Radim Vrbata opens scoring at the NHL All-Star Game

As is his wont, Radim Vrbata has had a quiet, unassuming All-Star Weekend. There were no drunken shenanigans during the draft for Vrbata, as he simply grinned, enjoying the moment. He was decent during the skills competition, breaking four targets in the accuracy shooting competition in just over 22 seconds, enough to defeat his opponent, John Tavares, but far from the best result of the evening.

All season long, Vrbata has let his play do the talking, leading the Canucks with 18 goals. So far at the All-Star Game, he’s doing the same, opening the scoring for Team Foligno against none other than Roberto Luongo.

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Jake Virtanen goes end-to-end, scores ridiculous goal

It’s been an odd season for Jake Virtanen. It started late, as he was still recovering from his off-season shoulder surgery, and it was interrupted by the World Junior Championships, where he won gold while playing in a lesser role. Perhaps this is why it’s been hard for Virtanen to truly get rolling.

While he is still averaging more than a point-per-game, he’s on-pace for fewer goals than his draft year and hasn’t taken a big step forward as an 18-year-old in Junior. There are certainly positive signs –he’s picking up far more assists, which might alleviate concerns about his passing and vision — but it’s hard not to expect more from the Canucks’ highest draft pick since the Sedins.

But when he scores an astonishing goal like he just did against the Swift Current Broncos, all the reasons why Jim Benning and the Canucks were so high on the kid come crashing back into view.

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The Paper Feature: In defence of the NHL All-Star Game

It’s been three years since we’ve seen an NHL All-Star Game, as the 2013 game was cancelled due to the lockout and the Olympics wiped it out in 2014.

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for many hockey fans and writers.

This year, the complaints range from the jersey design (Ugly and tacky!) to Zemgus Girgensons leading the fan ballot (Absurd and a mockery!) to certain stars getting left out of the game all together (an All-Star Game without P.K. Subban? Preposterous!). Meanwhile, the game itself is still derided as boring, slow, and meaningless.

Pretty much all of those things are true, to a certain extent, but they all completely and profoundly miss the point.

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Canucks of the Week, starring All-Star Radim Vrbata

Canucks of the Week, written by Kevin Vanstone, examines who and what is keeping hockey in Vancouver interesting these days. That’s right: who and what. It need not only be players. After all, we are all Canucks. All people, places, things, abstract concepts, ideas, emotions — if it’s a noun, proper or common, it’s a Canuck, and it’s eligible to be a Canuck of the week.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 1, Lightning 4

At the beginning of the week, I warned that this game against the Tampa Bay Lightning would be one to miss. There were just too many factors lined up against the Canucks: the second game of a back-to-back, at the end of a road trip, against arguably the best team in the NHL, with Eddie Lack presumed sick and left on the bench and Ryan Miller starting on back-to-back nights for the second time in six days.

The only way the Canucks would have a chance, I figured, was if they made the game an ugly one: clogged up the neutral zone, limited chances for both teams, and hoped for some puck luck. The puck luck arrived in a different way than I expected, however, as they ended up with 7 power plays, including two opportunities at 5-on-3.

All those opportunities were ultimately just opportunities to lose the game. The Canucks played over a minute-and-a-half at 5-on-3, and would have had even more time if a Radim Vrbata penalty hadn’t taken them off their second two-man advantage, and they mustered just two shots on goal. Their power play was powerless and it powerbombed them.

I warned everyone about this game, but didn’t take my own warning to heart. Instead, I watched this game.

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Stick in Link: stopping Stamkos, wicked Virtanen, and tackling Tanev

It’s time for “Stick in Link”, the feature where we just plug in a bunch of stuff written by others! Featuring a smattering of links from around the Smylosphere and beyond every Tuesday and Thursday. Warning: our links are so hyper, they change colour when exposed to heat. (Have something for us to share in the next edition? E-mail us at passittobulis@gmail.com, tweet us @passittobulis, or just come over and write your link on a pad of paper, I guess.)

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The PITB Podcast, Episode 19: Florida Back-to-Back and Seahawks Comeback

The Canucks head into Florida at the end of their road trip for back-to-back games against the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Can the Canucks continue their winning ways?

We discuss this and much, much more, touching on Roberto Luongo’s Heritage Classic gear going up for auction, the one-year anniversary of John Tortorella’s hallway tirade in Calgary, Kevin Bieksa’s pranking bromance with Dan Murphy, Dan Hamhuis returning to the lineup, and Ryan Miller’s back-to-back shutouts.

Along the way, we talk about soup, pizza, Dragonball Z, and Doritos. But before all that, we marvel at the Seattle Seahawks incredible come-from-behind victory over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game.

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Game of the Week: Canucks at Panthers, January 19th, 2015

The Canucks’ road trip concludes this week with two back-to-back games in Florida, followed by a week-long break, which seems like really odd scheduling. Are the Canucks planning on taking a bus back from Florida?

On Monday, the Canucks will be in Sunrise to face Roberto Luongo and the Panthers, while on Tuesday they’ll be in Tampa Bay to take on Steven Stamkos and the Lightning. Which game gets the official PITB GOTW stamp of approval? We’ll go with Monday’s game against the Panthers for two big reasons.

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Kevin Bieksa can’t stop messing with Dan Murphy

The first period of Friday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes passed mostly without incident. While there were a few good scoring chances and two posts, no goals were scored and a lot of time was spent in the Canucks’ zone, so Canucks fans on Twitter started to get a little restless.

Fortunately, there was a great distraction from the game itself in the form of a hilarious moment before the game when one of the Canucks (assuredly Kevin Bieksa) decided to have a little fun with Sportsnet reporter Dan Murphy. Whoever it was (it was definitely Kevin Bieksa) stood just off camera and used his stick to poke behind Murphy’s head, making it appear as if he was attacking his ear.

This unknown rapscallion (who is absolutely Kevin Bieksa) caused a kerfuffle on Twitter because the culprit was unclear (and certainly named Kevin Bieksa).

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 3, Hurricanes 0

There will be a segment of the Canucks’ fanbase that will discount this win, along with Thursday’s thumping of the Philadelphia Flyers, because it is against a “bad team.” You’re supposed to win these games, of course, because bad teams are bad.

The fact is that no game is a gimme — the Hurricanes have beaten the Penguins, Predators, and Kings this season and the woeful Sabres have wins over the Kings, Lightning, Red Wings, and two each over the Sharks and Canadiens — so seeing the Canucks handle two lower tier teams with such ease is legitimately reassuring.

Also, the Hurricanes are not your typical bad team and are arguably much better than their record would suggest. They actually keep their heads above water in puck possession, with a 51.8% corsi, and boast one of the league’s best penalty kills. So why are they last place in the Metropolitan division? Two reasons: their goaltending is atrocious and they have less finish than a piece of low-end Ikea furniture.

The Hurricanes have the worst PDO in the league, thanks to a 907 team save percentage and a league-worst 5.9 team shooting percentage at even-strength. That’s truly terrible — the next worst team has a 6.6 shooting percentage — and it’s why they’re the second lowest-scoring team in the league. It’s baffling, too, as they have some talented players who should be able to put the puck in the net — Jeff Skinner, Eric and Jordan Staal, Alexander Semin, and Jiri Tlusty are all pretty okay at hockey.

So, what we saw in this game is basically a microcosm of the Hurricanes’ season: they controlled possession, particularly in the first period, but couldn’t buy a goal, and Cam Ward gave up 3 goals on 13 shots. I watched the Hurricanes get ready to draft a franchise player when I watched this game.

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Real Good Tweets, starring @wholegrainne’s questionable grasp of Italian

You folks made some good tweets last week. Some real good tweets.

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Big Numbers: Bonino’s woes, Kassian’s luck, and Lack’s lack of support

Every now and then we like to take a break from all the words and just post some numbers. And some words describing the numbers, as otherwise it would just be a whole bunch of numbers with no context, which would be really weird. Big Numbers is a weekly feature on Pass it to Bulis in which we identify the numbers and statistics that really matter or, frequently, the ones that don’t matter at all but are still pretty interesting.

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The Prospector: Tryamkin’s dropping ice time, McCann’s hot December

The Prospector is a semi-regular feature on Pass it to Bulis where we pan the Canucks prospects pool in search of gold.

This time around, we look at how Nikita Tryamkin is performing in the far-off land of Russia, how Cole Cassels and Jordan Subban performed while the World Juniors were taking place, and how Jared McCann dominated December.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 1, Predators 5

This feels weird to say: the Nashville Predators are exciting, high-scoring, and are arguably the best team in the NHL right now. The days when the Predators played a dull, defensive system are long gone, with young players like Filip Forsberg, Colin Wilson and Craig Smith combining with veterans Mike Ribeiro and James Neal for a potent attack.

Of course, the Predators are still strong defensively, with Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Seth Jones, Matthias Ekholm and Anton Volchenkov forming a formidable defence corps in front of Pekka Rinne, who is having a Vezina-calibre season. They have the potential to be a dominant team that could make a strong push come playoff time.

I’m talking a lot about the Predators in this introduction because I’m trying to put off talking about the Canucks, and the game they just played against the Predators, as long as possible. It would be so much more fun to talk about the Predators and their unexpected success this season. We could discuss whether their offensive output is a sign that Barry Trotz is overrated as a coach. We could analyze whether it’s the young forwards driving the attack or their puck-moving defencemen. We could warn that Rinne’s performance this season is unsustainable and likely won’t last all season.

But I can’t avoid talking about this game forever, because I have to write about what I watched and, against my better judgement, I watched this game.

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The PITB Podcast, Episode 18: Bad Canucks and American Idol

Are the Canucks bad? Halfway through the season, it feels like we’re no closer to figuring out just how good or bad this Canucks team is, with some recent losses skewing our view just a little.

We discuss how a lot of the Canucks’ struggles stem from Dan Hamhuis being out of the lineup and ask what impact he’ll have when he returns. We also ask why it took so long for Frank Corrado to get into a game and brach out into Willie Desjardins’ usage of young players so far this season.

Along the way, they touch on Taken, Toy Story 3, and dad strength. But before all that, they kick things off with American Idol and how dependent singing shows are on a good, charismatic judging panel.

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The Paper Feature: Vancouver Canucks Mid-Season Report Card

The Canucks are 39 games into the regular season, which is close enough to the midpoint to start passing judgement on the team and the players. But let’s face it: we here at Pass it to Bulis just aren’t judgemental people. Assigning a person an arbitrary letter grade based on how they play a game just seems unnecessarily cruel and critical.

So, to soften the blow, we’ve done away with letters and will instead go back to kindergarten with a friendlier set of grades: Exceeds Expectations, Meets Expectations, Needs Improvement, and Incomplete.

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If Frank Corrado gets into a game, who comes out?

On Wednesday, Frank Corrado was called up from the Utica Comets for the third time this season. He has yet to play a game.

The Canucks have been rotating through Corrado, Bobby Sanguinetti, and Alex Biega as their seventh defenceman since Dan Hamhuis got injured and none of them have gotten into the lineup. With Hamhuis back practicing with the team and looking to return before the All-Star break, it was beginning to look like Corrado would never get into a game.

Fortunately, it looks like Willie Desjardins is looking to get Corrado into the lineup before Hamhuis returns, possibly as soon as tomorrow against the Calgary Flames.

If Corrado does rotate into the lineup, which defenceman comes out?

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Canucks willing to ice the puck to ice the game

When Henrik Sedin fired his 200th career goal into an empty net, colour commentator Craig Simpson chided him for the “risky play”. Henrik had released the puck from his own side of centre.

It’s a common sentiment in hockey circles to call that kind of play selfish: risking an icing call that could cost the team in the final minutes, sending everyone back into their own end in the dying moments of a close game for a crucial defensive zone faceoff, just to pad your stats.

It wasn’t the first time this season, however, that the Canucks have, without hesitation, fired the puck the length of the ice with an empty net at the other end. It’s happened often enough that it actually looks like the team has received an edict from the new coaching staff to risk icing the puck in hopes of getting empty net goals.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 3, Islanders 2

The story heading into this game was Alex Burrows reuniting with the Sedins on the top line, allowing Radim Vrbata to move to the second line in an effort to spark Nick Bonino, who had just 2 points in his last 14 games. The plan fell through at the last minute, however, as Vrbata fell ill, forcing Linden Vey into the lineup in his place. The sparking of Bonino would have to wait, we all thought.

Instead, Vey had one of his best games of the year, the second line was the Canucks’ best, and Bonino excelled, firing a game-high 5 shots on net and scoring his first goal in 8 games.

Now Willie Desjardins has a dilemma: once Vrbata recovers, who comes out of the lineup? Don’t you dare say Zack Kassian, because he was also fantastic in this game. I should know, because I saw it with my own two eyes when I watched this game.

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Don’t trade Zack Kassian, dammit

Canuck nation is abuzz with Zack Kassian trade discussion. The poll question on BMac and Taylor’s drivetime radio show this afternoon: “If you were the Canucks, would you trade Zack Kassian?”

And this line of discussion hardly comes from nowhere. When asked if the Canucks were shopping Kassian, Jim Benning did little to quell the rumours, saying that teams have been calling about him. And Benning went on to dismiss Kassian’s scoring at the end of last season, saying, “sometimes, when the team is not playing well and you get a lot of those points at the end of year when the games are meaningless, it doesn’t really mean much.”

Between Benning’s comments and Willie Desjardins’ usage of the young winger, it’s understandable that there would be speculation about his future. Their comments, viewed through the pessimistic lens of the Vancouver hockey market, speak volumes, apparently: they don’t like him. They don’t believe in him. He’s not their guy.

That may all be true, though it’s all speculation at this point. Whatever the case may be, the Canucks absolutely should not trade Zack Kassian.

At least, not yet.

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World Junior Wrap-Up: Virtanen nabs gold, Forsling an all-star

The World Junior Championship came to a thrilling finish on Monday, with Slovakia stunning Sweden in the bronze medal game on the back of tournament MVP Denis Godla and Canada holding off an impressive comeback attempt from Russia to win gold.

It was a disappointing finish to the tournament for Gustav Forsling and an “unreal” finish for Jake Virtanen, but what’s most intriguing is that this isn’t necessarily their last tournament. Both are just 18 years old and Forsling is still a fair distance away from being NHL-ready, so should return next year, while Virtanen is a very young 18 and would probably best serve his development by spending another year in junior as a 19-year-old.

The same can’t be said for Thatcher Demko, whose Team USA fell to Russia in the quarterfinals, leaving them outside the medal round. Demko turned 19 before the start of the tournament, so isn’t eligible for next year. Demko performed well, particularly in the preliminary round against Canada, but he couldn’t repeat the performance against Russia and got beat by some bad bounces. If the US had managed to beat Canada, they would have faced Denmark in the quarterfinals instead of Russia and their tournament could have ended a lot differently.

As for Forsling and Virtanen, let’s recap their performances in their respective medal games and take stock of their tournament as a whole.

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The PITB Podcast, Episode 17: Mid-Season Uncertainty and New Year’s Eve Memories

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.

That’s the thing: for every positive thing you can say about the Canucks this season, there’s something that undercuts it. Similarly, for every negative thing you can say, there’s context that lessens the blow. Just how good are the Canucks? It’s hard to say.

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World Junior Semifinal Summary: Gustav Forsling and Jake Virtanen

The World Junior Championship is coming to a close today with the gold and bronze medal games. The Canucks have two prospects still in the tournament: Gustav Forsling with Sweden and Jake Virtanen with Canada. Neither played particularly well in their semifinal games, so let’s breakdown exactly how they performed.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 4, Red Wings 1

Depending on who you ask, Zack Kassian has been cleared to play since before the San Jose game or before the Los Angeles game. Either way, Kassian ended up being a healthy scratch before finding his way back into the lineup. Fortunately for him, the Canucks were just plain bad against the Kings, with only Ryan Miller’s excellent goaltending keeping them competitive, until at the end of the game that gave way as well.

So Kassian got back in to the lineup against the Red Wings and had a pretty decent game. It wasn’t spectacular, but he just missed 14 games with an injury/coach’s stubbornness, so spectacular wasn’t really expected.What was notable was that he played what might be called “his” game, distributing the puck with some pretty, pinpoint passes from the perimeter and not so much driving the net like the power forward many want him to be.

It’s certainly understandable to want Kassian to go to the net more, particularly with his size and strength, but addressing weaknesses is one thing and ignoring strengths is another. The sooner that fans, coaches, and management realize he’s more Joe Thornton-lite than Cam Neely-lite, the better.

I mean, at least he’s not Alek Stojanov-lite. I watched this game.

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World Junior quarterfinals: Thatcher Demko, Gustav Forsling, and Jake Virtanen

The quarterfinals of the World Junior tournament took place on Friday, but not every Canucks prospect survived. Jake Virtanen and Canada easily handled Denmark, while Gustav Forsling and Sweden dispatched last year’s gold medallists, Finland, but Thatcher Demko and Team USA ran into Russia and came just short.

Sweden and Canada are now on opposite sides of the semifinals and could face each other in the gold medal game if they are able to beat Russia and Slovakia, respectively. Before the semifinals on Sunday, however, let’s break down the performances of the three Canucks prospects in the quarterfinals.

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