Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Back on Track

Heading into the final two games before the all-star break the Canucks needed to rebuild their game from the ground up. While they were desperately in need of points it was more important to correct the issues in their play. To make the final two pre-break games successful they needed to find their game again and (considering one of the games was against the Sharks) they needed to find a way to come away with a couple points.

They accomplished both goals.

While last nights game was crushing, it was a huge step forward.

They were successful in doing the little things to get the puck out of their own end. There were some nervous moments, but for the most part they did an excellent job of supporting the puck and making the right decision. It often wasn't pretty, but considering where their game was, getting the puck out of the zone quickly was their number one focus. As their confidence improves you'll see a lot less of a "just get it out" philosophy, but last night that was exactly what they needed to do.

The only thing missing last night was a forechecking presence. However once they were up a goal I think Vigneault made the right decision to try and shut down the Sharks. They were not going to be successful trading chances and giving up odd man rushes. Ya you want more of a forecheck, but that will come. Last night was all about playing well in their own end and frustrating the Sharks. In the end, the breaks didn't go their way and the game slipped away, but it was a very successful game.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Sky Isn't Falling

Yikes. The Canucks are playing absolutely horrendous hockey right now and many, many people are hitting the panic button. Honestly I don't really blame them. The Canucks are playing as bad as they possibly can, quite frankly their play with the puck is bizarre. The giveaways are unbelievably bad... often stunning. They've been so awful that I've found myself laughing rather than getting angry and yelling.

The Canucks are in a very dangerous place right now. The Canucks are perilously close to falling over the cliff and entering that zone which consumes teams like the Senators and Lightning, once great teams now floundering as bottom dwellers.

That said, the sky isn't falling. There is plenty of time to reign this in and get back on the right track. This is the same team that was dominant in November. Right now their confidence is shattered. They need to find a way to put that confidence back together. They can turn this around. Here's what they have to do...

1. Confidence With the Puck
Right now the Canucks are handling the puck like a live grenade. They need to calm down and start playing like the NHL players they are. Instead of trying to get the puck to the guy standing behind the net they need to move the puck quickly up the ice to a forward because right now teams are being extremely aggressive attacking on the forecheck. This aggressiveness is compounding the puck handling problems, more pressure = less time = more mistakes. By moving the puck crisply and quickly they will force the forecheck to back off a little and the defensemen will have more time to make decisions and will gain their confidence back. But you can't do that without...
2. Puck Support
Every time a Canuck has the puck he needs at least one option on where to go with it. That seems obvious, but it takes focus and hard work. There was a play last night that exemplifies this: Bieksa had the puck in the corner and was pressured, he decided on a bank pass up the boards to the point. While it wasn't the greatest of plays it shouldn't have been a problem. Darcy Hordichuk wasn't in position to properly support Bieksa and he was outmuscled/outworked by the Phoenix defender resulting in a turnover (and I think a goal, but can't remember exactly).
You're not going to gain confidence with the puck when bad results occur every time you make the slightest of mistakes. The Canucks need better puck support so that these little mistakes don't turn into big ones. And puck support doesn't mean just standing in the right spot. You need to own your space of ice, you have to work to make sure you don't give up that space to your opponent. Right now the Canucks haven't been winning the battles for that space of ice. Without that space, you are not supporting your teammate with the puck, you're not an option for your teammate.
3. Forecheck\Getting Through Neutral Zone\No Odd Man Rushes
This one is obvious, you have to find a way to get through the neutral zone and establish a forecheck without giving up odd man rushes. It starts with the previously listed confidence with the puck and puck support. If you're doing that you're going to be able to get through the neutral zone and establish a forecheck.
Of course once your there you can't give up odd man rushes. There needs to be focus and most importantly effort in making sure there is always a forward supporting the defensemen at the points.
4. Specific Individuals Must Step Up Their Game/Effort/Focus
To a man every player needs to step up mentally and physically, but there are specific individuals who need to step up their game...
Alex Edler. Edler has been atrocious. He isn't doing anything right and should be sent to Manitoba to work on his game. Unfortunately Vancouver doesn't have enough options on defense to make such a move, so Edler is going to have to work through his problems at the NHL level.
Mattias Ohlund. Ohlund has been inexcusably bad of late. Poor decisions with the puck and a lack of general effort. Ohlund barely moved his feet against Phoenix. He needs to start leading this defense group. Right now his leadership resembles Naslund's (ie: non-existant).
Kevin Bieksa. Bieksa needs to start playing like he was a few weeks ago. Take that puck and move it like you mean it. Start being mean again. If Bieksa looks confident, plays mean and starts handling the puck the way he can, the confidence of the entire defensive core will rise.
If three of your top four defensemen are struggling you're going to be in trouble. These guys need to get it together.

The Canucks need to focus on these 4 things and build their game shift by shift. Forget about wins and losses, forget about goals for and against. Focus on making good passes and working to give your teammate some help/options.

The Canucks aren't going to get through this by acting emotionally as fans tend to do. No coaching change, player benching, or player addition/subtraction is going to flip the switch. The Canucks need their confidence back and the only way to do that is to get back to basics.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Curtis Sanford on Waivers

The Vancouver Canucks have placed goaltender Curtis Sanford on waivers.

With Luongo ready to return tomorrow, someone was going to have to go and the Canucks decided on Sanford. Really it wasn't much of a decision. Sanford had over a month to take the reigns and he failed to gain any confidence with the coaching staff, players or fans. While LaBarbera struggled in his final two games he still managed to put up 4 games that were as good or better than any 4 games Sanford started.

Should Sanford clear he will likely be sent to Manitoba with the Canucks exploring trade options to find him a job somewhere (he may even have to settle for a starting job in the minors).


Curtis Sanford has cleared waivers and has been assigned to the Manitoba Moose.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Luongo's Return Imminent

Roberto Luongo has declared himself 100% healthy and could return as early as Thursday against the Coyotes.

Luongo's return comes after the Canucks lost yet another game in which Curtis Sanford let in a bad goal. The record without Luongo (9-11-3) has put the Canucks playoff chances in jeopardy. The Canucks are still comfortably in the mix, but a prolonged slump could make things very dicey as we found out last season. Still, it's hard to imagine this year's team going in the tank like that.

The Difference Between Luongo and Mediocre Goaltending

In Luongo's absense:

  • Shootout Losses: 3
  • One Goal Losses: 5
  • Two Goal Losses: 4*

* Of the 4 two goal losses, one included an empty net goal and in the other three the insurance goal was scored late in the third period.

Add it all up and in 12 out of the 14 games the Canucks failed to win, they were either tied or within a goal late in the third period.

That's nine losses and three OTL's that could have gone the other way had Sanford and company not given up that one bad goal or had made that one extra save.

Conservatively, if Luongo wins 3 out of those games and turns two of those shootout losses into points the Canucks would have 8 more points.

That's the difference between being in the playoffs by 5 points or by 13 points.

That's the difference between Luongo and all those terrible goals we saw against Schneider and Sanford.

Friday, January 09, 2009

St. Louis Lots - Canucks Not As Much - Game Notes

Another two points pissed away...

First Period

  • Awful period by Vancouver, I thought the first against Edmonton was bad... this one was just terrible. The fact that Vancouver is up a goal says a lot about how bad St. Louis is.
  • I guess Hansen got the message.
  • Terrible play by Nycholat leading to the Blues' goal. LaBarbera didn't help matters by letting out a couple bad rebounds.
  • Even when Sundin isn't playing well he is still dangerous.
  • It was also a terrible period by Sportsnet and John Garrett. The audio was brutal, Garrett wasn't much better... rambling on about Sundin winning a draw that was actually won by Wellwood after Sundin was tossed out. Even with a replay Garrett still didn't catch it. Paying attention there John?

Second Period

  • The sloppy, lackadaisical play of the first period carried over into the second and the Canucks find themselves trailing after two.
  • I think it's time for the "takin it easy" Mats Sundin shifts to come to an end. Sundin needs to be more focused on the timing of line changes.
  • Mason Raymond and Kyle Wellwood are sure skating better with their new linemate. Perhaps Raymond took note of the organization's willingness to send Hansen down.
  • The Canucks need a much better effort in the third. They need to start forechecking hard in order to draw some penalties and give themselves the opportunity to take this game.

Third Period

  • Ugg, that was such an uninspiring game that I don't have the motivation to say anything about the third period other than the fact that the Canucks deserved to lose and put themselves in a position where a bad break (literally) cost them a win against the worst team in the West.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Johnson Back, Hansen Re-Called

Ryan Johnson is expected back in the lineup friday night after missing 20 games with a broken foot and finger.

In addition, Jannik Hansen has been re-called from Manitoba after a short 2 game stint with the Moose. Alexander Bolduc has been sent back down to make room for Hansen.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Sundin to Debut Tonight


Over 6 months after the Vancouver Canucks made a contract offer to Mats Sundin Canuck fans will finally get to see Sundin in action. Sundin will play tonight against the Edmonton Oilers, likely on a line with Kyle Wellwood and Mason Raymond.

It's hard to gauge exactly how good Sundin will be, he's a great player but at 37 and coming in half way who knows how he will play. Still, the guy is extremely talented and will make a strong contribution whether he is a point a game guy or not. He should at the very least be a boost to the Canucks dreadful shootout record or even end the games before they get there (I believe he is tied for the active lead in overtime goals).

Going out on a limb I'm going to predict 30 points from Sundin over the final 41 games... let's just hope he plays all 41 and doesn't get added to the list of Canucks with groin strains or broken feet.

Canuck Notes

  • Earlier in the week Jannik Hansen was sent down to Manitoba, paving the way for Mats Sundin to be added to the roster. Hansen's game had fallen off considerably from the beginning of the season and since he was one of the few players not subject to waivers he was the one to go. The organization continues to keep Mike Brown around at the expense of others, despite getting no value from his play. Hansen will likely be back at some point this season, hopefully he can find some offensive touch as the rest of his game is pretty solid.
  • The NHL All-Star teams have been announced. As if the game wasn't enough of a joke. I don't want to get into the whole list of players more deserving, but I will say that Daniel Sedin should be the Canucks representative and there is no way Luongo should be on the roster. But really who cares, everything to do with the game is a joke.
  • I didn't get a chance to comment on the Jason LaBarbera trade... a nice pickup by Gillis, especially for only a 7th rounder. LaBarbera has played very well since being acquired and it looks like the writing is on the wall for Sanford. Assuming all other things being equal LaBarbera is a bigger goalie than Sanford and that clearly makes a big difference. We've already seen pucks hit the shoulders of LaBarbera and have seen too many go over Sanford's. When it comes right down to it Sanford had a chance to lock his job down, but wasn't good enough.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Canada Wins Gold!!!

Wow, what a tournament.

Congratulations to the boys on team Canada who capped off one of the most memorable World Junior Championships with Canada's fifth straight gold medal.

While John Tavares and PK Subban received the accolades it was Tyler Myers and Cody Hodgson who anchored the team to victory tonight. The key to the game was the penalty kills during the second period where Myers and Hodgson led a great effort by the PK group. Myers was simply outstanding tonight and against Russia in the semis. Sure wish he was Canuck property... but hey at least we have Hodgson. Hodgson had a great tournament finishing with the lead in scoring and was arguably Canada's best all around player.

Of course there were a lot of key components to this team, Tavares and Esposito provided some clutch goals, Tokarski stepped up with some great goaltending at the right time etc. But the biggest factor was that this team was a team and it was great to watch. And maybe for that reason this one feels a little more special than previous golds.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!

It's a new year and a lot has happened in Canuck land over the holidays. Mats Sundin has arrived, the Canucks have acquired Jason LaBarbera, Curtis Sanford is injured, Luongo is skating again, Pyatt is out with a broken foot and Cody Hodgson is having a great World Junior tournament.

I'll get things rolling again in the next couple days, in the meantime enjoy the Winter Classic and the Canucks vs Nashville tonight...