Big Numbers: Juice served cold; Horvat draws in

Every now and then we like to take a break from all the words and just post some numbers. And some words describing the numbers, as otherwise it would just be a whole bunch of numbers with no context, which would be really weird. Big Numbers is a weekly feature on Pass it to Bulis in which we identify the numbers and statistics that really matter or, frequently, the ones that don’t matter at all but are still pretty interesting.

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The Prospector: Virtanen scores in Super Series, Cassels added to Team OHL, Subban is ridiculous

The Prospector is a semi-regular feature on Pass it to Bulis where we pan the Canucks prospects pool in search of gold.

In this edition, we look at Jake Virtanen, Cole Cassels, Jordan Subban, Patrick McNally, Thatcher Demko, and the rest of the Canucks’ college prospects.

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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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Are the Canucks good?

I keep seeing something weird when I look at the NHL standings. I see the Canucks in second place in the Pacific Division with the third best record in the entire NHL. I see them tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the most wins so far this season.

This is odd, right?

This off-season, it seemed like you were going out on a limb to suggest that the Canucks might, maybe make the playoffs. Personally, I thought they would, likely in the 7th or 8th spot in the Western Conference, a bubble team boosted by the addition of a legitimate scoring threat to the Sedins’ wing.

But now, here we are, a little over a month into the season, and the Canucks have an 11-5-0 record. The fans who were expecting merely okay or maybe even half-decent, now have to ask themselves, “Are the Canucks good?” Well, are they? Like, actually good?

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Stick in Link: Everyone’s still injured; Remembrance Day memories

It’s time for “Stick in Link”, the feature where we just plug in a bunch of stuff written by others! Featuring a smattering of links from around the Smylosphere and beyond every Tuesday and Thursday. Warning: our links are so hyper, they change colour when exposed to heat. (Have something for us to share in the next edition? E-mail us at passittobulis@gmail.com, tweet us @passittobulis, or just come over and write your link on a pad of paper, I guess.)

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Tom Sestito sends, then deletes, a tweet: an exhaustive investigation

The road trip through California was supposed to be Tom Sestito’s big chance to prove his worth to the Canucks’ new management and coaching staff. Many thought that Sestito would be useful against the big Californian teams, particularly after the Sharks and Ducks combined for 165 penalty minutes in a game near the end of October, so having a bigger, more physical, and more fight-ready player on the fourth line certainly made sense.

Instead, Sestito got injured in the Canucks last home game before the road trip, sidelining him for at least a week. The Canucks’ big win over the Ducks on Sunday saw two fights, both featuring Canucks’ defencemen instead of the 6’5″ Sestito.

Still, Sestito managed to get involved in the game from a distance, sending out a mysterious tweet during the game, then later deleting it. Now, I’m not one to make mountains out of molehills, but this is a big deal and we must get to the bottom of it.

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The Pass it to Bulis Podcast, Episode 9: Losing California and Karaoke Competitions

Recording prior to the game against Ryan Kesler and the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, Daniel and Harrison speculate about the result and use that as a springboard to examine how fans have reacted to the Canucks’ strong start to the season.

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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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Real Good Tweets, starring #boninophone

You folks made some good tweets last week. Some real good tweets.

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The Paper Feature: Tips to throw the Kings and Ducks off their game

It’s possible the Canucks’ trip to California this weekend has been overhyped.

After all, the Kings have already lost to both the Arizona Coyotes and the Carolina Hurricanes this season, so it’s probably safe to say that taking two points from them doesn’t automatically mean you’re a great team.

Still, considering what happened last year, it’s easy to understand why people are making such a big deal about this weekend’s back-to-back. Under John Tortorella, watching the Canucks play Los Angeles or Anaheim was like watching an eight-year-old go one-on-one with his dad in a game of basketball. Sure, sometimes it was close, but only because the dad was kind, and wanted his son to feel like winning was a possibility. In the final moments, the competitive spirit would always take over, and the dad would crush his son, as a reminder that being eight years old still makes you functionally useless in the grown-up world.

Men against boys, in other words.

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Spitballin’ on Jensen call-up, Bonino’s hair, and glove antlers

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 quick topics.

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Canucks of the Week, starring Lindenning, Miller, and Drance

Canucks of the Week, written by Kevin Vanstone, examines who and what is keeping hockey in Vancouver interesting these days. That’s right: who and what. It need not only be players. After all, we are all Canucks. All people, places, things, abstract concepts, ideas, emotions — if it’s a noun, proper or common, it’s a Canuck, and it’s eligible to be a Canuck of the week.

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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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Stick in Link: Burrows in, Horvat out; Sedins told Vrbata to shoot more without a hint of self-awareness

It’s time for “Stick in Link”, the feature where we just plug in a bunch of stuff written by others! Featuring a smattering of links from around the Smylosphere and beyond every Tuesday and Thursday. Warning: our links are so hyper, they change colour when exposed to heat. (Have something for us to share in the next edition? E-mail us at passittobulis@gmail.com, tweet us @passittobulis, or just come over and write your link on a pad of paper, I guess.)

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Big Numbers: Bonino puts up points, everybody scores goals

Every now and then we like to take a break from all the words and just post some numbers. And some words describing the numbers, as otherwise it would just be a whole bunch of numbers with no context, which would be really weird. Big Numbers is a weekly feature on Pass it to Bulis in which we identify the numbers and statistics that really matter or, frequently, the ones that don’t matter at all but are still pretty interesting.

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Seven forwards who could come out of the lineup to make room for Alex Burrows

Alex Burrows’ three-game suspension is over, and the Canuck winger is set to return Thursday night in San Jose. But this poses a problem: in order for Burrows to come in, someone is going to have to come out, and with the way the Canucks are clicking, especially after Tuesday night in Colorado, it’s tough to justify any subtractions from their current group of 12.

Sometimes it’s easy. For instance, if you’re feeling frugal this Christmas, spare your love the ten lords a-leaping. No one needs that many jumpy landowners. And it was pretty clear that Judas was the disciple that needed to go. But this duodecad is proving more difficult to trim down. Who comes out? Shawn Matthias? Matthias, after all, was the name of the disciple that replaced Judas, so he’s a natural odd man out. Jannik Hansen? Most other teams in the NHL are surviving without a Danish player.

Those two would have been the most likely forwards until Tuesday, when both played pivotal roles in the come-from-behind win. Matthias scored his first of the season, and Hansen played his best game of the year, arguably, helping to create the tide-shifting 2-1 goal for Vancouver.

So it’s tough. But in the interest of helping out the coaching staff, I’ve put together a list of seven forwards that could easily be benched, with airtight justifications for each.

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Shift-by-shift: Bo Horvat’s NHL debut

Bo Horvat’s first career NHL game wasn’t one for the ages. It won’t make any top-10 lists for great debuts. All the same, it was a solid start for the 19-year-old and certainly something on which to build.

He had just under 9 minutes in ice time over 16 shifts and had a relatively empty stat line: plus-1, with one shot and one blocked shot. He did go 9-for-13 on faceoffs, but the boxscore even underplayed that, crediting his first career faceoff win to Henrik Sedin.

Delving into the advanced statistics for the game gives us a little bit more information: the Canucks out-shot the Avalanche 6-to-2 when he was on the ice at even-strength and were 8-5 in shot attempts. That’s good, but it’s worth noting that the entire team had great possession numbers because the Avalanche are not particularly good at puck possession.

It’s also worth noting that Horvat started a fair amount in the defensive zone: of his 13 faceoffs, 5 of them were in the defensive zone, 7 in the neutral zone, and just 1 in the offensive zone. Of those 5 defensive zone faceoffs, Horvat won 4 of them, only losing to Ryan O’Reilly.

He wasn’t exactly sheltered either. The three Avalanche forwards he faced the most were Jamie McGinn, Ryan O’Reilly, and Matt Duchene, all staples of Colorado’s top-six.

That’s about all we can decipher from the statistics we have available and it paints a pretty unspectacular but promising picture. But I wanted to know more. So, like I’ve done for the debuts of other Canucks rookies, I looked at Horvat’s game shift-by-shift.

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Pass it to Bulis presents: Those Mark Messier commercials, reimagined

Canucks games were pretty close to unwatchable last season. There were times we actually welcomed the commercials. Not so this year, and not just because the games are entertaining again, but because most of the commercials seem to star Mark Messier. The Hall of Fame centre is the face of Rogers Gamecentre Live this season, meaning every game is peppered with spots in which Messier wanders about town, extolling the virtues of streaming hockey on smartphones and tablets.

It’s troubling. Messier may be popular out east, but the closer you get to the Pacific Ocean, the less beloved he becomes. He’s public enemy number one in Vancouver, thanks to his role in snatching the Stanley Cup from the 1994 Canucks, not to mention a disastrous three years as the totally-unwanted-and-eventually-bought-out captain of the Canucks. And then, two years ago, he wrangled $6 million more out of the organization. Fans didn’t like that.

It stands to reason, then, that “the Cameron family” wouldn’t be quite so happy to see him in their living room, extolling the virtues of NHL Gamecentre Live. Neither would any of the other Canucks fans he comes across in his travels. In that spirit, we’ve reimagined the commercials, so as to reflect Vancouver’s unique relationship with The Moose.

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 5, Avalanche 2

For the fourth time this season, the Canucks’ opponents scored on their first shot of the game. It was a disastrous start, particularly considering Colorado had already handed the Canucks one of their four losses this season. Worst of all, the Avalanche have only won three games, so suffering a blowout loss to them, of all teams, stung like a Griever.

Heading on a road trip into the Pacific Division’s Californian death maze, the Canucks definitely didn’t want to kick things off with a loss to a team at the bottom of the conference. For 39 minutes and 56 seconds of this game, it looked like that’s exactly what was going to happen, as the Canucks just couldn’t solve Semyon Varlamov.

Fortunately, the Sedins seemed to figure out the trick to solving Varlamov — see, all you have to do is line up the gaps in the rings — at the end of the second period, then told the rest of the team at the intermission, because the Canucks began to pick him apart like a turkey after Thanksgiving. I watched the Canucks feast when I watched this game.

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Wear a visor, Kevin Bieksa

On Sunday night against the Nashville Predators, there was a scary moment when Kevin Bieksa took a puck to the eye, immediately dropping to the ice. He left the game and did not return and, without much information out there, many feared the worst. After all, eye injuries are one of the scariest injuries in hockey.

Aside from the ick factor involved in ocular trauma, there’s also the issue of permanence. It can take just one freak accident to lose all or partial vision in an eye.

Fortunately, serious eye injuries are relatively rare in the NHL, partly because most players wear visors that protect them from errant sticks and pucks. In fact, all new NHLers are required to wear a visor after the rule change in 2013, with current NHLers having a choice whether to wear one or not.

Bieksa chose not to wear a visor, despite having one very obvious reason to add one to his helmet: Manny Malhotra.

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The five worst moments from last season’s California nightmare

It’s difficult to know what to make of the Canucks’ strong start. I mean, sure, they’re 8-4-0 heading into Tuesday night’s tilt with the Colorado Avalanche, which is nice, but it’s important to note that their first dozen games were completely California-free. Last season, the Canucks got the San Jose Sharks first. Unsurprisingly, they started the year 0-1. Then they won three straight! Then they played the Sharks again and their winning streak came to an abrupt end.

That’s how it was all last season. Any momentum the Canucks managed to muster was wiped clean by a visit to or from a Californian rival. The Canucks’ combined record against Anaheim, San Jose, and Los Angeles last season: 2-9-3, as they picked up seven of a possible 28 points. Even a record just a notch above .500 — say, eight more points — puts them in a playoff spot. (Granted, they’d have earned a first-round date with the Anaheim Ducks, and, that would have been a disaster for them.)

So here we are, a year later, and after a relatively breezy month of hockey to open the year, with not a single in-division reality check in sight, the Canucks are on their way south for their first meetings of the season with the Sharks, Kings and Ducks. (That sound you heard was a bunch of Vancouver hockey fans gulping, and nervously loosening their collars in unison.) And since knowing where you’ve been is the key to understanding where you’re going, come with us as we review the five worst moments from last year’s California nightmare.

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Stick in Link: October in review; Malhotra was Bieksa’s… ad-visor

It’s time for “Stick in Link”, the feature where we just plug in a bunch of stuff written by others! Featuring a smattering of links from around the Smylosphere and beyond every Tuesday and Thursday. Warning: our links are so hyper, they change colour when exposed to heat. (Have something for us to share in the next edition? E-mail us at passittobulis@gmail.com, tweet us @passittobulis, or just come over and write your link on a pad of paper, I guess.)

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Andrew Ference gets three games for headhunting Zack Kassian [Video]

It’s rare for a suspension to make fans of both teams happy, but one suspects that Andrew Ference’s three-game ban for an illegal check to the head of Zack Kassian in Saturday night’s Oilers-Canucks tilt managed to get it done.

Oilers fans probably aren’t over the moon at the thought of playing the next three without their captain, but at the end of the day, it’s a small price to pay for taking Zack Kassian’s head off. Every other wish made in Edmonton has something to do with harming the Canucks’ winger.

As for Canucks fans, good news: there’s no conspiracy against the Canucks. This suspension is equal to the number of games Alex Burrows received for his illegal check to the head of Alexei Emelin just a few days prior, and as we all know, any and all supplemental discipline handed down absolutely must be commensurate to the most recent punishment given to a Canuck (in the eyes of the non-biased Vancouver fan), lest we cry conspiracy. Breathe a sigh of relief. Looks like the conspiracy’s on hiatus or something.

Here’s a look at how the Department saw the play:

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I Watched This Game: Canucks 1, Predators 3

I’m not too torn up about this game, to be honest. The Canucks lost, sure, and that’s never ideal, at least not when you’re cheering for them, but considering what’s become of Eddie Lack his last two times out, both of which came, like this one, in the second night of back-to-backs, you have to give the Canucks marks for improvement.

And speaking of marks for improvement, who are these new Nashville Predators? Are we sure this is the same team? Part of me expects to see a Gawker article with clips of their wide-open neutral zone play, wryly titled here are some videos of the Nashville Predators. I hardly recognized them when I watched this game.

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