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The Week Straight Up
Jeff Angus: To borrow an oft-used sports cliché (I know how much you like these), the Canucks showed a lot of moxie last week to finish the road trip with three straight victories. In particular, the gritty performance Friday evening against the Blues was extremely impressive for a number of reasons:
- The Blues were rested, the Canucks were playing their seventh game of the trip
- Tom Sestito skated on the third line
- The Canucks were without Jannik Hansen, Alex Burrows, Dale Weise, and David Booth up front
- Have I mentioned that Sestito was playing on the third line yet?
Thomas Drance: The Canucks dodged a schedule loss on Friday like Matt Duchene’s diet dodges gluten. What an impressive road trip from the Canucks, who managed to rack up wins despite a demanding travel schedule, a depleted lineup and (admittedly) some occasionally sloppy play.
Angus: Back to Friday’s game, I have a couple more thoughts. I’ve continued to be impressed with the steady play of Eddie Lack as the Canucks backup. He kind of won the spot by default this year (his one-way contract made the decision to send down Joacim Ericsson to Utica a lot easier). He was rock solid against the Blues, and even channeled his inner Dan Cloutier (the good) with some after-the-whistle involvement with several Blues forwards.
By the way, while we’re on the topic of Blues forwards – where is the David Backes addendum in the NHL rulebook? I guess he subscribes to the Boston Bruins mentality that “they can’t call everything.”
Drance: I have to admit, Backes is one of my favorite players in the league. He’s like the NHL’s unrestrained id. You lost in overtime to a tired opponents? Go after their star player who softly hooked you ten seconds earlier! Why not?
Angus: Switching gears a bit – what are your thoughts on Tortorella calling Kesler a winger, and saying that he has always believed Kesler to be a winger? At this stage of his career, I think the wing makes the most sense for him, but it is hard to look at his dominant 2010-11 season as a center and believe what Tortorella is trying to sell.
Drance: Yeah I think you hit the nail on the head there. If playing on the wing helps Kesler take more shots and maybe preserve his body a bit, then I’m all for it.
But look at those face-off numbers, those back-to-back 70 point seasons at centre, or the way he’s out-dueled guys like Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar in past playoff series as a centre. Did Kesler really accomplish all that as an out of position winger?
Kesler has scored at a sky-high rate when he’s skated with Henrik Sedin this season. With Mike Santorelli and Brad Richardson doing solid work as depth centreman, I think a loaded top-line is a pretty interesting button for Tortorella to push. All of which is to say that you can convince me that Kesler belongs on the wing for now, you can’t convince me that he always has…
Maybe we should just henceforth call Kesler a "forward"?
Angus: As you said, by the way, Mike Santorelli continues to be awesome. Whichever pro scout recommended him to Mike Gillis deserves a nice Italian Kitchen dinner. With the Santorelli find, the Canucks are also increasing their “successful Panther acquisition” number above the Mendoza line.
Drance: Santorelli is blowing me away. He’s another "forward" in that, like Kesler, he’s versatile enough to line-up anywhere and truth be told: he’s crushing it and there’s isn’t too much that’s unsustainable about it.
Sure, Santorelli won’t continue to shoot 16%, but his on-ice percentages don’t look unduly inflated (he’s been a bit fortunate in the defensive end of the rink). He’s crushing it by the underlying data too, despite starting a higher proportions of shifts in Vancouver’s end of the rink than the opponent’s. He’s looked pretty damn good short-handed too.
Actually, Santorelli sort of reminds me of Manny Malhotra. But it’s not the 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks version of Malhotra who Santorelli reminds me of. Rather it’s the 2009-10 Sharks version of Manny Malhotra. Malhotra didn’t have a deal all summer that year, and finally caught on with the Sharks late in training camp. He proceeded to play all over the Sharks top-9, proving himself a consummate professional hockey player and earning himself a three year deal the next summer with Vancouver. Hopefully Santorelli can sustain this level of play and have it pay off similarly for him.
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Angus: There are three games on the slate this week, and all of them have the potential to be dandy matchups. The Capitals roll into town on Tuesday, the Red Wings visit Rogers arena on Thursday night, and the Toronto Maple Leafs (Drance the stat nerds least favorite team, I hear) will face the Canucks on Saturday afternoon.
Drance: Yeah the Leafs aren’t for real, but I actually quite enjoy watching them play. There’s a lot of speed and skill in that lineup, and there are a lot of fun plot lines surrounding this Saturday’s game. Beyond Mason Raymond’s return to Vancouver, and the always riveting matchup between Dave Bolland the Sedin twins, it’ll be interesting to see if this revamped Toronto side can finally end Vancouver’s long winning streak in the regular season series.
Angus: The Leafs are at least somewhat for real, they’re clearly a fringe playoff team at worst, but yeah, regardless of their spot in the standings at the moment I don’t think they’re among the best in the East.
Still, they’ve got the speed and skill to outscore at least some of their issues in the defensive zone, they’ve got really good goaltending with James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier between the pipes, and they’re dynamic on special teams. Sounds like a club with a shot of out-performing your fancy stats, Drance.
Drance: That’s all pretty reasonable, but we’ll see if it plays out that way. I’m not sold on Toronto being able to sustain their elevated shooting percentage, and I don’t think they’ll sustain a well above average save percentage unless Reimer gets the bulk of the starts.
I wrote that entire sentence while gritting my teeth by the way!
Angus: Anyway let’s rewind and chat about tonight’s game. Honestly, every time the Capitals and Canucks play I remember this play from 2006 with fondness (RIP, Luc):
Drance: Damn, that’s one hell of a defensive play.
My favorite Washington Capitals v. Vancouver Canucks moment, however, is this one from the last time the NHL played hockey in October:
Angus: Ha! That was the signal in 2011-12 that Roberto Luongo’s long October was over.
Anyway, I imagine Tortorella is going to hard-match the Sedin/Kesler line against Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson. Johansson (zero goals and 10 assists in 11 games) has really flourished on the left side with Washington’s big two, and his speed is a real asset. He creates a lot of open ice for Ovechkin, who currently leads the league in goal scoring.
Drance: I’m not big on "MoJo" frankly, but whatever they’re doing to help Ovechkin shoot the puck at a record setting pace is probably the right move.
I’m also curious to see if Kesler and the twins stay together with Alex Burrows returning to the lineup on Monday. I’d imagine the Canucks are reluctant to mess with what works, but Richardson is getting fed playing tough minutes on the third line and I wonder if Henrik, Kesler, Santorelli might not be the better way for the Canucks to deploy their centers…
Angus: The Canucks and Caps are similarly top-heavy though, so I’d think the Kesler-Sedin line would make the most sense on Monday anyway.
The Caps aer getting most of their production from four players right now (Mikhail Grabovski has also been one of their key offensive contributors). Aaron Volpatti returns to town and you can bet he will be a willing combatant on Tuesday evening.
If nothing else, it is great to get to see the Canucks play these Eastern Conference teams again. A tougher schedule is a worthy trade-off for more entertaining hockey (as a fan, at least). YOU CAN BET ON TONIGHT’S GAME HERE
Drance: Yeah it’s a tougher travel schedule for the players, but easier competition since the East is the hockey equivalent of AAAA (or Major, Major Junior).
Angus: As for Detroit, I think we know what to expect from these two teams whenever they play: 60-plus minutes of fantastic hockey. Detroit’s big guns (Zetterberg and Datsyuk) are once again leading the offensive charge.
Daniel Alfredsson has been anchoring the Detroit powerplay from the point (a similar role Damien Brunner had with the club last year).
Stephen Weiss has been slow to adjust to the pace of the Red Wings system (the “Florida effect” if you will).
Drance: I wonder why Santorelli is immune from the Florida effect?
Anyway, I’ve got the Canucks beating the Capitals, losing to the Red Wings, and beating Toronto narrowly in a game in which they outshoot the Leafs three-to-one.
Angus: I’ll take the Canucks over the Capitals, and I’ll pick against them on Wednesday against the Red Wings and on Saturday against Toronto.