I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Chicago Blackhawks, January 31, 2012

For only the third time this season, the Canucks played an entire sixty-minute game without being given a powerplay but, incredibly, it was the second consecutive time this phenomenon has occurred versus the Chicago Blackhawks. What’s more, this game was called by Ian Walsh, who called the last powerplay-free affair. Is this evidence of some kind of conspiracy?

No. Uncanny though the circumstances may be, there’s no agenda here. The Blackhawks simply played a fabulously disciplined game. Furthermore, while the Canucks may have played an entire sixty-minute game without being given a powerplay, they hardly played a sixty-minute game. You draw penalties by outworking the other team, and frankly, only Cory Schneider seemed interested in doing that for much of this game. So why didn’t he draw any penalties? Well, he was a little busy. So was I. I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Edmonton Oilers, January 24, 2012

Last game before the All-Star break. Opponent from the basement of the conference. A busy schedule of community outreach. There were a number of reasons why the Canucks could have been distracted from playing hockey on Tuesday night, but the team seemed entirely focussed on taking care of business.

Far more focussed than I, at least. Through the haze of a nagging cold, I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs San Jose Sharks, January 21, 2012

It’s amazing what a three-day break between games will do for a hockey team. For the first time in a while, the Canucks actually looked fresh to start the game. At even-strength, the Canucks dominated possession and out-scored the Sharks 4-1. Unfortunately, the referees called some penalties and Logan Couture plays for the Sharks, scoring a shorthanded and a powerplay goal to keep the game close.

The Canucks at even-strength and special teams were like two different teams playing two different games. I watched both of them when I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Los Angeles Kings, January 17, 2012

After a truly terrible effort against he Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, many predicted a strong start from the Canucks in this game against the Kings. Boy, were they wrong. The Canucks were absolutely awful in the first period, getting out-shot, out-chanced, and out-scored. It could have been a lot worse, but Roberto Luongo was phenomenal.

Just like in Luongo’s first season with the team, he stole a point for the Canucks, making 39 saves on 41 shots through regulation and overtime. Like Harrison from the press box, I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Anaheim Ducks, January 15, 2012

Once in a great while, the Canucks play a game so indigestible, and so utterly heinous that the only thing the Vancouver hockey fan can do is block it from memory like some great horror. Were Sunday’s game not so fresh in my mind, I’d be at a loss to provide any examples of such a game at all.

Unfortunately, I can’t simply flush Sunday’s loss to the Ducks from my brain; I have to solidify and stabilize it, like any toxic waste. With that, I advise you to please put on your hazmat suits, because I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at St. Louis Blues, January 12, 2012

Last season, the Blues finished 11th in the Western Conference, well outside the playoff picture. Meanwhile, Brian Elliott was arguably the worst single player in the NHL.

Somehow, combining the two has led to tremendous success, as the Blues came into this game second in the West, just behind the Canucks, while Elliott is second in the league in save percentage, goals against average, and shutouts. He went from the worst goaltender in the league to being named to the All-Star Game.

Who would have thought the all-star goaltender in this game wouldn’t be Luongo? On the plus side, the Canucks had four all-stars of their own, three of whom pitched in to put 3 goals past the Blues’ all-star. I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Tampa Bay Lightning, January 10, 2012

You had to know the Canucks were going to correct some aspects of their game after the 2-1 loss to Florida on Monday night; it was impossible to come away from that one without having learned a lesson, right? Right. A lesson was indeed learned, and, as best as I can gather, it was as follows: before you quit, score more goals.

Not unlike the game that preceded it, the Canucks jumped out to an early lead and let their opponents back into the game with some sluggish play afterward, but the difference Tuesday was simply that the early lead was bigger, and they sustained it for longer. By the time the Lightning tied tied things up, it was too late to jump ahead, and the Canucks eked out a shootout victory to leave the Sunshine State on a positive note. And as for me, like the few Floridians sick and tired of that infomercial, I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Florida Panthers, January 9, 2012

It’s a good thing this game started at 4:30 on the west coast, otherwise I would have fallen asleep. After the pulse-pounding action of Saturday’s victory in Boston, I had to keep my handy-dandy home defibrillator on hand throughout this game to make sure my heart didn’t stop out of sheer boredom.

Thanks to copious amounts of caffeine and and the early start, I watched this game.

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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 Minnesota Wild, January 4, 2012

Before we go any further, let us all observe a moment of silence in honour of the Minnesota Wild. (No, not because they lost Wedesday night — that would be silly. As a Northwest Division rival, there should be a celebration any time the Wild lose.) This moment of silence is because, speaking of Northwest Division rivals, the next time the Wild come to town, they won’t be one. This was Minnesota’s last scheduled visit to Vancouver this season. Next year, with realignment kicking in, they’re not in the Canucks’ conference. It’s a cause for celebration.

But first, as I said, a moment of silence. It’s a fitting tribute when you think about it. A moment of silence is an awkward span of time in which nothing at all happens, not unlike a game versus the Minnesota Wild. And I should know. 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 Los Angeles Kings, December 31, 2011

The Canucks need to stop playing games right before holidays. This game fell on New Year’s Eve and it was their worst effort since their game against the Flames just before Christmas. If you have tickets to their game against the Phoenix Coyotes on February 13th, Valentine’s Eve, you’re better off just selling them on Craigslist. And if you’re planning on going to their game against the Calgary Flames on March 31st, better known as April Fool’s Eve, forget it.

Their last game of the regular season falls on April 7th, Easter Eve. Don’t watch that game. Let me watch it for you. Just like 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 at San Jose Sharks, December 28, 2011

When the NHL announced their plans for realignment, some people (namely us) bemoaned the loss of games against the Chicago Blackhawks, which are always full of emotion and skill. The upshot is that the we’ll get more games between the San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks, which are always a highlight of the schedule.

Quite frankly, it would have been disappointing if the Sharks didn’t tie up this game and force it into overtime. Otherwise it would have been just another ho-hum Canucks victory and I would have fallen asleep trying to write about it afterwards. Instead, I’m wide awake because I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Edmonton Oilers, December 26, 2011

After a pre-Christmas performance so stingy and humbugged it would make Ebenezer Scrooge proud (insomuch as that old coot can be proud of anything), the Canucks returned from the break as though they had been visited Christmas night by a trio of ghosts portending doom if they continued to be a team that loses to the Flames.

Here’s how it probably went down: the Ghost of Christmas Past took them to Christmas, 1987, when they were in the midst of a horrible stretch in which they won only once in 10 games. The Ghost of Christmas Present made them watch game tape from Friday night versus Calgary. And the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come showed them a horrifying future in which there is actual debate over whether or not the Sedins’ numbers should be retired.

Needless to say, the Canucks were forever changed by this harrowing experience, and they were thus far more generous versus the Edmonton Oilers, giving fans five goals to cheer about, and even anonymously sending a prize turkey to the Cratchit home. 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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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Detroit Red Wings, December 22, 2011

Any time the Red Wings and the Canucks meet, you know you’re in for a good one. Detroit and Vancouver always seem to get up to play one another. It makes sense, really. Not only are both teams among the elite of the Western Conference, but they play similar systems. Furthermore, their cores are similar as well: Both boast a Selke-calibre center, a large Swedish contingent, a Swedish captain, and a dearth of useless enforcer types.

When you have that much in common, you’re bound to fight. It’s the law of romantic comedies. I should know. I watch a lot of romantic comedies. I also watch a lot of games, and I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks vs Minnesota Wild, December 19, 2011

After 5 games on the road, the Canucks returned to the cozy confines of Rogers Arena with some concern that there might be a letdown with all of the travel. Sure enough, the Canucks were outshot by the perpetually-low-shooting Minnesota Wild in the first period and had 7 giveaways. They looked blunt, dull, or flat: in any case, not sharp. They were not, however, outscored or outgoaltended. Roberto Luongo stopped all 13 shots he faced in the first period, then proceeded to stop every other shot as well, earning his first shutout of the season. I watched the Canucks finish strong because I watched this game.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Toronto Maple Leafs, December 17, 2011

Vancouver fans may not see the Toronto Maple Leafs that often, but it was still a very familiar squad the Canucks beat Saturday. Consider the following: this was a team built by Brian Burke. Offensively, they were dangerous. Defensively, they were abysmal. They had a backup netminder in goal.

And, most tellingly, they came in boasting a juggernaut first line which featured a mediocre centre and two high-scoring wingers — one a sniper with arguably the league’s best wrist shot, the other a power forward type. This line scored three times and yet finished a combined minus-6. Sound familiar? It should. Saturday night, the Vancouver Canucks beat the West Coast Express era Vancouver Canucks. And 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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Well, that was unpleasant. On Tuesday, the Canucks faced the team with the worst record in the NHL and were outplayed through the first period. Then they were unable to score on Steve Mason, arguably the worst starting goaltender in the NHL. Then, after stopping all 3 shootout attempts in Montreal last Thursday, Luongo failed to stop a single Columbus shooter in the shootout.

On the plus side, by losing to the Blue Jackets, the Canucks helped them to the second worst record in the NHL, so the Canucks didn’t technically lose to the worst team in the NHL. I had to work really hard to find a silver lining; in order to do so, I watched this game.

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Early in Saturday night’s affair, it was clear that the Ottawa Senators had heard the rumours that the Canucks wilted at physical play, and playing rough appeared to be their strategy from the outset. Unfortunately, when your strategy involves giving Chris Neil more icetime than any other forward, it’s probably not going to win you many games.

What people don’t seem to realize is that it wasn’t the Boston Bruins’ toughness that won them the Stanley Cup Final — it was their skill. It’s just that their skill happened to also be tough. Anybody that thinks you can beat the Canucks by gooning it up with less skilled players will see results like this game — results that I saw as well, because I watched this game.

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It was clear that Roberto Luongo felt bad for his hometown Montreal Canadiens, who had only one win in their last six games going into their Thursday game against the Canucks, so he decided to spot them a three-goal lead. While charity in the NHL is appreciated when it’s the Sedins donating to BC Children’s Hospital or Paul Bissonnette taking homeless families to hockey games, it’s significantly less awesome when it’s helping out the already-privileged.

Fortunately, Luongo read some Ayn Rand during the second intermission and forswore charity in favour of the virtue of selfishness. I watched the Canucks come back like Dagny Taggart when I watched this game.

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Looking at it, it’s kind of remarkable that the Canucks won Tuesday night. They were outshot by a 2-1 margin for the first and second periods and 33-23 overall. They were outhit 40-18. They won only 18 of 40 faceoffs. By the end of the first, they were without both of their second-line wingers, and by the end of the second they had lost their starting goaltender.

And yet, despite all of this, when the final horn sounded, they hadn’t just eked out a victory — they’d cruised to a 6-0 drubbing of the Colorado Avalanche. How the what? I honestly have no idea what I saw. All I know is I saw it. Because I watched this game.

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Mason Raymond finally played his first game since having his back broken in last season’s Stanley Cup Final. He returned one-game later than intended after a paperwork error kept him out of Thursday’s game against the Nashville Predators and unwittingly unleashed the dreaded thirteenth forward curse on Aaron Volpatti.

In response to his return, the Flames panicked and started their backup, Henrik Karlsson, in place of Miikka Kiprusoff, who was the goaltender of record for both of Raymond’s two career hat tricks. Clearly, Kiprusoff is scared of Raymond. I’m sure that this game being the second of a back-to-back and the third game in four nights for the Flames had nothing to do with it. I watched this game.

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