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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Breakdowning Daniel Sedin’s wizardous goal against the Washington Capitals

As soon as Daniel Sedin scored the gamewinning goal on Monday against the Capitals, we were inundated with requests on Twitter to breakdown the goal in our typical Breakdowning fashion. They weren’t the only ones: as soon as I saw the goal, I wanted to break it down, because it was just so perfectly representative of Wizardous Sedinery. The Canucks kept the puck in the offensive zone for a full 51 seconds, dizzying the Capitals with their cycle game before a couple short passes and a subtle move by Daniel created a wide open scoring chance.

We intended to have a Breakdowning post up on Tuesday, but circumstances kept pushing it back. Fortunately, three days since it was scored, the goal is still just as gorgeous and absurd. Let’s break it down to see exactly how it came about.

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Breakdowning Lars Eller’s incredible shorthanded goal against the Canucks

The turning point of the 2010-11 season for the Canucks was their lowest moment, an embarrassing 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on November 20th after the Blackhawks had knocked them out of the playoffs two seasons in a row. The Canucks responded with a closed-door players’ meeting and, after losing a close one to the Phoenix Coyotes the next game, went on to win 18 of their next 22 games, including a statement 3-0 victory over the Blackhawks.

After that loss to the Blackhawks, the Canucks only lost 13 of their remaining 63 games, cruising to the first Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history, finishing ahead of the Washington Capitals by a whopping 10 points.

This season, the Canucks decided to get their low point out of the way early on Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens. In front of a national Hockey Night in Canada audience, they scored one of the most bizarre and embarrassing own goals in NHL history. Now it’s time to break it down.

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Breakdowning the Sedinery behind that powerplay goal versus the Oilers

Normally, we try to break down goals one or two days after they happen, while they’re still fresh in everybody’s minds and all that. We try to stay current here at PITB. (Unrelated: did you know the Devils’ goalie is the same Cory Schneider that used to play here?)

Unfortunately, we were unable to get to the remarkable bit of Sedinery with which Daniel and Henrik flummoxed the Oilers and wowed the hometown fans last Saturday night. And now it’s Thursday. But as far as we’re concerned, it’s not too late. This play was so positively wizardous that I doubt anyone will mind if we revisit it:

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Breakdowning Derek Roy’s first goal as a Canuck

Canuck fans didn’t quite know what to make of Alain Vigneault’s decision to play Ryan Kesler and Derek Roy on the same line in Nashville. If the acquisition of Roy was motivated by a desire to make the Canucks deeper down the middle, playing a member of Vancouver’s recently upgraded stable of centres on the wing doesn’t exactly jibe with that plan.

That said, you can see why Vigneault might want to try it now. With 10 games to go in the regular season, he was handed the tall task of trying to get familiar with a team that suddenly had Derek Roy and a rebuilt Ryan Kesler on it. The addition of these two gives him a lot to assess in a short time, and on Monday, he began an assessment of the potential chemistry between the pair, with Kesler in the middle between Roy and Jannik Hansen.

Five minutes into the game, the chemistry experiment paid off as Derek Roy got his first as a Canuck to push the club’s early lead to two. But make no mistake — it wasn’t exactly chemistry that led to this goal. It was the only thing better than chemistry: terrible, terrible defensive coverage. Take a look:

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Breakdowning Ryan Kesler’s mess of a game-winning goal versus the Coyotes

Mike Smith was dynamite Monday night, making 40 saves as Vancouver peppered him with chance after chance. The Canucks managed to beat him three times, with two called back — one for goaltender interference and the other for a distinct kicking motion.

Smith was playing so well that you’d expect only the prettiest of goals to beat him. Instead, the Canucks won the game thanks to indecision, falling down, a flubbed shot, and missing an open net.

Quick, skilful passing plays that lead to goals often get described as tic-tac-toe. This play needs an easier child’s game than that: let’s go with Candy Land. Like Candy Land, it was completely random, with no one really deserving to win. Ryan Kesler just happened to draw the right cards to reach Candy Castle and rescue King Kandy first. There’s no glory in that. And yet, Kesler still celebrated the game-winner appropriately: like a three-year-old.

Let’s break down the madness, shall we?

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Breakdowning the Sedins’ wizardous 2-0 goal versus the Oilers

The Vancouver Canucks and the Edmonton Oilers met for the second time a week on Thursday night and, mercifully for Vancouver hockey fans, the Canucks managed to flip the script in round two. Rather than leaving the game having made zero saves, Cory Schneider made all the saves. Rather than being outscored 4-0, the Canucks did the same to the Oilers.

And, rather than being made to look silly by the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins line, the Sedins restored the natural order by making them look silly. The 2-0 goal was textbook Wizardous Sedinerie. Let’s take another look and revel in its excellence.

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Breakdowning Jordan Schroeder and Dale Weise’s brief turn as the Sedins

Much like Stella Payne, Jordan Schroeder had lost his groove, so the Canucks sent him down to Chicago to get it back. On Tuesday, he made a strong case for having rediscovered it.

Alain Vigneault faced a lot of criticism for his decision to pair Jordan Schroeder with Dale Weise and Tom Sestito in the games before Schroeder’s demotion to the minors, but much of it was misplaced. Sure, Schroeder is the most skilled player on that line, but that should be perfectly clear. To be a centre in the NHL, you have to be able to elevate your wingers rather than falling to their level, and Schroeder was unable to stand out on that fourth line during his first stint with the team.

Early in his second stint, however, he finally broke through, making Dale Weise look like the Daniel Sedin to his Henrik as the two combined for a highlight-reel goal that turned out to be the game-winner. It’s a great goal, and it only gets greater the more you watch it. How does a 2-on-4 during a line change turn into a down-low 1-on-0 for Dale Weise in a matter of seconds, especially against the St. Louis Blues, who are usually airtight defensively? Well. Let’s break it down.

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Breakdowning Mason Raymond’s first period goal against the Nashville Predators

When the Canucks score 7 goals in a game, it’s tough to know which one to break down. We even had calls on Twitter to break down Henrik Sedin’s gorgeous penalty shot goal or Maxim Lapierre’s slick breakaway marker. As nice as those goals were, it’s more than a little difficult to break down a goal when it’s just one skater and a goalie. It would just be one screen shot with the breathtaking analysis of, “Well, you see, he did something the goalie didn’t expect him to do and the puck…well, it went in.”

It seemed obvious to me which one needed the full Breakdowning treatment: Mason Raymond’s seventh goal of the season, which came on a beautiful passing play that incorporated every single Canucks skater on the ice.

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Breakdowning Daniel Sedin’s second goal versus the Detroit Red Wings

Sunday night’s game against the Detroit Red Wings ended up being a complete debacle — a full-on fiasco, if you will — but it didn’t start that way. The first period of the game featured five goals, four of which showcased impressive hard work and skill. It was entertaining, fast-paced hockey, and the Canucks thrived, finishing the period up 3-2, partly thanks to the Sedins working their wizardry.

Daniel Sedin’s first goal of the game was gorgeous, but it was also a little too typical: Henrik dipsy-doodled with the puck behind the net, Alex Burrows ran some interference, and Daniel got open in front to finish off the perfect pass. What I really appreciate from the Sedins, however, is their constant innovation. It wasn’t enough for them to score such a humdrum tally; they needed to do something new.

Daniel’s second goal certainly accomplished that, as Henrik intentionally iced the puck, banking it directly to the on-rushing Daniel, who flipped it past Jimmy Howard with casual ease. It was an electrifying goal that tied up the game and gave fans the misleading impression that the Sedins were not going to be stopped. But let’s not dwell too much on the negative, for the moment. Instead, let’s focus on breaking down that incredible goal.

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Breakdowning Chris Tanev’s glorious first NHL goal

We’ve been waiting for this one a long time. With his noticeable calm and poise on the ice and his great underlying possession numbers, Chris Tanev has become a favourite for both mainstream media and the fancy stats crowd in the Smylosphere. But, while he’s done a lot to impress in the first 62 games of his NHL career, he had yet to score a goal.

Fact is, for all his poise and solid defensive play, Tanev had a complete muffin of a shot. Actually, that’s incorrect: he had an incomplete muffin of a shot. It wasn’t even the muffin-top, which is the best part of a muffin, but the lousy part wrapped in paper that nobody likes: Tanev had a muffin stump of a shot.

It’s not like Tanev was unaware of this: he spent part of the off-season working on his release, and it does look much improved. He also looks a lot more confident about using it. He had 15 shots in each of his first two seasons, for a total of 30 in 54 games. He’s already up to 7 in just 9 games this season. And one of those shots beat Devan Dubnyk for his first NHL goal, the overtime winner on Monday night against the Edmonton Oilers.

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Breakdowning Alex Edler’s 1-0 goal versus the Chicago Blackhawks

With the Chicago Blackhawks coming to town on Friday night, many had their fingers crossed that the Canucks would exact some sort of revenge for the concussion Duncan Keith caused Daniel Sedin when he droves an elbow into the winger’s face last season. Obviously, no one was calling for a Canuck to skate up behind Keith, punch him in the back of the head, then ride him to the ice (we’re not so into that anymore), but most were hoping someone would, at the very least, staple him to the boards.

That proved easier said than done. Keith is shiftier than the eyes of a dog that’s up to no good, and he evaded attempts to destroy him all night. Incredibly, the best lick any Canuck put on him was dished out by Henrik Sedin. But that wasn’t the only time that Henrik got the best of Keith. The two also came together on Alex Edler’s first period-goal, and Henrik came away from that exchange the victor as well.

That’s just one of many things you may have missed on the play while you marvelled at Zack Kassian’s pass. So let’s break it down.

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Breakdowning Henrik’s 3rd period goal from Game 4

The return of Daniel Sedin on Wednesday was expected to have a trickle-down effect on the Canucks lineup, but Alain Vigneault wasn’t content to just put things back the way they were. He put David Booth, who had just one goal in his last 14 games, with the twins and put Dan Hamhuis on the point of the powerplay instead of returning Sami Salo to his usual spot.

Both turned out to be good decisions: Booth picked up the primary assist on Kevin Bieksa’s gamewinning goal by using his speed to back off the defence, giving Bieksa plenty of room to shoot, while Hamhuis set up Alex Edler on the opening goal on the powerplay.

Both Booth and Hamhuis played a major role in Henrik Sedin’s insurance marker in the third period as well. I had an insurance marker once. It was a felt pen from where my parents bought insurance. It wasn’t as nice as Henrik’s goal.

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Breakdowning Alex Edler’s end-to-end goal versus the Columbus Blue Jackets

Most of the time, we use the “Breakdowning” feature to unpack busy goals. Back in December, for instance, we broke down two Sedin goals versus the Minnesota Wild. Both featured a great deal of movement and, eventually, a tiny defensive error on which the twins were able to capitalize. We also looked at a powerplay goal versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. In it, the Leafs’ penalty-kill unit made an error, and the Canucks were able to pull off a complex scoring play as a result.

Alex Edler’s end-to-end rush Saturday versus the Columbus Blue Jackets was hardly complex. Basically, the Swedish blueliner just skated straight up the middle of the ice.

And no one stopped him. If you’re wondering how this goal happened, let me make it very clear: typically, a skater isn’t allowed to do that. But Edler was, and thus we break down exactly what allowed Alex Edler to go coast-to-coast like Space Ghost on the Columbus penalty kill.

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Breakdowning Sammy Pahlsson’s game-winner versus the Winnipeg Jets

Thursday night’s tilt with the Winnipeg Jets was, like Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, a barn-burner. It was a wide open affair with chances in both directions, as the two teams combined for 77 shots on goal with another 64 attempted. Amazingly, considering the speed of the game and the plenitude of opportunities for sexy offensive plays, the Canucks’ first two goals came on fluky bounces.

But Sammy Pahlsson’s game-winner was as hot as Ilya Bryzgalov’s husky.

Upon revisiting it, I’m struck by just how easily that play — in which the puck practically nests at the top of the zone, untouched, for a couple unnervingly long stretches — could have gone horribly awry. Kevin Bieksa’s primary assist, especially, could just have easily been the second assist on a game-winning goal for the Jets.

Bieksa often gets criticized for playing too casual or too loose, especially with the game on the line, and he certainly would have faced those criticisms if this play had been broken up. But it wasn’t, and thus, we break down the game-winning goal by Sammy Pahlsson, not Bryan Little, and a brilliant, not bone-headed, play by Kevin Bieksa.

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Breakdowning: Fire drill on the penalty kill in Nashville

The Nashville Predators don’t seem like an offensively-gifted hockey team. Built from the net out with an emphasis on defence and one of the lowest payrolls in the league, they simply haven’t sunk a lot of money into big offensive talent. You would think this lack of high-end scoring punch would be especially apparent on the powerplay.

Nope. The Predators have the second best powerplay in the NHL, behind only the Vancouver Canucks. And, given the way the Canuck powerplay has performed recently, the Predators might actually be the best team in the league with the man advantage these days. On Tuesday, they showed exactly why that might be the case, making one of the best penalty kill units on one the best penalty-killing teams look completely foolish.

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Breakdowning Sami Salo’s 5-1 goal versus the Toronto Maple Leafs

It’s not hard to spot the big mistake the Toronto Maple Leafs made in allowing Sami Salo’s 5-1 goal midway through the second period of Saturday’s game in Vancouver. With the Canucks on the powerplay, James Reimer makes a save on an Alex Edler shot, and the rebound bounces into the slot, where Matthew Lombardi has a chance to fire it the length of the ice. He whiffs on the clear, however, instead putting the puck right back on the stick of Edler at the point. The next time the Leafs touch the puck, they’re fishing it out of their net.

It was one of a salad bar of errors the Leafs served up to the Canucks.

It’s not difficult to see why many in the Toronto media call for Ron Wilson’s head on a regular basis: his team is abysmal defensively. All six Maple Leaf goals against Saturday were the result of defensive errors. Furthermore, four were the direct result of a senseless turnover, and two of those four were the result of a series of defensive errors after a senseless turnover.

Salo’s goal falls into the final category. Lombardi’s failure to ice the puck is one of two mistakes he makes on this play. Furthermore, while the flubbed clear undoubtedly enables a goal, it’s not the mistake that eventually causes it. Let’s take another look at this one:

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Breakdowning Henrik Sedin’s 1-0 goal versus the Wild

PITB’s list of the top 50 Canuck goals of 2011 begins next Monday, and you can rest assured that at least two of the goals the Canucks potted last night are going to be on that list: Henrik Sedin’s 1-0 goal and Alex Burrows’s 3-0 goal.

Now, Daniel already broke down the third goal, which is about as full of wizardry as Waverly Place, but with many raving about the wonders of Sedins’ first tally instead, I thought I’d take a closer look at that one as well.

The secret to defending the Sedins is very simple: don’t make any mistakes ever. If you leave a guy open for even a moment while they’re on the ice, there’s a pretty good chance that one of them will find him.

That’s how most of their goals are scored. Very rarely do they try to muscle their way to the net. They’re more content to move the puck around, forcing defenders to adjust to new alignments and, hopefully exposing, a new seam through which they can thread a pass. That’s what happens on this long give-and-go.

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Breakdowning Alex Burrows’ 3-0 goal against the Wild

Monday night’s game against the Minnesota Wild was rife with wizardry, as the Sedins were in on three goals during the game, each of them magical. The first was a give-and-go that incredibly used the entire width of the ice and the second was off a sweet little tape-to-tape saucer pass from behind the net.

My favourite of the three, however, was the third goal, as it also involved the Sedins’ wizardous apprentice, Alex Burrows. The three of them managed to bewitch the Wild players into doing exactly what they wanted them to do, leading to a gorgeous goal by Burrows that sent Niklas Backstrom’s water bottle flying.

But why, exactly, were the Wild so befuddled? How did the Sedins and Burrows manage to score this fantastic goal?

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