I Watched This Game: Canucks 4, Blues 1

The NHL schedule-makers could not have anticipated this, but their scheduling for today’s games was fantastic. With the Canucks, Flames, and Kings battling for playoff position and all within three points of each other, all three were in action at the same time.

Any combination of results would have been interesting, but only one would truly make Canucks fans happy: wins by the Canucks and Flames and a loss to the Blackhawks by the Kings. That left them in the odd position of rooting for the Flames and Blackhawks.

As of right now, it looks like that ideal is exactly what’s going to happen. Like listening to the Lion King soundtrack, the Canucks got rid of the Blues. Meanwhile, the Flames are currently leading the Stars and the Blackhawks have a two-goal lead on the Kings. Barring a pair of third-period comebacks, the Canucks will have opened up a 5-point gap on the Kings and will still be two points up on the Flames.

These are the thoughts that occur to me now, but I was entirely focussed on the Canucks when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 3, Stars 4 (OT)

Okay, so there are two ways to look at this one: optimists will celebrate the point the Canucks salvaged when they tied the game late, postponing their loss until overtime. Pessimists, on the other hand, will lament the point the Canucks blew when they allowed Tyler Seguin a third-period breakaway. That’s pretty much the only thing you can’t do versus the Stars.

So where do I stand? I’m pretty happy with how things turned out. The outcome is unfortunate, sure, but how can you complain about a game that gave us this awesome GIF of Trevor Linden and Jim Benning high-fiving like they just became best friends.

Next up: karate in the garage. Anyway. Like a high-fiving Lindenning, except without the high fives and no friends to speak of, I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 0, Kings 4

There’s a tendency, with losses like these, to say, “Just throw it in the trash, let it go, and move on to the next game,” but the Canucks can’t afford to do that with this game.

This was the Canucks’ third loss to the Kings this season and they’ve been held to fewer than 20 shots each time. They have two more meetings with the Kings remaining, with the Kings just a point back of the Canucks in the Pacific Division and a threat to knock them out of the playoffs. It’s more likely, however, that both the Kings and Canucks make the playoffs and meet in the first round.

That makes it essential to keep this game, hot garbage though it may have been, out of the trash. They need to remember this game because they need to analyze it and their two other losses to the Kings and figure out just what is going wrong. For whatever reason, the Canucks don’t match up well against the Kings and, with 2-9 games remaining against them, they need to know why.

I also need to know why: why I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 2, Coyotes 3 (SO)

The Canucks have a frustrating tendency to play to the level of their opponents. Against top tier teams, the Canucks have pulled out some remarkable performances this season. They’re undefeated against the Blackhawks, Blues, Islanders, Penguins, and Capitals, for example.

And yet, the Canucks have had some of their worst games of the season against some of the worst teams in the league. They lost to the Devils and Sabres on their recent road trip, lost their only meeting with the Maple Leafs, and have lost twice to the Stars.

So, when the Coyotes entered this game on a 10-game losing streak, with Mikkel Boedker and Martin Hanzal on the Injured Reserve list, and Antoine Vermette, Zbynek Michalek, and Keith Yandle plying their trade in other cities after the trade deadline, I was concerned.

My concerns were borne out when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 6, Blues 5 (SO)

This weekend, when it came time to select one of this week’s three Canucks games as the Game of the Week, I eschewed this game against the St. Louis Blues in favour of Tuesday’s matchup against the San Jose Sharks. I reasoned that the combination of a tough Central Division opponent and the first home game after a road trip would lead to an ugly result for the Canucks, without much in the way of entertainment.

I was completely, totally wrong.

Here are the things that would have to happen in the Sharks game to make it more entertaining than this one:

* Left wing on the Sharks’ top line: Left Shark from Katy Perry’s Super Bowl half-time show.

* An all-out, no-holds-barred brawl between Jean-Claude Van Damme and Fin.

* Finally, a winner on Safeway’s Score-and-Win thanks to a five-goal night from Yannick Weber.

* Kanye West bursting on the ice just before the game-deciding shootout attempt, declaring, “Yo, Bonino, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but Marek Malik had one of the best shootout goals of all time!”

None of those things happened, but all sorts of other entertaining things did, when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 2, Bruins 1

The Canucks had no business winning this game, so they’re extremely fortunate that the mullet is the official haircut of hockey — it’s not all business; there’s plenty of room for a party. And who on the Canucks do you think of when you hear the word “party”? That’s right: Dan Hamhuis.

Wait, that’s not right: it’s Zack Kassian. He’s clearly the partiest member of the Canucks and he continued his goalscoring streak with his 4th goal in 3 games and also his 4th different goal celebration. The goal stood up as the gamewinner thanks to an incredible performance by Eddie Lack. It’s always a party when the Canucks beat the Bruins.

I listened to Andrew W.K. when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 4 – Islanders 0

It’s time for another goaltending controversy! No, we’re not going to argue about whether Ryan Miller or Eddie Lack should be the number one goaltender or discuss which goalie might get traded either at the deadline or the draft.

No, this isn’t about Miller versus Lack. This is about Miller or Lack versus Miller and Lack.

Miller was perfect to start the game, but left early in the second period after a collision with Jannik Hansen and Lack stepped in and continued the perfection. The duo combined for a shutout against one of the top-scoring teams in the NHL, so it’s clear what the Canucks need to do going forward: Lack is no longer the backup, he’s the bullpen.

With two goaltenders of seemingly equal ability, it seems like a waste to have one sitting on the bench for the entire game, so it’s definitely time for them to stop splitting starts and begin splitting games. If fatigue is an issue for Miller, have the veteran start the game to set the tone, then bring in Lack’s fresh legs halfway through the second period. It’s a brilliant idea with no possible downsides whatsoever!

One issue: it looks like Miller might be out for quite a while with a knee injury, so they’ll have to wait before putting this perfect plan into action. I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 5, Blackhawks 4 (OT)

In a recent podcast, Harrison and I discussed whether hockey fans really like exciting hockey or if they just like to see winning hockey. This game came incredibly close to being a test case for that question.

This was an incredibly thrilling game, full of high-tempo, back-and-forth action, with the Canucks playing some of their best hockey of the season against the best team in the league through the first two periods. Then the Blackhawks showed why they’re the best team in the league, mounting a late comeback in the third period and pushing the game to a white-knuckling, edge-of-your-seat overtime.

If the Canucks had lost that game in overtime, I have a feeling that many fans would deride it as a terrible game, when, no matter the result, it really wasn’t. It was a fun, entertaining, exciting game that showed the Canucks can compete against any team in the NHL when they’re playing well.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to confront any tough questions about the entertainment value of a loss when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 5, Penguins 0

After an ugly, dispiriting loss to the San Jose Sharks, the Canucks needed some sign of positivity to end their home stand. Willie Desjardins preached intensity at practice and the team responded, jumping all over the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins early, driving the net, drawing penalties, and, most importantly, actually scoring goals.

It was one of the strongest performances of the season for the Canucks, one that could quiet concerns in the room and among the fans, but it unfortunately came with a quiver of caveats that might burst some bubbles.

The Penguins were playing on the second night of a back-to-back and their third game in four nights, while starting their backup goaltender, and at times looked as tired as the Michelin Man. This was an eminently beatable team.

That said, the Canucks have specialized this season in making mediocre goaltenders look like all-stars and have made a habit of losing to top-tier teams of late and, this time, they didn’t do that. Instead, they took control of the game early, built up an insurmountable lead, then didn’t let the Penguins surmount it.

I saw the Canucks score 5 goals with my own eyes when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 3, Jets 2 (OT)

It’s time to get on board the Ronalds Kenins bandwagon. The Latvian rookie winger has been on fire through his first three games as a Canuck, scoring two goals from the fourth line, giving him the best goals-per-game average in franchise history. Yes, better than Pavel Bure. Are we saying that Kenins is better than Bure? No, we’re not.

The statistics are.

Sure, there will be the killjoys who point out that Kenins currently has a 33.3% shooting percentage, which is probably unsustainable or something, and argue that we shouldn’t get too excited about such success in small sample sizes. And sure, both his goals looked like they should have been stopped by the goaltenders that allowed them, but have we considered the possibility that Kenins is able to curve pucks like James McAvoy curves bullets in Wanted?

It’s not just a possibility, it’s a certainty.

At this point, it’s about time that Kenins gets kitted out with a real number, rather than the rookie 41 he’s currently wearing, not just because he’s going to stay up with the Canucks, but because the Canucks need to know what number to retire. With his second goal in as many games, Kenins proved that he’s a legend in the making.

Like the thousands of time travellers from the future who came back to witness this historic moment in time, I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 0, Ducks 4

I’m just writing this post so I don’t get fined.

I watched this game.

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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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I Watched This Game: Canucks 2, Panthers 1

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States, or, as it’s known in Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi, and this is no joke, Martin Luther King Jr. AND Robert E. Lee Day (since it definitely makes sense to celebrate the guy who led Team Slavery and the guy who gave the “I Have a Dream” speech on the same day). But anyway, I suspect the Canucks had the laughable alternate holiday in mind during this game, since Robert E. Lee day would be an appropriate evening to stage an event where a group from the North defeats a group from South.

Much like the Panthers’ visit to Vancouver two weeks ago, the story of this one was goaltending, but just as the victor was flipped, so too was the standout netminder. Ryan Miller led the way here, very nearly stretching his shutout streak to three straight games. Mercifully, however, the Panthers managed to end it, just in time for the Canucks to start Eddie Lack Tuesday in Tampa Bay as they should, rather than riding the hot hand for the second straight back-to-back, wearing Miller out, then wondering why he stopped playing well. Much like Eddie Lack tonight, but thankfully, not tomorrow, I watched this game.

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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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I Watched This Game: Canucks 0, Flames 1

Some nights you just don’t score. You can look really good. You can put in a solid effort. You can even generate some quality looks. But at the end of the day, it always takes a little luck. The robots knew. You gotta get lucky. And when you don’t, well, there’s always a late-night poutine shack open somewhere.

What were we talking about? Right, there was a hockey game tonight. I zoned out a bit because nothing happened. Anyway, I watched this game.

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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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I Watched This Game: Canucks 0, Stars 2

I had a soccer game last Sunday and, with our regular goaltender on holiday, I was called upon to play in net. We were short a player, so, playing with only 10 men, I had to make a lot of saves.

I was playing very well, making a diving stop here, a point blank kick save there, giving my team a chance. Then, near the end of the first half, the other team had a corner kick. The player mis-kicked it, sending it too close to the near post. It was easy for me to jump up and grab it before it could go anywhere dangerous. The ball hit my hands and I landed on my feet, ready to send my team the other way.

And the ball slipped out.

I don’t even know how it happened. One moment the ball was in my hands, the next it was on the ground and I was scrambling to grab it, only to have one of their players get his foot in and kick it across the line. It was devastating to have a good performance suddenly turn into a catastrophe. I felt like I let my team down, like all the saves I made in the rest of the game were rendered null and void.

In short, I know exactly how Eddie Lack feels right now. I felt his pain when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 1, Canadiens 3

The Canucks did not play well tonight. Unlike the defensive pairing of Kevin Bieksa and Luca Sbisa, there’s no getting around it. They tested Carey Price just 16 times, which isn’t nearly enough, and they were out-attempted by a staggering margin of 68 to 29.

And yet, with five minutes remaining, they were still in the game, because hockey is funny. Then, with four minutes remaining, right when we began to wonder if they might steal a point, the Canadiens scored, because hockey is the cruel kind of funny. On the bright side, this is the first time I’ve ever felt like I could have been out there on the ice and fit right in. I felt like a real, honest-to-goodness Vancouver Canuck when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 3, Senators 4 (OT)

There are plenty of excuses for the Canucks performance against the Senators. They’re on the sixth game of a seven-game road trip. it’s the second game of back-to-backs. The officiating was lousy. The team is committed to avoiding a goaltending controversy. The forwards stayed up late last night binge-listening to “Serial.” The defence ate some bad chicken before the game. The Canadian Tire Centre is haunted by the ghost of the Sens Spartan.

Some of those excuses are certainly a little more valid than the others. Heck, some of them are even true. But none of them adequately explain just how poor the Canucks were defensively in this game. There’s no getting around it: it was an ugly showing and would have been uglier if Eddie Lack hadn’t stolen a point by making 41 saves in regulation to get the game to overtime.

I got increasingly frustrated when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 3, Penguins 0

Eddie Lack hadn’t started a game since November 20th and had just had a planned start sniped out from under him by Ryan Miller, albeit for supposedly altruistic reasons. That left Lack to make his first start in two weeks against Sidney Crosby and the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins.

It might have been too much for a goaltender with less mental fortitude, but Lack has never been one to get overwhelmed. Clearly, he was raised right.

Sure enough, Lack’s mother, Mia, showed where her son’s easy sense of humour and calm demeanour came from, tweeting out her encouragement to her son, posting a picture of a baby penguin and saying there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Adorable. Lack backed up his mamma’s words, proving that penguins are no match for a stork, posting his first shutout of the season. I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 4, Capitals 3

Ryan Miller lobbied to start this game, arguing that it would potentially be a tough start for Eddie Lack since the Canucks had the day off on Monday and Lack hadn’t been playing. While that logic seems shakier than Miller’s game against the Red Wings, Willie Desjardins thought it was a good point, so gave Miller the start.

Here’s the thing: if you argue to start a game that your backup was supposed to get, you better back up that argument with a strong game. Instead, Miller was merely mediocre, making a couple decent stops, but allowing a couple weak goals. At some point, his shakiness is going to become a problem, but it wasn’t one tonight because the Canucks were able to outscore Miller’s mistakes and he held off the Capitals late in the third period.

Or maybe it will never be a problem. Maybe the shakiness will go away or the Canucks will continue to rack up enough goals that the goaltending becomes a moot point. Though that’s a pretty lousy nickname: Ryan “Moot Point” Miller. I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 3, Red Wings 5

These afternoon starts in the Eastern Conference seem to always be disastrous for the Canucks. The team is already a little out-of-sorts with the different time zone, so moving the start time of the game really throws off the regular routine. It’s a pain for most Canucks fans too, who have to deal with the non-standard start time in a variety of ways, such as actually waking up on a Sunday.

It’s toughest on the devoted Canucks fans who are also devout Protestants, having to choose between Sunday morning church or cheering on the Canucks. It turns out that God isn’t fond of these early Sunday games either, smiting the game just 29 seconds in, causing a transformer to blow. Joe Louis Arena was formless and void and darkness was on the surface of the ice.

Someone’s got to let God know about PVR. I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 2, Devils 0

Before tonight, Jaromir Jagr had played 1,696 career NHL games, including playoffs. Only 12 of those games have been played in Vancouver. It seems incredible that we’ve only had the chance to see one of the greatest NHL players of all time in our backyard 12 times.

Fortunately, at the age of 42, Jagr is still incredible. He was arguably the Devils’ best player, creating chances out of nothing, pouring on the jets to surprise defenders, and powering through battles in the corners. Even if he’s not the player he once was, it was pretty special to see him in Vancovuer for what may be the last time.

I mean, it’s the last time if he retires after this season, but he might not be retiring any time soon. I hope he plays until he’s 50 so I get the chance to watch him again and again, like I did when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 4, Blackhawks 1

It was Daniel Sedin’s big night, the occasion of his 1000th NHL game. He was honoured prior to puck drop in a pregame ceremony, given a painting by Tony Harris (but, sadly, not Tony Harrison), and sent on a Disney cruise (which delighted his young daughter beyond measure). And then Jannik Hansen went ahead and stole the damn show.

We probably shouldn’t be surprised. He’s not named the honey badger because he lives alone in a self-dug hole. It’s because he doesn’t give a [hoot], and there’s really nothing more honey badger than choosing to score the first Canucks hat trick since Daniel Sedin did it in 2011, on the night set aside for honouring Daniel Sedin. Screw your big day, Daniel. Sunday, November 23, 2014, will henceforth be known as Jannik Hansen day to all those who watched this game, and I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 5, Oilers 4

I don’t meant to alarm you, but Ryan Miller has allowed 16 goals in his last 4 starts. He has a .900 save percentage, 35th in the NHL. Mind you, I’m not a fan of the word “allowed” when it comes to goals against, as it sounds like the goaltender just stood there, letting the other team score, and that was only true of one of Edmonton’s goals in this game.

Plenty of teams have proven that you can win by outscoring your goaltending woes, but those teams usually aren’t paying their number one goaltender $6 million a year.

Fortunately, there’s still plenty of season left and I fully believe that Miller can and will be better for the Canucks as the season progresses. He’s proven that he can still steal a game and his numbers have been skewed by a few ugly games, but the fact remains that those games happened. And so did this game. I watched those games and I watched this game.

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