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.
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.
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:
Whatever playoff aspirations still existed in the Vancouver Canucks dressing room — misguided, maybe, but they were there — must have taken a serious thumping during the third period of last night’s 7-4 loss to the lowly, John Tavares-less New York Islanders.
Up 3-0 going into the final 20 minutes of the game, the Canucks managed to give up a converted touchdown in a single period for the first time since a kid named Wayne Gretzky swaggered into Vancouver with the dynastic Edmonton Oilers. And, as Ryan Kesler said of the present-day Islanders after the game, “let’s face it, [New York] is not one of the top teams in the NHL. We had a three-nothing lead to start the third. This just can’t happen.”
Sadly, not only can it go down, Mr Kesler, but it did happen. On home ice. During the stretch run. Less than a week after the GM traded away a future Hall of Fame goaltender.
In the first two periods, the Isles had just nine shots on goal. Fast forward twenty minutes, and they had nearly that many goals.
Sure, there were positives. Henrik Sedin got a lucky bounce off an Islander defenceman — lucky bounces have been few and far between for the Canucks of late, but it marked the first goal in 23 games for the captain. Alex Burrows didn’t get off the gorilla-choking, gut-twisting schneid he’s been riding all season, but he did get awarded an apple on Ryan Kesler’s 22nd goal of the year. Replays show Burrows gave a swing and a miss when Kevin Bieksa’s shot from the slot pinged off the post, but when Kesler put it home, the scorekeepers gave Burr the phantom assist for his 300th career NHL point.
But let’s not kid anyone. There are no moral victories in a game that goes that far south that quickly. Less than five minutes of gutless, idiot play in the third period undid 40 minutes of solid two-way hockey. Dumb penalties from Jensen, Bieksa and Sestito translated into a tie game within minutes of the third period puck drop. Add a couple that Lack would like to have back, and the Isles put a pick-six on the board before the third was halfway done.
The Canucks collapse, though, wasn’t half as scary as what awaited Eddie Lack in the dressing room.
Over the past two weeks, the Vancouver Canucks have offered up fair-to-middlin’ performances against opposition they should beat. They lost 3-2 to the Calgary Flames and 2-1 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, both teams that haven’t made the post-season since John Garrett played goal for the Quebec Nordiques. Despite largely outplaying San Jose — and before you think the Sharks are a good team, they’ve lost to Calgary and Colorado in the past week — Vancouver got frustrated by goaltender Antti Niemi and lost 3-2 in a shootout.
Going into Minnesota Sunday afternoon, the Canucks found themselves just two points up on the Wild for the lead in a Northwest Division they’re supposed to win by default. But for Gary Bettman’s loser point, Vancouver is a .500 hockey team with three wins in 11 games, and they’re leading the division? Come on. They have got to win these games, and win them convincingly. Get off to a good start, take advantage of the power play and run up the score once in a while.
Coming into the 2013 season, Cory Schneider looked forward to his first action as an NHL starter. Halfway through his first game as the #1 guy in Vancouver — a game that was essentially a pre-season game, just with points that count in the standings — he had let in five goals on 14 shots, and the guy wearing #1 on his back was taking over the crease.
Immediately, people all over Twitter, on radio call-in shows and even in the booth on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada started talking about goaltending controversy in Vancouver. What they didn’t talk about was the invisibility of Alex Burrows, the ineffectiveness of the second and fourth lines, or the shakiness of the “deepest defensive corps in the NHL”.
But yeah, goalie controversy, right? We thought we’d look at each goal one at a time to determine just who the goat and/or goats were. Here it is, right after the jump.
1. Yesterday, Broad Street’s biggest bully, Chris Pronger, sat for the seventh time in this playoff. Hockey players are renowned for attempting to play through just about anything, as evidenced by Darryl Boyce only missing one regular season game when he nearly amputated his own nose, Mario Lemieux famously having teammates tie his skate laces before scoring four points during a Pittsburgh Stanley Cup run, or Manny “One-Eye” Malhotra’s recent experimentation with echolocation. Chris Pronger’s absence has been a far bigger deal in this series than any menage-a-trois in the Philly crease. The B’s just aren’t scared to go to the slot – with him in the lineup, that fear is always there. For a guy like Prongs to sit while his team goes down three-bagel, he’s got to be pretty much paralyzed from the chest down. Continue reading →