I Watched This Game: Canucks at Colorado Avalanche, March 24, 2013

How undermanned are the Canucks right now? When the announcement was made that Dale Weise had a shoulder injury and wouldn’t play against the Avalanche on Sunday night, it felt like a devastating blow.

Weise joined Ryan Kesler, David Booth, and Zack Kassian on the injured list. Manny Malhotra is done for the season. Steve Pinizzotto is still out with an unknown illness. Alex Edler finished of the second game off his two-game suspension. The Canucks were forced to trot out the absurd third line of Alex Burrows, Andrew Ebbett, and Keith Ballard, placing Chris Higgins with the Sedins.

Yes, Ballard once again needed to play as a forward for the ramshackle Canucks. Fortunately, they were playing the Coloardo Avalanche, the last place team in the Western Conference, who have bigger problems than having to play a defenceman as a forward: at one point in this game, they had Shane O’Brien on their first unit on the powerplay. Yikes. I felt a twinge of sympathy when I watched this game.

Canucks 3 – 2 Avalanche

  • I was surprised to see Burrows dropped down to the third line, but I suspect the move had a lot more to do with Higgins than Burrows. Higgins has no points in his last seven games and has been soundly outplayed by whoever he’s lined up against recently. Lining him up with the Sedins gives him more offensive opportunities and will hopefully help spark his offense. The Canucks need him to contribute more with Kesler and Booth out of the lineup. Vigneault still has plenty of faith in Higgins: thanks to time on both the powerplay and penalty kill, Higgins led all Canucks’ forwards in ice time with 20:25.
  • Higgins certainly seems poised to break out of his slump and didn’t look out of place with the Sedins. Early in the first, he combined with Daniel Sedin for a nice give-and-go before hitting the post. Later, on a beautiful inter-weaving play with Mason Raymond shorthanded, he hit the post again, this time with a wide open net. J.S. Giguere completely misunderstood and shouted to his teammates, “He hates these posts! Stay away from the posts!
  • Jason Garrison opened the scoring on the powerplay with what might be the most hilarious goal of the season. Normally known for his slap shot that sends the puck careening towards the net at blistering speed, Garrison went with a wrist shot that deflected off Matt Duchene’s stick and began to slide agonizingly slowly along the ice, somehow evading the sea of sticks and skates to find purchase in the back of the net. It was moving more slowly than Abe Lincoln’s shopping cart and likewise went untouched. No animal crackers were injured in the scoring of this goal.
  • It was nice that the Canucks got another powerplay goal, and the first unit was moving the puck incredibly well in this game, but they are still painfully reluctant to actually shoot the puck. The worst example came when a wide open Daniel Sedin got a cross-ice pass from his brother, with half the net to shoot at as Giguere slid across in desperation. Instead, he sent it back across to Henrik, who had no shooting lane. Normally, I wouldn’t question his decision making, as he’s the guy with an Art Ross Trophy and 288 career goals, but Daniel has just one goal in his last twelve games. He simply cannot keep literally passing on prime scoring chances.
  • Daniel compounded the issue when he failed to properly cover for a pinching Cam Barker at the point, allowing P.A. Parenteau and Jamie McGinn to break out the other way. On the 2-on-1, the puck was played by Steve McQueen, as it burrowed a tunnel under Kevin Bieksa’s stick, then ramped over Cory Schneider on a motorcycle to tie the game.
  • I’m about ready for Cam Barker to not play for the Canucks for a while. Beyond his ill-advised pinch on McGinn’s goal, Barker got transmogrified into a turnstile by Mark Olver, Colorado’s fourth-line center, early in the second period. Fortunately for him, Cory Schneider made the save, Chris Tanev cleared the rebound, and Jordan Schroeder banked the puck out to Raymond, who went in 1-on-1 on Erik Johnson and sniped a wrist shot under Giguere’s right arm. Barker got credited with the ugliest +1 since someone brought an elephant to Nicole Richie’s wedding.
  • The slapped-together line of Burrows, Ballard, and Ebbett was surprisingly effective. When Ballard was on the ice, the Canucks out-shot the Avalanche 9-2, the widest margin of any Canucks skater. One particular shift in the second was notable for how Burrows and Ballard battled along the boards, keeping the puck deep in Colorado’s end of the ice, eventually forcing an icing. It was also notable for how one of the linesman continually shouted “Work it! Work it!” like a fashion photographer, while Ballard pinned the puck against the boards and vogued.
  • The third line also combined for the nicest goal of the night. Ballard flung the puck around the boards, where Burrows picked it up, then gave-and-went with Ebbett, before going forehand-backhand and roofing the puck over Giguere with a gorgeous finish. The trio was met at the bench with a fist-bump from Newell Brown and a smug I-told-you-so smirk from Alain Vigneault.
  • Schneider, in his fourth straight start, picked up his fourth straight win. While he faced just 28 shots, he still had to be sharp as the Avalanche had several nice scoring chances and a couple wild scrambles in front of the net. Like a paranoid person playing a video game, Schneider made save after save, only getting beaten by McGinn on the early 2-on-1 and by a goofy bounce off Jannik Hansen’s skate just after a prolonged 5-on-3 powerplay.
  • The Avalanche did their best to tie up the game in the final minute, but two nice plays by the former HamJuice pairing secured the victory. Bieksa went first, clearing a puck from the crease after a scramble in front before Parenteau could poke it in. Then, as time expired, Hamhuis laid out in front of an on-rushing Matt Duchene, taking the puck off Duchene’s stick with his entire body before he could get a shot off. Hamhuis is slicker with a slide than Derek Trucks.
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28 comments

  1. Bolderevolution
    March 25, 2013

    A Great Escape reference in this IWTG is pretty apropos – this could have been a brutal road trip, but they took all the points (without sharing loser points) with Keith Ballard on the 3rd line, Huggins still slumping, a lame suspension, various bangs and bugs, 6 goals for, 3 games in 4 nights, etc.

    I can hear the theme song now as they fly home to take on the Jackets*. Unfortunately, I can only hear the song as played by lone trumpets at England football matches…I love the Southsiders at the rink, but I really hope they don’t start bringing trumpets.

    Question: if this second line continues to click until Kesler comes back (and they look fantastic right now), does he run the third line upon his return? I think he does – he could own his opposition while he gets back to game shape. If (when) the second line falters, he moves up. Just a pre-coffee Monday morning ponder…

    * Who we must remember don’t suck.

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    • Nick
      March 25, 2013

      Schroeder’s emergence since his last call up takes a little pressure off Kesler. When he returns, I wonder if AV will ramp up his time gradually rather than expecting him to go full bore for 20 minutes? The Kesler of old would want to, but Ryan seems a little more careful about his health this season.

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  2. MaggieLizer
    March 25, 2013

    What is a hockey team? A miserable pile of injuries!

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    • RebelCanuck
      March 25, 2013

      +1 for SOTN reference.

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  3. chicken chick
    March 25, 2013

    Was tied at one when we got home,
    So that’s the first line of this poem,
    Followed by a short aside
    Reflecting on justice denied:

    (A fourteen hundred dollar fine
    For Nolan’s hack on Hank Sedin
    Should really hurt his bottom line!
    I trust you’re getting what I mean.)

    And now into the second frame
    Of this engaging hockey game,
    Wherein there is that glad refrain:
    Schroeder sends Raymond in again!

    Then Burrows with a little dangle
    Scores from an unlikely angle,
    And Ebbett gets the first assist
    On our third goal most would have missed!

    Throughout the third after the break
    And talk of trades no one will make,
    Canucks protect their two goal lead
    And so the refs must intercede:

    One shouldn’t whine I do agree,
    But really why the five on three?
    John Shorthouse says, “To make it close.”
    A thought that’s sad to diagnose.

    But let it go and look ahead:
    There’s no recourse by seeing red.

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    • J21 (@Jyrki21)
      March 25, 2013

      What’s up with the one temporary switch to ABAB from AABB?

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      • gretchen grouse
        March 25, 2013

        “I changed the scheme I can’t deny,
        And had a valid reason why.
        Besides there are parentheses
        Wherein I’ll do whate’er I please!”

        I said, “A little sensitive.”
        She told me what she didn’t give
        A “flying one in retrospect.”
        The hurting note I did detect

        “Look when I ended up with ‘fine’,
        I had to find the second line,
        Its purpose solely to explain
        Was for the cheap shots inhumane,

        “Delivered to one Hank Sedin
        Whom later I could rhyme with ‘mean.’
        Inserting first the little shot
        Justice is not what Nolan got.”

        “In other words you simply quit,
        Before you made the rhyme scheme fit.
        J21 has caught you out!
        Will you fix things or merely pout?”

        “(A fourteen hundred dollar fine
        For Nolan’s having crossed the line:
        The punishment sure fits the crime
        Of hacking Henrik one more time.)”

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  4. Amor de Cosmos
    March 25, 2013

    “Oh, the home team is losing by two goals and there are are only a few minutes left. Let’s invent a penalty to give the crowd something to cheer about — and maybe even get a goal or two — before they leave.” I despair of this league, I really do.

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  5. Paul
    March 25, 2013

    Can we please get Ballard to change his jersey to #94 when he’s playing forward? That would make me smile.

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  6. Nick
    March 25, 2013

    Burrows played with Ballard and Ebbett, I think, to make that line better.

    I didn’t see it as Higgins being bumped to first line to make the Sedins better.

    Like pairing Tanev with a struggling D to get them playing better.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      March 25, 2013

      Whoa whoa whoa. Where did I say that Higgins was with the Sedins to make them better? I was arguing that he was put with the Sedins because he’s slumping to make him better.

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      • Nick
        March 25, 2013

        yup … misread that one

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  7. Nick
    March 25, 2013

    Anybody miss Edler?

    Except for a couple of mistakes like Barker getting caught up ice on that 2-on-1 goal against Schneider, I thought the whole back-end did a great job in Edler’s absence.

    Getting Edler off the powerplay also was interesting too … he’s error-prone and predictable on the point.

    If anything, the Canucks played a couple of tighter, smarter games with fewer mistakes than we’ve seen in a few weeks.

    Missing the 2010 version of Edler for two games would hurt … but it turns out that missing the 2013 Edler for a couple is not so bad.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      March 25, 2013

      I would say that yes, a pair of skin-of-their-teeth one-goal victories, one of them against one of the worst teams in the league, definitely made me miss Alex Edler. The Canucks played tighter because they had to with all the personnel they’re missing, but that’s not the game I want them to play long-term. 13 shots against a team like the L.A. Kings will get you destroyed in the playoffs and the lack of Edler and his ability to get the puck up ice definitely hurt the Canucks.

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      • Nick
        March 25, 2013

        I thought they played tighter and sounder defense than they have for several weeks.

        It could be argued that the pair of games that Edler missed were skin-of the-teeth, more because of the forwards that were missing … and having a farm callup and D man filling in up front.

        Ironic that you mention the lack of Edler leading to being destroyed in the playoffs by the LA Kings … I wonder if, last year in the playoffs against the Kings, Edler wasn’t their worst player.

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  8. Nick
    March 25, 2013

    If Ballard can develop a bit more at forward, an argument can be made for using him there whenever another D is starting despite questionable health; or in a playoff game against a physical team like the Bruins that hits to injure.

    If one D goes down, there would be no need to play the rest of the way one man short on the back end.

    Ballard, the insurance policy, could just slide back into a pairing with Tanev.

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  9. RebelCanuck
    March 25, 2013

    I haven’t seen anyone mention the slick move Garrison made to hold the puck in the zone at the blue line on that first powerplay. Instead of just firing the puck across to his D partner or trying to jam it up the boards, he makes a quick little shift, taking the stick out of the Colorado player’s hands at the same time, and makes a nice pass to Henrik.

    It was a smart play, and a nice piece of stickhandling. Haven’t seen nearly enough of that from our defensemen. Except from Ballard when he’s playing forward.. he’s actually looking like a legit third liner, I don’t think anyone on the fourth line has moves like him.

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  10. Andre
    March 25, 2013

    I can’t help but notice how Raymond is making good on his promise to bounce back from last year’s performance. He battles hard, skates well, passes well and has a wicked shot. Plus a patented spin-o-rama move that has undressed a goalie already and scored twice in shoot outs.

    He plays in every situation and has produced when the team counted on him. He is proving to management that he is worth more than the downgrade he was given.

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    • peanutflower
      March 25, 2013

      Yup, completely agree. I was all for getting rid of him last season. He’s a completely different player this year. Now we can dispense with Booth, as he plays just like Raymond did last year.

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  11. chinook
    March 25, 2013

    Hey Daniel, you could recycle that Abe Lincoln shopping cart clip when Edler has a narcoleptic shift. Or hopefully, he never gives you the opportunity.

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  12. Rituro
    March 25, 2013

    “Like a paranoid person playing a video game, Schneider made save after save…”

    Look, I just don’t want to have to replay the same damn level, all right? When the next patch comes out, hopefully this thing will stop crashing. Really. I’m totally not just saving every five minutes because I hate to lose. Nope.

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  13. pmjw
    March 25, 2013

    #1 PP unit looked good. And with Edler out it finally gave Garrison the chance to blast away from the point. As PITB has said in the past, those 2 do not work well together on the PP because Edler doesn’t feed Garrison he’d rather shoot himself…but that plays away from their strength. AV has to split up those 2 on future PPs.

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    • Kenji
      March 25, 2013

      Good puck movement on the pp, and Garrison hammering the one-timers with the relentlessness of a pile driver – pretty much as one would have thought was the plan when they acquired him.

      I wonder at AV sometimes. However, it is entirely feasible that the reason that Garrison (and Schroeder) are only now being deployed in offensive situtation with regularity is that they first had to learn the system, whatever that is.

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  14. cathylu
    March 25, 2013

    Back on top of the Northwest!

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  15. bluemoonjones
    March 25, 2013

    I know there isn’t enough baseline data in the books for me to base any sort of conclusive opinion about this (plus I’m a yank on a couch with a beer in hand during games, not exactly a hockey coach), but comments above make me think that I’m not completely nuts in this thought: Has Keith Ballard been playing out of position the last 3-5 years? The dude has looked like a legitimate winger.
    But maybe I’ve just been drinking too much during Canuck games…

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    • Kenji
      March 25, 2013

      It’s excellent but not miraculous that Ballard can play forward. A well-trained defenceman should be able to switch to wing without much difficulty. A winger has to be good on the wall, physically brave to forecheck, and defensively understand who is his check, and of course be able to shoot. A defenceman has to have those skills and skate backwards to boot.

      It’s much rarer to see a forward who can play defence. Fedorov played quite a bit of defence and Burrows has done it for the Canucks.

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  16. Chris the Curmudgeon
    March 25, 2013

    I hope AV considers playing Ballard on the wing permanently. He’s looked very solid there, providing not only a defensive presence but better-than-expected puck moving and offensive acumen as well. We always knew these were underappreciated parts of his game. Vigneault clearly doesn’t like to use him on D, but he’s too good a player to sit in the press box in favour of a 4th line plug. It’d be nice if this was seen not just as a fill-in but an audition for an important role with the team for Keith, which I’d say he’s passing.

    Really, I never understood why more teams didn’t try to dress a “flex” player more routinely. The last guy I seem to remember the Canucks doing that with was Steve Staios, but I can’t think of anyone since then. But the Blackhawks did that more successfully with By-Fugly-en, whose skill set translates reasonably well to both positions. Ballard is a different type of player than Byfuglien, but could fill that role pretty well. Like Nick said earlier, what’s really more useful in the playoffs, a 4th line winger that barely touches the ice after the first period or a defenceman who can take a shift at forward or fill in in the case of injury or help keep defencemen fresh in an extended overtime? Frankly, I’d argue that’s more useful in the regular season too, especially if that guy can play on the wing effectively. Anyways, I strongly hope that Edler’s return and recovery from some injuries won’t push Keith back into the pressbox.

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  17. best behaviour
    March 25, 2013

    Actually, I didn’t even know you were allowed to dress a defenseman as a forward, but I think Ballard looks better than some of the guys that keep getting called up and sent down. When he’s a healthy scratch as a D-man, I’d like to see more of him as a forward.

    And love Burrows… that guy is so clutch, he scores the clutch goal before anyone even knows we’ll need it.

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