Until tonight, this year’s Vancouver Canucks have been fairly predictable. They won three straight against the barrels of tar sands waste that are the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, then lost in dramatic fashion to legitimate NHL franchises from Tampa Bay and Dallas.
So what could we expect in St Louis against a Blues franchise many are picking to challenge for the Central Division this year? Could the Canucks, unanimously christened a one-line team by pundits and fans alike, leapfrog the Blues stifling defense to take two points out of Mound City?
It turns out that the Canucks have a surprisingly good record against the Blues over the past couple of seasons. Last year, in a schedule full of lowlights and reddened bottoms, Vancouver somehow swept the season series against St Louis — this despite the Blues garnering 111 points, a full 28 more than the Canucks. Given those three wins last year, Thursday’s 4-1 win under the Arch perhaps shouldn’t come as the biggest surprise of the night. (That honour I’d give to the Flames racking up their fifth win already.)
We at Pucked in the Head go through all five goals in game six of this young season.
Canucks 1, Blues 0: Chris Higgins from Alex Burrows and Nick Bonino, 0:42 of the first period.
Blues captain David Backes throws a breakout pass up the right boards to Alex Pietrangelo at their blueline. He tries to deflect the puck for renowned Canuck-killer TJ Oshie, but he’s just a little too heavy on the puck. That allows Nick Bonino to deflect the puck back towards the Blues zone, and Vancouver counter-attacks two-on-one. Alex Burrows executes the POP pass (“pass-off-pad”) to perfection; his wrist shot from the off-wing goes off the bottom of Jake Allen’s trapper right to Chris Higgins, who bats in the bouncing puck. An excellent road start for a Canucks team looking to get results after being batted around like catnip by the superior Dallas Stars just two nights before.
Canucks 1, Blues 1: Kevin Shattenkirk from David Backes and Alex Steen (PP), 7:38 of the second period.
The Blues open up the Canucks penalty kill with some quick puck movement, first an effective north-south give-and-go between Backes and Alex Steen, then a long distance east-west pass to Kevin Shattenkirk at the top of the left circle. The cross-ice feed freezes Higgins, who winds up way too far into the slot to block Shattenkirk’s wrist shot. Vancouver’s full-time goalie graveyard staff will no doubt roast Ryan Miller for whiffing the puck on the short side; he’s in position and has no screen on the shot. Especially after getting ventilated in Dallas, Miller should probably stop this puck. To be fair, Shat picks the top corner like an insert good picking simile here.
Canucks 2, Blues 1: Nick Bonino from Burrows and Higgins, 4:54 of the third period.
Miller acquits himself for the tying goal, stretching out the left pad to stone Jori Lehtara at the lip of the crease. Luca Sbisa, under pressure in the corner, shovels a short pass under pressure to Higgins, who quickly chips the puck to Bonino exiting the zone. On the rush, Big Nick and Burrows trade passes before Bonino goes stick side on Allen. He barely looks at #14, or the trailer Yannick Weber; frankly he telegraphs the shot from the blueline in, but thankfully for Canuck faithful it finds the twine.
Canucks 3, Blues 1: Linden Vey from Henrik Sedin and Radim Vrbata (PP), 11:57 of the third period.
Even the most pedestrian of Sedinery is a treat to watch. A few shifts after a masterful positional save by Miller on Oshie, Daniel, Henrik and Alex Edler play catch along the far boards during a late power play. Henrik cycles behind the net to Radim Vrbata, who has otherwise put in his quietest night since signing with the Canucks. Vrbata past participles the return pass to Henrik, collapsing the Blues four-man box. Hank quickly goes to the top of the slot, where Linden Vey has crept for a solid one-timer through the wickets on Allen. A text book power play passing demonstration from the number one unit, to keep all three members of the top line above a point-per-game for the season.
Canucks 4, Blues 1: Jannik Hansen, unassisted, 16:59 of the third period.
Am I the only one loving the fact that NHL coaches now pull the goaltender with more than 75 seconds left on the clock? The Canucks face six attackers with more than three minutes left, and do some yeoman’s work double teaming any Blue with puck possession down low. Backes has one pass blocked, then puts the second one right on the tape of Jannik Hansen; the Dane turns at his own left face-off dot, then casually fires the puck 170 feet into the empty net. Let’s forgive Honey Badger for scoring both of his goals once games had already been decided; instead let’s give him credit for scoring at all, as he’s been snakebitten when scoring chances have mattered so far this season. And those two goals have come in consecutive games, which may wake the guy up a little bit.
Four goals from four different guys not named Vrbata. After six games, six players now have four or more points for the Canucks. Will they continue at this pace? Not bloody likely. The Sedins and Vrbata won’t get 110 points and 96 points respectively, and there’s no way Linden Vey finishes a full 82-game season with a 27-goal total and while shooting over 33%. We’re a long way from contending for a Cup — hell, Vancouver will be lucky to see playoff hockey next spring — but it’s sure been fun to see them bounce back from Torts so far this year.