Canucks, Lack Smother Flames

Photo Credit: Gerry Thomas/NHL via Getty Images)

It wasn’t pretty and it certainly wasn’t exciting (for the most part), but the Vancouver Canucks got the job done with a 2-0 victory over the Calgary Flames on Sunday night. Vancouver’s NHL club looked a bit rusty early on – especially on a painful five minute power-play opportunity early in the contest – and a couple of defensemen, most notably Andrew Alberts, got banged up; but otherwise it was a quality return to action for the team following a week long Christmas break.

Read past the jump for more.

Sunday night’s throttling of the moribund Flames was, frankly, about as dominant a performance as you’ll see from any NHL club this season. The Canucks took control of the game early, didn’t even permit a shot against until they’d recorded ten themselves, and suffocated the Calgary Flames in their own end throughout the night. Score effects didn’t even kick in until the third period as the Canucks pummeled the Flames like they were the prone corpse of the Krustyburgler for most of the contest.

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Henrik Sedin’s pass on Jannik Hansen’s goal, for example, was pretty incredible:

That said, watching the Canucks try to score on Reto Berra (among the worst regular starters in the league this season) and mostly fail to, was painful and all too familiar. Even Hansen’s game winning goal probably only beats Berra because the Danish winger bobbled the puck right before he shot it, and it sort of acted like a deke.

Following Brian McGrattan’s ejection early in the game, for example, the Canucks had a five minute power-play opportunity and only registered three shots, none of them scoring chances. That was sort of the theme of the first forty minutes as the Canucks tested Reto Berra with chance after chance and were consistently turned away.

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On some nights it seems like the Canucks couldn’t possibly make converting puck possession into goals look any more difficult. Sunday’s game was closer than it should’ve been and in some ways that obscures a positive outing.

But it doesn’t really. The Canucks outshot the Flames 24 to 8 in the first 40 minutes! I mean, check out this shot attempt chart via, it’s just insane. It looks like what you’d expect, essentially, if an NHL club were to face a beer league team or something:

The real downside for the Canucks wasn’t the offensive issues, it was the injury to Andrew Alberts. Alberts’ injury leaves the Canucks with only five healthy defenseman on the roster, and that issue was almost compounded further when Chris Tanev was elbowed in the head, albeit incidentally and remained in the game despite looking woozy for a shift or two. The Canucks didn’t really update Alberts’ health status after the game, but presumably they’ll be giving Utica a call this evening for reenforcements before Monday night’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers.

I’d go into the matchups but the fact is there wasn’t much of a chess match going on between Bob Hartley and John Tortorella on Sunday night. Hartley got the matchups he wanted (in particular he hard-matched the Sedin twins with Ladislav Smid and Mark Giordano) but it didn’t matter: the twins levelled Giordano and Smid, and that left Chris Butler and T.J. Brodie to the Kesler-line. Obviously both matchups favoured the Canucks…

Meanwhile Calgary’s top offensive player (Mike Cammalleri) was primarily matched up with Jason Garrison rather than against Chris Tanev and Dan Hamhuis as one might expect. Again: I think that was probably Hartley’s doing and Tortorella just sat back and let his side’s superior quality show through.

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Even Vancouver’s third-line handily won their matchup and I thought Zack Kassian in particular had a very strong game (including a nice shift with the Sedin twins late in the contest). With Kassian on the ice, Vancouver outshot the Flames five-to-one, which was kind of typical of Sunday’s contest more generally, but still. 

The only really interesting deployment note is that Kevin Bieksa and Hamhuis staated almost all of the Canucks shifts which began in Vancouver’s end of the rink (10 and 11 of 16 d-zone starts at even-strength respectively). Bieksa and Hamhuis have been described as a "nightmare" by John Tortorella in the recent past, but he used them together on occassion on Sunday night. Personally, I’d like to see more of that. 

Finally Eddie Lack posted a shutout and continues to look every bit the capable NHL netminder. He wasn’t tested often, but goalies at all levels will tell you those are sometimes the toughest starts. Lack was dialed in when he had to be, and stood out amidst a flurry of Calgary chances in the third period. Now we’ll see how he fares in the second leg of back-to-back starts on Monday night…