Let’s just be completely honest and upfront with ourselves: the only redeeming quality to Vancouver’s Saturday night showdown against Calgary was the two points the Canucks pocketed in the standings. I have a far more tolerant view of fighting than some of the other great writers here, and I thought the line brawl to start the game was hilarious and entertaining in the moment, but at the end of the day it was completely pointless, detrimental to the rest of the game, and another embarassing incident for a franchise that’s quickly building quite the collection for themselves in the past week.
Unfortunately, the fights, nastiness and other extracirriculars (you know the ones) are going to be the prevailing narrative in the coming days, not just in Vancouver, but more than likely throughout the entirety of North America. I referenced a 3-2 loss to Calgary being more embarassing than the 9-1 drilling that happened in Anaheim in my last post-game report, but I don’t think anyone could have imagined the madness that happened tonight. I’m sure we’ll have a lot more in the coming days, but read past the jump for our initial impressions of tonight’s 3-2 shootout win.
There’s basically the game story right there. There were five fights off the opening faceoff, resulting in eight ejections for secondary altercations. The Canucks lost Dale Weise and Kellan Lain (two seconds into his NHL debut), but more importantly Jason Garrison and Kevin Bieksa as well. Kevin Westgarth, Chris Butler, Blair Jones and Ladislav Smid were lost to the Flames, so that trade-off probably benefitted the road side.
Now, I’ll get to John Tortorella in a second, but Bob Hartley’s decision to start Kevin Westgarth at centre and claim it’s because his line "has been playing well," then have Mark Giordano taking shots at Alex Burrows’ broken jaw is as bush league as it gets. To say that he wanted that line, with two designated fighters, out there to try and score a goal is ridiculously transparent and insane. It was clear that Hartley fully intended to start the violence early, and he got exactly what he wanted. There is a precedent here too when it comes to punishing a coach that puts a goon on the ice, as ex-Buffalo Sabres head coach Ron Rolston was fined earlier this year for "player selection" that resulted in the infamous John Scott/Phil Kessel incident, even though Randy Carlyle had the last change. One would expect that a similar punishment is coming Hartley’s way.
With all this being said, we’d be remiss to say that John Tortorella isn’t to blame here. He absolutely shares the blame, and rightly so. Bob Hartley cast the line and Tortorella swallowed the bait hook, line, and sinker. Tortorella’s defense for playing right into Hartley’s hand is essentially "I had to protect my stars," which is fine, except for a couple of reasons:
- We saw with the Scott/Kessel incident that as soon as a mugging starts happening, a scrum ensues and players make sure that the stars are protected without the need for a full-on line brawl.
- You could have started Higgins-Richardson-Booth and told them not to engage in a fight, just create a scrum if the Flames try anything dumb.
Either way, you don’t have to put your stars at risk if you want to defuse the situation, and I think either of the above alternatives would have succeeded in at the very least making Calgary look like the overwhelmingly huge idiots here. Instead, John Tortorella did more than enough to ensure a line brawl, and that’s completely unacceptable, just as his conduct between periods was. One would expect fines for him as well.
All in all, I think Travis Yost did the best job of summing up the situation:
Hartley’s argument is that he had Westgarth et al. on the ice to play actual hockey. Tortorella’s argument is he doesn’t believe Hartley.
— Travis Yost (@TravisHeHateMe) January 19, 2014
You can also read Dimitri’s thoughts here. Oh, and there was still 59:58 of a hockey game to be played, too.
Mark Giordano opened the scoring for Calgary on the powerplay, but Ryan Kesler responded to tie the game at 1-1 shortly thereafter:
Then, after Matt Stajan had pulled the Flames ahead 2-1 in the 3rd, Yannick Weber answered with this bullet on the powerplay:
There would be no more scoring, but Weber would score again in the shootout and Chris Higgins would add the winner to seal the deal for Vancouver.
This wasn’t a very strong game for Vancouver, given their hapless opponents. Losing Kevin Bieksa didn’t help, but a less-than-100% Henrik Sedin is crippling. The captain played despite being a "game-time decision," but had to leave after the second period with an injury. Losing Henrik and Santorelli could be devastating to Vancouver in the short term, but I think it’s at the point now that holding Henrik out of the lineup is the best move for the long term. If being pushed to the ice causes him as much discomfort as it appeared to tonight, something is very, very wrong.
Kellan Lain’s NHL debut on the other hand only lasted two seconds, but those two seconds were enough to land him a place in the NHL record books:
Kellan Lain broke John Ferguson’s 50yr old record tonight; fastest to fight from start of career. 2sec. Fergy was 12 vs Ted Green Oct8/63
— Liam Maguire (@Liams_Hockey) January 19, 2014
So he may not have got to play in front of his family who flew in from Ontario, but I guess an NHL record is a #moralvictory at the very least.
With Henrik Sedin out, we should resign ourselves to the fact that this slump isn’t ending any time soon. Does this mean that the proverbial window is closed? No, absolutely not. This Canucks team demonstrated an ability to control play against the NHL’s elite teams earlier this season, and I’d expect them to be able to do so once again when they drag themselves out of this funk.
The next game is Tuesday against the Edmonton Oilers, so at least there’s no potential there for any more ridiculous instances of violence. Nope, none at all. Especially not involving Zack Kassian or Sam Gagner or Sam Gagner’s jaw. Good thing too, because I’m getting tired of writing about the latest "well that was dumb" situation, and I’m sure you’re all tired of reading about them too. Until then, all the best and enjoy the football tomorrow. Go Seahawks!