Winners of four of their last five contests, the Vancouver Canucks took their hot streak to the First Niagara Center looking to close out their successful Eastern swing against the lowly Buffalo Sabres.
Reeling from injuries throughout their lineup and road wearied, circumstances weren’t in the Canucks corner going into tonight’s contest. Then again, how does one complain when it’s arguably the worst team in hockey history in the other end?
In a trudging, ugly sort of game that would favour a less skilled team like the Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver didn’t have enough left in the tank to secure the win. Defensive miscues and poor bounces played a large role in felling the Canucks, who left Buffalo on the losing end of a 6-3 score.
Lets break it all down, on the other side of the jump.
- You’re not the only who noticed. Yes, Shawn Matthias is somewhat of a Sabres killer. Not quite on a Milan Hejduk vs. Vancouver plain, but consistently producing against this lowly Metropolitan squad all the same. With tonight’s goal, Matthias now has 10-points in 16-games against the Sabres in his career. Matthias has only registered more points against the Carolina Hurricanes, with 13 against them over his career. Great way to finish a red hot February for Matthias, who registered seven goals and the one assist during that span.
- If you’re curious as to what keeps Chris Higgins in the Canucks lineup despite his offensive struggles, consider his underlying numbers from tonight. Higgins had a solid Corsi of 79% on the night. On a team that is short defensive acumen among its forwards crops, Higgins stands out in the most positive way. Among Canucks forwards with more than 100-minutes on the season, Higgins is fifth in SF% and sixth in CF%. For a team intent on making the post-season, Higgins reliability from his own zone will always be a valued commodity. Then again, if other teams see it that way and are willing to fork over a pick… But I digress.
- Latvian Lightning was raining down on both ends of the rink. At his best, Ronalds Kenins was in hot pursuit of anything wearing the wrong shade of blue, forcing turnovers and wreaking havoc physically. All these qualities were on display as he forced turnovers aplenty before setting up the Jannik Hansen slap-shot goal in the second. Then, for the first time since joining the big club, Kenins had himself a rookie moment. Pressing offensively and cycling the puck, Kenins went for a jaunty stroll up into the high slot of the offensive zone. A turnover was forced by the Sabres, who sent Chris Stewart in on a breakaway on Lack. The original shot was stopped, but it eventually rolled in for a goal. Hate to say it, but I think Kenins might be human.
- I’m starting to think that this dangerous side to Willie Desjardins might be more than a phase. We’ve seen it before on this road trip. With the Canucks trailing late, Willie D has begun to put out a four forward unit with a sizable amount of time remaining. Before tonight’s game was completely out of reach, Willie D did the same, icing the Sedins, Zack Kassian, Radim Vrbata and Dan Hamhuis. Of course, he could’ve upped himself with a Patrick Roy-esque pull of the goalie to accompany his forward heavy set, but sometimes you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
- There were shades of authentic “Hammer” tonight. Dan Hamhuis was active offensively, setting up the Hansen goal in the second and spending considerable time aiding the Sedins in their cycles through the third. Defensively, Hamhuis was old reliable. It’s been a bit of a struggle for Hamhuis since returning from a
destroyedtorn groin mid-season. I’m sure that Hamhuis didn’t envision returning from his injury and playing the role of sole top-four d-man in the Canucks stable. Not exactly easing your way back into the swing of things.
- Don’t think luck plays a role in hockey? Try explaining the Sabres winning hockey games this season. Short their two top scorers in Zemgus Girgensons and Tyler Ennis, the moribund squad from upstate New York still managed to pull this one out!
- Was Lack spectacularly bad? Well, the five goals surrendered tonight might suggest as much. He screwed up royally on the last of them, but for the most part, it was defensive breakdowns and weird bounces that led to Sabres goals and chances.
- Is Zack Kassian’s spot in the lineup secure? He’s rocking a 0PPG in his last one games, so I’d hardly say it’s a given.
Closing out any road trip with a loss to Buffalo will leave a bad taste. That said, I’d still call this road trip a shining success for the Canucks. They beat some very good squads in the New York Islanders and Rangers, along with those fringe playoff guys in Boston. Vancouver escaped with six of a possible ten points. All this with an AHL blue line. I ain’t trippin’.
It’s a three day layoff until their return to action at home against the St.Louis Blues. I’ll see you then!