Like all members of Canuck Nation, we here at Critically Canuck have suffered a long time. We will not die happily unless the Stanley Cup makes its way to Stanley Park.
Here you'll get the straight goods on our heroes. With both feet on the bandwagon, we will, however, pull no punches. As long time season ticket holders, that's our prerogative.
Expect analytical insight with a strong sense of history. We'll ask the tough questions. And answer them. Enjoy.
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In light of the Canucks’ disastrous trip to Boston, we expect some significant line-up tweaks from the occasionally esteemed Coach Vigneault.
During the last Canucks’ meltdown (the first round near suicide swoon against Chicago), we threw out some ideas for roster changes (see our April 23rd posting where we recommended reuniting Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows and starting Cory Schneider) that ended up working out brilliantly. So once again, it’s time to play Armchair Alain Vigneault:
While we’re tempted to throw out the “start Cory Schneider” plea again, although things are similar, they are also different this time around. Until the last two games, Roberto was being lauded as a Conn Smythe trophy candidate. He did out goaltend Tim Thomas in two straight games not that long ago. The only reason to start Schneider at this point would be as a wake-up call for the rest of the team. We’d say that card doesn’t need to be played. Yet.
We would, however, reunite Kesler and Burrows again (on the hope that they restrict their play to between the whistles).
The most dominant Canuck forwards in the four games of the final have essentially been every member of the third line. That line needs to see more ice time or perhaps broken up with its ingredients spread evenly through the top three lines. In particular, Jannik Hansen riding shotgun with the twins might invigorate the suddenly stone cold Sedins.
Given the poor play of both Keith Ballard and Andrew Alberts in the last game, perhaps it’s time to insert Chris Tanev in either of their places. While the Canucks might miss the physicality that both Ballard and Alberts can bring, the cool headed play of Tanev might be a better option for a defense that looks more than a little discombobulated right now.
And before the current edition of the Canucks get too lost in this nosedive, it might be worth reminding them of the ‘94 version, who after a game one overtime win, lost three straight, getting outscored 12-4 in the process, before rallying to trounce the Rangers in games five and six.
We would toy with the idea of inserting a skillful Cody Hodgson into the line-up and finding him some quality ice time on the wing, with Mason Raymond rightfully demoted to the fourth line until he can recalibrate his compass to discover where the front of the net might be. If Boston can get some contribution from its number one prospect, why can’t we?
Sami Salo is certainly struggling with his mobility, but he has proven that he can still shoot the puck, and given the struggles of the power play, it is time for him to see some first unit minutes at the expense of either Christian Ehrhoff or Alex Edler.
The best thing about playing Armchair Alain Vigneault is that the more crap you throw at the wall, the more likely some of it will stick and the more likely you’ll look just as brilliant lucky as Coach Vigneault Enjoy your white knuckle ride tonight.
With the Canucks in full command of a series that they could just as easily be trailing two games to nothing, you have to like their chances to finish off the Bruins sooner rather than later.
No doubt the Boston faithful feel that their team is most unlucky to be returning to Beantown without at least a split. Both games have been tightly contested and decided by the slimmest of margins. With last night’s tilt controlled almost entirely by a player, Alex Burrows, whom, many will argue, should have not been playing.
But if you’re a Boston fan, you should be a little concerned that the Canucks’ best player to date has been their goalie, who appears to be completely in a zone right now. Whether stopping pucks with his mask or attentively covering for his mates’ mistakes, he seems unflappable right now. And if you’re a team with as little relative forward depth as the Bruins, that should be a monumental cause for concern.
And what about the Canucks’ elite forward group? Well, despite Burrows’ dominance last night, Henrik Sedin declared that it was their worst playoff game as a line this post season. Indeed, if you were looking to identify the Canucks’ best all around forward after two games, you might be looking at Jannik Hansen.
And such is the story of the Vancouver run this post season, who have adopted a hero-by-committee approach to their success, which really speaks to the team’s tremendous depth. With equal but rarely coincident brillance from Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa, Daniel Sedin, Roberto Luongo and now Alex Burrows, should the playoffs end today, the Conn Smythe Trophy award may be up for grabs like no time before.
So should Luongo continue his play, that, on its own, might be enough to ensure a Stanley Cup victory, but should the Canucks’ high end talent start filling the net again, while Luo continues to tend to his business, the Bruins continued losses will have nothing to do with luck and everything to do with the Canucks being the better team.
Okay, so there’s only been three. But they’ve all been memorable and entertaining games decided on literally the game’s final play.
Last night’s tilt ended in somewhat similar fashion to the Canucks’ last game one Stanley Cup Final appearance, when another Greg Adams overtime winner earned the Canucks (and mostly Kirk McLean with 52 saves) another clutch performance. This time it was Raffi Torres converting on a quick strike pass (this one from Jannik Hansen and not Cliff Ronning) and another brilliant Roberto Luongo effort (a 36 save shutout performance).
And there was the 1982 version, who trailed the champion Islanders 4-2, but then surged to a 5-4 third period lead before Harold Snepsts completed the worst night of life. Let’s just leave it at that. Though it’s worth noting that an autographed Snepsts jersey fetched more at last night’s silent auction than the price of admission. Yes, we still love our losers.
And before the naysayers start complaining that this series is shaping up as another Nashville snoozefest, they clearly were looking only at the scoresheet.
There were plenty of interesting story lines - the Dan Hamhuis hit (and injury), an Alex Burrows biting allegation, another typically remarkable performance from Tim Thomas and an arguably better performance by the maligned Luongo who still may be three wins away from being considered a true clutch goalie in the minds of most.
But besides these obvious plot lines, what about the Bruins’ decision to put Zdeno Chara up front on a power play that has been and continues to be absolutely brutal. Sooner or later, this inability to score with the extra man will cost them their playoff lives. With Chara in front of the net, his lethal slap shot is completely negated and a good portion of his monstrous frame is above the goalie’s perspective anyway. Clearly, when it comes to screening the goalie, bulk is more important than height. And it’s not like he’s going to be able to bury too many loose pucks with that ten foot barge pole. But we’re giving away too many secrets here…
And what about the Canucks’ third line, whose performance against the grinding Bruins just might be the pivotal performance of this series. Can we please put to bed the notion of a Manny Malhotra return for now? Don’t get us wrong, Manny is a useful player. But can he really be expected to be an impact player? Especially now after over two months of inactivity and with his replacement fitting in perfectly on a third line that has been very difficult to play against, let alone providing some of the signature goals of this now remarkable run.
In the end, despite the power play ineptness of both teams last night, we shouldn’t have been surprised with what we got.
The Canucks came out buzzing with the Bruins’ only reprieve provided by a run of penalties.
By the mid-point of the third period, it looked like the Canucks were running on low and the Bruins were in good shape to capitalize.
But the typically fit Canucks found another gear only to find that Tim Thomas will stop pretty much everything he can see, no matter how perfect the set-up. Indeed, the Canucks will have to get some greasy ones to take this series.
And before we get too far into our parade planning, we might want to consider that while we’ve won every game one of this playoff run, the Bruins have lost all but one.
With Dan Hamhuis out, and possibly Alex Burrows, the battle has just begun. Enjoy the ride.
In his early days in Vancouver, Coach Alain Vigneault was known to juggle his lines at the slightest adversity. Though as the Canucks have morphed into an elite team, his juggling act has reduced greatly.
However, it was the decision to remove Alex Burrows from his typical slot on the Sedin line to reunion with partner-in-crime Ryan Kesler (a move that was suggested here first) that turned the Canucks’ fortunes around last series.
Now with the Canucks continuing to struggle mightily at what they are typically most proficient, it seems more fixes could be in the offing. Based on the most recent practice, it appears Burrows may be back with the sagging Sedins for tomorrow’s match.
And who knows, maybe that will be the right tweak to get them going again. But we think another fix may be in order. We say leave Kesler and Burrows together for the time being - that reunion has brought out the best in each of them despite Kesler remaining goalless in nine playoff games.
If there is something ailing Mikael Samuelsson (and you have to believe there is), he should be moved to the press box or at least further down the depth chart so on that basis we agree a change is in order on the supposed top line.
One of the Canucks’ most consistent performers all season has been speedy grinder Jannik Hansen. And while his questionable hands may not be the remedy to getting the Sedins back on the scoresheet, his ever present hustle and determination should at least get them back to doing what they do best.
The last time we offered up some roster changes, they were surprisingly adopted (the reunion of Kesler/Burrows and the game 6 start for Cory Schneider). Let’s hope Coach Vigneault tunes in here one more time…
Though perhaps the headline ought to read “Refuse Afraid to Lose”, this incarnation of the Canucks can finally proclaim to be battle tested.
In what was perhaps the greatest game played on home ice in franchise history (the game 6 win over the New York Rangers in the ‘94 Stanley Cup Final the only other game that comes to mind), the Canucks (almost to a man) were as determined as they’ve been and got the result that had eluded them in Game 6.
In a playoff performance for the ages, Alex Burrows was at the epicentre of everything important. Scoring the game’s first goal, drawing (and missing) an early third period penalty shot, drawing the late game penalty that seemingly was going to put the game away for the Canucks only to fail moments later on a back-checking assignment resulting in a short-handed game tying marker for Jonathan Toews. And if that wasn’t enough, Burrows had the faithful fearing the worst while serving an overtime penalty only to later redeem himself with the winner that you’ve likely seen a dozen times.
Perhaps most satisfying for all was the prominence of Roberto Luongo, who was full value for his effort, making an overtime save on the aforementioned overtime power play, that while not as spectacular as Kirk McLean’s historic ‘94 first round overtime game 7 stop, was equally timely and was made in characteristic top of his game style (anticipating the play and positioning himself so well that an unreal save almost looked routine).
The only player who seemed prominently out of sorts was captain Henrik Sedin, who is nowhere near his comfort zone. Hopefully, the realization that there is nothing comfortable about a ride to the Stanley Cup will grab his attention soon.
But this night belonged in equal parts to Burrows, Ryan Kesler and Roberto Luongo, who displayed the playoff jam we’ve all been yearning for.
And the faithful, who rightfully booed our heroes off the ice in game 5, were solidly behind their team all night. And while getting the early opening goal certainly helped matters, when the Canucks surrendered the tying goal after having questionably retreated into a defensive shell for much of the third period (the likes of which we haven’t seen since the last time it didn’t work against these same Hawks), chants of “Go Canucks Go” started immediately and continued until the game was done.
The celebrating in the streets after last night’s victory seemed a little over the top, this being only the first round. But as we all know, this was no regular first round. This was about facing demons, vanquishing hexes and proving to themselves (and ourselves), that IT can be done.
Putting aside for a moment the result of tonight’s game, despite having already won three games this series, Vancouver played their best game yet and seemed to snatch back momentum from the surging Hawks.
Cory Schneider starting between the pipes was a huge surprise (though suggested here) and with Roberto Luongo nowhere in sight on the bench, a most intriguing story. And while communication breakdowns between Schneider and his defense resulted directly in two Hawks’ goals, Schneider was blessed with a much stronger team effort in front of him than Luongo had recently seen. The story got even more intriguing when Luongo magically appeared from the dressing room to replace the crampy Schneider. Who’s scripting this stuff anyway?
The Canucks were again a determined hard working crew looking like the President’s Trophy winners for most of tonight’s match and, on balance, deserved better than what they got. If anything, their likeable effort tonight will buoy the bandwagon, which was rightfully teetering on the brink.
However, the Canucks’ strong play tonight in a third straight loss to the defending Cup champion Hawks has only exaggerated the impact of the no-shows they came up with in games 4 and 5. So despite once having the ultimate stranglehold, they are simply down to one final game. Should they fail to capitalize on Tuesday night, they can only look to their catastrophic failures earlier in the series.
Besides the renewal of the determination we had all been accustomed to, there were some significant line-up changes (the aforementioned goalie switch). Alex Burrows, reunited with Ryan Kesler for much of the night (yep, we suggested that one, too), played his best game of the post season by far. And Kesler, while still kept off the scoreboard, was no longer missing in action.
But the biggest story of this game will be the goaltending controversy that has ensued. The Canucks, with their effort tonight, have at least momentarily addressed the issue of their playoff determination. But Roberto Luongo looked more than a little nervous in his relief appearance. And while Cory Schneider played well behind a better team, his puck handling fumbles led to two goals.
It is our opinion that the decision to play Schneider tonight was the correct one. It reversed a disturbing trend in team play. Should the Canucks offer up a similar effort in the deciding game, goaltending shouldn’t matter. Now that the ship has been righted, it is time for Roberto Luongo to resume his spot in net for what may just be one of the most important games in franchise history.
And no, we are not talking about an order of Depends adult size diapers for the lucky 20 who get to defend the honour of this frantic city heading into the next possible elimination game against the hated Hawks.
After two knock-out losses, clearly something is broken, so here are some suggested fixes:
Start Cory Schneider in net. And while it will not happen (Coach Vigneault tabbed Luongo as his starter within minutes of Thursday’s disaster), it seems like a win-win for all concerned. His teammates have clearly thrown Roberto under the bus. Starting Schneider would be a signal from the coaching staff that such mutiny will not be tolerated any longer. If he manages a win, all is forgiven and we can move onto the next round with Lou rightfully retaining his spot at the front of the bus. If he loses, the franchise icon (and his beleaguered mates) get one last shot at redemption at home in Game 7 with Alain Vigneault having seemingly exhausted all of his options.
Send Raffi Torres to the press box. Remember the first two games of this series when everyone was marveling at the Canucks’ depth and the Hawks lack of it? When Torres was serving the final two games of his suspension? Yes, we won those games. Torres is the proverbial red cape to the Hawks’ rampaging bulls. Every time he does something, it gives them just a little bit extra. We don’t need that.
Get Cody Hodgson more ice. The sheltered one, likely tiring of the kid glove treatment he’s been getting from team brass all season, was the Canucks’ most dangerous forward last game with limited minutes. And while that might not say much, it’s clear that he’s not been here long enough to be conditioned to pant pooping every time the going gets tough.
Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows are missing in action so why not put them back together. At worst, only one line is neutralized this way. At best, they can yap at each other to the point of turning their collective games around.
There is precious little good playoff history for us to celebrate in Vancouver. But some of the best of it happened against these damn Hawks. Forget about analyzing video from the two nightmarish losses. How about cuing up footage from the famed ‘82 series against Chicago? Ron Delorme’s pummeling of Grant Mulvey. Roger Neilson and the white towels. Jim Nill’s overtime winner. Heroic net-minding from King Richard. That team couldn’t carry this team’s collective jock-straps talent wise, but they cared about each other.
And while we don’t expect many (if any) of these things to happen, the simple fact that they don’t might tell you all you need to know about those running the show.
Enjoy Game 6 where we can only hope that this Easter Sunday won”t be remembered as another massacre at the madhouse on Madison.
Through the Canucks’ mostly mediocre 40 years, there has been no shortage of lamentable traits. Certainly, the inability to finish off teams on the rare occasions they’ve had them on the mat has been in great supply (the “we choked” stretch drive of 2002, the 3-1 blown series lead to Minnesota in 2003 and the game 2 letdowns in consecutive series losses to the Black Hawks).
This season with the Canucks’ disciplined, calm and confident approach, it seemed like catastrophic bed-wettings were a thing of the past. And early on in last night’s game, it seemed like that was going to be the case again when the Canucks quickly rebounded from an early inexcusable Hawk score by resorting to their modus operandi this season, an absolutely lethal power play.
But after a quick two goal outburst from Chicago, the game was over. For whatever reason, after succeeding in the preceding three games with an aggressive approach, the Canucks were incredibly passive, allowing the Hawks to easily gather speed through the neutral zone only to be faced by a defense that kept backing up and a goalie that was doing the same.
As you’d expect, the Hawks came with everything, though still got no production from their top players and in the end rode the coattails of the dastardly Dave Bolland to a bizarrely easy win.
In many respects, the lack of a suspension to Raffi Torres is the worst thing that could have happened to the Canucks. Torres has awoken the sleeping giant and by virtue of getting off unpunished, has given the Hawks something else to play for.
And while Canuck ownership is likely quite content with another home ice date, the team and its faithful should be concerned about letting Chicago back in this series, particularly in such lopsided fashion.
So the Canucks’ new found (but suddenly misplaced) resolve will be tested in grand fashion tomorrow night. We expect to see a better prepared team. And we hope to see some appearance from Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows on the score-sheet. And really, we’d rather not hear another story about their great defensive work on the Hawks’ top players in this series. Both Burrows and Kesler are considered elite two way players who are only contributing in one way come playoff time yet again.
Since the Canucks got embarrassed on home ice (again) by the defending Cup champion Black Hawks back in late November, they have been on an unprecedented stretch of success, compiling a 23-4-6 record in the process.
A run of this type is not typically down to simply good fortune or the exemplary efforts of a few. It takes a consistent effort from almost everyone. And that is precisely what is happening.
And it’s not just their win total that impresses, but how they are going about it. Their regulation play is mostly dominant, last night’s 6-0 shellacking of the soon-to-be Winnipeg Jets again ample evidence of that. In fact, their record, with a little shootout good fortune, would be even more inflated.
Roberto Luongo, a target of doubters (at times, ourselves included), is in a zone of dominance that is on par with his first season in Vancouver. While that team didn’t provide him with this kind of offensive support, he is looking equally calm and composed, making consistent clutch stops.
The Sedins are simply repeating their scoring pace of their breakout season. Despite this consistency, neither Daniel nor Henrik (who are both vying for the Art Ross Trophy) would even qualify for the most valuable player on the team this season.
That distinction would fall on the now immense shoulders of Ryan Kesler, reformed yapper turned possible fifty goal scorer. His offensive prowess this season represents an astonishing mid-career skill crescendo, proving that even at the elite level a little more practice (like 500 shots per day) can still pay off. Kesler’s metamorphosis is so notable that Sports Illustrated has offered up a full article on him this week. The downside of all this scoring is that he’ll likely take himself out of the running for this year’s Selke Trophy (for best defensive forward) which he seemed a shoe-in for with incumbent winner Pavel Datsyuk being sidelined.
And, of course, there is the defense, finally deep and disciplined. Despite some recent injury troubles, the team has adopted an almost committee like approach to defending with unproven youngsters like Chris Tanev and Lee Sweatt being seamlessly inserted in the line-up. Tanev and Sweatt, both recent off-the-radar free agent signings, are (for now, anyway) feathers in the cap of Mike Gillis. And both represent a nice problem to have when Andrew Alberts and Aaron Rome return to the line-up.
And with Alex Edler lost for the rest of the regular season, Kevin Bieksa, based on his tremendous play during this run would seem to be a lock for the Canucks defenseman of the year. Who would have ever predicted that?
And while we’re talking about unlikely performances, what about Jannik Hansen, whose praises are constantly being sung by the coaching staff and who leads the forwards in hits. If Hansen took 500 shots per day in practice, he might finally convert some of those scoring chances.
When the season commenced, we observed that in order for the team to take another step forward this season they would require a renewed commitment to discipline. We have witnessed a remarkable turnaround in that regard with the Canucks now being one of the least penalized teams in the league and the tag team of Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler having reigned in their immature antics.
We also observed that it was time to see some significant contributions from the valued prospects in the organization. And certainly, Cory Schneider has established himself as a bonafide NHL goaltender, one who can support and challenge Luongo at the same time.
Which brings us to prospect number one, Cody Hodgson. Two NHL games isn’t anything, but in this very limited sample size he’s looked comfortable and confident with the puck. And he has scored, one more monkey off his wonky back.
Of course, there is always room for improvement. The offensive production from the third and fourth lines has been spotty at best. The personnel on the second power play unit is a revolving door and has obtained little chemistry. The same goes for the fourth line.
But really, these are minor troubles. And troubles that can hopefully be addressed with the more than adequate cushion the Canucks have generated for themselves in the standings.
Another critical factor in the Canucks’ rise to the top of the standings is the fall of the Western Conference (save perhaps Detroit) where the perennial favourites (San Jose and Chicago) have struggled and where the up and coming teams (Los Angeles, Colorado and St. Louis) have taken steps back.
Yes, right here, right now, and like never before, it looks like the hockey gods are smiling on the Vancouver Canucks. Plan that parade route. Now. While you still can.
With another match against the hated Hawks on Friday, the still nervous faithful might be only another devastating loss away from pushing the panic button.
With their New Year’s Eve road victory over Dallas, the Canucks finished up the year 2010 with an amazing regular season record of 48-20-9. That’s a winning percentage of .682 - easily the best twelve months of regular season success ever for the franchise. And after a couple of more wins to start 2011, the team finds itself perched atop the NHL standings.
As our followers know, we will not hesitate to pull the trigger when playing the blame game. So what about now? Who gets the credit for this sustained run of regular season dominance?
The easy answer, of course, is Mike Gillis. After all, he inherited a team that had missed the playoffs twice in three years and is now on the verge of watching his team capture its third straight division crown and, quite possibly, much more.
When you look at the roster that has contributed to the extended run of current success, you will notice that the top three forwards (the Sedins and Ryan Kesler) were draft picks of the Brian Burke era. As was Kevin Bieksa, this year’s comeback player of the year in the minds of many. We’re sure Toronto fans are wondering why he didn’t take this build-through-the-draft strategy with him there instead of pulling a Phil Kessel quick fix. At any rate, we’re quite happy about it.
Digging a little deeper you’ll see that Alex Edler, Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen and Cory Schneider (all key players in this vintage Canuck edition) were all draft picks of Dave Nonis - a man whose drafting record was roundly criticized. And of course, the backbone of this team, Roberto Luongo, was received by Nonis for the combustible Todd Bertuzzi (in a trade offer that no one would have refused). Combine that with his free agent signings of Alex Burrows and Rick Rypien and it’s quite clear that the core of this team was present before Gillis arrived on the scene.
Even the head coach, Alain Vigneault, was a Dave Nonis hire for crying out loud.
Don’t for a moment think that we are pining for yesteryear - we were driving the “fire Dave Nonis bus” as much as anyone. Gillis has been able to do what Nonis was not - he has made Vancouver a desirable destination for players, despite the difficult travel schedule and fishbowl atmosphere. Further, he has reworked the team’s back end while adding the right mix of complementary forwards to the group he inherited.
By far his biggest accomplishment has been to fully recognize what assets he had and retain them with as little cap impact as possible. A man with a bigger ego and less patience would have been more inclined to blow this thing up, putting his personal stamp on the team in the process.
That is not to say that Gillis is beyond reproach. His post season patience with Alain Vigneault is unprecedented; only time will tell if it is warranted. His drafting record is, at best, incomplete. And the biggest contributor to his success may have been simply good fortune - Mats Sundin’s reluctance to accept $20 million for two years of floating. And the lengthy contract of Roberto Luongo “could” hamstring the club down the road.
But like we said, now is not the time for the blame game. There is plenty of credit to go around. Mike Gillis should get most of it, but let us not forget Brian Burke and Dave Nonis for providing the bricks and mortar (not to mention the continued demolition of the Leafs). And a thank you to reader “Jake”, for suggesting this timely topic..