Monday, May 11, 2009

Game #6 - Blackhawks 7 - Canucks 5

Well, at the moment I don't have much to say about this one other than the obvious... Roberto shit the bed. Simple as that. The game was there to win numerous times and in the end the guy at the other end of the ice got it done, Luongo didn't.

I'll have some proper game notes tomorrow, but for now, this one stings too much and I don't won't this to be a rant fest...

Game #5 - Blackhawks 4 - Canucks 2 - Game Notes

A little (well a lot) late on this one, but here's some quick thoughts on game 5 as we get set for the do or die game 6...

  • Pass the goat horns around, in game five Willie Mitchell was the goat, in game six Kevin Bieksa and Ryan Kesler got to share the honor. Bieksa took one of his patented over aggressive high sticking penalties which led to the winning goal and was also in the box for the tying goal (although that was one of those mysterious pick one guy to get the extra penalty calls; the Hawks were a victim of that on the Canucks first goal so it evened out in the end). While Kesler made a brutal play on the PK, weakly passing the puck up the middle, leading to the tying goal. Then late in the game Kesler took an absolutely terrible holding penalty behind the Hawks net, which essentially killed the Canucks chances of a comeback. But it wasn't quite over, the Canucks still had a minute and change to make a push with the goalie out, however another Kesler miscue ended the game as he came off the bench and collided with Salo leading to the empty net goal. Needless to say, the Canucks with the help of #3 and #17 did themselves in on Saturday night.
  • Lately I've had a lot of praise for Mason Raymond's work on the PK, however it was his mistake that was responsible for the winning goal. While Kane had the puck on the half boards Raymond was over aggressive, cheating out to the point man, instead of "making sure" and containing Kane on the boards. That miscue led to a great player taking advantage of an odd man situation down low.
  • If there was a positive for Vancouver it was in the second period where we finally got to see the Sundin everyone expected. He was skating way better than he has at any point since arriving and his goal was vintage Mats Sundin. Hopefully the vintage Mats shows up for game 6.

Well here we go. Backs to the wall, do or die... break out all the cliche's. Game 6. Let's go boys!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Game #4 - Blackhawks 2 - Canucks 1 - Game Notes

That one hurt. I haven't been that choked after a loss since game seven against Calgary in 2004. The Canucks decided to sit back on their one goal lead and in the end one mistake cost them a chance to be one game away from the Conference Finals. The instant Willie Mitchell coughed up the puck I knew it was going to wind up in the net. It was just one of those strange plays where you can see the goal coming before it happens. After sitting back for most of the third the Canucks couldn't ramp up the offense in time as the Hawks ended it on a simple "get the puck to the net" play. I had to take an extra day in order to make sure these game notes weren't just a rant fest...

  • In all honesty I had made a mental note that Willie Mitchell was struggling handling the puck during the game. He had made several miscues that he does not normally make and sure enough late in the game he made two huge ones. One ended up in his net the other should have resulted in a penalty shot or a penalty.
  • I haven't read the papers or checked out any online forums, but I'm sure the debate on the Canucks decision to sit on the lead is raging. I tend to lean to the side of it being a sound decision. The Hawks were generating nothing and were stubbornly refusing to change their game plan. In overtime when the Canucks started to use two forecheckers Chicago finally started to get more opportunities, so while it didn't work out, not aggressively forechecking was the right way to go about protecting the lead. The real problem with the strategy was that they didn't do enough in the offensive zone when they had the puck in deep...
  • ...which leads me to the play of the Sedins and Burrows. As much as Mitchell gets the blame for the loss the top line deserves it's fair share. They simply were a non factor for most of the night. I don't know if Burrows is hurt, but he sure hasn't done much in this series. No shots on goal in game 4. Not good enough. These guys need to step it up in game 5.
  • For most of the playoffs the Canucks have been dominant in the faceoff circle... that was until game 5 where they were a brutal 42%. Sundin 2 of 9, Kesler 2 of 5, Sedin 6 of 15, Wellwood 5 of 13. Only Johnson was good at 7 of 11. It's no wonder sitting on the lead didn't work out.
  • Mason Raymond continues to have a very strong series, his work on the PK has been especially strong.
  • I was very critical of Alex Edler in the first round, but he has really stepped up his game in round 2, especially in the last two games in Chicago. Edler was great in almost 30 minutes of ice on Thursday.
  • I don't think I've yelled as loud in the playoffs as I did when Hordichuk scored. It's too bad his goal didn't hold up as that would have made a great story.
  • Roberto looks to be back into top form. That bodes well for the rest of the series.

Game 5 Tonight!

Down the stretch and into the playoffs the Canucks have shown a strong tendency to bounce back from defeats. They will need to have a huge bounce back in this pivotal game 5. Obviously whoever wins tonight will likely take the series, here are some keys to keep an eye on...

  • The Canucks need to find a balance between their home and road games. They need the defensive responsibility of the road team and some of the offensive flair of the home team. They also have to find a way to channel the energy of the crowd without getting overly aggressive. Something both teams have been guilty of at home.
  • The Canucks special teams have been great all post season and they will need to be again tonight. I have a strange feeling that not much is going to get called tonight and both teams are likely to only get a few opportunities on the power play.
  • No word yet on the Sami Salo front, but it would sure be nice to have him back in the lineup. It's hard to tell for sure, but looking at the blurry/stuttery live feed on, it looks like Salo is on the ice for the morning skate.
  • Finally, the Canucks need to keep playing hard on the Hawks young stars.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Game #3 - Canucks 3 - Blackhawks 1 - Game Notes

After suffering their first post-season loss the Vancouver Canucks came up with their best game of the playoffs in game three defeating the Hawks 3-1. Everything they didn't do in games one and two they did in game three. They got the puck in deep, they got traffic in front of Khabibulin, they played physical against Chicago's star players and they were air tight in their own end.

Full game notes to come later tonight...

Some delayed game notes...

  • Without Sami Salo the Canucks needed someone on defense to step up and Kevin Bieksa was that man. Bieksa was a presence all night, playing physical in almost 28 minutes of ice time. He also made a great pinch to start the play on the Canucks first goal.
  • Outside of his delay of game penalty Mason Raymond played one his best games of the year. Adding some speed to the second unit Raymond scored the first goal on a great play from Kesler and Bieksa and followed it up with some great work on the PK.
  • Speaking of penalties the Canucks started the game with the "good" variety. Ossi Vaannanen layed out Kane after he was in the crease wacking away at Luongo. If the refs aren't going to take care of business their you have to. The next two penalties were both "hard" plays and interestingly the Canucks killed off the first three penalties... until their first "soft" penalty, Daniel Sedins dumb trip of Campbell on an icing play.
  • It was great to see Taylor Pyatt back in the lineup.
  • Ossi Vaananen had a pretty solid game in only 8:47 of ice time.
  • It's funny how the home crowd can often be a disadvantage. In game 3 the Hawks were often guilty of being over aggressive trying to get hits. The same was true for Vancouver when they were at home. Instead of taking them when they're there the home team seems to get caught out of position a little too much.
  • Mats Sundin is obviously not right. There were several times in game 3 where Sundin could have hit someone, but instead chose to do a fly by. Anyone who has watched Sundin in the past knows that's not the way he plays.
  • What can you say about Ryan Kesler? 22 minutes of great hockey. The Canucks needed him to step up his play and he certainly did that in game three.

Game four goes tonight and the Canucks should get a boost with Sami Salo back in the lineup. Vancouver needs to keep doing the things they did in game three. Play physical, get traffic, get the puck in deep and keep the Blackhawks to the outside. Should be a good game...

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Game #2 - Blackhawks 6 - Canucks 3 - Game Notes

Well that was ugly. Things were looking pretty good for the Canucks when they took a 1-0 early in the first on a Sami Salo rocket... that was until Salo left the bench and never returned. Playing with 5 defensemen for the remainder of the game, the Canucks simply couldn't handle the offensive skill of the Hawks. The disjointed blueline struggled with their down low coverage and Shane O'Brien was badly exposed in the extra minutes he had to play against more skilled Hawk forwards than he had to face in game 1. In the end though, the ultimate difference may have been Nikolai Khabibulin who came up with some huge saves at the right time to keep his team in the game. On to the game notes...

  • While the loss of Salo had the most significant impact on the game, there was a key sequence of events in the second which really changed the game. After Luongo allowed a juicy rebound he came up with a save which should have been the save of the playoffs, unfortunately a few mistakes negated what could have been a huge momentum builder for Vancouver. As pointed out on HNIC by PJ Stock, Luongo chose to play the puck instead of freezing it and allowing his team to settle down, but that wasn't the biggest mistake. That came a few moments later when Pavol Demitra needlessly iced the puck. Simply a brutal play. What followed was the Hawks first goal and their opportunity to take over the game. If the Hawks go on to win the series you can look back on this key moment.
  • It was a frustrating night for armchair coaches and it started with a mistake by Ryan Kesler on the PK. Down 2 men Kesler's stick broke and while it's pretty difficult to get to your bench during the 2nd period without icing the puck, Kesler had the opportunity to get a new stick when he was at the blueline and the Hawks initiated a change. Despite me yelling "Get a damn stick" at the TV, Kesler chose not race to the bench and instead sat back and futilely tried to defend the 5 on 3. Tie game.
  • If you've read this blog for long enough you'd know that I'm not a fan of having a forward on the point on the power play while you are leading or tied. Sure enough a few minutes after the Kesler incident I found myself again yelling at the TV (or AV to be specific) when Raymond was on the ice playing the point on the PP. Sure enough Raymond got caught not paying attention to his defensive duties and David Bolland was wide open for a shorthanded goal which put the Hawks ahead for good.
  • While Khabibulin was better than Luongo in game 2 one thing that was very noticeable was the contrast between the traffic in front of the two goalies. The Hawks were all over Luongo all night long, while I don't think the Canucks even bumped Khabibulin at all. The Hawks were excellent at generating traffic while the Canucks were not. The Canucks will have to change that if they hope to win the series.
  • Interestingly, there were two delay of game penalties for putting the puck out of play... both resulted in goals on the respective powerplays.
  • The Sedins and Burrows were not good enough. Way too much time in their own end.
  • Darcy Hordichuk played again and again the 4th line was mostly ineffective. They did manage a good shift which drew a penalty and Rypien was robbed of a goal, but they spent too much time in their own end and not enough time forechecking and getting on the body. Without the benefit of last change the Canucks will need more out of the 4th line in Chicago and that should start with Pyatt replacing Hordichuk.
  • The third line had an awful night, combining for a -6. Failing to pick up his check in front of the net, Steve Bernier looked like the goat on the Eager goal, but it was Alex Edler who made the brutal turnover at center ice when he simply banged the puck against the boards instead of advancing it up ice.
  • As I mentioned earlier, Shane O'Brien was badly exposed in his extra ice time. He was on the ice for 3 even strength goals and was clearly over matched by the speedy Hawk forwards.
  • Luongo needs to stop Kane on that 5th goal.
  • What can you say about Ryan Johnson. I was begging Vigneault not to put him on the ice for the late Chicago power plays. No point in him breaking a hand or foot when you've already lost the game.
  • Where has Alex Burrows been? He's been awfully quite in this series.
  • The Hawks were better in the faceoff circle in game 2, finally breaking even.

So what's in store for game 3?

The Canucks will likely be without Salo again, so they are going to have to find a way to compensate for his loss. That starts with getting the puck in deep and generating more of a forecheck. As AV said post game, the Hawks D were facing the play most of the night and were able to hit their forwards with speed.

Game 2 could be the kick in the ass the Canucks need. So far they haven't had to face any adversity in the playoffs and it has shown in their play. The intensity level isn't quite where it needs to be and their was too much of a calmness or even a feeling that everything is going to go their way eventually. The loss should put some much needed urgency into their game as so far we haven't seen that in the playoffs. We'll see how they respond on Tuesday night...

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Game #1 Canucks 5 - Chicago 3 - Game Notes

From the better late than never file...

Aided by powerplay time, the Canucks were the better team for most of the game on Thursday, that was until the third period where they blew a three goal lead. Everyone could see it coming. As soon as the Blackhawks got one you knew they were going to get right back in it and the game would go down to the wire. Sure enough, Darcy Hordichuk took a bad penalty which gave Chicago the opening they needed. Fortunately, Sami Salo saved the day with the winning goal at 18:47 of the third. On to the game notes...

  • Heading in, the key to this series was going to be the ability of the Canucks to stay out of the box and to kill off penalties like they did against the Blues. In game one the tables were turned as it was the Hawks who had trouble staying out of the box. Fortunately for them they managed to do a very good job on the PK and kept themselves in the game. The Canucks on the other hand failed to put the Hawks away as they scored only once in nearly 13 minutes of powerplay time.
  • The reasoning behind having Hordichuk in the lineup is certainly understandable, but after game one Vigneault should seriously reconsider his options on the 4th line. Hordichuk's penalty wasn't a "dumb" play, it was just a symptom of his shortcomings. The guy simply doesn't have the wheels to be an effective forechecker. The Canucks should take advantage of the quality of Ryan Johnson's play and dress Taylor Pyatt on his wing. Chicago's 4th line plays a fair amount and the Canucks are probably better suited dressing a 4th line that is capable of playing up over 10 minutes.
  • One positive (or negative depending on how you look at it) for Vancouver is that Roberto Luongo was not at the top of his game A.K.A Superman Mode. Don't get me wrong, he was very good, but you could tell that he wasn't quite as razor sharp as he was against the Blues and in the final week of the season. I expect he will be better in game two now that the long layoff is behind him.
  • Speaking of the much talked about layoff, the Canucks responded pretty well as they had their legs fairly quickly and didn't look sloppy.
  • Kyle Wellwood continues to be a big factor for Vancouver. He now has 4 points in 5 games and has done a great job anchoring the third line. Credit should also be given to his linemates, Bernier and Raymond, who have also been playing very well.
  • Ryan Kesler had one of his best games of the playoffs finally getting on the scoresheet. It had been a slow start offensively for Kesler
  • Mats Sundin was back in the lineup and looked as he has for his entire tenure with the Canucks. Slow, at times a defensive liability, but also great on draws and dangerous with the puck and dangerous behind the net. When it's all added up, the Canucks are still a better team with him than without him. The Globe and Mail is reporting that Sundin is suffering from an MCL sprain.
  • Sami Salo's return was definitely a welcome sight. The Canucks best all around defenseman ended up with the game winner, but was also a calming influence to the blueline.
  • Finally, the Canucks dominated in the faceoff circle winning 63% of the draws. Expect this to play a key role as the series continues.

Some other notes...

  • In an interesting bit of news Jeff Cowan, yes the Brabarian, is back with the Canucks. Obviously he won't play unless there are some injuries up front, but it's nice to have a little more physical depth up front.
  • The Manitoba Moose opened their second round series against the Grand Rapids Griffins with a 2-1 victory Friday night. The Canucks don't look to be getting Moose reinforcements any time soon.
  • Cody Hodgson continues his great year as earlier last week he was named the OHL's most outstanding player, ahead of John Tavares. Unfortunately, Brampton looks to have met their match in the OHL final as they trail the series vs Windsor two games to none. Should Brampton be eliminated I believe Hodgson can join the Moose or if not, you will see him in Vancouver (although not likely in the lineup).
  • Oh, and in case you didn't already know, Ryan Kesler was nominated for the Selke trophy. Obviously he's not going to edge out Datsyuk or Richards, but it's nice to see Kesler get some recognition.