The prevailing sports talk around Vancouver today is, “The Canucks are first in the NHL; who’da thunk it?”
And I’ll admit, I’ve been pleasantly surprised thus far myself, but not for their perfect record against Alberta teams, or how they ground out a 2-1 shootout win in Anaheim. Rather, I’m impressed with the way this year’s Canucks are playing an entertaining game, and finding different ways to win. Interestingly, they’ve only found one way to lose — badly, as they did in 7-3, 6-3 and 5-1 lopsided losses as well as ones where 3-1 and 4-2 scorelines flattered the boys in blue quite dramatically — but hey, there are 12 Ws and only 5 Ls so far this year, so we’ll surely see some variation in this category soon enough.
Two of this year’s pleasant surprises in the NHL have been the Nashville Predators and the Vancouver Canucks. Both are playing entertaining, offensive hockey — yeah, I know, Nashville?!?!?!? and they’ve both gotten far more out of the first ten to fifteen games of the season than most prognosticated. But to be honest it’s not as shocking as you might think. Canucks and Preds rosters are trying to impress new regimes behind their respective bench, and any player with the slightest bit of a nose for the net has to prefer Willie Desjardins and Peter Laviolette to John “No Plan” Tortorella and Barry “No Neck” Trotz.
Note: I know I’m a few games behind. So what. It’s fun to look at all the scorin’ and goalin’ and such.
Kevin Bieksa admitted it right there in Saturday’s post-game interview with Cassie Campbell-Pascall: the Canucks pretty much played a single period of decent hockey against the Edmonton Oilers. They stunk the place out in the first period, played below expectations in the second, but were the better team in the final 20 minutes. It was enough to win the game.
Past editions of the Canucks could play keepaway for 55 minutes and change, generate chance after chance down low, and give up a late snack goal before losing in a shootout. So far this year, they’re managing games more effectively and finding ways to win.
Canucks 0, Oilers 1. Jordan Eberle from Taylor Hall and Martin Marincin, 12:39 of the first period.
Taylor Hall loses a stride in the neutral zone, and that half-second hesitation is enough to freeze — wait for it — Luca Sbisa. #5 moves slightly into the middle, opening up a lane for Jordan Eberle cruising in on the right boards, and he flips a cutesy little backhand over Ryan Miller’s pad. Yannick Weber did the right thing, taking Nugent-Hopkins on the far side, so he has none of the blame on this one.
Canucks 1, Oilers 1: Luca Sbisa from Chris Higgins and Nick Bonino, 19:13 of the first period.
Thank heavens for the Oilers d-zone coverage. Remember all the running around the Canucks did in their own end last year? If not, just watch the boys in blue on this replay. The Oilers act as if the ’76 Habs are swarming their net, but this isn’t Lafleur, Shutt and Lemaire with Big Bird Robinson on the point — instead, the dreaded Sbisa-Higgins-Bonino connect to send it into the dressing room tied at one.
Canucks 2, Oilers 1: Linden Vey from Derek Dorsett and Tom Sestito, 16:37 of the second period.
If that last scoring combo wasn’t embarrassing enough, the Oilers manage to let Derek Dorsett and Tom Sestito collect apples on the same goal. Want a trifecta? Alex Edler gets a mark in the plus column on this one as well. Ben Scrivens delivers a gift-wrapped rebound to ol’ Dorsett and follows it up with a massive five hole for him to shoot at.
Canucks 2, Oilers 2: David Perron from Leon Draisaitl and Andrew Ference, 17:41 of the third period.
Ah, the short-lived lead. That’s the Canuck hockey we’ve grown to groan at over the past couple of seasons. Also in the not unexpected category: Alex Edler with a minus. Give the goat horns to Chris Tanev, who bobbles the puck behind his own net to create the open ice. Should Ryan Miller have this one? Probably, but give Perron credit, it’s a hell of a wrist shot.
Canucks 3, Oilers 2 (SH): Derek Dorsett from Ben Scrivens, 4:05 of the third period.
Give credit to ol’ Double D on this one, he hustled in on a shorthanded forecheck, and took full advantage of the worst goalie mistake since Marc-Andre Fleury was a junior. Like the Canucks second goal, Scrivens screws up twice on the same play: here he’s so flustered by his giveaway that he forgets to square himself to the shooter. Dorsett should never have the short side to shoot at on that play.
Here’s Fleury’s gold-medal losing gaffe from 2004, in case you’ve forgotten:
As pundits are fond of telling us — and by pundits I mean me and Harrison Mooney — the Vancouver Canucks have a history of helping opponents break out of a slump. So it was with trepidation that fans approached last night’s visit from the league’s doormat Carolina Hurricanes.
That’s right: the Canes are worse than the perennially disappointing Edmonton Oilers, the comically atrocious Buffalo Sabres and the junior-hockey-teams-have-more-fans-than-we-do Florida Panthers. Carolina has exactly zero wins on the season, to match the zero fucks given by most people in Raleigh about the sport of ice hockey — meaning they had the Canucks exactly where they wanted them.
Would the Canucks respond, or would they snooze with les Habitants on the horizon? You’re darn tootin’ they’d respond. It was viewers of Sportsnet that snoozed, but I digress. On with the goals…
Let’s start with a moment of silence for Eddie Lack’s GAA and SV%, shall we?
Lack’s save percentage, a dismal .862, is 59th in the NHL after three appearances. His 4.62 goals against average is 61st overall. Keep in mind there are only 30 teams in the NHL. Sixty-two goalies have seen ice time this season, and the only guy with a GAA south of our boy Eddie’s is Viktor Fasth of the Edmonton Oilers, whose two-game, 5.19 goals against average would lose him the backup spot on most junior benches.
The Avs started the season with the punch of a newborn koala. Despite adding proven snipers like Jarome Iginla and Danny Briere in the off-season, Colorado’s first goal of the season came at 3:08 of the second period — of their third game. They had won just one game in their first seven before meeting the Canucks. As we all know, Vancouver is a polite town, and that Eddie Lack is a pretty affable guy. If someone needs off the schneid, the Canucks are the ones to help them out.
After an interminably long summer of house cleaning, the Vancouver Canucks start the 2014-15 NHL season tonight against the woeful Abbotsford Heat Calgary Flames. While this particular foe still makes the Canucks look like world-beaters, there isn’t a pundit in the land who thinks Vancouver has a legitimate shot at winning the Pacific Division. So just how fair and middling will this year’s edition of the Vancouver Canucks be? I’m glad you asked. Here are seven questions we’re slobbering over ourselves in anticipation and excitement:
Drew Doughty, that fella wearing number eight for the Los Angeles Kings is about to add ‘Conn Smythe winner’ to his resume. This will sit nicely beside ‘two-time Olympic gold medallist’, ‘two-time Stanley Cup champion’, ‘Norris trophy nominee’ and ‘filthy, stinkin’ rich cat who let’s face it ought to be able to afford better hair care’.
Godawful facial growth aside, Doughty is every bit the MVP, anchoring the back end of the most feared defense in the land. At just 24, he’s got credentials among active NHLers only rivalled by countrymen Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby. Barring injury, and assuming he doesn’t get bored, he’ll have built a Hall of Fame career long before he hits the traditional defenseman’s peak of 30 years old.
Fans in Vancouver are predictably blasé about the NHL playoffs; the Canucks have missed the post-season for the first time since 2008, and YVR hockey fans aren’t exactly renowned for loving the game so much as their team. (Case in point: the Abbotsford Heat are shutting up shop at the conclusion of their playoff run after years of decreasing returns in the Valley. People out thisaway are so scared of Calgary Flames cooties they’ve refused to see professional puck for $20.)
We at Pucked in the Head believe in celebrating the game, even when our local team comes up lame. Here are Jason’s picks for this year’s post-season. He’s so concussed by the ascension of Zack Kassian and the retirements of Teemu Selanne and Ryan Smythe — not to mention the bizarre first-round matchups determined by the NHL’s new wild card system — that he’s thumbing for Stanley Cup supremacy… the San Jose Sharks (!?!?!?!)
Gone are the days these Canucks could bank on a post-season berth for steamrolling their sadsack Northwest Division brothers. Sure, the Oilers and Flames still stink like day-old skunk sandwiches, but in the realigned NHL, the Canucks have to catch one of Anaheim, LA or San Jose for a legitimate Pacific Division playoff spot.
The win was no easy feat. Sure, Vancouver has spanked the Avs over the past few years — losing just once in ten tries, and that was in extra time. But this year’s Avalanche look very different under head coach Patrick Roy. Ignoring that 8–2 loss to Edmonton the other night, Colorado has been one of the league’s eye openers this year. They’ve got ten road wins already, more than twice what they picked up last year and three more Ws than the Canucks have earned at home so far this year.
It wasn’t pretty, but the Canucks managed to hold the fort. When they took a 1–0 lead into the third period, those who had managed to stay awake through forty were pleasantly surprised. First Ryan Kesler donned the cape to double the lead, setting up a scoring chance from behind the net before shovelling in a rebound from the blue paint. Then Mike Santorelli sniped his second of the night, a gorgeous shot top cheese on a 2-on-1. (This shouldn’t shock anyone, as ‘Santorelli’ is of course Italian for ‘roof daddy’.)
Props to rookie goaltender Reto Berra, who picked up a win in his very first NHL start, in overtime over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks no less. He made 42 saves on 44 shots — that’s a .955 save percentage, earned against the likes of Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews.
Not too shabby, Mr Berra. Keep that up, and something tells me this Abbotsford Heat paint job might need a flaming C or two thereupon.