I Watched This Game: Canucks at St. Louis Blues, April 16, 2013

It took 65 minutes, but the Canucks finally got some good, clean looks on Brian Elliott. Granted, these looks came in the shootout, where you have to trade good clean looks with the opposition, but still. Let’s call this a moral victory. Considering the difficulty the Canucks had mustering shots on goal, let alone shots from areas where Elliott might have been remotely challenged, we can call breakaways the Blues were forced to allow them after overtime a win.

Granted, it’s a lot harder to call the result of the shootout a win, since the Canucks failed to score on the Blues as many times as the Blues scored on Schneider. Looking at it this way, it’s harder to call the shootout a victory. I’d be tempted to call it a loss, even.

I watched this game.

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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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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Nashville Predators, April 15, 2013

The big story heading into this game was Ryan Kesler getting moved to the wing alongside Derek Roy in order to load up the top-six with offensive talent. It turned out that story was a big, fat lie and everyone who told that story was just a big, fat liar and a generally terrible person. Just awful.

What actually happened was that Derek Roy moved to the wing alongside Ryan Kesler. Completely different.

Some chemistry experiments lead to a slow descent into moral ambiguity. Thankfully, the chemistry experiment that threw Kesler and Roy together produced offence instead of methamphetamine. Still, I suffered from withdrawal symptoms after I watched this game.

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Who would the Canucks rather face in the playoffs?

With 8 games remaining in the regular season, it seems fairly certain that the Canucks will once again win the Northwest division. The Canucks are trending in the right direction with the addition of Derek Roy and the return of Ryan Kesler and are now six points up on the second place Minnesota Wild, who have lost four of their last five games.

Since the Canucks aren’t likely to catch the Anaheim Ducks, who are seven points ahead, in the standings, the Canucks will finish as the third seed in the Western Conference and face the sixth seed in the first round of the playoffs. At this point, any one of six teams could finish sixth in the West: the Kings, Sharks, Blues, Wild, Red Wings, and Coyotes, with the outside possibility of the Stars or Blue Jackets.

So, which of those teams would the Canucks rather play in the first round? Who would they rather avoid?

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Calgary Flames, April 10, 2013

In the Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s classic bout, the Rumble in the Jungle, Ali famously used what came to be called the rope-a-dope strategy. Early in the fight, he provoked Foreman into an all-out attack, but absorbed the blows by leaning against the ropes, allowing their elasticity to distribute the kinetic energy. Once Foreman had tired himself out and began making mistakes, Ali pressed the counter-attack and ended up winning the fight by knockout in the eighth round.

Against the Flames, the Canucks seemed to employ a similar rope-a-dope strategy. In this case, Roberto Luongo was the rope and the Flames were the dopes, as the Canucks coasted through much of the game before seeming to flip a switch in the third period, capitalizing on the Flames’ errors, and scoring three quick goals to win the game.

Unlike the Rumble in the Jungle, this game won’t go down in history as one of the greatest sporting events of all time. Even still, I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Phoenix Coyotes, April 8, 2013

The Canucks have been in a lot of low-scoring games lately, but this one felt different. Prior games have been snoozefests — actually, scratch that. A snoozefest sounds amazing. Think about it: an entire festival dedicated to sleeping? That’s a yes. Sleep is fantastic. Snoozefest is the wrong word. But the prior games have been mundane.

This one wasn’t. The Canucks dominated the Coyotes for the majority of the night, peppering Mike Smith like he was a Caesar salad and they were the waiter at an Olive Garden. With a lesser goaltender in the opposition end, this might have been a blowout. But Smith kept the Coyotes close. By the end of the night, Phoenix had come to rely on him so thoroughly that, when he left the goal for the extra attacker, they got confused and scared and scored on themselves. Related: I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Calgary Flames, April 6, 2013

There are two ways for Canuck fans to look at this game: on the one hand, you could be upset with the way the Canucks played, which would be fair since they didn’t play well. They were sloppy from top to bottom, making lazy, easily intercepted outlet passes, surrendering prime scoring chances, and forcing Cory Schneider into a virtuoso performance to preserve the victory.

On the other hand, they still won, and handily. Why? Beecause, as bad as they were, they still weren’t worse than the Calgary Flames on a good night. It’s tougher to be upset with Vancouver when Calgary exists to remind you that it could be much, much worse. With that thought hanging in the back of my mind, I was extremely content when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Edmonton Oilers, April 4, 2013

Don’t let the 4-0 score fool you — this was a very different game than the last time the Canucks faced the Oilers. For one thing, the team that scored four goals was the Canucks, which was nice. For another, Cory Schneider made one save. He didn’t do that last time. He followed it up with several more, too.

But if there’s one stat that really demonstrates how different this one was from last time, consider the following: On Friday night, when the Canucks faced the Oilers, the game was effectively over by 7:15. This time around, the game hadn’t even begun by 7:30. Just think about that. That’s some improvement right there. I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at San Jose Sharks, April 1, 2013

The best thing that can be said about this game is that it wasn’t as bad as the last one. Like their game against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, the Canucks got soundly outplayed by the San Jose Sharks and similarly succumbed to their opposition thanks to a flurry of goals in a short period of time.

Unlike their game against the Oilers, however, the Canucks actually showed some gumption, battling back by creating scoring chances, scoring goals, and coming just short of tying the game in the final minutes. Thanks to that, it was a lot more enjoyable when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Edmonton Oilers, March 30, 2013

This game must have been a massive relief to Canucks fans who were tired of the low-scoring, defensive snoozefests that the Canucks have been known for recently. For once, the Canucks didn’t sit on a one-goal lead and bore fans to tears. This game was wide open right from puck drop, with goals galore. Heck, even one of Wayne Gretzky’s seemingly unbreakable records was broken, tonight! What more could you ask for?

Wait, you wanted the Canucks to score? Oh.

Well, crud. That sure didn’t happen. I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Columbus Blue Jackets, March 26, 2013

This was easily the worst game of the season. It’s not that the Canucks were bad at all — in fact, they dominated the Blue Jackets from start to finish — but the entertainment value of this game was nearly non-existent. This game was duller than a beach ball. Construction workers had to turn off the game on the radio so that they could operate heavy machinery. It was like Waiting for Godot with less Godot.

I regret to say that 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 at Los Angeles Kings, March 23, 2013

On one hand, Alain Vigneault has to be frustrated by the Canucks’ continued struggle to ice something resembling a competitive lineup. Thursday night, the club was so shorthanded they were forced to deploy Keith Ballard as a top-nine forward, and somehow they managed to lose another key component in that one after Alex Edler was suspended two games for colliding with Mike “I step in front of cars and sue the drivers” Smith.

But on the other hand, the shorthandedness of Vigneault’s club means they have no choice but to go into full-blown shutdown mode, and I think we all know that Alain Vigneault descends into hockey vampirism — sucking the life out of games in order to survive — with unbridled, abject glee. The Canucks were unyielding in their defensive posture in this one, scoring early, then nursing a 1-0 lead so completely that, after the game, they had to burp it. I sort of felt like a creep when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Phoenix Coyotes, March 21, 2013

By all accounts, this game should have been a gong show. David Booth joined Ryan Kesler on the Injured Reserve list, Zack Kassian and Steve Pinizzotto didn’t even fly to Phoenix, and Chris Higgins tweaked his back at the morning skate, turning the Canucks’ lineup into the hockey equivalent of Aziz Ansari’s boombox mixtape.

Like that mixtape, the Canucks’ third line seemed to be thrown together at random, with Andrew Ebbett centring Dale Weise and Keith Ballard. Andrew Gordon drew into the lineup for his first game as a Canuck on a fourth line with Maxim Lapierre and Tom Sestito. The haphazardly arranged lineup looked like a disaster on paper, but the Canucks knuckled down and played a simple, hard-working road game.

That isn’t to say it didn’t have its bizarre moments, as it certainly did. At times, this game resembled the Coyotes’ original, seemingly peyote-inspired, jerseys. I reached a higher plane of existence when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs St. Louis Blues, March 19, 2013

For the fourth straight game, the Canucks struggled with their defensive play in the third period, surrendering two goals. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that, for the first time since Nashville, it didn’t affect the final score. Vancouver’s issues closing out games were relatively inconsequential by the time the third rolled around, thanks in large part to strong individual performances in the first and second.

In the first, it was Cory Schneider and only Cory Schneider, who was unbeatable, despite seeing more rubber than Tate Langdon in American Horror Story. In the second, it was Dale mother-flipping Weise. The Flying Dutchman stepped on the clutch and shifted into high gear Tuesday, scoring a highlight-reel goal that turned out to be the game-winner. That’s right: thanks to Weise, the Canucks won this game. And thanks to the innovations of Philo Farnsworth, I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Minnesota Wild, March 18, 2013

I’m not panicking yet. I’m far too level-headed to go off the deep end for a loss in which the Canucks soundly outplayed their opponent for the majority of the game, not even when that loss is their 8th in their last 11 games and puts the Canucks at the edge of the playoff picture in the Western Conference, not when there are still 20 games left to be played in the season. No, I’m not panicking.

But I will admit to being concerned. I’m concerned because I know it’s possible, however unlikely, to flip a coin and have it land on heads 100 times in a row. I know that for all of the underlying possession statistics that indicate the Canucks are better than their record indicates, it’s possible that things never turn around this season.

It’s possible that the next 20 games will be exactly like this one: the Canucks outplaying, out-shooting, and out-chancing their opponent, but not out-scoring them, with the Canucks failing to capitalize on their opponent’s mistakes, and their opponents making the Canucks pay for every mistake they make. In which case, I won’t need to watch those games, because I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Detroit Red Wings, March 16, 2013

The Vancouver Canucks gave their fans a history lesson Saturday night, putting aside their usual blue and green attire to don the duds of their predecessors, the Vancouver Millionaires. The look was downright fantastic.

Unfortunately, the Canucks took their tribute to history a little too far. While it was nice of the club to show us what they would have looked like in Millionaires jerseys, I didn’t think the Canucks needed to show us what it would have looked like if the Millionaires had gone up against the 2013 Detroit Red Wings. It was a lesson I could have done without. While the jerseys looked excellent, the team in them looked decidedly less so when I watched this game.

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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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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Nashville Predators, March 14, 2013

You could be forgiven if you expected a meeting between the struggling Canucks and the goal-starved Predators to be a boring, defensive affair. After all, the Canucks hadn’t scored more than 2 goals since March 2nd against the Kings and the Predators were missing Colin Wilson, their leading scorer. The last meeting between these two teams ended 1-0 thanks to a lucky bounce that gave Dale “The Flying Dutchman” Weise a wide open net. The two teams are 12th and 29th in goals-per-game. Clearly, this wasn’t going to be a high-scoring game.

Oh how wrong you were, hypothetical cynic. The Canucks and Predators combined for 11 goals in an offensive slug-fest, which is fortunately not a festival for slugs as that would have left the ice a gross, slimy mess. Other than slugs, this game had it all. I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Columbus Blue Jackets, March 12, 2013

After the Canucks put in a disastrous effort against the Minnesota Wild on Sunday, panic gripped the streets of Vancouver. Also, hyperbole gripped the streets of Abbotsford. The Canucks entered Columbus on a four-game losing streak. The Blue Jackets came into the game on a five-game winning streak. They were streaking in opposite directions — if they looked over their shoulders, they would see each other’s naked butts.

Thankfully, the Canucks ended both streaks by winning the game in a shootout, so I didn’t have to see any naked hockey players when I watched this game.

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I Watched this Game: Canucks at Minnesota Wild, March 10, 2013

Prior to this game, the Canucks were first place in the Northwest Division. I wish that hadn’t changed. But they came into Minnesota to play for first place and put in one of their ugliest efforts of the season. It was the kind of disastrous game that leads to player’s only meetings that last longer than five minutes. Now the Wild are first place in the Northwest and they’re terrible. I thought the Canucks were supposed to beat up on the weak Northwest Division, not be a reason why the Northwest is so weak.

Prior to this game, I hadn’t watched this game. That’s another thing that I wish hadn’t changed. Instead, I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Columbus Blue Jackets, March 7, 2013

It’s hard to get into these early-start games. The Eastern timezone throws everything out of whack, and suddenly, with puck drop three hours earlier, it’s nigh impossible to settle into the usual routine. The pregame meal happens at the wrong time. You miss the pregame nap. Everything’s awry, and sometimes, it’s difficult to doff that feeling.

I’m not excusing Vancouver’s performance tonight. I’m referring to myself. The 4pm puck drop ruins my whole routine. With my dinner early and my nap straight-up cancelled, I found myself fighting the post-meal snooze blues all night. It was terrible, and the fact that the Canucks and Blue Jackets combined for a game that had all the waking magic of Goodnight Moon didn’t help at all. But because I am a professional, I didn’t fall asleep. Instead, I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Calgary Flames, March 3, 2013

Unbeknownst to most, Jannik Hansen is actually a wicked sorcerer, one of the oldest and most powerful in Denmark. He’s kept his magic hidden for seven centuries, quietly escaping the Warlock Hunters of the Jutland Peninsula by assuming the form of a hockey player and coming to North America, but Saturday night, he had occasion to dust off the ol’ witchcraft. Sensing that his wife was about to go into labour, Hansen conjured a powerful storm that would ground the Canucks for 15 hours, giving him enough time to be present for the birth of his twin sons before heading over to Calgary.

But Hansen knew that the team would be thrown awry by the odd travel schedule, so he used a second spell to give himself an in-game boost and propel his team to a victory.

He registered two points through the magic, but then, unfortunately, his magic ran out early. You see, playing a full hockey game, becoming a first-time father, and manipulating the dark arts to summon inclement weather a province away tends to wear a sorcerer out, and by the time the third period of this one rolled around, Hansen’s tank was on empty. Sadly, he could do little but watch as the rest of his team ran out of gas as well, and the Flames pulled ahead for good. Same goes for me — not because I’m a weary sorcerer, but because I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Los Angeles Kings, March 2, 2013

The moment I knew Henrik Sedin was going to have a great night came just 10 seconds into the game. Anze Kopitar was ahead of him in the offensive zone, looking to create a scoring chance, and Henrik reached out with his stick, got it in Kopitar’s hands, and gave a little tug. With that, Henrik was off to the penalty box for hooking and also off to a great start to the game.

Captain Hook is back, I thought to myself, and sure enough, Henrik dominated the rest of the game, stickhandling around opponents with impunity and creating numerous scoring chances for his linemates. It was like the two minutes in the box spent just observing the game were exactly what he needed, as he discerned the pattern of the game and decoded it. Similarly, I did exactly what I needed to do when I watched this game.

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Canucks unveil Millionaires jersey; did lockout ‘maroon’ original plans?

As had been rumoured for some time, the Vancouver Canucks officially announced that they will be wearing throwback Vancouver Millionaires jerseys on March 16th against the Detroit Red Wings. It’s a great move for the team, as they further connect with the history of hockey in Vancouver.

The Millionaires were founded back in 1912, so the Canucks will be wearing the retro jerseys as part of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the team. The Canucks have already been wearing a Millionaires patch on their regular jerseys and have begun selling merchandise in the Canucks store with the logo, albeit in Canucks colours.

Since the actual 100th anniversary of the Millionaires would have come in 2012, I wonder if the Canucks had actually intended to debut the jerseys and wear them earlier in the season, but were prevented from doing so by the lockout. Taking a look at the Canucks’ original schedule, the perfect date to wear the jerseys would have been December 8th, when the Ottawa Senators were going to be in town.

Wearing the Millionaires jerseys on December 8th would have been the perfect opportunity to honour the history of hockey in Vancouver and simultaneously celebrate the city’s only Stanley Cup victory.

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