Photo Credit: Reuters
Tonight’s preseason victory over the Edmonton Oilers featured some good news, and some bad-news. The good news? Luongo looked excellent, Hodgson scored twice and the next time the Canucks play hockey – the result will count. The bad news? They may start the season without Marco Sturm and Alex Edler, who were both penalized under rule 48, and may find themselves guest starring in Brendan Shanahan’s popular new on-line reality show this week. If you’d told me before the game to name a Canucks skater who was most likely to find themselves in hot-water with an ugly head-shot, I think I’d have listed off twenty names before I uttered "Marco Sturm," but there you go.
The game itself was filled with emotion, featured some big hits and some nice skill moments. In short it was some entertaining hockey, especially considering it was a preseason game. Both teams took twenty-nine shots on net – with the Oilers outshooting the Canucks by a wide margin in the second period, and the Canucks comfortably controlling the third. Hodgson, Hansen and Samuelsson tallied with Khabibulin in net, and Hodgson added the empty netter in the games dying seconds. Paajarvi had the lone Oilers goal – a power-play marker in the second period.
The Canucks will open the 2011-12 regular season with a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday. The wait, my friends, is nearly over. Drop. The. Puck.
Goats and Stars:
Star – Speedy Swede Magnus Paajarvi is a fabulous hockey player. His goal wasn’t pretty, in fact it was garbage, but it demonstrated some impressive persistence. Though he’s got some nice skills, his stand-out quality is his blinding speed. He’s probably the best skating forward on a team that includes guys like Ales Hemsky, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. On one particular play in the third period, he caught Kevin Bieksa totally flat footed on a drive to the net. Kevin Bieksa is both a really good NHL defenseman, and a very solid skater – so that’s impressive stuff. Paajarvi’s ceiling is sky-high (his rookie numbers compare favorably with the Sedins) and if tonight is any indication, he’s poised to take a major step forward this season.
Goat – Nikolai Khabibulin had a rough evening. The Canucks first goal came off of a slot-deflection, so there’s no faulting Khabby on that. But he looked thoroughly mediocore on Vancouver’s second and third goals. On the second goal he got a piece of a hard Jannik Hansen wrister, but didn’t get enough of it to keep it out of the net. On the third goal, Khabby over-played a Dan Hamhuis shot that ended up getting blocked, he was flat on his stomach and totally helpless as Samuelsson launched the insurance tally top-chedd.
Star – Roberto Luongo was in mid-season form this evening, and kept the Canucks in the game. The team in front of him gave up five two-on-ones, and took five penalties – so Luongo had to be sharp. On the one goal allowed, he made the first two saves (only two shots were officially credited on the scramble, it looked more like four shots to me) before he was taken out and finally beaten by Magnus Paajarvi (though he almost made that save as well). After a rough outing in Anaheim in his only other previous preseason start – it was good to see Luongo bounce back and look confident this evening – even if it was Oilers shooters he was stymying.
Goat – Alex Edler looked out of sync and was penalized twice for what were inarguably bad-hits. His elbow on Taylor Hall was borderline but inarguably reckless, and the boarding penalty he took earlier in the period – a totally unnecessary hit on Taylor Hall from behind – even worse. Edler whiffed on a few passes to the point on the power-play, and only generated one shot on net despite receiving two-hundred and sixty-seven seconds of ice-time on the man-advantage. Oddly, Edler and Salo played the fewest minutes of any of the Canucks pairings at even-strength, as Vigneault went with Ballard-Tanev and Bieksa-Hamhuis more in those situations. Throughout his career, Edler has battled with consistency – he has all the tools to be a Norris candidate, but he still has too many nights like this one.
The Sedins had a gorgeous shift in the first period that served to remind me how absurdly excited I am to watch this team play eighty-two games (plus at least one playoff round) over the next seven months. The twins are ridiculous, and though a lot of other fan-bases might snipe at them, Canucks fans should savour their presence on the hockey team we’ve chosen to root for.
Henrik Sedin wound up and uncorked a massive slap-shot (it went wide) on the rush in the third period. This actually happened. Henrik also outshot his brother 3-2 in the game. If Henrik is looking to shoot more, that’s very good news for the Canucks. Some people worry that opposing teams have "figured out how to shutdown the Sedins" because Boston (and to a lesser extent Nashville) managed to do so this postseason with their respective goaltenders riding the percentages like an Elephant over the Alps. If the Sedins can become less predictable, and if Henrik can become a threat to score (or at least shoot), that will help throw-off opposing defenses.
Dan Hamhuis had a really nice outing, and looks poised to repeat as the Canucks best defender again this season. He was only credited with one shot on goal, though two "attempted" shots on goal ended up in the back of the net. One was deflected by Hodgson, and on the other, he was blocked twice before the puck dribbled over to Samuelsson for Vancouver’s third goal. It was a persistent moment from the clean-cut humanitarian from Smithers. Hamhuis also made some stellar defensive plays, led all Canucks in ice-time and was a stalwart on the penalty-kill.
Keith Ballard had a nice game with his partner Chris Tanev – though they were the pair on the ice for the mad-scramble on the Paajarvi goal. Ballard played more minutes than both Tanev and Sami Salo – so for tonight, at least, he was technically in the Canucks top-four! Rejoice. Ballard’s decision making was much better in the last two outings (Thursday and Saturday) than it has been in most of the preseason, he didn’t cough up the puck once against Edmonton and made some nice plays in the offensive zone. Sure he had two of his shots blocked (something I’m often critical of Ballard for) but overall played well.
As for Chris Tanev – I’ve talked at length about him being deployed as an "EV flow specialist" and look – in the first game in which the Canucks dress their opening night roster – Tanev led all Canucks defenseman in even-strength ice-time. Yes it’s the preseason, but Tanev was under-stated and excellent again tonight – so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this occur often this season.
Cody Hodgson scored two goals – a power-play marker and an empty-netter, and took advantage of his protected minutes. Hodgson beginning the season as the teams second line center was probably guaranteed well before tonight’s game – but it’s nice to see him end off the preseason with an exclamation mark performance.