Zack Kassian and Kyle Clifford: On powerforwards, odd connections and hot starts

Thomas Drance
January 28 2013 02:28PM


Two power forwards, both alike in dignity, near fair Venice Beach where we lay our scene.

As the Vancouver Canucks prepare to face the Los Angeles Kings on national television Monday evening, both teams have good reason to be pleased with the early season performances of their respective twenty-two year old powerforwards.

For the Canucks it's Zack Kassian, who despite a quiet outing on Sunday night against the San Jose Sharks has been something of a revelation in the early going for Vancouver. He's scored three goals through five games - several of them beauties - and has provided Vancouver's hockey club with a rugged forward presence the franchise has lacked for so long.

For the Los Angeles Kings, it's left-winger Kyle Clifford, a 6,2 208 pound enforcer who plays bigger than his size. A staple on Los Angeles' fourth line for several years now, Clifford is flashing his hitherto untapped skill level in the early going this season, and has racked up six points in Los Angeles' first four games while skating on Los Angeles' second-line alongside Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. 

Their paths to get to the NHL level were divergent - Kyle Clifford was something of a surprise second round pick and a pure enforcer for the majority of his OHL career, while Zack Kassian was a highly touted first rounder who everyone has long agreed possessed first line upside and skill to burn - but they're linked together by their respective involvement in one of the most controversial trades in Canucks history. You see both players were targeted by Mike Gillis as an acceptable return for a popular one-way centreman named Cody Hodgson.

Read on past the jump for more.

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Game 6 Preview - Canucks @ Kings

Thomas Drance
January 28 2013 12:30PM

This was the scene when the Kings eliminated the Canucks in April of 2012.
Photo Credit: Rich Lam/Getty Images

It was a tale of two games this past weekend for the Canucks (as it often is when a team plays two games in one weekend). On Friday in Orange County, the Canucks put in a subpar performance but managed to blowout the Ducks thanks to their clicking power-play and a dominant performance from Cory Schneider. On Sunday, the Canucks actually managed to tighten up defensively and control the game for long stretches at even-strength, but were blown out 4-1 by the Sharks thanks to subpar penalty-killing, excellent goaltending by Antii Niemi's posts, and some brutal turnovers in their own end.

On Monday night the Canucks will play their sixth game in nine days against the defending champion Los Angeles Kings. Surely the short-handed Canucks will be out for a spot of redemption against the team that eliminated them in the first round a season ago, but they've got a tough task ahead of them. The Kings haven't brought their A-Game yet this season, but they remain a formidable club and have mostly been sunk by unsustainably bad goaltending. Also, Drew Doughty and company despise Vancouver's hockey team (like 28 other NHL teams, if we're being honest) so you know they'll be getting up for this one.

Read on past the jump.

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Four Areas Where the Canucks Really Miss Ryan Kesler

Thomas Drance
January 28 2013 09:12AM

Kesler is glum. We miss you too Kes.
Photo Credit: Jeff Vinnick/Getty

All you need to do is look over Ryan Kesler's total player charts to understand how critical his presence is for the Canucks. While the Sedins are the "best" players on the Canucks roster, Ryan Kesler is the club's MVP and if we're being honest he has been for several seasons now. Without him, Vancouver is struggling in the early going, and so I figured we'd dive into some areas where Kesler's absence is felt particularly hard if only to scratch our phantom itch.

Read on past the jump.

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Canucks Routed by Sharks, Goal Post: Recap and Chance Data

Thomas Drance
January 27 2013 10:32PM

Cory Schneider fails to smother the puck, as Patrick Marleau ices Sunday night's game.
Photo credit: Thearon W. Henderson

You wouldn't be able to tell by the mood of Canucks fans on Twitter or on Team1040 call in shows, but the Canucks put on a better performance on Sunday night against the Sharks than they managed in a blowout win over Anaheim two days prior. Yeah, yeah, the results weren't there and the Canucks laid a legitimate egg in the third period, but for much of the game Vancouver executed their game plan and controlled the proceedings.

Unfortunately for Vancouver's club, a couple of costly unforced errors, some sub-par goaltending, undisciplined play and Antii Niemi's absurd puck-luck cost the Canucks a winnable game. 

Read on past the jump for more.

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Preview - Game 5: Canucks @ Sharks

Thomas Drance
January 27 2013 03:42PM

A classic.
Photo via Matthew Bleadsdale

It took a hurculean effort from Cory Schneider, Aaron Volpatti and the club's special teams unit, but Vancouver recorded their first regulation victory of the season on Friday night in Anaheim. Defensively the Canucks are a work in progress and it's clear that the club misses the play-driving ability of David Booth and Ryan Kesler, but at least a clear game plan has emerged over the course of the team's first four games. 

The Canucks are doing well to control the territorial play and generate shots on net from the blue-line while playing a physical brand of hokkey that has frustrated opponents, and led to copious power-play opportunities for the club's polished first unit and the red-hot Mason Raymond (what?). Unfortunately, Vancouver has struggled to limit quality chances against at even-strength and their usual "ace" shutdown pairing of Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa has looked, well, extremely ordinary.

Read on past the jump for a more elaborate preview.

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