Breakdowning Radim Vrbata’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it powerplay goal

The Canucks made some changes to their powerplay personnel in advance of Wednesday’s visit to Edmonton, and just looking at the gamesheet, you might be tempted to conclude that it paid off. The club scored two goals with the man advantage, which, in a 5-4 game, is the difference between a win and a loss.

Of course, for those watching the game, you know the personnel shift that really made a difference wasn’t Yannick Weber in for Linden Vey, or Zack Kassian for Alex Edler. It was the Oilers’ penalty-kill for the PK units that had held the Canucks scoreless in the 20 opportunities leading up to Wednesday night.

That was never clearer than on Radim Vrbata’s first goal of the evening, which came just two seconds after the powerplay had begun, with Vrbata stepping into a jaw-droppingly wide-open slapshot.

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The Canucks ugly Christmas sweater is making fools of us all

To hear some folks tell it, the official Vancouver Canucks ugly Christmas sweater is a holiday miracle, right up there with Clarence Odbody earning his wings, finding a sterile stable in dawn-of-the-common-era Bethlehem, and the Grinch becoming imbued with the strength of a dozen grinches atop Mount Crumpit.

Some folks, in this case, being retailers, who are marvelling at the redeemer come down from on high to save them, this pullover of prophecy, this sweater of sweaters.

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Linden Vey’s slow transformation into Yannick Weber

For the second consecutive year, Linden Vey may have to wait a while for game no. 19.

The rookie forward looks to be the odd man out Wednesday in Edmonton, as the Canucks seek to address a few key areas: their struggling powerplay, first and foremost — it’s fallen to 17th in the league at 18% — and if there’s time, their team faceoff win percentage, which is 27th in the league.

To the former, Yannick Weber steps into the man advantage in place of Vey, hoping to cut down on the overpassing and put the Canucks back on the highway to goals. To the latter, Bo Horvat draws into the lineup for Vey, and I do mean draws, because his best asset right now is the one Vey doesn’t have.

It means familiar territory for Vey, as he waits for a spot to open up for him at centre. Granted, it’s not quite as dire as his time in Los Angeles, where the Kings are Umberto Eco deep in the middle, but it’s a concern. When the season began, there appeared to be as many as three centre spots up for grabs. Now, 18 games on, there may not be any left for Vey. Unbelievable as it sounds for a rookie with 9 points in his first 18 games, the first quarter of the season may go down as a massive missed opportunity.

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Stick in Link: Richardson on Kassian; we’re still talking about that Martin Hanzal goal

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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Spitballin’ on the Taxman, Barry Wilkins the puckhog, and signing toddlers

Spitballin’ (or Super Pass It To Bulis: All In, if you love adventurous acronymizing) is a feature that allows us to touch on a multitude of things really fast, because in the world of hockey, there are always lots of things to find and colour. Here are a few quick topics.

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Canucks of the Week, starring Pat O’Neill, and the unstoppable Martin Hanzal

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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Game of the Week: Canucks vs Ducks, November 20th

Only two games to choose from this week and it’s a tough one. On the one hand, we have the Canucks’ sixth — SIXTH!! — meeting with the Edmonton Oilers, and I think I speak for all of us when I say I simply can’t wait to see these guys again. After all, while the Canucks may have won the previous five meetings, I think they still have a lot left to prove, like, uh, whether or not they can win six.

I don’t know. I’d complain about the Oilers-heavy schedule, but 1) the first two games were preseason, which hardly counts, and 2) the Canucks have had a hot start to the year, and part of me wonders whether the confidence boost a club gets from playing Edmonton isn’t part of it.

Anyway. We’ll pick the other game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 0, Coyotes 5

We should probably have seen this coming. After surviving the California trip, after that exciting OT win versus Ottawa, after stoking the fanbase with some wins and a brief dance with Lady First-In-The-West, that minx, the Canucks were due for a letdown. Cue the Arizona Coyotes of Phoenix in Glendale.

There are nights when I feel lucky to have this job. Then there are other nights, when I realize the game is over, but there’s still another period to go, and I have to watch it, I have to, or I’m finished. Nights like this one. I… I watched this game.

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Real good tweets, starring @mammamialack, Eddie Lack’s proud mother

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

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Big Numbers: Juice served cold; Horvat draws in

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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I Watched This Game: Canucks 2, Ducks 1 (SO)

As 16th games of the season go, this was a pretty big one. After a brutal performance in San Jose that somehow resulted in a win, the Canucks headed into Los Angeles apparently thinking they’d stumbled onto a low-key, low-effort recipe for victory. But it was the Kings who made a meal of the Canucks’ recipe, giving Vancouver their just desserts. (Man, am I hungry.)

That pumped a fresh angle into the bus to Anaheim. Not only was this a reunion with ex-flame Ryan Kesler (not to be confused with ex-Flame Tim Jackman), but now the result of this game would characterize the whole trip. A third poor outing would suggest the Canucks still can’t hang with The Californians, and likely rattle loose the sky. But a win? Well, it’d be tough to argue with a 3-1 road trip, so I definitely won’t, because I watched this game.

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The Paper Feature: Tips to throw the Kings and Ducks off their game

It’s possible the Canucks’ trip to California this weekend has been overhyped.

After all, the Kings have already lost to both the Arizona Coyotes and the Carolina Hurricanes this season, so it’s probably safe to say that taking two points from them doesn’t automatically mean you’re a great team.

Still, considering what happened last year, it’s easy to understand why people are making such a big deal about this weekend’s back-to-back. Under John Tortorella, watching the Canucks play Los Angeles or Anaheim was like watching an eight-year-old go one-on-one with his dad in a game of basketball. Sure, sometimes it was close, but only because the dad was kind, and wanted his son to feel like winning was a possibility. In the final moments, the competitive spirit would always take over, and the dad would crush his son, as a reminder that being eight years old still makes you functionally useless in the grown-up world.

Men against boys, in other words.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 3, Sharks 2

The Canucks had this one circled on the calendar. After having about as much success in California last season as the Joad family, the club was hellbent on preventing this season from becoming The Grapes of Wrath II: The Wrathening. And that mission began Thursday night in San Jose, as the Canucks looked to prove they could hang with their Pacific Division rivals. Did they succeed? Well. Sort of.

The Canucks were thoroughly outplayed in San Jose. Outshot 37-19, and out-attempted a whopping 80-23. They blocked more shots than they attempted. In terms of possession, it wasn’t close. And yet they won. It’s the most undeserved W since the word “wrong”, as in, “the Canucks leaving San Jose with two points tonight just seems wrong.” But it happened. I saw it. I watched this game.

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Seven forwards who could come out of the lineup to make room for Alex Burrows

Alex Burrows’ three-game suspension is over, and the Canuck winger is set to return Thursday night in San Jose. But this poses a problem: in order for Burrows to come in, someone is going to have to come out, and with the way the Canucks are clicking, especially after Tuesday night in Colorado, it’s tough to justify any subtractions from their current group of 12.

Sometimes it’s easy. For instance, if you’re feeling frugal this Christmas, spare your love the ten lords a-leaping. No one needs that many jumpy landowners. And it was pretty clear that Judas was the disciple that needed to go. But this duodecad is proving more difficult to trim down. Who comes out? Shawn Matthias? Matthias, after all, was the name of the disciple that replaced Judas, so he’s a natural odd man out. Jannik Hansen? Most other teams in the NHL are surviving without a Danish player.

Those two would have been the most likely forwards until Tuesday, when both played pivotal roles in the come-from-behind win. Matthias scored his first of the season, and Hansen played his best game of the year, arguably, helping to create the tide-shifting 2-1 goal for Vancouver.

So it’s tough. But in the interest of helping out the coaching staff, I’ve put together a list of seven forwards that could easily be benched, with airtight justifications for each.

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Pass it to Bulis presents: Those Mark Messier commercials, reimagined

Canucks games were pretty close to unwatchable last season. There were times we actually welcomed the commercials. Not so this year, and not just because the games are entertaining again, but because most of the commercials seem to star Mark Messier. The Hall of Fame centre is the face of Rogers Gamecentre Live this season, meaning every game is peppered with spots in which Messier wanders about town, extolling the virtues of streaming hockey on smartphones and tablets.

It’s troubling. Messier may be popular out east, but the closer you get to the Pacific Ocean, the less beloved he becomes. He’s public enemy number one in Vancouver, thanks to his role in snatching the Stanley Cup from the 1994 Canucks, not to mention a disastrous three years as the totally-unwanted-and-eventually-bought-out captain of the Canucks. And then, two years ago, he wrangled $6 million more out of the organization. Fans didn’t like that.

It stands to reason, then, that “the Cameron family” wouldn’t be quite so happy to see him in their living room, extolling the virtues of NHL Gamecentre Live. Neither would any of the other Canucks fans he comes across in his travels. In that spirit, we’ve reimagined the commercials, so as to reflect Vancouver’s unique relationship with The Moose.

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The five worst moments from last season’s California nightmare

It’s difficult to know what to make of the Canucks’ strong start. I mean, sure, they’re 8-4-0 heading into Tuesday night’s tilt with the Colorado Avalanche, which is nice, but it’s important to note that their first dozen games were completely California-free. Last season, the Canucks got the San Jose Sharks first. Unsurprisingly, they started the year 0-1. Then they won three straight! Then they played the Sharks again and their winning streak came to an abrupt end.

That’s how it was all last season. Any momentum the Canucks managed to muster was wiped clean by a visit to or from a Californian rival. The Canucks’ combined record against Anaheim, San Jose, and Los Angeles last season: 2-9-3, as they picked up seven of a possible 28 points. Even a record just a notch above .500 — say, eight more points — puts them in a playoff spot. (Granted, they’d have earned a first-round date with the Anaheim Ducks, and, that would have been a disaster for them.)

So here we are, a year later, and after a relatively breezy month of hockey to open the year, with not a single in-division reality check in sight, the Canucks are on their way south for their first meetings of the season with the Sharks, Kings and Ducks. (That sound you heard was a bunch of Vancouver hockey fans gulping, and nervously loosening their collars in unison.) And since knowing where you’ve been is the key to understanding where you’re going, come with us as we review the five worst moments from last year’s California nightmare.

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Stick in Link: October in review; Malhotra was Bieksa’s… ad-visor

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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Andrew Ference gets three games for headhunting Zack Kassian [Video]

It’s rare for a suspension to make fans of both teams happy, but one suspects that Andrew Ference’s three-game ban for an illegal check to the head of Zack Kassian in Saturday night’s Oilers-Canucks tilt managed to get it done.

Oilers fans probably aren’t over the moon at the thought of playing the next three without their captain, but at the end of the day, it’s a small price to pay for taking Zack Kassian’s head off. Every other wish made in Edmonton has something to do with harming the Canucks’ winger.

As for Canucks fans, good news: there’s no conspiracy against the Canucks. This suspension is equal to the number of games Alex Burrows received for his illegal check to the head of Alexei Emelin just a few days prior, and as we all know, any and all supplemental discipline handed down absolutely must be commensurate to the most recent punishment given to a Canuck (in the eyes of the non-biased Vancouver fan), lest we cry conspiracy. Breathe a sigh of relief. Looks like the conspiracy’s on hiatus or something.

Here’s a look at how the Department saw the play:

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 1, Predators 3

I’m not too torn up about this game, to be honest. The Canucks lost, sure, and that’s never ideal, at least not when you’re cheering for them, but considering what’s become of Eddie Lack his last two times out, both of which came, like this one, in the second night of back-to-backs, you have to give the Canucks marks for improvement.

And speaking of marks for improvement, who are these new Nashville Predators? Are we sure this is the same team? Part of me expects to see a Gawker article with clips of their wide-open neutral zone play, wryly titled here are some videos of the Nashville Predators. I hardly recognized them when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 3, Oilers 2

Both the Vancouver Canucks and the B.C. Lions were in Edmonton Saturday night, and in a sign of impressive solidarity, both put up the same number of points: three. The problem, of course, is that the Lions needed far more than that to edge the Eskimos — 35 more would have done it. But alas, they were too focused on making sure their total points could be matched by their on-ice counterparts, whose scores didn’t come in multiples of 6. Tough to drop a touchdown on a hockey team, even if it is the Edmonton Oilers.

Of course, these are a slightly different Oilers than the ones we last saw. They’ve tightened up considerably, winning 4 of 5 since being shut out by Ryan Miller on October 17th. Granted, they’ve yet to beat a Western Conference team, and the Eastern Conference really is the Edmonton Oilers of conferences, so they came into this game with something to prove. Between that and the fact that they’ve already lost to the Canucks, like, 17 times this season, they were no doubt chomping at the bit like Alex Burrows nonverbally threatening to strike again. But the result was all too familiar when I watched this game.

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Game of the Week: Canucks vs Sharks, November 6th

There’s cause to be excited for the Canucks’ trip to California. After all, it’s not really that far away, so if you’re looking to escape Vancouver during the rainy(er) season, and score some cheap hockey tickets, you can make the trek down south along with them. The NHL schedulemakers have taken care over the last few seasons to give Vancouver fans at least one doable road trip a year, and this year, like last year, it’s the first week of November.

Furthermore, just like last year, it begins with a Thursday night stop in San Jose before Saturday and Sunday visits to Los Angeles and Anaheim, respectively. This allows you to do one of two things: drive down to San Jose for the first game, if you’re feeling bold, then take the Friday to make the drive to southern California, leave after Sunday’s Anaheim game, which starts early, and get back into town on Monday. Or you can just fly down for the weekend set sometime after work on Friday, and fly back Sunday night.

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Real good tweets, starring a chirping @Raffi_RC and a special appearance from Toolsy

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

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Canucks of the week, starring Jason York between the benches, and poor Tom Sestito

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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Yep, Alex Burrows totally got suspended [VIDEO]

Bad news, everyone. Alex Burrows is now a repeat offender.

Thus ends a nice little run for Canucks fans, who were able to meet any charge that Burrows is a dirty player with the glorious little counterargument that he’d never been suspended in his lengthy NHL career. Is he dirtier than Phil Kessel? Because Phil Kessel’s been suspended. WRAP YOUR HEAD AROUND THAT, SIR.

It’s over now. Now our defence boils down to, well, we like him a lot, and, uh, shut up.

On Friday, the Department of Player Safety hit Burrows about as hard as he hit Emelin (but not nearly as late), suspending the Canucks’ winger three games for what they called a “late, illegal check to the head.” Here’s your video explanation, courtesy second-generation disciplinarian Patrick Burke:

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Alex Burrows is probably getting suspended

Now in his ninth NHL season, Alex Burrows has earned a reputation around the league as a dirty player. On that much we an agree.

But there’s a difference between a dirty player and a dirty hitter. Burrows plays dirty. We’ve seen it, and several opponents have experienced it. But Burrows has never been one to hit dirty.

So yes, he does, as Habs blogger Andrew Berkshire notes, albeit perhaps a tad hyperbolically, “have a history of dirtbag moves.” But he’s generally flown under the radar when it comes to supplemental discipline because he has no history of dirtbag hits. If Burrows gets you in the head, it’s usually just to pull your hair, and it’s this dedication to cheaply dirty play as opposed to dangerously dirty play that’s allowed Burrows to skate in over 600 NHL games without ever garnering a suspension. So when Berkshire writes, “Burrows has always been a punk, and this is just the latest dirty play from him,” he’s not entirely wrong, but he’s missing a crucial detail. It’s not just the latest dirty play. It’s a new kind of dirty play.

But this kind is, like a pair of ill-fitting pants, suspendable. And while the officials missed it, the Department of Player Safety did not:

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