In isolation, or to the outside observer, I’m sure the Heritage Classic was a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon as the NHL gears up for the trade deadline and post-Olympic stretch drive. It was a relatively fast-paced game with goals scored off the rush, plenty of shots, scoring chances both ways, and some intensity and nastiness to boot. Under different circumstances, we’d probably be regaling in how that was an entertaining game and a welcome break from the monotony of the regular season, and even though the Canucks didn’t get the result they wanted, they can put this in their rear view mirror and get on with their season.
Of course, the operative term is “different circumstances.” John Tortorella (or Rollie Melanson if you pay attention to Jason Botchford) decided to bench Roberto Luongo in favour of Eddie Lack, kicking the “goaltender controversy” hornets nest that had so far been dormant. The move backfired, as fans voiced their displeasure at John Tortorella and the rest of the Canucks brass who allowed this to happen by booing the likable Swede at times during the game. Like the rest of the Canucks, Lack didn’t have a particularly strong game in a 4-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators. Read past the jump for more.
Spurred on by the raucous energy generated by a Sarah McLaughlin rendition of the national anthem, Vancouver looked good in the early 1st period. They outplayed the Senators by a significant margin in the game’s first 15 minutes, jumping out to a quick lead. Jason Garrison opened the scoring with a floater from the point that illuded Craig Anderson. The goal was especially significant since it was the first powerplay goal the Canucks have scored since they last played the Ottawa Senators in 1915 :
Alex Burrows almost added to Vancouver’s lead a few moments later, as Henrik Sedin set him up all alone in the slot, but he couldn’t beat Craig Anderson. Burrows remains the only significant forward in the NHL without a goal this season and it’s well beyond insane, and in to “he’s obviously the target of some voodoo curse” territory. Of all the players that have appeared in 31 or more NHL games, Alex Burrows has the 558th “best” on-ice shooting percentage at 5 on 5. When he’s been on the ice, opposing goalies are stopping 96.6% of all shots the Canucks take. Only five players in the entire league are seeing fewer pucks go in than Burrows: John McCarthy, Trevor Lewis, Luke Glendening, Matt Hendricks and Colin Fraser. I bet you didn’t even know that at least two of those guys were real people.
Also on that note, Alexander Edler is 548th in the league, and 3rd worst among defensemen at 4.1% on-ice shooting%. The guys he’s ahead of? Brett Bellemore and Mike “the 3rd best” Weber. There is some truth in Laurence Gilman’s “this season is an anomaly” comments, but I’ll touch on that later.
Back to the game, Zack Kassian pounced on an Erik Karlsson turnover deep in his own end and fired a shot through Craig Anderson to give the Canucks a 2-0 lead with just over 8 minutes to go in the 1st period:
Things were looking good for Vancouver at this point. They were carrying nearly 70% of the Fenwicks and looked to be a good bet to break the mythical 3-goals-in-1-game mark, but then they sagged. Ottawa started to pick up their play, as Clarke MacArthur tipped their first goal of the game past Eddie Lack with just under 5 minutes to play in the 1st period. Then, on a powerplay less than two minutes later, Erik Karlsson slid a weak point shot that found it’s way just inside the far post to tie the game at 2-2.
Ottawa really seemed to take over at this point, controlling play for the majority of the second period. From the point where Vancouver took a 2-0 lead to the start of the 3rd, Ottawa out-Fenwick’d Vancouver 25-14. Things went from bad to worse for the Canucks as Daniel Sedin was taken awkwardly into the end boards by Marc Methot and suffered what appeared to be a left groin or hamstring injury. He would leave the game and would not return.
In all honesty, Daniel Sedin’s injury probably won’t hurt the Canucks so much as it will limit whatever upwards mobility they had in terms of offensive improvement. While he and Henrik have still managed to maintain strong possession numbers and consequently limit the opposition’s ability to score, the fact of the matter is that you can’t win a hockey game with defense. Daniel wasn’t scoring, so losing him for any length of time just means that improvement is less likely now. Not that this matters, because the Canucks have lost 9 of their last 10 games so “not improving” is synonymous with “continuing to suck.”
Young Cody Ceci would jump into the rush a few minutes later and fire a shot past Eddie Lack’s blocker to give Ottawa a 3-2 lead. From there, the game went as you would expect: Vancouver had a stronger 3rd period as they tried to come back and tie the game, but Ottawa held them off and Colin Greening potted an empty net goal for some insurance, as the Senators avenged their 1915 Stanley Cup defeat with a 4-2 win.
First of all, the Fenwick chart you all know and love, via ExtraSkater:
And new at ExtraSkater, even strength Fenwick charts!
You can really see how Ottawa pulled away from Vancouver in the 2nd period on the second chart. Really, the Canucks weren’t much of a threat after going up 2-0. Chris Tanev and Alex Edler were probably Vancouver’s most successful defense pair at 5-on-5, as they controlled 78.6% and 64.7% of the Corsis respectively. Echoing Dimitri’s thoughts, the Ryan Kesler line with Hansen and Higgins was Vancouver’s most dangerous unit, posting the best possession numbers of all Canucks forwards, granted it was mostly in ice time against the Ceci-Phillips defensive pair. Henrik Sedin on the other hand saw a steady diet of Karlsson-Methot-Ryan-Turris-MacArthur, which would go a ways to explaining his 44.4% Corsi.
Getting back to the thoughts about how this season has been a bit of an anomaly, I don’t necessarily think that Gilman’s wrong. Between losing both Sedins at different points (assuming Daniel is now injured), and every single defender not named “Jason Garrison” missing time, Vancouver has suffered through some ridiculous injuries. On top of all that, the powerplay shooting percentage is the worst it’s been in years, and while we don’t know if that’s systemic or not, there’s certainly an element of luck involved. Oh, and there’s also that 5v5 stuff about Burrows and Edler that was mentioned earlier. As the season slips away-and it surely has slipped away now as Dallas and Phoenix both have 3 games in hand on Vancouver-it’s worth remembering that nearly every roll of the dice and flip of the coin has gone against the Canucks this year. There are still pieces in place here that are a solid foundation.
Of course, while we can see the foundation, we can’t see the blueprint. This could all change by Wednesday afternoon based on what direction Mike Gillis and company choose to take. But we’ll have to cross that bridge when we get there, so all we can do is hope that the bridge’s name isn’t “Brandon Sutter.”
Really, I can’t think of a more Canuck afternoon than hosting an outdoor game indoors, holding a ceremony to honour a team that lost, stirring up a goaltending controversy that was dead and buried, and blowing a 2-goal lead to a mediocre opponent. I’m sure that buckets upon buckets of digital ink will be spilled breaking down just what the hell John Tortorella has done in benching Roberto Luongo for Vancouver’s marquee event of the season, but I have to think that they’re going to get eviscerated for it. When you turn your own home fans on a guy as likable as Eddie Lack, you’re doing something wrong. Really wrong.
A playoff spot may have slipped beyond reach during this most recent slide so the focus will be on the future, and just how the future looks will be largely determined by what happens Wednesday. We’ll have all your Canucks trade news here, as well as a thorough breakdown of the seemingly imminent Ryan Kesler deal if it happens. The Canucks’ next game is on Tuesday against the Phoenix Coyotes, and Vancouver desperately needs a win to keep pace with the teams they’re battling with for the final wild card spot in the West. We’ll see you then.