Canucks/Flames Postgame: Playoff Preview?

That was a great hockey game. Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching bottom-feeder hockey all season, but it was a nice change to watch a pretty good team play a really good team. As the commentators noted time and again, it felt like a playoff game.

Often, it’s difficult to know how the coaching staff impacts a hockey team, but the influence of Alain Vigneault and his crew was all but impossible to miss. The power-play was fluid and effective, featuring a variety of both puck and player movement. The penalty kill was ferocious on the forecheck and serene during their brief moments in the defensive zone. Faceoffs were won, and players were moved about the ice in the ensuing moments with the same clockwork precision as chess pieces in the hand of a grandmaster. The Flames had a very strong game, but aside from a few instances it was the Canucks who controlled the pace of the contest.

Up front, there was very little to complain about. The Sedins weren’t as spectacular as they have often been, but they still generated chances. Alex Burrows had a tremendous two-way game; he blocked shots with desperation, provided his usual abrasive presence in the offensive zone, and was flawless on the penalty kill. He also scored the bookend goals of the game, notching the opener on the power play and providing a finale with an empty-netter to put things out of reach. Samuelsson scored twice on the second line, continuing to display the Midas touch that has appeared for the last half-dozen games, while Raymond had a decent night and Kesler a better one. Jannik Hansen was superb on the penalty-kill, and Manny Malhotra looked every inch the veteran checker and faceoff maestro that he is. Victor Oreskovich was surprisingly good on the fourth line and despite my reluctance to applaud Tanner Glass he actually had a phenomenal game – at least three or four times he made strong individual plays that gave his team an advantage. I was unimpressed with Jeff Tambellini, who doesn’t have the same defensive positioning as his line-mates, and Raffi Torres remains snake-bitten and had a quiet night.

On the back end, Sami Salo seems to have benefitted from his brief stint in the American Hockey League; he was used with discretion by the coaching staff but had surprisingly little rust. Christian Ehrhoff was competent, but made a few mistakes. Kevin Bieksa had a better night than his plus/minus will show, the victim of two lousy periods from defence partner Andrew Alberts. That said, Alberts came out and had a great third period, so I can’t criticize him too harshly. The third pairing was pretty good too; Aaron Rome threw a nice hip-check and made a few good plays, while I have to admit I was blown away by Chris Tanev. Tanev’s come out of nowhere, but I don’t know that the Canucks will be able to send him down when people get healthy if he keeps playing like this; he made intelligent decisions in all three zones and was perpetually aware of where both his opposition and his allies were on the ice. I was very impressed.

Luongo wasn’t called on often, and looked less than stellar (particularly when handling the puck, as is traditional) but in the end it didn’t matter.

On the Flames end, I was impressed by a number of players. I’ve always appreciated the talents of Brendan Morrison, and tonight was not an exception – he was crafty with the puck and surprisingly nasty in the corners. Curtis Glencross was the second star and had a strong game, as did Flames captain Jarome Iginla. In net, Miikka Kiprusoff has not had a particularly good season, but he was very strong tonight.