, but he was the only one pulled from the ensuing scrum. Devin Setoguchi scored a pretty goal on the subsequent powerplay when Andrew Ebbett missed his assignment on the penalty kill, leaving the front of the goal wide open.
The Canucks had multiple chances to extend their lead. When it was 1-0, Burrows got a breakaway and somehow missed the net with his patented backhand move. On a 2-on-1 with Hansen, Edler kept the puck and shot it wide instead of making the pass. Shortly after Setoguchi made it 2-1, Daniel had an open net and put it wide. Later in the second period, a pass from Higgins hopped over Kassian’s stick with Kuemper down and out. Even taking into account some of the close calls for the Wild, this game wasn’t anywhere near as close as it seemed. Or rather, like a man with halitosis whispering in your ear, it was closer than it should have been.
The oddest moment of the game came in the third period. As both teams were making line changes, Mikko Koivu somehow got ahold of Burrows’ glove and absconded with it into the Wild bench. Burrows didn’t seem to really notice until he was on his own bench and started yelling. As the ref came over to see what the fuss was all about, the glove was surreptitiously tossed back over the boards onto the ice. It was petty, immature, and friggin’ hilarious.
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