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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I Watched This Game: Canucks 3, Oilers 2

Both the Vancouver Canucks and the B.C. Lions were in Edmonton Saturday night, and in a sign of impressive solidarity, both put up the same number of points: three. The problem, of course, is that the Lions needed far more than that to edge the Eskimos — 35 more would have done it. But alas, they were too focused on making sure their total points could be matched by their on-ice counterparts, whose scores didn’t come in multiples of 6. Tough to drop a touchdown on a hockey team, even if it is the Edmonton Oilers.

Of course, these are a slightly different Oilers than the ones we last saw. They’ve tightened up considerably, winning 4 of 5 since being shut out by Ryan Miller on October 17th. Granted, they’ve yet to beat a Western Conference team, and the Eastern Conference really is the Edmonton Oilers of conferences, so they came into this game with something to prove. Between that and the fact that they’ve already lost to the Canucks, like, 17 times this season, they were no doubt chomping at the bit like Alex Burrows nonverbally threatening to strike again. But the result was all too familiar when I watched this game.

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Game of the Week: Canucks vs Sharks, November 6th

There’s cause to be excited for the Canucks’ trip to California. After all, it’s not really that far away, so if you’re looking to escape Vancouver during the rainy(er) season, and score some cheap hockey tickets, you can make the trek down south along with them. The NHL schedulemakers have taken care over the last few seasons to give Vancouver fans at least one doable road trip a year, and this year, like last year, it’s the first week of November.

Furthermore, just like last year, it begins with a Thursday night stop in San Jose before Saturday and Sunday visits to Los Angeles and Anaheim, respectively. This allows you to do one of two things: drive down to San Jose for the first game, if you’re feeling bold, then take the Friday to make the drive to southern California, leave after Sunday’s Anaheim game, which starts early, and get back into town on Monday. Or you can just fly down for the weekend set sometime after work on Friday, and fly back Sunday night.

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Real good tweets, starring a chirping @Raffi_RC and a special appearance from Toolsy

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

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The Paper Feature: Rating the Replacements

It’s time to take a look at The Replacements. Not the alternative rock pioneers of the 80′s or the Keanu Reeves football movie, but the players who were brought in this off-season and how they’re performing in comparison to the players they replaced.

The Canucks made a lot of changes in personnel this past summer and, since we’re 10 games into the season, now seems like an appropriate time to take stock of those changes.

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Canucks of the week, starring Jason York between the benches, and poor Tom Sestito

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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Yep, Alex Burrows totally got suspended [VIDEO]

Bad news, everyone. Alex Burrows is now a repeat offender.

Thus ends a nice little run for Canucks fans, who were able to meet any charge that Burrows is a dirty player with the glorious little counterargument that he’d never been suspended in his lengthy NHL career. Is he dirtier than Phil Kessel? Because Phil Kessel’s been suspended. WRAP YOUR HEAD AROUND THAT, SIR.

It’s over now. Now our defence boils down to, well, we like him a lot, and, uh, shut up.

On Friday, the Department of Player Safety hit Burrows about as hard as he hit Emelin (but not nearly as late), suspending the Canucks’ winger three games for what they called a “late, illegal check to the head.” Here’s your video explanation, courtesy second-generation disciplinarian Patrick Burke:

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Alex Burrows is probably getting suspended

Now in his ninth NHL season, Alex Burrows has earned a reputation around the league as a dirty player. On that much we an agree.

But there’s a difference between a dirty player and a dirty hitter. Burrows plays dirty. We’ve seen it, and several opponents have experienced it. But Burrows has never been one to hit dirty.

So yes, he does, as Habs blogger Andrew Berkshire notes, albeit perhaps a tad hyperbolically, “have a history of dirtbag moves.” But he’s generally flown under the radar when it comes to supplemental discipline because he has no history of dirtbag hits. If Burrows gets you in the head, it’s usually just to pull your hair, and it’s this dedication to cheaply dirty play as opposed to dangerously dirty play that’s allowed Burrows to skate in over 600 NHL games without ever garnering a suspension. So when Berkshire writes, “Burrows has always been a punk, and this is just the latest dirty play from him,” he’s not entirely wrong, but he’s missing a crucial detail. It’s not just the latest dirty play. It’s a new kind of dirty play.

But this kind is, like a pair of ill-fitting pants, suspendable. And while the officials missed it, the Department of Player Safety did not:

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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 Find This Photo Odd: Chris Higgins is just astounded

According to the caption that accompanies this typically-excellent Jeff Vinnick photo, what you’re seeing here is Chris Higgins adjusting his helmet. (What you’re not seeing, of course, is the super six-pack that tends to peek out from under his jersey whenever he gets his hands up too high — sorry ladies. And some men.)

But I don’t buy it. I guess this could be a photo of Higgins making sure the bean bucket is on snug. Maybe he just saw Zack Kassian skate by and it reminded him that he could stand to tighten the old brain-protector. (You know, because Kassian wears his so loose. That’s the joke.) Or maybe he saw something else that stunned him. Rocked him to the core. Shattered his entire universe.

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Stick in Link: Daniel Sedin, somehow underrated playmaker; Brooke Malakoff’s inspiring story

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: Empty-netters galore and ‘The Twelve’

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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Breakdowning Brad Richardson’s surprise opening goal versus the Hurricanes

Most of the time, when we break down goals here at Pass it to Bulis, they involve the Sedins. The reason for this is simple: Sedin goals are gorgeous and their replay value is high — high enough for us to trump up a flimsy excuse for collecting a paycheque just to watch them over and over.

But today we shift our focus elsewhere, to the Canucks’ third line of Brad Richardson, Shawn Matthias and Zack Kassian, who had their best game of the season Tuesday night versus the Carolina Hurricanes, setting the tone with their hits, as well as a surprising (and surprisingly lovely) early tally.

It was a lovely goal, scored with a promising combination of strength, speed and skill, and it’s worth a second look. So let’s break it down:

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Canucks games are getting goals fast thanks to this one weird trick

On Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, Zack Kassian sprung Brad Richardson on a partial breakaway early in the first period. Richardson kicked the puck up to his stick, settled it on his forehand, and roofed it over Cam Ward’s glove hand. It was the Canucks’ first shot of the game.

The weird thing is that this is not the least bit unusual, which is a bit of an oxymoron. In over half of the Canucks’ games so far this season, one of the teams has scored on their very first shot of the game.

That’s odd, right? Can we all agree that’s odd?

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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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Stick in Link: Chris Tanev is good, has good hair

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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