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

The best goalscorers are not always the guys with the best shots, though that certainly helps. Instead, the best goalscorers are the players who can consistently find soft areas on the ice, getting just enough separation from defenders to get a clean shot off. Having a quick release makes it just a little bit easier, as you need less separation.

Brett Hull was a master at this. He was never the best skater or puckhandler, but he could find soft areas, disappearing from a defender’s notice, then suddenly showing up again just in time to one-time a pass into the back of the net.

Those soft areas on the ice tend to be in the slot, between the hashmarks, or at one of the faceoff dots. In this game, Daniel Sedin found an entirely new one: in the corner, along the goal line. It’s the perfect spot. No defender is going to think you’re a scoring threat from there, so you’ll have all kinds of space to get your shot off. The only issue is the razor thin area of the net available for you to shoot at.

No big deal. A wizard did it. I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 2, Ducks 1 (SO)

As 16th games of the season go, this was a pretty big one. After a brutal performance in San Jose that somehow resulted in a win, the Canucks headed into Los Angeles apparently thinking they’d stumbled onto a low-key, low-effort recipe for victory. But it was the Kings who made a meal of the Canucks’ recipe, giving Vancouver their just desserts. (Man, am I hungry.)

That pumped a fresh angle into the bus to Anaheim. Not only was this a reunion with ex-flame Ryan Kesler (not to be confused with ex-Flame Tim Jackman), but now the result of this game would characterize the whole trip. A third poor outing would suggest the Canucks still can’t hang with The Californians, and likely rattle loose the sky. But a win? Well, it’d be tough to argue with a 3-1 road trip, so I definitely won’t, because I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 1, Kings 5

Canucks fans looked at this road trip through California with some trepidation. After all, California was an unrelenting nightmare last season and the three Californian teams looked once again poised to rule the Pacific Division at the start of the season.

The Canucks’ 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on Thursday did little to assuage fans’ concerns. That win just wasn’t winny enough: the Sharks generally outplayed the Canucks, though they didn’t specifically outplay them — Ryan Miller was massively better than Antti Niemi — and the Sharks came a coulomb away from tying the game and sending it to overtime.

The team’s lacklustre performance in San Jose could be easily forgotten if they had put in a better performance against the Los Angeles Kings. Instead they collapsed like a punctured lung, while putting up less resistance than a copper wire. I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 3, Sharks 2

The Canucks had this one circled on the calendar. After having about as much success in California last season as the Joad family, the club was hellbent on preventing this season from becoming The Grapes of Wrath II: The Wrathening. And that mission began Thursday night in San Jose, as the Canucks looked to prove they could hang with their Pacific Division rivals. Did they succeed? Well. Sort of.

The Canucks were thoroughly outplayed in San Jose. Outshot 37-19, and out-attempted a whopping 80-23. They blocked more shots than they attempted. In terms of possession, it wasn’t close. And yet they won. It’s the most undeserved W since the word “wrong”, as in, “the Canucks leaving San Jose with two points tonight just seems wrong.” But it happened. I saw it. I watched this game.

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

Last Saturday, I called this game against the Canadiens on All Hallows Eve Eve the game of the week, but it very easily could have been a horror show. After all, the Canadiens have been monstrous to start the season, with a frightening 8-2-0 record heading into this ghoulish game. The beasts of the East have owned October and looked eager to drain the lifeblood from the Canucks and their fans.

The Canucks, meanwhile, had yet to prove their early success wasn’t just a masquerade that would turn into a pumpkin at midnight. Would the Canadiens supernatural speed send them screaming? Would the Dale Weise trade come back to haunt them? How quickly would this game turn macabre? Would it be a monster mash or, worse, a graveyard smash? How much more forced can these Halloween references get?

It turned out that those fears, like the fear of poisoned candy, were completely overblown. The Canucks managed to prove their early season record was no trick and it was a real treat when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 4, Hurricanes 1

The Carolina Hurricanes came into Vancouver for Tuesday night’s game versus the Canucks with zero wins and seven losses, which meant one of two things: they were definitely going to win, since they were totally due, or they were definitely going to lose, since that’s what they totally do. (That’s right. Filtering the Hurricanes’ record through the lens of my hockey expertise, I determined that the Hurricanes were either going to leave Vancouver with one win or zero. Sometimes they invite me on the radio!)

Turns out it’s zero, as the Hurricanes played the same brand of hapless hockey that got them to Vancouver without a single victory. Just no hap at all. If only they could apply some hapstick. I came up with that terrible, terrible pun while I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 4, Capitals 2

There are certain things that Canucks fans firmly believe about their team, even though they have no real proof of those beliefs being true. Two of those beliefs are as follows: the Canucks always make mediocre goaltenders look like Vezina-calibre all-stars and the Canucks are on the receiving end of an above-average number of first career goals, if not the most in the NHL. If you’re a struggling goaltender or a rookie skater, you want to visit Vancouver, where you’re sure to make multiple miraculous saves or pot your first NHL goal and pose for a picture with the puck after the game.

Are these beliefs true? Do the Canucks make bad goaltenders look good more than other NHL teams? Do they give up more first career NHL goals than other teams? I suspect not. But it sure feels true.

So, when the Canucks peppered Capitals keeper Justin Peters in the first period but couldn’t put the puck past him, it just seemed like confirmation of what we already knew to be true. Even after the Canucks took the lead, they gave up a goal to 20-year-old rookie Liam O’Brien: his first NHL goal. It seemed inevitable: the Canucks would surely lose because of another firmly held belief about this season’s Canucks, that they can’t beat good teams.

My beliefs crumbled to pieces when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 3, Avalanche 7

The Canucks had some trouble with the speed of the Dallas Stars at the beginning of this road trip, so you had to know they were going to struggle to defend against a team that employs both Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene. Those dudes have more speed than Sandra Bullock’s 1990s filmography and, much like diehard fans of Sandra Bullock’s 1990s filmography (such as myself), it’s tough to keep them from The Net.

And so, while the Sedins contributed their usual Practical Magic, the Avalanche’s stars were Forces of Nature that saw a tired Canucks team and decided Friday night was A Time to Kill. Duchene, in particular was a Demolition Man, hopping the boards with a “Who do I Gotta Kill?” look in his eyes, going end to end like a Fire on the Amazon. With his third period goal, he guzzled the Hope Floats of Canuck Nation. Perhaps you, like the Canuck defenders, napped through this one. Well. While You Were Sleeping, I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 3, Stars 6

Last time Willie Desjardins was in Texas, he was lifting the Calder Cup as head coach of the AHL champion Texas Stars. His return did not end nearly as well. I would say it was the exact opposite of winning the Calder Cup, but that would be losing a bent, dirty spoon. As poorly as things went, at least the Canucks didn’t lose a spoon.

The best thing that could be said about this game is that at least it was short. This game effectively ended just over a minute into the second period, when the Stars went up 5-0 and Ryan Miller finally, mercifully, was pulled. That’s it, game over.

That also means the Canucks and Stars played a second game that they dominated and won 3-1. I wish I had only watched that game. Instead, I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 2, Oilers 0

This was a lose/lose situation for the Canucks. They came into Edmonton to face a team that had yet to record a win this season, was averaging more than 5 goals against per game, and was essentially falling apart at the seams. Failing to defeat this sad-sack Oilers team would be disastrous, but beating them would prove nothing.

At the same time, losing was a very real possibility. The Canucks were stale after a six-day break, while the Oilers were like a hungry dog that would devour anything, no matter how stale. The Oilers are already desperate and desperate teams are dangerous. Some fans were upset that the Canucks needed overtime to beat the Oilers on Saturday; imagine if the Canucks actually lost.

Fortunately, in this lose/lose situation, the Canucks lost, but didn’t literally lose. Instead, they won. I watched them win/lose when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 5, Oilers 4 (SO)

This game alone was more exciting than the entire 2013-14 season. It was high-flying, defence-be-damned, entertaining hockey. There were fights — non-staged fights! — hits, goals, saves, controversy, an entirely-too-intense overtime period, and even a shootout for you heathens out there that enjoy that kind of thing.

But the real highlight of this game — the thing that made watching it completely worthwhile — was the Dry Scrape. For the first time this season, we got to see the zambonis come on the ice before overtime, rather than before the shootout, and scrape the ice clean without flooding it so that it didn’t need time to freeze. Truly a momentous occasion.

It was a privilege to witness such an historic event when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Pre-Season Game: Canucks vs Edmonton Oilers, October 4, 2014

It’s tradition in Vancouver to complain about the NHL schedule. Doesn’t matter that our beef is actually with the Atlantic Ocean, whose East Coast Bias runs deeper than any NHL schedulemaker. The transatlantic-migration-and-its-effect-on-population-density argument doesn’t really fly over here. It’s clear the NHL is out to screw us.

But if we’re going to complain about the negatives of the schedule, we should also praise the positives, like how the Canucks got to close their preseason with two games versus the defensively hapless Edmonton Oilers. There’s really no better way to go into the regular season, especially for a team that lost their offensive mojo last season, than by playing the Oilers, who make every NHL team feel like, well, the 1980s Edmonton Oilers. Honestly, playing these Oilers fills you with such a confidence, one wonders if they’re even a real team. Is it possible the Oilers have been inside you all along?

Maybe. But I’m pretty confident they’re real, since they played in this game and I watched this game.

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I Watched This Pre-Season Game: Canucks at Edmonton Oilers, October 2, 2014

I am so, so sorry.

It’s all my fault. When I wrote an article on Wednesday about how the Canucks could use an injury in the pre-season, I only meant that an injury to a veteran depth forward who already had a roster spot sewn up would make it a lot easier for the Canucks to keep one or two of their promising prospects — Nicklas Jensen, Hunter Shinkaruk, and Bo Horvat — in Vancouver.

Clearly, the hockey gods thought I was mocking them and ensured that just one forward left the Canucks game against the Edmonton Oilers: aforementioned promising prospect Bo Horvat.

I did it. Me. I take all the blame. It was incredibly selfish of me to tempt fate like that just to make what I still think is a completely fair point about how difficult the Canucks’ roster decisions are going to be. But it wasn’t worth it. It…wasn’t worth it…

I watched this game.

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