The Week Ahead: A Northwest Division farewell tour

Every Wednesday we take a look at The Week Ahead to see what storylines we’ll be following, because Wednesday is a day meant for looking ahead to the future. Around here we call Wednesday “Future Day” and we all wear silver jumpsuits and big bubble space helmets. Doesn’t everybody do that?

This week, it’s the end of the season and the Canucks face a trio of former Northwest Division opponents.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Colorado Avalanche, March 27, 2014

Heading into this game, Jannik Hansen had 3 goals in his last 33 games. Nicklas Jensen had 3 goals in his last 6 games. One played on a line with Daniel Sedin, the other on a line with Tom Sestito. One played more than 6 minutes in a tied third period. The other was stapled to the bench after the second intermission.

Does John Tortorella hate the happiness of Canucks fans? Jensen’s success since his call-up has been the one thing that all fans can enjoy, the one real ray of sunshine and light in the dreary darkness, but then he got shunted down the lineup. Meanwhile, Hansen, who is having the worst offensive season of his career in terms of points-per-minute, kept getting sent out, despite not registering a single shot attempt and the Canucks getting out-shot 9-4 at even-strength with him on the ice.

Did John Tortorella confuse Hansen for Jensen? Does he think all Danes look alike? If so, that’s pretty racist. He’s lucky there aren’t more Danes in the NHL so this didn’t come up earlier.

Like Jensen, who quietly sat back and let Tortorella call him Jannik all night, I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Colorado Avalanche, December 8, 2013

The Canucks haven’t had much luck this season holding on to 1-0 leads in the third period. They’ve been in that situation twice, and they’ve lost both times, surrendering two quick goals to the San Jose Sharks, then surrendering two quicker goals to the Chicago Blackhawks a week later. “I wonder who’s going to score for Colorado”, I found myself thinking when the third period began, “And I wonder who’s going to score for Colorado 10 seconds after that.”

Sure enough, there were two goals scored in the first 10 minutes of the third. But here’s the wacky part: the Canucks scored them both. With the trauma of the worst homestand ever still fresh in my mind, I was pleasantly surprised when I watched this game.

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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.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs. Colorado Avalanche, January 30, 2013

Alain Vigneault shocked the city of Vancouver Wednesday morning when he announced that Roberto Luongo would get the start versus the Colorado Avalanche. The controversial decision led to a boatload of speculation on what it meant. Was Vigneault simply riding the hot hand? Had Luongo reclaimed the starter’s job? Or maybe the Canucks were playing him against an inferior opponents in the Avalanche in order to showcase him to potential trade partners?

Nevermind that the showcase theory makes no sense whatsoever. Roberto Luongo has been in the NHL for more than a decade. He’s played 730 NHL games — 789 if you count the playoffs. Speaking of the playoffs, he’s gone to the Stanley Cup Final. He’s played in the Olympics. If you’re in charge of making roster moves for an NHL team and you aren’t sure who Roberto Luongo is and what he’s about in 2013, then you shouldn’t be in charge of making roster moves for an NHL team.

But if there really is a General Manager out there so braindead and incompetent that he needs to be reminded Roberto Luongo plays goal and does so fairly effectively, I’m sure he was pleased with what he saw when he, just as I, watched this game.

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I Didn’t Watch This Game: Canucks vs Colorado Avalanche, November 1, 2012

Thursday night’s game against the Colorado Avalanche would have been the 11th game of the 2012-13 schedule for the Vancouver Canucks. What that really means, however, is that 10 games would have already passed prior to the game with the Avalanche and Canucks fans would have been finally allowed to pass judgement on the team thus far.

For some reason, 10 games is held up as the standard. Early in the season, as fans fly off the handle with pronouncements of doom if their team loses a few, or jubilation and parades if their team gets off to a hot start, people caution fans to “wait 10 games” before freaking out. That means that we were due for a good old-fashioned Canucks fan freakout prior to their game against the Avalanche.

The truth is, we don’t even know that much after 10 games. Teams can very easily be first place in their division, then crash and burn through the rest of the season and miss the playoffs, like the Minnesota Wild. Other teams can get off to terrible starts and do just fine during the rest of the season, like the Bruins starting last season 3-7 then winning their division.

We’ll never know how those first 10 games would have gone for the Canucks, but hopefully we’ll catch a glimpse of the remainder of the season. I didn’t watch this game.

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The Canucks need a strong Northwest Division

Technically, the Colorado Avalanche are still in playoff contention, but their chances are slimmer than a Slim Jim. They currently sit in 10th place, 2 points out of the playoffs, with only two games remaining on their schedule. All four teams ahead of them that they could conceivably catch have three games left. It doesn’t help that all three games the San Jose Sharks have remaining are against other teams battling for those same playoff spots, guaranteeing that the Avalanche will have even more ground to make up.

If the Avalanche fail to make the playoffs, the Vancouver Canucks will be the only team from the Northwest Division in the postseason for the second straight year. The competitive imbalance in the Northwest isn’t good for the team or the fans.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Colorado Avalanche, March 28, 2012

Something about this game seemed vaguely familiar, like I had watched a carbon copy of it just a couple nights ago… For the second game in a row, the Canucks faced a desperate team on the edge of the playoff bubble, and for the second game in a row, the Canucks shut that team out 1-0.

The biggest difference between the two games, of course, was the goaltender doing the shutting out. On Monday, against the Kings, Roberto Luongo made an early goal by Manny Malhotra stand as the game-winner with 38 saves, including 17 in the third period. In this game, versus the Avalanche, Cory Schneider made an early goal by Chris Higgins stand as the game-winner with 43 saves, including 16 in the third period.

Meanwhile, I looked for changes in the Matrix when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Colorado Avalanche, March 24, 2012

There was a lot at stake for the Colorado Avalanche heading into this game. With a victory, the Avalanche could leapfrog the Kings and Coyotes in the Western Conference standings to move into playoff position. Colorado is in a tough 4-team battle for the final two playoff spots and have fewer games remaining. They desperately need wins.

As for the Canucks, they clinched the Northwest Division when the Calgary Flames lost to the Dallas Stars earlier in the day, so they had slightly less at stake. Despite the complete lack of urgency, the Canucks showed resilience, heart, character, gumption, and chutzpah in a tough and chippy game that I closely observed when I watched this game.

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Anti-climax: Canucks clinch Northwest Division

With all the fussing over the Canucks’ quality of play recently, it’s easy to forget that they have a 12 point-lead in the Northwest Division. There was essentially no chance that they could lose the division and were essentially guaranteed to have home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Well, you can now remove the word “essentially” from that sentence above and move the whole thing into the present tense. The Canucks have officially clinched the Northwest Division in the most anti-climactic way possible.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Colorado Avalanche, February 15, 2012

It’s been a month since the Canucks lost a game in regulation but, going into Wednesday night, it had also been 3 weeks since the Canucks won a game in regulation at home. The Canucks had gone to overtime in 4 straight home games, seemingly intent on giving their home fans more than their money’s worth.

Not in this game. Against the Avalanche, the Canucks stiffed their home crowd by only giving a 60-minute effort. Even worse, one of those minutes came after the Canucks extended their lead to two with an empty net goal, meaning Canucks fans only got to watch 59 minutes of meaningful hockey. Really, we should complain.

I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Colorado Avalanche, February 4, 2012

The Canucks have been absolutely dreadful since the All-Star Break. Sure, they’re riding a 3-game regulation unbeaten streak since reassembling, but they’ve hardly reassembled. This team has been a disorganized mess for all three games, playing ugly hockey at both ends of the ice and allowing their opponents to dominate them consistently. They’ve been outshot 128 to 87 — yes, they’re allowing more than 40 shots per game — over these contests.

So how are they winning? Because life isn’t fair. When Kevin Bieksa scored the game-tying goal with the net empty and only thirty-five seconds remaining in regulation Saturday, all I could think was, if the Canucks manage to win and come away from this 3-game stretch with 5 of 6 points, there is absolutely no justice in the world.

As it would happen, there is no justice in the world. I know this for a fact because I watched this game.

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If you want to defend Daniel Sedin, you’re going to need a stick

The Canucks scored a number of pretty goals during Tuesday night’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. From Jannik Hansen taking out two players with a single dangle to the perfect passing of the Sedins and Burrows, it was a good night for aesthetically pleasing plays.

The goal that I found most interesting, however, was Daniel Sedin’s second of the night, where he got the chance to show off his league-best accuracy by beating Semyon Varlamov gloveside with a wicked wrist shot. The question is, how in the world did he end up with so much room in the slot in the first place? Most teams in the NHL work pretty dang hard to keep guys like Daniel out of that area of the ice and especially hard to give them no time whatsoever if they happen to get there.

The answer is that rookie defenceman Stefan Elliott had an absolute gong show of a shift that resulted in him trying to defend last season’s Art Ross winner without a stick. It does not go well for him.

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Looking at it, it’s kind of remarkable that the Canucks won Tuesday night. They were outshot by a 2-1 margin for the first and second periods and 33-23 overall. They were outhit 40-18. They won only 18 of 40 faceoffs. By the end of the first, they were without both of their second-line wingers, and by the end of the second they had lost their starting goaltender.

And yet, despite all of this, when the final horn sounded, they hadn’t just eked out a victory — they’d cruised to a 6-0 drubbing of the Colorado Avalanche. How the what? I honestly have no idea what I saw. All I know is I saw it. Because I watched this game.

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The Canucks had 29 shots tonight, but I’m far more interested in the fact that they only had 3 blocked. The team has struggled so far this season getting shots through, often finishing the night with as many as 20 attempts that fail to reach the opposing goaltender. Tonight, rather than trying to force things, they made smarter decisions with the puck. The results were longer offensive zone shifts and sustained offensive zone pressure at even-strength for the first time all season. It was weird. The 2011-12 Canucks looked like a dangerous team even when both teams had the same number of guys on the ice. Unheard of. But not unseen — I watched this game.

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Canucks 4 – 2 Avalanche With their win tonight, the Canucks now have 103 points, a mere 2 points from their team record, set in 2006-07. In addition, they clinched the Northwest Division title, meaning they are the first team in the NHL to clinch a playoff spot. Most remarkable, however, is that they have [...]

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Canucks 3 – 4 Avalanche (OT) Give the Canucks credit for showing up to play this one. After a horrendous outing in Minnesota exposed their tired road legs, the excuses for a second consecutive poor performance were readymade. Instead, the Canucks vehemently defied the wishes of their bodies in Colorado, and kept up with the [...]

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Canucks 2 – 1 Avalanche With a gritty, hard-fought win against the Avalanche, the Canucks have won 5 straight, haven’t lost in regulation in 12 games, and have the best goal differential in the NHL. And, oh yeah, they’re first place in the entire NHL right now. Now, there are plenty of spoilsports out there [...]

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