September 30 2011 01:00AM
Photo Credit: Robert Galbraith, REUTERS
The Canucks dressed their third line, their third pairing, Cody Hodgson, Mikael Samuelsson and a bunch of empty sweaters on Thursday evening against the majority of the San Jose Sharks opening night line-up. Predictably they were trounced and shut-out by a score of 3-0. Pavelski, Boyle and McGinn tallied for San Jose and Thomas Greiss made twenty-five saves for the shutout.
The game was reasonably entertaining I thought - except for when three fights, two of them staged fights directly off of consecutive face-offs - decimated the game's pace. At issue - Keith Ballard's totally clean hip-checks, which, the Sharks took objection too in the playoffs last season, and continue to be irrationally annoyed by. It's worth noting that - if anything - Ballard's desire to throw submarining hip-checks increased in the third period, so San Jose's efforts to deter that type of hit were a total waste.
Cory Schneider had a solid bounce-back effort making thirty-three saves in the loss, and though the Canucks skaters were outshot by eleven - considering the disparity in talent, Vancouver's team acquitted themselves reasonably well. Though the preseason doesn't tell us much, the Canucks inability to find the back of the net tonight does not auger well. Canucks forwards not named Sedin have combined for a single goal in the past four pre-season tilts, so while Kesler heals up, expect the Canucks to be excessively dependent on their top-line for offense.
Stars and Goats
Star - Tommy Wingels belongs in the show. He's proved it all pre-season and he did so again in this game. The twenty three year old American born winger demonstrated his speed, skill and grit tonight, and was especially impressive in a net presence role on the Sharks power-play. When Ryan Clowe hit the post squarely on a wrist-shot in the second period - that was all Wingels who was screening Cory Schneider so hard he should've brought popcorn.
Goat - He may have scored a lovely goal late in the game - but I'm still going to put Jamie McGinn here because I don't like him. He's also representative of a larger Sharks problem - their lack of discipline. We all remember the Western Conference Finals, and the Sharks discipline melt-down in games two and four, which, cost them that series. Tonight - they took five minor penalties, and put the Canucks on the two-man advantage on two separate occasions. The Canucks pop-gun power-play unit was unable to make them pay tonight, but against the Sedins - that's playing with fire.
Star - BREAKING: Jannik Hansen is really good at hockey. Remy Greer's observation from this summer - that Hansen is a closet playmaker who actually has a good deal of offensive potential - rang true this evening. Hansen made three particularly dangerous cross crease passes that his teammates were unable to get their sticks on, but that were nonetheless quality plays. I was disappointed, however, to see that even on tonight's roster - relatively devoid of talent as it was - Jannik Hansen sitill couldn't crack the second power-play unit. Makes me wonder if Vigneault even knows what he has in the speedster.
Goat - Andrew Alberts had some effective short-handed shifts, and continues to impress me with his increased foot-speed - but he took two minor penalties so he'll be tonight's goat for the Canucks. If Alberts wants to beat out Rome and Ballard on the depth-chart, he's going to have to cut down on the minors - he takes a preposterous amount of them, and it serves to neuter how effective his physical play is.
I suspect that Chris Higgins represents a sizable upgrade over Raffi Torres on the third line, and I look forward to watching him win puck battles all season long. The uncanny way Higgins uses his skates to protect the puck in traffic, then kicks the puck, allowing him to come up with it out of scrums is marvelous, and very useful to a hockey team.
Chris Tanev had another strong game, and was effective both on the power-play and short-handed. In the first period he had a smart zone entry on the man-advantage, throwing a hard low-shot at Greiss' far-pad. Of course it resulted in a dangerous rebound that the Canucks failed to capitalize on - but it's exactly the sort of heads-up play that makes Tanev so good. It's like he's a details guy - he dots his i's and crosses his t's. I also noticed a particular play early in the game where Tanev held his own and won a puck battle in the corner against Joe Thornton. Thornton has nearly fifty pounds on Tanev but the young Canucks defender kept *cliche alert* moving his feet and hounding Thornton and it served to compensate for his relative lack of size.
Keith Ballard had some good moments in the game, and made some unforced errors. Though that sounds like "par for the course" for Ballard, I thought tonight was his best preseason game and he even looked fine on the power-play. The way he got under the skin of the Sharks with his hip-checks is something that could serve the Canucks well when the two teams meet in the regular season. The only negative for Ballard tonight? He played fewer minutes than Anders Eriksson - something I could see becoming a trend. I'm only kidding (I hope).
Aaron Volpatti plays on the edge, but he had a text-book "big game" for a fourth-line hopeful. He played over four and a half minutes short-handed, and looked really good killing penalties. The Sharks power-play is likely to be one of the best in the league and looked really scary tonight with Burns and Boyle manning the points, which, makes Volpatti's short-handed efforts even more impressive. Volpatti had four hits, four blocked shots, banged up Sharks defenseman Jason Demers with a clean open ice hit and one punched Brad Winchester. Your move Oreskovich.
I hated the fighting in the second period of this game, but we'll end the post with Volpatti's one-punch nonetheless, enjoy you barbarians: