Radim Vrbata scored once in the first game against his former team, but it wasn’t enough to beat the ‘Yotes.
A collision between two pre-season powerhouses took place on Monday evening, when the
Phoenix Arizona Coyotes came to town to take on the Vancouver Canucks. Aside from a newly appropriated franchise name, the Coyotes brought with them the full compliment of Canuck-killers in tow and their exciting lamentable brand of hockey to Rogers Arena.
The combination of boredom and team success can make for a tolerable game in Vancouver. When left ticking off the first box and not the second, though, you generally have a loss to the Nashville Predators or Arizona Coyotes. Tonight’s game was heavy on the first order and lacking on the second. You do the math.
That’s not to say that even a game as lacking in excitement as this one wasn’t worth the price of admission. From injuries to the Canucks sole remaining defensive prospect, to the offensive pressure of the three offensive ones crammed into a single line… this game wasn’t lacking in developments.
All of which I’ll try to get to, on the other side of the jump.
If asked to describe the flow of play through the opening minutes, the first word that comes to mind is stagnant. There was very little in the way of offensive push from either side; the Coyotes were clogging the neutral zone in mid-season form. And to the Canucks credit, they mustered very little in the way of an early response.
Ghosts of Tortorella were present, as the Canucks struggled mightily with zone entries and exits on either side of the ice. In the opening four minutes prior to the Derek Dorsett goal – a sight which I advise you out of the kindness of my heart not to get used to – the Canucks had mustered just one shot, courtesy of Daniel Sedin.
The rest of the period can aptly be described as plodding. Joe Vitale capitalized on a breakaway opportunity in a fashion which I am reticent to expect from the Canucks new netminder, Ryan Miller, a few months down the road. The puck slowly made it’s way accross the Vancouver blueline and Miller played a game of “you take it, I got it” with himself before settling for his crease, albeit poorly positioned to make the save. You could almost visualize the internal struggle that we’ve come to expect in the opening games of the Ryan Miller era. Miller is generally described as being overly aggressive, while Rollie Melanson preaches a calmer game spent playing in the shallow end of the blue paint.
Were it not for wanton PDObliteration all too reminiscent of last season, I would call the Canucks second period their best of the game. The flow of play became noticeably quicker, and the Canucks looked as though they had found their stride. A lot of the newly formed lines for tonight’s game appeared to have finally clicked. The kid line in particular, constituted by Hunter Shinkaruk, Bo Horvat and Nicklas Jensen produced sustained pressure on more than one occasion and generated chances aplenty.
The biggest takeaway from the second though – aside from two Coyotes goals of the ugliest variety – would be that of Frankie Corrado’s body. Upper body, if we’re being as specific as hockey nomenclature allows. Corrado delivered the most awkward hit I’ve seen in quite some time, as he would jump shoulder first on the backside of a Coyotes forward. He came up gingerly from that play, but was cross-checked into the boards later that shift as well. Who knows what exactly was his undoing?
Unfortunately for Canucks fans, all the excitement of this game was left in the second period. Entering the third, down by two, it seemed reasonable to expect the Canucks to have kept their foot on the gas. The opposite was the case, though, and Arizona kept the chances to a minimum and the goals at a premium. Each side would tally one more, with the game clincher for Arizona having a particular Swiss stench to it — not pointing fingers, Luca Sbisa.
On the encouraging side of things, Vancouver’s goal in the third was not only of the power play variety, but hot diggity was it ever gorgeous! The Canucks were clinical in their passing, before a cross crease missile landed on Radim Vrbata’s stick and was promptly launched towards the net. There was some confusion, as it originally looked as though Mike Smith made the save. Luckily for the Canucks, that wasn’t the case.
What’s old is new again in Vancouver. Looking at this chart, it’s easy enough to surmise that the “change” I keep hearing about on my TV is a long way from being a reality in Vancouver. The Canucks were top-heavy offensively and middling on the defensive end of things. The key similarity between this season and last, naturally, is Edler leading the ‘D in possession despite having an average-to-bad hockey game. If there was ever a time to drop the “enigmatic” label on a Swede…
The most encouraging nugget that we can glean from this poorly constructed spreadsheet, is the newly minted “Kids Line” dominating at evens. Shinkaruk and Jensen led the team in possession and Horvat was none too shabby in this regard either.
The defense fared all too poorly tonight, but how much of this is due to playing a man short for two-thirds of the game I just don’t know. Lets hope the answer is: very. Luca Sbisa’s defensive coverage was severely lacking on several occasions tonight, with at least one scoring chance and another goal coming to mind in the third. His possession totals seem a little on the generous side.
I’d hardly call the Canucks play on the whole awful tonight, but it’s easy to see from the above chart that effort was lacking throughout the lineup. What’s most important to take away from these pre-season games are the individual performances of players on either side of the bubble.
Looking at Jensen and Shinkaruk in particular, I think they’ve greatly helped their case tonight. The two of them read incredibly well off each other in the fore check and made retrieval of the puck look like child’s play. For young-ish defenceman like Sbisa and Corrado, the same can not be said. With that in mind, we’re still just half-way through the pre-season.
The Canucks’ next game is Thursday in Edmonton at 6:00 PM PST. Join us then, won’t you?