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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Did Cody Hodgson take Manny Malhotra’s job? Mark Spector thinks so; Jonathan Willis does not

If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you’ve likely figured out by now that Daniel is far more of an advanced stats guy than I am. That said, while I may not be a massive fan of tables and math, I’m still of the mind that it’s absolutely vital to pay attention to a few of the underlying numbers, especially in regards to the Canucks. Otherwise, you run the risk of coming to some spotty conclusions.

If you’re not following Alain Vigneault’s deployment strategies, for instance, you’re simply not getting the full picture. No NHL head coach pays more attention to zone starts, and it informs every aspect of his players’ statistical production. In Manny Malhotra’s case especially, if you understand his role, you’ll discover that his scoring and plus/minus stats border on completely irrelevant.

If you were only looking at Malhotra’s basic numbers, it would be reasonable to make the conclusion that Sportnet’s Mark Spector made on Friday, when he wrote the following:

“You have to believe GM Mike Gillis would move Manny Malhotra, whose job has been claimed by Cody Hodgson. But with 13 points and a minus-7 this season, we are sad to come to the accepted conclusion that Malhotra’s game has simply not returned in whole after the serious eye injury he suffered last season.”

While there are elements of this paragraph with which I agree (I’ll get to that), there are also elements that show a misunderstanding of how Hodgson and Malhotra are deployed.

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Manny Malhotra just got Baby Keslurked

Team Blue edged Team White 14-10 at the Canucks for Kids Fund’s annual Super Skills event Sunday, with Keith Ballard winning the fastest skater, Sami Salo defending his hardest shot title, and Alex Burrows claiming the accuracy competition. But, more important than the victors in the individuals events was that the afternoon also yielded the latest, greatest Keslurk.

Manny Malhotra is the victim this time, bombed during an interview with Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy after one of the events. While the two chat, Kesler sneaks in behind them for the Keslurk. But, in a nifty new twist, the Kesler bombing the interview isn’t Ryan — it’s his one-year-old son Ryker. Bear witness to baby’s first Keslurk.

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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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Manny Malhotra was not signed by the Canucks to provide offense, instead taking over the defensive duties of Ryan Kesler, enabling Kesler to stop doing Selke-related activities and focus on offense. This, of course, led to Kesler winning the Selke award as he scored 41 goals. Observations pointing out that this makes no sense whatsoever and that the Selke award is nearly nonsensical at this point are welcomed, but will change nothing.

Even though Malhotra started an incredible 75% of his shifts in the defensive zone, leading the NHL, he managed to finish fifth on the Canucks in fewest goals against per 60 minutes while facing the toughest competition of all Canucks forwards. Oh yeah, and he managed to score 11 goals while doing all of this. In his five previous seasons, Manny averaged 11 goals, 19 assists, and 30 points. This season, he hit those averages dead on, while playing in a far more defensive role. It was an incredibly impressive season that ended in an agonizing what-if, as the Canucks playoff run could have been a completely different story if Malhotra wasn’t struck down by an errant puck in March.

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For game three, Daniel and I scored tickets to the Rogers Arena viewing party and made the trip downtown (and as per usual, our presence in the stadium guaranteed a Canucks’ loss). But it wasn’t a total waste of time. While we were in town, we stopped by the Vancouver Sun Newsroom and used their equipment (it just sits there!) to make another video, this time discussing Manny Malhotra’s impact and a little cliche that drives me mad. Granted, this video is a couple days old now, but I think there’re still plenty of relevance in it. For example: my hat. A hat like that will always be relevant.

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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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It was what everyone was talking about, the feel good story of the season. A triumphant return to the ice in Game 2 after no one thought it would happen. It was the longest of longshots that he would be available for the Canucks in this game, but Alex Burrows wasn’t suspended for his alleged bite and was brilliant tonight. Oh, and Manny Malhotra came back from injury. I guess that was also a big deal. I watched this game.

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When Mike Gillis was hired as the general manager of the Vancouver Canucks, he immediately expressed an agenda to build a organization with integrity and character throughout. He worked to change the culture inside the dressing room, seeking players with positive reputations and a commitment to community-building. Outside the dressing room, he did the same, stressing an organization that valued its players, and recognized and honoured the division between hockey and personal life. There is no greater example of this than the case of Manny Malhotra, whose devastating eye injury and subsequent recovery has been perfectly handled by the Canucks organization.

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Seriously. After Malhotra initially injured his eye, concerns were raised that his career might be over and that he might never regain vision in his left eye. When he skated in practices, hopes were raised but tempered by the fact that he wasn’t participating in any contact or taking regular line rushes. Coaches, players, and management constantly clarified that his presence was simply indicative of how close the team is and how important Manny is to the team, and not an indication that he would be able to return to game action at any point in the playoffs.

This news changes everything. Where before he seemed to be taking the role of an inspirational mentor, almost a go-between for the players and coaches, his return to full practice indicates that he could play as early as Wednesday, Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. If he does indeed return, it would be one of the most incredible stories of the Canucks season, even if he only played minimal minutes in a fourth-line role. To return from that kind of horrific injury should pluck every heartstring and bring a tear to the eye of every hockey fan. This is what Disney sports movies are made from.

It’s no longer just “Win it for Manny.” It’s “Win it With Manny.”

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The injury to Manny Malhotra has left the Canucks’ third line in a state of disarray. It’s a substantial hole, and the Canucks have struggled to fill it, promoting fourth-line centers such as Maxim Lapierre and Alex Bolduc, as well as converting wingers such as Jannik Hansen and Mason Raymond. All of these experiments have been met with mixed success. The answer, it seems, is evasive.

Tony Gallagher believes it’s in the AHL. If the need is a natural center with some offensive talent, Gallagher (and many others) want to know why the Canucks haven’t called up Cody Hodgson. Here’s why: another Cody Hodgson recall won’t help anybody. Not the Canucks, not Hodgson.

Right now, the best thing for everyone would be to leave Cody Hodgson alone.

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Yesterday, we learned that the Canucks will be without Manny Malhotra for the rest of the season due to eye injury. It was difficult to digest, and not just because Malhotra is a fantastic human being who doesn’t deserve this terrible misfortune. Also, because Malhotra has been an invaluable member of the Canucks forward corps [...]

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Manny Malhotra is done for the season and playoffs. I am just devastated right now. There are no words. If you want to know how important I think Malhotra is to the Canucks’ success, read “Manny Malhotra is an Enabler.” Right now I’ll busy myself by building a massive panic button.

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Canucks 1 – 3 Coyotes A goaltender’s duel is nowhere near as much fun as it sounds (just ask Rick DiPietro). Despite the picture you have in your mind, in reality, neither goalie draws pistols, nobody walks paces, and nobody is slapped with a glove. Furthermore, there is never any threat to the United States [...]

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Canucks 4 – 2 Wild Like the opening scene of Carrie, this game was all about the 1st period. In the opening twenty minutes, the Canucks jumped out to a 3-0 lead after a quick one by Raffi Torres (above), and two debilitatingly effective powerplays. While Minnesota would regroup and take over the game in [...]

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For Canucks’ center Ryan Kesler, 2010-11 has been a breakout season (both offensively and shirtwise). In fact, Kesler’s been such an offensive sparkplug for the 1st-place Canucks that he’s even earned a place in the conversation for the Hart trophy. But, even if Kesler doesn’t go home with the Hart, the Selke trophy finally appears [...]

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Canucks 3 – 0 Ducks After the highly contentious atmosphere in the Staples Center last night, the Honda Center was downright pleasant. It’s not just that the Anaheim fans are generally more congenial (one woman gave us free hot dogs), but the building itself is a little nicer, a little more organic. Whereas the Staples [...]

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I Watched This Game: Canucks at Kings, March 5, 2011

After spending about twenty hours in the Nissan Versa, bickering about music selection, coining new swear words, and fighting off an invisible army of cramps, well, it was some sort of glorious reprieve to finally get to the hockey portion of the road trip. Not that there weren’t highlights en route. For example: Bonnie Tyler’s Faster Than [...]

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Manny Malhotra is an Enabler

It wasn’t that long ago that Manny Malhotra was receiving premature buzz for the Selke Award. Now, mired in a 16-game pointless drought, questions are being raised about his role as the third-line center, with some suggesting that Hodgson might supplant him before the season is done. I heard from some quarters that Hodgson’s line [...]

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Let’s be very clear: when we began closely following Kyle Wellwood’s career, we had no idea it was going to be this interesting. Well, maybe we did. Even on a slow day, Kyle Wellwood is impossibly interesting, but we genuinely expected the Wellwood’s World feature to be a lame list of stats followed by a [...]

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The NHL has released the complete All-Star roster for the 2011 All-Star Game and, in a move that I’m sure is shocking to everyone, they picked the right players from the Vancouver Canucks. Both of the Sedins will play, after just Henrik was picked back in 2008. Joining Daniel and Henrik will be Ryan Kesler, [...]

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