Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Canucks Rolling Through December

The Vancouver Canucks are mowing down opponents in December, sporting a 7-1-1 record as they head into Detroit to take on the 2nd place Red Wings. They now have an opportunity to move into 2nd place in the conference with a win tonight. Despite the great December record, Colorado is putting up a strong fight for the Northwest Division title, both teams have 42 points.

Vancouver has played the second fewest games in the NHL. On one hand those 6 points could put Vancouver at the top of the Western Conference standings. On the other hand, those 3 extra games have to get crammed into the schedule somewhere. As a result the Canucks have a very ugly January schedule. It all starts the first week of the new year where they play an insane 5 games in 7 days. That makes the last 5 games of December pretty important especially since 3 of the teams are currently ranked in the top 4 of the NHL standings.

Notes from Nuckland...

  • What more can be said about Ryan Kesler? He has taken his game to an entirely new level, despite not getting a whole lot out of his linemates. He leads the team in even strength goals(10) and at the same time the defensive side of his game has been outstanding. Kesler has to be a leading candidate for the Selke trophy.
  • While Kesler has been getting most of the headlines of late, Roberto Luongo has been quietly putting up some great numbers. Luongo is 7-1-0 with a 1.73 GAA and .925 SvPct in December.
  • Kesler's play has taken some of the pressure off the Sedins and for some reason their seems to be a perception that the Sedins aren't playing that great. Well lets take a look at the numbers: Daniel has 11 points in 9 December games, Henrik has 10. Daniel is on pace for 42 goals and 100 points, Henrik is on pace for 82 assists and 97 points. Not too shabby.
  • Despite the great record there are several Canucks who can be a lot better. Jeff Tambellini's play has tailed off, but he appears to be coming on. Even though he is on pace for a career high in points, Samuelsson has not scored since November. Raffi Torres has 1 goal and 4 points in his last 19 games.
  • For perhaps the first time in the Mike Gillis era the Canucks are getting a contribution out of the 4th line. Having a centre who has some size, can skate and plays physical is a huge part of that. Alex Bolduc is a huge upgrade on Ryan Johnson. During the Johnson era a shift in the offensive zone was a rare occurrence, now it's happening on a regular basis. Tanner Glass is playing the best hockey of his career. Jonas Andersson was solid in his short callup and Aaron Volpatti has already contributed.
  • On the blueline Kevin Bieksa is playing as good defensively as he ever has. The brain farts are still there, but overall he is playing well. Christian Ehrhoff has gotten his game together and Alex Edler continues to be the teams best defenseman. Dan Hamhuis has put his foot injury behind him and Keith Ballard is finally starting to see his minutes climb.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Poetic Performance by Luongo in 3-0 Shutout of Blackhawks

Roberto Luongo's poetry skills were on display last night, but more importantly so were the goaltending skills which once had many believing he was the best goaltender in the world. Luongo's game stealing performance was all the more impressive/encouraging because it came against a Chicago team that was "in the head" of Luongo and the Canucks. Luongo stealing the game was impressive, but it was the way he stole the game that really resonated with Canuck fans. It was the first time in a long time that Luongo truly frustrated a team. It reminded me of Kirpusoff's Vezina winning season, where team's knew they needed to be lucky just to get more than one goal. In the past few seasons that fear and dominance has been missing from Luongo's game. It's only one game, but it's a start.

Perhaps the significance of the game - and in turn Luongo's performance - is being overstated, but Canuck fans have to be encouraged by the team's response to their humliatating 7-1 home loss to the same Chicago Blackhawks. On to the game notes...

  • While the shot totals do not flatter the Canucks, it was actually a fairly even game. The Hawks obviously had a few grade a chances and the Canucks didn't play enough in the offensive zone, but most of Chicago's shots were from the outside or above the circles. After the first Chicago only had 13 even strength shots on goal.
  • Other than Ehrhoff's terrible turnover on an ill advised behind the back pass, the Canucks six defensemen had a great game. Keith Ballard was outstanding blocking 6 shots and delivering 4 hits in only 12:45 of ice time. Easily his best game as a Canuck - he deserves an increase in ice-time. Dan Hamuis was also oustanding, it looks like he is finally getting over his foot injury.
  • The Canucks special teams continue to reside at the top of the league and they came through again in Chicago. The penalty kill was perfect and the power play came through with the key insurance goal in the third period.
  • The 4th line has received a lot of criticism this season, but delivered a solid game. Glass scored what turned out to be the game winning goal and Perrault had his best game as a Canuck.
  • The third line had a tough assignment and struggled at times, especially Torres and Samuelsson, but Malhotra was once again dominant in the faceoff circle winning 15 of 20 draws!
  • Jeff Tambellini showed that he can be effective in tight physical games. He was credited with a team leading 6 hits and had a solid night overall.
  • As a team the Canucks blocked 19 shots and did a great job at containing the Blackhawsks on the outside. The forwards and defense were particularly effective defending Chicago's tactic of circling up high in the offensive zone. The Canucks communicated well and stayed with their checks, switching off or staying with their man whenever it was appropriate.

With the "statement" game out of the way the Canucks take on the slumping St. Louis Blues Sunday night in Vancouver. After a great start to the year the Blues have lost 4 in a row and are 3-9-1 since November 10th. The Blues play in Edmonton Saturday night so they should be ripe for the picking on Sunday.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Canucks Dismantle Flames 7-2

After 4 days off the Canucks returned to action and dismantled a sad looking Flames squad 7-2. Despite a pretty sloppy effort overall - culminating in a brutal 5:00 min power play to end the second - Vancouver exploded in the third with 4 goals, much to the delight of the Canuck fans on hand at the Saddledome. The Canucks were simply too fast for Calgary and by the end of the third even Miika Kiprusoff had given up on his team. Game notes...

  • While the final score and most of the stats were impressive, the Canucks didn't really play that great of a game. There were way too many turnovers, especially in the first, and the Canucks were failing to clear their zone far too often.
  • Jeff Tambellini had another great game. He now has 2 goals, 2 assists and 9 shots on goal in three games since being re-called from Manitoba. If he keeps playing like this he won't be going back.
  • Mason Raymond had a break out night with his second career hat trick. That's the Raymond we saw last year, he was flying and getting quality shots on goal. That short handed goal was impressive.
  • The second power play unit was terrible. I'm not even sure they managed to setup in the offensive zone at all. They got on the board late in the third after the Flames had given up, but when the game was still on the line they did not get it done. The number one unit is still producing at a league leading rate, but at some point Kesler might need to move to the 2nd unit.
  • Kevin Bieksa showed why he frustrates fans so much. There were two instances last night where Bieksa moved the puck up the boards directly to the opposition. Terrible decision making and way to casual. Kevin was credited with 3 giveaways on the night.
  • After a good night against San Jose the 4th line returned to form. With Bolduc heading down for a conditioning stint with the Moose (who play Friday and Saturday) Joel Perrault's days are numbered. He's got Friday and and Sunday to show he is capable of helping this team. A -1 and 2 for 7 in the faceoff circle VS Calgary did not help his cause.
  • Roberto Luongo was not busy, but still managed to look shaky. Luongo gave up a patented Beached Whale Goal™ to Alex Tanguay, but didn't have to do much after that.
  • Keith Ballard looks to be getting a little more comfortable as a Canuck which isn't easy when you are paired with Andrew Alberts. Look for Ballard to start carrying the puck up ice more often.

Finally for those fortunate to be going to next Saturday's game against Tampa Bay, the start time has been moved back to 7:30 and the doors will be open at 5:00. The Canucks are recommending that fans should be in their seats by 6:00pm. I guess they're going to raise Naslund's number really slowly.