I Watched This Game: Canucks at Boston Bruins, January 7, 2012

Well. That was fun. Despite claims by both teams to the contrary, Saturday morning’s tilt between the Canucks and the Bruins obviously had a little more riding on it than simply two points. The “This is just one regular-season game” talk was relevant for about four minutes. After that, it was anarchy. Seriously, at one point, someone blew open a wall in Arkham Asylum.

There were two major differences between this game and the ones we saw last June, and the first two involved special teams: the Canucks scored on their powerplays, and Cody Hodgson spearheaded a potent second unit that chipped in when the first unit struggled. Unsurprisingly, this made the Canucks far more successful. Speaking of success, this game lived up to all the hype: it was without a doubt the game of the year. I’m very glad to say I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs San Jose Sharks, January 2, 2012

While the Canucks were outplayed for large portions of this game, you have to keep one thing in mind: 4 days ago, the Canucks were in San Jose defeating the Sharks in a tough overtime game. In between, they had two more games. The Sharks had none. The Sharks were fresher than a perfectly cleaned kitchen where someone is brewing mint tea. The Canucks, on the other hand, just sprayed Febreze everywhere and hoped for the best. I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Anaheim Ducks, December 29, 2011

Just like last season, the Canucks opened their California road trip a perfect 2-0 and, just like last season, the second win came over the Anaheim Ducks on the second night of a back-to-back. But the similarities don’t end there.

In both Anaheim games, Cory Schneider got the start and the win, the Canucks scored the first goal a minute in, and Daniel Sedin scored the final Vancouver goal, beating Dan Ellis and stretching the lead to three. Of course, there were some differences. For instance: I attended last year’s game. I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Calgary Flames, December 23, 2011

I didn’t just watch this game, I was at this game, as my older brother took me to a game as a sort of early Christmas present. Unfortunately, it didn’t come with a gift receipt.

The Canucks played this game like anyone else with one last shift at work before Christmas: they showed up late and mailed it in. The Flames, on the other hand, showed up in Vancouver with the work ethic of Dwight Schrute and dominated. I had to suffer the ignominy of seeing the Canucks perform worse than the Flames in person. As tough as it was, I watched this game.

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With Daniel Sedin out with a sore back (hopefully not from picking up a cracker), Mark Mancari was called up from the Chicago Wolves and Mason Raymond was promoted to the top line. That turned out to be a good move, as Raymond was the Canucks best forward, leading the team in shots and picking up two points. His best play of the games should have led to the game-tying goal, were it not for Cam Ward making one of the best saves of the year.

Ward being incredible turned out to be the theme of the game, rather than a more Canucks-friendly theme like “Heart of a Canuck” or “Win da Turd.” 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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Like my current moustache and mohawk combo, this game was ugly, but ultimately a win. The critics will say that the Canucks didn’t deserve to win this game, but last I checked, Cory Schneider was a Canuck and he definitely deserved to win this game. According to the Canucks’ advertising campaign of the last 5 years, we are all Canucks, and I think we all deserved to win this game. Well, maybe not me, now that I’m an unbiased member of the media. I got all that I deserved: I watched this game.

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This one started out promisingly, like that movie Vanilla Sky, as Chicago and Vancouver came out flying in a high-paced, nearly even first period. It began to come off the rails a little in the middle portion, like that movie Vanilla Sky, as the Canucks took the lead, then immediately surrendered two powerplay goals to finish the frame down by one. And then, like that movie Vanilla Sky, everything went to crap in the end, and the final twenty minutes was so freaking bad you doubted whether any of it was ever any good, even the stuff you initially liked. Vanilla Sky sucks, and I was reminded of it when I watched this game.

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Imagine, if you will, three siblings whose parents unfairly insist that they do chores during the Canucks game against the Ducks. The chores require that at least two of the siblings help out at the same time. Fred, Biff, and Heidi, the siblings, decide that each of them will watch one period from the game, then afterwards they would get together and tell each other what the game was like. Fred watches the first period and reports that it was a dull, but evenly matched affair. Biff watches the second period, flips out, and lights a Canucks jersey on fire in the backyard. Heidi watches the third period and insists that the Canucks are the greatest team in NHL history. And then gets angry at Biff for burning her jersey.

It was like the game had multiple personality disorder. Or, it might have just been an elephant. Unlike the hypothetical siblings, I watched all of this game.

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The Canucks marched into the Staples Centre looking to take control of things from the outset, and they got lucky when their ideal meshed perfectly with the Kings’ gameplan, which appeared to be to take careless penalties and cede control early. (It was kismet, I think.) After being gifted a lengthy five-on-three, the Canucks put their powerplay specialists — Sami Salo and Andrew Ebbett — to work, jumping out to a quick two-goal lead. Then Aaron Rome stepped up (as usual these days), adding an insurance marker that would stand as the game-winner. Meanwhile, I would sit as the game-watcher, because I watched this game.

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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 topics that deserve mention.

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Just as we predicted, the Canucks followed up an ugly game in Minnesota with a slightly less ugly game in St. Louis. It’s amazing, however, how a one-goal game can seem so lopsided. When the Blues were in the offensive zone, it constantly seemed like they were on the verge of a gorgeous scoring chance, while the Canucks seemed to have trouble getting the puck towards the net with any regularity. In their post-game comments, however, the Canucks seemed positive, saying that they played a more complete game and stuck with their process, which brings to mind a game from last season.

On November 21, 2010, the Canucks lost 3-2 to the Phoenix Coyotes. It was the second game of a back-to-back following their worst performance of the year, the infamous Voldemort Game. In the IWTG for that loss to the Coyotes, we bemoaned the absence of Sami Salo, the shoddiness of the defence, and the lack of cycle to the Sedins game. The players, however, felt like they had performed well and stuck with their system. This should sound familiar for anyone who watched this game, and it therefore sounded familiar to me, because I watched this game.

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Vancouver scored five goals in four regular-season games versus the Nashville Predators last season, so it’s safe to say that nobody was expecting a blowout tonight. But that’s what we got. Rather than allow the visitors to showcase their superstar netminder for the second game in a row, the Canucks chased him in twenty minutes this time around, scoring four goals on sixteen shots and rendering the second and third period of the game a relative formality. And, like Pekka Rinne in the final forty minutes, I watched this game.

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We poked a little fun yesterday at Dan Hamhuis and Manny Malhotra, who recently showed off their building skills by spearheading the installation of a brand new, state-of-the-art playground for the children of Edmonds Community School. But, when it comes right down to it, the real story is pretty excellent, and admirable too.

Edmonds Community School is located in the poorest postal code in Canada with a school, and has become the home school for the majority of refugee families that come into Vancouver. As a result, over 50 countries are represented within the school population. Needless to say, with so many languages and cultures at play, an excellent playground where the children can learn to work and socialize together is a must, and that’s where Community Man and Community Manny come in.

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Pass it to Comics: Community Man and Community Manny build a fort

Pass it to Comics is a twice weekly collaboration between PITB and cartoonist Chloe Ezra. It will run on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the season. Today, we look at Dan Hamhuis and Manny Malhotra’s other building projects.

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In case you don’t understand why Alain Vigneault puts so much stock into winning faceoffs, consider what happened after Manny Malhotra lost the opening draw of tonight’s game: the Canucks didn’t touch the puck for the next thirty-two seconds, during which time the Blue Jackets applied early pressure and drew a high sticking penalty. Then, before that penalty expired, Marco Sturm took a tripping penalty, and the Canucks wound up spending the first quarter of the period on the penalty kill. As a result, the Sedins didn’t see their first shift until four minutes in, the Blue Jackets held all the momentum for the first half of the period, and the Canucks didn’t register their first shot on goal until twelve minutes into the contest. If Malhotra wins that faceoff, Vancouver gets off to a better start. Thankfully, the Canucks finished better than they began, winning da turd and thereby collecting their first win of the season. And I watched this game.

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Opening night at Rogers Arena was an awkwardly bitter sweet affair. The Canucks’ impressive trophy haul from last season was on display as John Ashbridge recapped the stellar 2010-11 season, while quietly avoiding the topic of the biggest trophy absent from centre ice. Then the awkward subject of the post-game-seven riots came up, leading into the inspirational honouring of the heroes who helped the city both during and after the riots. Henrik gave the ceremonial game puck to the incredibly shy little girl who had helped her dad clean up the streets the next day, which was adorable.

The game itself: also bittersweet. Having hockey back is like sampling the sweetest flavours at La Casa Gelato; seeing the Canucks lose in the shootout is as bitter as poorly-made hummus. I watched this game.

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The Canucks dressed their complete roster for the final game of the preseason, setting up a terrifying possibility: considering that a shoddy Vancouver group full of fourth liners, AHLers, and since-cut veterans on tryouts was able to beat this same Edmonton Oilers team only a week ago, a loss tonight by the opening night lineup would have been irrefutable proof that the Canucks made all the wrong choices coming out of training camp. Dan Hamhuis is a flop; Ryan Parent’s where it’s at. Chris Higgins sucks; Antoine Roussel rocks. Mark Mancari and Todd Fedoruk should still be here; the Sedins should have been cut instead. Thankfully, the Canucks justified the decisions of the coaching staff by winning this game. And I watched this game.

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Like Richard Loney sprinting through the Star Spangled Banner, the Sharks came out flying tonight. Not literally, of course, as flying sharks would be absolutely terrifying, but metaphorically. After an initial push by the Canucks, an early penalty gave the Sharks a chance to find their feet (sharks with feet would also be terrifying), getting a powerplay goal and hitting a post on a near-open net shortly after. Unfortunately for them, that increased speed and intensity barely matched where the Canucks already were. The Canucks responded by becoming even faster and more intense. And while it is tempting to make this game all about Ben Eager’s lack of discipline that then spread to the rest of his team, that would do a disservice to how the Canucks outplayed the Sharks throughout the entire game. Yes, the score became awfully silly once the Sharks began parading to the penalty box (sharks on parade being the most terrifying mental image yet), but the Canucks earned the victory by being the better team, not just by taking advantage of the Sharks’ silliness. I should know: I watched this game.

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Game 2 of the Canucks match-up against the Nashville Predators bore a superficial resemblance to game 1, in that the Canucks got a 1-goal lead and held it. It would seem that the only difference between the two games was that Nashville managed to tie up the game in the dying minutes and win it in overtime. Watching the game, however, painted a different picture. While the Canucks were dominant in game 1, controlling the play and imposing their will on what appeared to be a significantly weaker opponent, the Predators controlled game 2, out-hitting and out-shooting the Canucks and winning puck battles and faceoffs throughout the night. Still, it took an unlucky bounce for the Predators to tie the game and some unreal goaltending from Pekka Rinne to earn the Predators the win. I noticed these differences for one simple reason: I watched this game.

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The similarities between this game and last February’s Olympic gold medal game are uncanny. The remarkable performances by Ryan Kesler and Jonathan Toews; a star-making showing from the losing goaltender; Roberto Luongo losing the shutout on a goalmouth scramble in the final minutes; an overtime goal coming out of the corner less than ten minutes into the extra frame; the fact that it happened in the same freaking building; the fact that it will go down as of the finest games in the history of Vancouver hockey. This game had everything: it was intense, emotional, terrifying, heart-attack inducing, and then, in the end, immensely satisfying. And I watched this game:

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Let us step back from our book-stealing, cheerleader-tossing, muffler-biting, pool-flipping ways for just one moment and take stock of what we just observed: that was an incredibly exciting hockey game. It was a nail-biting, innard-twisting, heart-pounding thrill ride filled with unexpected plot twists. The Canucks, after two complete no-shows, returned to form and played well enough to win the game; unfortunately, due to a couple puckhandling errors, an unfortunate bounce in overtime, and the posts not counting as part of the net, they didn’t. That shouldn’t take away from the sheer entertainment value of the game, nor should it take away from the excellent play of the Canucks. But it does. It takes everything away. In these few hours since the game ended, I can’t shake the feeling that the game sucked and that the Canucks were terrible. Because I’m a reasonable human being, capable of logical deduction, I can convince myself that such is not the case, but the emotions remain. This game was both exhilarating and excruciating. I watched this game.

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The Canucks gave up 7 goals against only once this season, in the infamous Voldemort game against Chicago on November 20th. Though “Voldemort” implies that it shall not be named, like Dumbledore, I have never seen any reason to be frightened of talking about it. After all, the Canucks followed up the game by going on an incredible run, winning 17 of their next 21 games. The two games are remarkably similar actually: both games were tied after the first period, the Blackhawks scored four goals in the second period of both games, and Canucks fans collectively flipped the pool after each game. Also, both games were excruciating to watch. I should know: I watched that game and I watched this game.

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After two consecutive years of being “outcoached” by Joel Quenneville, Alain Vigneault is winning this series with shrewd icetime management. Three days ago, he announced that he planned to limit the Sedins’ shifts to between 30 and 35 seconds, and he caught flack for it (Tony Gallagher said there had never been a dumber idea). Despite criticism, however, he’s followed through since. For the second game in a row, Daniel and Henrik averaged 35-second shifts. In a series where the Blackhawks’ stars are being played to exhaustion, the twins have been able to hop over the boards fresher than the prince of Bel-Air and score timely goals against exhausted opposition. It made the difference two nights ago, and it made the difference again tonight. I watched this game.

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Canucks 3 -1 Thrashers Seemingly lacking in motivation, the Canucks were not what you would call “good” against the Thrashers. They were, however, good enough, which is all that was necessary. With the victory, the Canucks set a franchise record for points in a season, with 7 games still left to play. Unfortunately, Daniel Sedin [...]

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