I had four cups of coffee Sunday morning, up early for no particular purpose other than to feed the dog and wait for some friends that slept on my living room floor to leave—waiting goes well with a newspaper, and a newspaper goes well with coffee. The point isn’t the number of cups, necessarily, but that those cups were consumed periodically throughout the day and not all at once.
Despite all the caffeine, it wasn’t enough to keep me awake through the balance of the Vancouver Canucks visit to Columbus. An early-season Sunday matinee game against a non-Conference opponent with both teams playing the second half of a back-to-back, and both teams dressing with their starting goaltender? Sign me right up. Watching these sorts of games is a reminder of why we watch hockey in the first place, because it’s fun to irrationally root for certain outcomes of grown humans playing sports.
Vancouver lost 3-1 in a snoozefest. Both teams played poorly.
Brief history on winning goal-scorer R.J. Umberger. He was selected by the Canucks in the first round of the 2001 draft, but after he left Ohio State University, the team couldn’t come to contract terms with him. They cut their losses and traded him to the New York Rangers for Martin Rucinsky, the top-six winger brought in to supposedly fill the void left in the wake of Todd Bertuzzi’s suspension. He didn’t sign in New York and became a free agent, inking a deal with the Philadelphia Flyers in the summer of 2004, but was then traded to Columbus so the Flyers could get a first and a third round pick in the 2008 draft.
That first round pick? Luca Sbisa, the defenceman that was traded with Joffrey Lupul to Anaheim for Chris Pronger.
Umberger took a pass from Ryan Johansen midway through the third, catching a couple of Canucks napping—and Chris Tanev in a rare pinch attempt—finishing off a pretty goal past Eddie Lack. It was the only goal of the game with any sort of grace. Marian Gaborik deflected in a bouncer in the early going, and Henrik Sedin tied it up in the second period when he jammed the puck at the pads of Jackets goaltender Curtis McIlhinney, pushing the puck into the net along with McIlhinney. Seemed like the whistle should have blown, but I guess Henrik will take it. Johansen added an empty net goal.
WHY THE CANUCKS LOST
The Canucks didn’t convert on any of their 21 shot attempts in the first period, and the Jackets tightened up in the second and third periods. The Canucks couldn’t generate an awful lot of possession until the very end of the game when they had the goalie out.
The Fenwick (unblocked shot attempt) chart from Extra Skater tells the story. After the Jackets went up 1-0, the Canucks had the run of play until the end of the first. Not sure on the adjustment Columbus made at the break, but it appeared to work:
The shots seemed to even out in the final two frames.
McIlhinney walked away with pretty good stats, stopping 37 of 38 shots, although the Canucks didn’t test him very often. They had their moments, as you might expect with 38 attempts, but McIlhinney wasn’t forced into making any “Lord, how did he get to that one?” stops. On the other end, McIlhinney’s positioning was pretty good and he didn’t fumble a lot of rebounds, meaning he was in good position all night. While viewers tend to complain that shooters put the puck right into the goaltender’s crest, generally the goaltender has a hand in where he’s hit, especially if they give the shooters nothing.
Chris Higgins was stopped point-blank on a pass from behind the net at the very end of the game. Maybe Higgins could have got it a little higher over McIlhinney’s pad, but that discounts giving credit to the player whose pad was in exactly the right place. Most goals tend to enter the net in the lower portion, and on plays like that with a quick pass coming from behind the net, usually putting the puck to the side of the net where the goalie isn’t is the right play.
KESLER – HIGGINS
Other than the play on the winning goal, the pair had a very good game. Per Extra Skater (linked here, same one as above) the Canucks out-attempted Columbus 18-5 with Chris Higgins on the ice in close score situations. 15-5 for Kesler. The Alex Edler and Chris Tanev pairing were also very good, with Tanev going 14-3 and Edler at 18-4. For the most part they roasted the Johansen-Umberger-Comeau line, but hockey is funny and on occasion a player that gets hilariously out-shot is the one that scores the winner.
Happens. If you need any evidence that the Canucks generally controlled puck-possession in this game, consider that 12 5-on-5 faceoffs were taken in Columbus’ end, and just 6 in Vancouver’s.
So the Canucks go 0-1-1 on the weekend, with Roberto Luongo taking a shootout defeat in Pittsburgh and Eddie Lack getting the regulation loss in Columbus. My theory has always been that it’s preferable to start your better goaltender against the weaker team in a back-to-back situation, the idea being that you concentrate on winning the easier game, and anything you get in the game against the stronger opponent is just gravy.
John Tortorella did the opposite of this. Lack certainly wasn’t the reason the Canucks lost and it’s unfortunately not feasible to discuss alternate realities where this save didn’t happen or this save didn’t happen or this shot wasn’t taken because of good positioning… predicting goalies is voodoo anyway. Tortorella’s thought process is interesting because I’ve noticed a lot of coaches playing for the split in a back-to-back situation.
A split would have been preferable to what the Canucks wound up with. Funny how “Canucks have points in three straight games” can become “Canucks are on a two-game losing streak” in a couple of hours.
Next up: The Canucks travel to Long Island and will play the New York Islanders on Tuesday.