Kevin Bieksa fights his past self. In this photo, Kevin Bieksa’s past self is played by Matt Greene.
There are two ways to look at last night’s affair between the LA Kings and the Vancouver Canucks.
On the one hand, it was a hockey game, and since hockey games are decided on the basis of goals scored, I guess you could say the Kings won said game by a score of one to zero.
On the other hand, it was a statement game for the Canucks, and since statement games have a different scoring system — less goals scored than goals achieved — you could say the Canucks won said game by a score of one to zero.
You’d be technically wrong, of course, since moral victories, like shootout wins, have little impact on the NHL standings. (That’s what the ROW column is for — R.O.W. stands for Revenge-Oriented Wins.)
But the notion of a moral victory is a comforting delusion, and it’s serving Vancouver fans well today. I’d go so far as to consider this the rare game where both teams’ supporters are pretty happy with the outcome.
For both the Canucks and their fans, scoring more goals than LA would have been ideal, but the final tally was secondary to flexing a new, tougher identity under John Tortorella by avenging Roberto Luongo, who was injured after being run over by an opportunistic Dustin Brown in the last meeting between these two teams. This was clear from the outset, with Zack Kassian attempting to goad Brown into a tone-setting fight right off the opening puck drop.
Unfortunately, the only tone set was a dial tone, as Brown failed to accept the call, instead suckering Kassian into a tripping penalty nine seconds in by throwing himself to the ground the moment he felt Kassian’s stick between his legs.
For Kings fans instinctively taking umbrage at my reading of that incident: relax. I have no moral objection whatsoever to a successful dive — take advantage of human referees while you can, before the robots take over, I say — and neither does Brown. He’s one of hockey’s worst divers, and by worst, I mean best.
In fact, Brown was at his best all night. Really, by refusing to go with Kassian, he turned what might have been an early sideshow scrap into a game-long pissing contest, thereby keeping the primary goal, the two points, as a secondary goal for the Canucks. For all the talk of moral victories today in Vancouver, there’s an equally convincing argument to be made that Vancouver played something of a distracted and silly game. After all, while they were marching around on their crusade, the Kings stole the two points out from under their nose, and even a day later, no one seems to care.
Brown and the Kings were far more single-minded, and it paid off. He fought in the second period, but he was selective about it. Kassian wasn’t worth his time. Ryan Kesler, on the other hand, was, and that’s just savvy. Kesler is, of course, the Canucks’ most important forward. He plays in every situation, and he’s a difficult matchup for the opposition’s most important player — in this case, Anze Kopitar. Brown knows it, too, so this tradeoff was, in his mind, a rook for a queen. You take that swap.
Then later, he scored the game-winning goal. Kesler got a few good licks in on Brown, sure, but in the end, Brown got the third lick, and with it, the tootsie roll centre.
Still, Vancouver fans are pleased because Monday night marked a new identity for them. Back in 2010-11, the Canucks adopted something of a zen mentality. Rather than making the opposition pay for liberties taken in the moment, they did their damage on the powerplay, and it served them well for much of the year. But when it stopped working against Boston for a number of reasons, fans soured on the approach, and they’ve been sour ever since.
Hence, watching last night’s Canucks was a pleasant change for most. Why, the Canucks were so determined to push back physically as opposed to on the powerplay that they tanked the powerplay intentionally, using Daniel Sedin and Yannick Weber as point men while keeping Alex Edler and Jason Garrison (a.k.a. actual freaking point men), on the bench. Why the Hell not? Who needs point men, I say, when you’re not after points?
Like the season premiere of the fifth season of Archer (which also aired last night, as it happens), we weren’t watching a normal episode last night. That was a full series reboot. The Alain Vigneault era is officially over. Welcome your new Canucks, a group that responds physically and sucks eggs on the powerplay. The script has been flipped.
Ironically, they were effectively beaten last night by a team playing the way they used to. Jordan Nolan turtling on Tom Sestito to draw the extra powerplay minutes? Dustin Brown embellishing to do the same, and picking his spots? The whole team playing focused while their opponents tried to settle scores? Tell me this wasn’t a little familiar.
But I don’t think anybody cares about the irony of losing to our past selves, because Monday night was about saying goodbye to them. This is the team Canucks fans have been after since the summer of 2011, and for better or for worse, we have it now.