Canucks Army Postgame: Miller Time?

How fitting that before this game could get going, the lights went out. The game was played in Detroit, after all. One can only assume they’ve a mountain of unpaid hydro bills, all of which finally came home to roost. While the lights in the building went back on in the first, it wasn’t until the second that they turned on for the Canucks.

By then Vancouver had surrendered goals, early and often, looking sloppy and out of position on each. A thin veneer of of respectability had attached itself to Ryan Miller following back-to-back shutouts, and the equity that bought him among fans, took a thorough licking on Sunday.

Despite all of Vancouver’s late efforts and continued push right to the final whistle, the Canucks couldn’t find a way to win. It’s a 5-3 finish for Detroit and the Canucks’ first loss in quite some time. See how it went down, on the other side of the jump.

As mentioned, this game was delayed before it even got started, really. The Canucks had just forced an offensive zone draw and immediately after the face off, the lights went out. There was a roughly 10-15 minute delay before power was restored and the game was resumed. One can only imagine that the Sedins were working dutifully during the break, whiteboard in hands, to draw up the perfect play on the offensive zone draw that would signal the return to play. When play restarted, the Sedin line came on like bats out of hell and applied serious pressure to the Red Wings for a great first shift. 

Unfortunately for the Canucks, that was their only burst of offensive play and puck control for a sizable chunk of the game. It wasn’t until a deftly placed breakaway pass was retrieved and sent in by Shawn Matthias that the Canucks mustered anything in the way of threatening offense. 

The Red Wings, however, enjoyed great success in the first period offensively. The Canucks had no difficulty keeping up with Detroit in a north-south race through the neutral zones, but struggled mightily in their tracking east-west in the defensive zone. Watching the Canucks attempt to defend the Red Wings’ passing in the early going reminded me of my days of tyke hockey – a whole lot of puck chasing.

These defensive deficiencies caught up with Vancouver early. With a nifty series of passes in the offensive zone, that eventually led to both Sedins being caught in no-mans land, an unobstructed Niklas Kronwall came in and launched a high blocker-side shot in for the games first tally. Kevin Bieksa was incensed on the play, having felt as though Justin Abdelkader stepped on Miller’s stick, interfering with his ability to use his blocker. Botchford’s on the case…

What better to follow outrage with than blatant cynicism? Here’s a shout out to fallen leader, Rhys, who captures my feelings on the vastly overblown importance of faceoffs in broadcasts this season. 

The Red Wings weren’t finished there. The Canucks were called for multiple penalties following the opening marker, but it was the second of the two that cost them. An errant stick from Alex Burrows made contact with Jimmy Howard’s mask on a Canucks rush into the Red Wings zone and he was called for two. At the time, it seemed as though the Canucks were yet again on the receiving end of a bad reputation call. In reality, the refs might have been onto something.

The Detroit power play made it look easy, notching the 2-0 goal with a series of crafty tic-tac-toe passing east-west, eventually drawing Miller miles out of position. I know Rollie wasn’t happy with Miller on this one. Those old, over aggressive habits that we so often see from Miller revealed themselves at the worst time on this goal. Although, I’d love it if the Canucks weren’t all flatfooted on it as well. 

And flatfooted is how the Canucks spent the rest of that first, save for a late rush from the Sedin line that generated a Radim Vrbata scoring chance that went crossbar and out. On the whole, not a great opening stanza for Vancouver. 

I’m not entirely sure Willie Desjardins is capable of yelling, but whatever he said in the first intermission worked. The Canucks came out much more lively than they did in the first, and maintained their pressure throughout.

Kyle Quincy got caught looking, as Bieksa tip-toed around him to draw the hooking call, which led to a great Linden Vey power play marker from the slot. This, on the same day as I was adamant Vey should be in the press box. You’re welcome, I guess.

Alas, though, Vey giveth and Vey taketh. The Canucks next power play was cut short before it even got running, on what I would generously describe as a soft call on Vey. I’m not one to wear the tinfoil hat and proclaim injustice on Vancouver – that often – but there’s no arguing that this call was rank. 

The Canucks may have dodged a bullet in killing that penalty, but they weren’t so lucky on the next such occasion. Ryan Stanton was called for hooking, trying to keep up with Tomas Jurco, and the Detroit power play was merciless. The Canucks defense was lifeless, and a series of passes through the hashmarks eventually led to a Pavel Datsyuk goal that doesn’t exactly shine a favourable light on Luca Sbisa, who is just kind of standing there. Doing nothing.

If we’re being entirely honest, though, the Canucks lost this game the second they decided to match the Sbisa-Bieksa pairing against Detroit’s top line. Talk about optimistic projections of your own players’ ability, Willie D. Bieksa was a -6 Corsi on the night against Datsyuk, which frankly, is better than I’d have expected. Certainly with Sbizza as his partner. 

As an aside, there was a moment of serious concern in the second. Burrows caught the errant skate of a falling Johan Franzen, right near the eye. The broadcast booth was astute in pointing out that the lack of panic on the players end generally means nothing horrible has happened. Still, it was a chilling moment all the same. 

The Canucks left the period down two, but buzzing. They looked like they were very much in this game, despite the lopsided score. This pressure carried into the third, with Matthias being sent a skyward pass from Vey for a breakaway. While the original play was called down on a high stick, the Canucks scored quickly off the following faceoff, with Matthias deflecting a Yannick Weber shot past Howard. You can’t stop Matthias, you can only contain him.

That was the beginning of what ended up being Matthias’ best period as a Canuck. The toolsy utility forward was generating a huge portion of the Canucks offense throughout the frame. Matthias’ efforts withstanding, the Red Wings unfortunately matched his goal with a marker of their own just over a minute later. That wasn’t enough to stop the former Red Wings draft pick, as he led another extended foray into the Red Wings zone. It started with great pressure down-low, but was aided by a savvy coaching decision made by Desjardins to pull Miller from the net. With the extra attacker, a loose puck squirted in Vey’s direction and he potted his second goal of the night. 

For all their efforts, that was the Canucks last tally on the night. While they applied great pressure late and really made a hell of a game out of this, it wasn’t enough. Datsyuk caught on to a loose puck, and sent it softly from his own blue line to the Canucks yawning cage. It was the insurance goal to end this one in Detroits favour.

The Numbers

Canucks v Red Wings Corsis

Big shout out to Vey. I’ve been wholly cruel to the undersized power play specialist this year, with much of my dissatisfaction stemming from his horrible play at even strength. Tonight, Vey had two-goals, one of which was an even strength marker, and posted a Corsi For percentage of 71%. Maybe my calls for his benching were a little premature? 

As good as Vey was, the Sbisa-Bieksa pairing was that awful. They had a 36% an 38% Corsi For percentage respectively and looked awful for much of the night. As mad as I’d love to be at both of them, a huge chunk of the onus lies with Desjardins, who matched the two against Datsyuk all night. At some point, I thought Willie might adjust. Instead he sent them out shift after shift again the Datsyuk line and sat back watching them get their teeth kicked in. 

A healthy serving of praise for Matthias. He stirred the drink tonight and was the catalyst for much of Vancouver’s offensive success throughout the night. The large center turned winger has become a dominant player down-low, with unrelenting puck-pursuit and consistent retrieval. He’s turned into everything I’d hoped we’d received in the Roberto Luongo trade (which is anything at all). 

Tonight, Matthias had two points, one goal and one assist, to go alongside his Corsi For percentage of 71%. 

The Conclusion

You can’t win them all, as they say, and it certainly didn’t help the Canucks’ cause that Miller played a sub-par game. To be fair he’d been great in the three games prior to this and these nights will happen. 

The loss aside, there are a number of positives to take away from this game, but none more striking than the Canucks’ unrelenting play in the latter parts of the game. They didn’t sit down and let this one get away. For a team that has seemingly either won close games, or been totally blown out, it was good to see a 60 minute effort in a narrow loss. 

The Canucks get a somewhat extended break, thanks to the early start, before facing the Washington Capitals on Tuesday for the second meeting between these two clubs this season. Whether Vancouver wins that one or not, it should be a thriller. See you then!

  • prendrefeu

    Maybe the Canucks need to devote some practices to playing on bad ice. That ice was among the worst I have ever seen, and you could see the Canucks were struggling with their pass-centric puck possession style. Credit to the Red Wings for an aggressive forecheck, but there’s no way the Canucks look that bad on good ice.

  • prendrefeu

    I’m sorry what? The Wings top line is good and the defencemen facing off against them gave up some shots? You don’t say. Under the circumstances, I think Spizza looked ok, if anything Bieksa was the shakier one. The difference in this game was an unlucky own goal by Sbisa, then Datsyuk was able to bury an empty netter from his own blue line with the Canucks pressing. Probably the least impressive 2 goal performance of Datsyuk’s career.

    All the Corsi stats and box scores don’t tell the story of this game, which was that for all the skill out there, it was luck and bounces that actually dictated the outcome. Not to say that both teams didn’t benefit from bounces (both got a deflected goal from the blue line, both hit the crossbar in the exact same spot), just that the Wings seemed to just get that one more to make the difference in what was generally a fairly even game. Perhaps the accurate call made on Burrows vs the missed one on Abdelkader’s interference. Considering the 11 AM start time, and that we still mustered 33 shots on goal, and that the game was, for much of the 3rd, a “one shot game” in the words of the FSN Detroit announcers (who are excellent, by the way, and who were pretty flabbergasted that the refs found anything to call against Vey as well), and I don’t know how much there is to really read into here.