Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Round #2 - Vancouver Canucks VS Chicago Blackhawks Schedule

Here we go, round number 2!

  1. Thursday, April 30 at Vancouver, 6:00 p.m. CBC, VERSUS
  2. Saturday, May 2 at Vancouver, 6:00 p.m. CBC, VERSUS
  3. Tuesday, May 5 at Chicago, 5:00 p.m. CBC, VERSUS
  4. Thursday, May 7 at Chicago, 5:00 p.m. CBC, VERSUS
  5. *Saturday, May 9 at Vancouver, 7:30 p.m CBC, VERSUS
  6. *Monday, May 11 at Chicago, 6:00 p.m. CBC, VERSUS
  7. *Thursday, May 14 at Vancouver, TBD CBC, VERSUS

* If Necessary

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Game #4 - Canucks 3 - Blues 2 - Game Notes

The Vancouver Canucks have swept the St.Louis Blues, the first seven game series sweep in franchise history.

It took a little luck and even a little controversy, but in the end the Canucks were just too deep and too experienced for the Blues. The Blues had their best game in game four, but it wasn't enough as Alex Burrows ended the series in the final seconds of the first overtime. On to the game notes...

  • The Canucks penalty kill was the difference throughout this series and that continued in game four. Ryan Johnson and Willie Mitchell were outstanding and when the Blues found a scoring chance Roberto Luongo was there to close the door.
  • Mattias Ohlund really stepped up his game in the playoffs and played his best hockey of the season.
  • Shane O'Brien's playoff honeymoon ended in a hurry on the first Blues goal. First he gave the puck to the Blues when the Canucks had possession, then he gambled and lost trying to intercept a pass and finally he failed to come back and pick up Brad Boyes. He also took a terrible cross checking penalty early in the game. O'Brien had a very strong series overall, but he needs to step up his game for round 2.
  • Jannik Hansen had his best game since his injury. Every facet of his game was much better and he was within an inch of ending the game in overtime.
  • The Blues may have caught a bad break on the disallowed goal, but they only have their power play to blame for losing this game and series. The Blues had a whopping 12:22 of PP time, almost 4 times as much as the Canucks.
  • More to come later...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Game #3 - Canucks 3 - Blues 2 - Game Notes

Another game, another playoff victory for the Canucks. This one wasn't pretty, but the Canucks got it done on special teams and came out on top. This series kinda reminds me of the 2001 playoffs where the Canucks were swept by the Avalanche. The Canucks were in each of the first 3 games, but in the end it was the experience and depth of Colorado that made the difference. On to the game notes...

  • As in game 1, the key to game number 3 was the huge effort on the penalty kill. The Canucks managed to kill off yet another lengthy 5 on 3 which really turned the momentum around in game 3. I'm amazed that the Blues haven't made an obvious adjustment, their point men are playing down at the top of the circles and it's making things a lot easier for the Canuck PK. This was never more obvious then when the Canucks scored on their 5 on 3. The contrast between the two PP units was pretty striking.
  • Ryan Johnson was outstanding. Great job on the PK and in the faceoff circle.
  • Mats Sundin's absence had a much greater impact than I think most would have predicted. Without Sundin the second line looked lost and the Canucks at 5 on 5 felt really disjointed. I wouldn't expect him to be back for game 4, simply because there's no reason to play him and risk further injury with a 3-0 series lead.
  • What's happened to Jannik Hansen? I don't know how healthy he really is, but Hansen just hasn't been the same player that he was earlier in the year.
  • Shane O'Brien had another strong game.
  • Alex Edler did not. Simply a brutal play on the Blues first goal. Edler was out hustled and out worked by the much smaller McDonald.
  • Speaking of McDonald, he has been the only dangerous Blue all series long. Who would have thought that? Boyes, Oshie and company have been a complete non-factor.
  • Despite some botched defensive coverage by Kyle Wellwood on the second Blues goal, the third line had another strong game. Steve Bernier has really stepped up in the playoffs, his ability to control the puck on the boards has been huge for Vancouver.
  • I'm gonna have to cut this one short... should be back with some more thoughts later tonight.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Game #2 - Canucks 3 - Blues 0 - Game Notes

Wow, what a difference it makes when the referees actually let the players play some playoff hockey. That was a very entertaining game, especially in the first period. On the Canucks side of things Roberto Luongo was simply outstanding. The Canucks gave up more opportunities than they would like, but whenever they did, the captain was there. On to the game notes...

  • Roberto Luongo is very good most of the time, but there are games when he shows why many consider him to be the best in the world. The final game against the Flames was one of those games as was last night's affair in Vancouver. Luongo made the types of saves that few goalies can. His ability to track the puck and react is a treat to watch. You add his sound (there's an understatement) technique and you get an amazing goaltending performance.
  • While Luongo was great, the Canucks cannot be too happy with the number of opportunities they gave the Blues. Unlike game 1, where St. Louis' offensive chances were limited to power plays, the Blues managed to generate numerous scoring chances 5 on 5.
  • What did Shane O'Brien ever do to Stephen Walkom? That slashing penalty had to be one of the lamest calls I've ever seen in a playoff game.
  • Mattias Ohlund had one of his better games. Good positioning for most of the night and most importantly he avoided taking any penalties. His days as a top defenseman are over, but the Canucks need him to play solid every night.
  • Ryan Johnson had a great game. Some great work on the PK and another 4 blocked shots to add to his total. This is the Ryan Johnson the Canucks were expecting when they signed him as a free agent. It looks like he has put the injuries behind him.
  • As they head out on the road the Canucks need to be much better in the faceoff circle. 45% isn't good enough. In particular Ryan Kesler (1 for 7) and Henrik Sedin (9 for 19) really need to step it up. Gaining possession of the puck will do a lot to limit the Blues scoring opportunities.
  • The Canucks so called third line had another strong game, generating a good forecheck and some scoring opportunities. Without the benefit of last change the third line will be a key component to the Canucks success in St. Louis.
  • Shane O'Brien had a strong game in limited ice-time. His play in the first period was particularly notable. He was strong positionally and was throwing his weight around.
  • It will be interesting to see if Darcy Hordichuk will remain in the lineup on the road. I suspect that the only reason he is currently in the lineup is because of Jannik Hansen's (and Rypien's) inexperience playing the left side. Without Taylor Pyatt (who is unlikely to return for the games in St. Louis, if at all this series) there is a hole on the left side. The 4th line could be much more effective and less of a defensive liability if that hole was plugged. Now that the Blues have the benefit of last change they should be able to exploit Hordichuk.
  • If the Canucks can continue to keep the Blues power play off the score sheet this series will be over quickly. The PK has done a great job so far this series.
  • On the other hand the power play hasn't been good enough. For the Canucks to keep winning the PP has to start scoring.
  • On the broadcast front games 3 and 4 will be broadcast in HD thanks to some kind of donation/sponsorship by Save on Foods to rent an HD truck in St. Louis. If you enjoy HD, go shop at Save On this weekend. It would have been a shame to not have these games in high definition.
  • Speaking of HD, the HD PVR may just be man's greatest invention. Unable to get home until around 8:00 I somehow managed not to hear the score of the game and was able to watch the game from the beginning just as if it was live.

Overall it was another solid game by the Canucks, but they can and will need to play better if they want to make this a short series.

Game 3 goes Sunday at 4:00pm

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Game #1 - Canucks 2 - Blues 1 - Game Notes

The Vancouver Canucks opened their 2009 playoff drive with a solid 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues in what was a penalty filled affair. The Canucks took the lead mid way through the first and after killing a 5 on 3 Blues advantage they were never really in danger of losing the game. On to the game notes...

  • Willie Mitchell was arguably the best player on the ice. He was outstanding in the defensive zone, the highlight being the huge penalty kill in the first period. Mitchell was excellent at boxing out players in front of the net and was a force all night.
  • Led by Mitchell, the Canucks defense as a whole was top notch. The Blues never threatened outside of power play opportunities. The Canucks kept them to the outside and there were no second chances.
  • Roberto Luongo was named the first star as he was on top of his game. Great rebound control and he was tremendous at following the puck through traffic (something his counterpart had some trouble with).
  • Even though they got a goal, the Canucks power play was not very good. They struggled moving the puck up ice and getting into the offensive zone. They were also an abysmal 4 for 13 on faceoffs. Special teams are going to decide this series, the Canucks power play must be much better.
  • Steve Bernier had a great game, playing a large role (literally) in both Canuck goals. It looked like he may have tipped Salo's goal, either way his presence in front of Mason was a key to both goals.
  • Anyone hoping that Mats Sundin could magically flip a switch when the playoffs started is probably... well it ain't happening. Sundin looked slow and was not particularly effective.
  • The CBC HD broadcast was top notch, especially the great 5.1 audio which really captures the atmosphere of the building. It's a nice treat to have the A team calling Canuck playoff games. Milbury and Hrudey were very good as usual. The only downside to CBC's coverage was the awful "I-desk". We really don't need to see some goof typing away on a laptop.
  • Darcy Hordichuk serves no purpose in the playoffs. He just isn't good enough to play.
  • There were many questionable calls in the penalty filled contest, the worst of which was that awful charging call on Rick Rypien.
  • Speaking of penalties, the Canucks have to be much more disciplined. They cannot afford to take penalties like the one Ryan Johnson took at the end of the first. I specifically pointed out the Sedins taking offensive zone penalties a few weeks ago and sure enough an offensive zone penalty put the game in jeopardy.
  • Mason Raymond had a strong game finishing with 4 shots on goal, although he did fail to pick up Boyes on the penalty kill.
  • Other Canuck standouts included Sami Salo, Kyle Wellwood, the Sedins and of course Ryan Kesler.

Overall it was a very solid effort by the Canucks. They got the job done on the PK and when there was finally some 5 on 5 play in the third, the Canucks stepped it up and had a dominant period to close out the game.

Game #2 goes Friday at 7:00pm

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Canucks First Round Schedule

Vancouver will face the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

  • Wednesday, April 15 at Vancouver, 7:00 p.m. (PST) CBC, VERSUS, RDS
  • Friday, April 17 at Vancouver, 7:00 p.m. (PST) CBC, VERSUS, RDS
  • Sunday, April 19 at St. Louis, 4:00 p.m. (PST) CBC, VERSUS
  • Tuesday, April 21 at St. Louis, 5:00 p.m. (PST) CBC, VERSUS
  • Friday, April 24 at Vancouver, 7:00 p.m. (PST) CBC, VERSUS, RDS
  • Sunday, April 26 at St. Louis, 5:00 p.m. (PST) CBC, VERSUS, RDS
  • Tuesday, April 28 at Vancouver, TBD CBC, VERSUS, RDS

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Canucks Win Northwest Division

Who would have thought back in January that the Vancouver Canucks would enter the playoffs as the number 3 seed in the Western Conference? Many of the local bandwagoners were ready to blow the team up, fire Alain Vigneault and jump right into the Tavares sweepstakes. Fortunately Canuck management has more intelligence than your average Canuck bandwagoner.

Not only have the Canucks made the playoffs they have done so as one of the hottest teams in the NHL and as arguably one of the most dangerous heading into the second season. Roberto Luongo is at the top of his game. The Sedins have found their missing triplet. The second line is dangerous. Even the third line is producing regular shifts in the offensive zone. Things are looking pretty darn good at the moment.

Another bonus for the Canucks right now is that they will not have to face the Anaheim Ducks. A series against the Ducks would certainly be very winnable, but the physical toll could have become a large burden to any hope of a Cup drive. The Ducks play a physical, often dirty style of play, and a 6 or 7 game series would not have been fun. Of course that's not to say Columbus or St. Louis will be easy, but at least you know you won't be going up against players like Pronger and Perry.

As for the Blues and the Jackets we will find out today who the Canucks will face in the first round. A win by the Blues against the Avalanche and it will be St. Louis, otherwise it will be Columbus. While the Canucks should beat either team, I would prefer to face the slumping Jackets. While Columbus has the always dangerous Rick Nash and the Calder favourite in Steve Mason, they have little playoff experience. Throw in their league worst 12.7% power play and you have a team that should be handled in 5 or 6 games. Of course anything can happen in the playoffs.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Six Games to Go

With only 6 games remaining in the regular season the Canucks find themselves leading the North West Division after an amazing turn around. Surprisingly to some, the sky did not fall, the Canucks managed to get things back on track and now the bandwagon is once again full.

No matter what happens over the final week and a half, there will be playoff hockey in Vancouver. Not only will there be playoff hockey, but the Canucks have a legitimate chance to go on an extended Stanley Cup run. To do that though, several things will have to go their way. Here are a few things to keep an eye on over the final 6 games...

The Second Period (long) Change
One thing the Canucks have struggled with is the long second period line change. The Canucks have allowed 12 more goals in the second period than either the first or third. As the result of poor changes they are also tied for the league lead with 13 bench minors. The Canucks need to do a better job of moving the puck up ice so that they have enough time to make the line change during the 2nd.
The Canucks have taken 405 minor penalties, 4th most in the league. Obviously that has strained the penalty kill. The Canucks cannot afford to take penalties if they are to succeed in the playoffs. In particular they need to eliminate offensive zone penalties (I'm looking at you Daniel and Henrik!) Penalties will happen, they are a part of the game, but you need to eliminate the unnecessary ones.
One of the more overlooked aspects of the Canucks is how successful they have been in the faceoff circle. The Canucks currently sit 7th overall at 51%. That is a huge improvement on last years 48.7% (24th). The improvement in the faceoff circle should be a significant bonus in the playoffs.
The Bottom Six
For most of the season the Canucks have received very little out of the bottom two lines. The fourth line has rarely been effective and the third has not contributed enough. However, over the past month both have been much better. While it is not an ideal third line, the Wellwood unit has at least played strong defensively and has not been a liability. More offense would be welcome, but they need to continue their strong defensive play. Ryan Johnson's improved health has resulted in a more effective 4th line and with a full complimented of healthy forwards, the 4th line should be able to contribute those "momentum changing" shifts that are so important in the playoffs.
The Power Play
The power play may be the single most influential aspect of a team's play. As the PP goes, so does the team. In the playoffs the power play is often the difference between winning and losing. If you don't capitalize on your chances you're going to have a tough time winning especially if your opponent capitalizes on theirs. The Canucks' PP has been middle of the road for most of the season, however since the addition of Sundin they have always been a threat no matter which unit is on the ice. It would be nice to have another defenseman to play the point (I've never been a fan of using a forward unless you are trailing in the game), but the Canucks PP looks poised to be an effective asset during the post season.
Team Toughness
Team toughness has often been a problem for recent editions of the Canucks, however I believe any question marks surrounding toughness were answered in the Canucks 4-0 win over the Blackhawks.
Perhaps the biggest factor in the Canucks success has been their remarkable health. Since Luongo and Salo have returned to the lineup the Canucks have avoided injuries to key players. Hopefully this trend continues. While there is some decent depth on defense and up front, a few injuries could seriously jeopardize any hope of a Cup run.
Individual Players
  • While most of the team has been playing well, Alex Edler has been struggling. This season Edler has been great at times and awful at others. The Canucks really need Edler to step up and play some strong consistent hockey.
  • Mayson Raymond really stepped up his game in March. His play improved about a week before the deadline and has been much better than most of the season. Raymond will likely be in and out of the lineup for the rest of the year, but he should be able to contribute something.
  • Rick Rypien's return to the lineup is a welcome sight. He may not play every night, but his speed and physical play will be a nice asset to the 4th line. Hopefully he can stay healthy.
  • Mats Sundin. What to say? You can't argue that the team hasn't been better with him, but at the same time his consistency has been a disappointment. He needs to have an impact every night, not just once or twice a week. Still, he has managed 25 points in 35 games which puts him on pace for 29 points, or only 1 off my prediction of 30 points in 41 games
  • Jannik Hansen has returned from injury, but has not looked particularly strong. Hopefully he can find his game over the next week, as he could potentially be a big contributor in a post-season run. I'm sure he wants to make up for his mistake on the goal that eliminated the Canucks vs the Ducks the last time the Canucks were in the playoffs.

I haven't posted much in the past couple months, but I hope to ramp things up for what should be a great spring for Vancouver Canuck fans...