Spitballin’ on Kesler’s injury, Luongo zingers, and Sedin marine trivia

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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Jordan Schroeder in: how to win faceoffs and influence zone starts

When David Booth got hurt at the Canucks’ abbreviated, two-scrimmage preseason, I opined that this spelled the end of Jordan Schroeder’s chances to be the Canucks’ second-line centre on opening night. My theory: Schroeder might have had a shot when he would be skating between two veterans in Booth and Mason Raymond — much like Cody Hodgson did the year before, beating out Ebbett in training camp and lining up between Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm on day one — but with the young’un Zack Kassian stepping up to fill in for Booth, I suspected Vigneault would uncomfortable doubling down on inexperience on that line by making Schroeder its centre. Hence, safe, forgettable Andrew Ebbett had the edge.

I got that one right.

Since then, however, it’s become clear that Alain Vigneault didn’t. Ebbett was quiet through the first two games of the season — quiet enough that the Canucks eventually called Schroeder back. In the Canucks’ third game, Schroeder drew in and Ebbett drew out.

But then Manny Malhotra’s wife gave birth to a baby boy, and Malhotra stepped away from the team for two games, leaving Vigneault with no choice but to dress both Ebbett and Schroeder. What followed was yet another two-game showdown between Ebbett and Schroeder for a middle-six centre job. This time, Booth or no Booth, Schroeder won it clean.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Minnesota Wild, February 9, 2012

Leave it to the Minnesota Wild to put everything into perspective. The Canucks were 7-1-2 in their last 10 games heading into Thursday’s contest — the league’s hottest team — but most Canuck fans would admit that their record was incredibly misleading. Anyone who had actually watched those 10 games could have told you Vancouver had been playing some nigh-unwatchable hockey over that stretch.

Of course, then the Canucks touched town in Minnesota and played some actual unwatchable hockey. My goodness, Canuck nation, are we ever spoiled. For the past 5 games, we’ve griped about the Canucks needing overtime to solve their games, but at least it’s been exciting. Tonight, we were treated to a 60-minute regulation win, and when I say “treated to” I mean “stabbed in the brain with”. Somehow it felt like it lasted twice as long. Seemingly forever, I watched this game.

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Drance Numbers: Who is Alain Vigneault really sheltering?

Drance Numbers is the silly research wing of PITB. While Messrs. Wagner and Mooney blog nationally and solve mysteries, Drance Numbers will look into the minutiae of quantifiable NHL data and bore you with it every Friday. Today, Drance looks at Alain Vigneault’s quickly zone start schemes.

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Cody Hodgson’s faceoff apprenticeship

Back in October, I wrote about Cody Hodgson’s faceoff prowess and how the young centre’s injection into the Vancouver lineup gave the Canucks 5 quality options in the circle. At the time, Hodgson was winning 52.0% of his draws, and while it was quite early in the season, he had posted an identical win rate in the preseason as well. It didn’t seem far-fetched to assume he could maintain these numbers.

Turns out it was. Through 30 games, Hodgson has won only 74 of 177 faceoffs, or 41.8%. To put this into perspective: the other four Canuck centres all have winning percentages above 50%. Hodgson is the team’s worst faceoff option by far.

There are, of course, only four lines. This means that, to make room for Hodgson to centre one of them, the Canucks are going to lose ground in the faceoff circle. And before you say, “Shift Hodgson to the wing,” rest assured that it’s been tried.

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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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And Cody Hodgson makes five: how last season’s best faceoff team got better

With Maxim Lapierre retained and Manny Malhotra back to full health this season, the Canucks will now be four-deep at centre for the next two years. But they may actually be five-deep, because Cody Hodgson is beginning to prove that he’s not too bad in the circle either.

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You’ll hear a lot about Ryan Kesler today, namely because he may have played his finest game as a Canuck last night in Nashville. He was remarkable, scoring twice and setting up another by shoveling a puck to Chris Higgins after kickpunching Pekka Rinne out of the net. He deserves praise. But, if you’re in a praising mood, make sure to set some aside for Maxim Lapierre, who gave Kesler and the Canucks something they haven’t had since Manny Malhotra’s March 16 eye injury: an enabler.

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Coming into tonight’s game, much of the setup focused on the potential for an emotional letdown for the Canucks, following the emotional high of Tuesday night’s Game 7 thriller. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Instead, we got an old-fashioned regular letdown; this game was flat-out boring. That said, maybe it’s what we needed. Could we have handled another crazy game? I’ve been drinking Gatordade since Tuesday just to get my electrolytes back up. Thanks to Nashville for giving my heart the night off. If the last playoff contest had make-you-sick-to-your-stomach intensity, this game was the Pepto-Bismol of hockey games. I watched this game.

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Canucks 1 – 2 Red Wings (Shootout) You hate to see a game like this go to a shootout. I did. After 60 minutes of the top two teams in the NHL strutting their excellent puck movement, remarkable defense, and fabulous systems play, suddenly everything that made the game so stellar is taken away and [...]

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It’s remarkably easy to spend an excessive amount of time clicking around NHL.com’s stat pages. While it doesn’t quite reach the addictive qualities of Wikipedia and is miles away from TV Tropes, a puckhead like me can easily see time disappear faster than every contestant’s hopes of winning on Ninja Warrior. Today, however, I stumbled [...]

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It’s Christmas Eve and I’m with my wife’s family in Redmond, WA. “Die Hard 2″ has been watched, stockings have been stuffed, and the cinnamon rolls for tomorrow morning’s breakfast are in progress right now. As for me, I’m left to ponder the Canucks Christmas gift to their fans, a marvelous 7-3 victory over the [...]

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Canucks 3 – 1 Blues This was one of those games the Canucks had to win. No, it wasn’t a must-win (I hardly believe in them), but it was a road game against a beleaguered and bruised Blues team, for whom three of their top three offensive weapons weren’t playing. And, sadly for St. Louis [...]

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Canucks 4 – 5 Lightning (OT)   So I don’t think the Tampa Bay Lightning realize they were supposed to treat this game like a ceremonial faceoff: show up, smile for a photo, then stand back while Henrik Sedin picks up the puck and hands it to the Queen. It should have been fairly simple. [...]

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