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The Stanchies: Kuzmenko’s issues, DeSmith’s saves, and why Conor Garland is a ’99 Corolla

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
The Stanchion
2 months ago
There is an infamous Craigslist ad that was once posted where someone listed their ’99 Toyota Corolla for sale. It quickly went viral for its humour, but also because it blended a little bit of truth with everything. Sure, it’s easy to mock the Toyota C-Dawg for not being the sexiest car around, but real ones know the true value of this vehicle; dependability, reliability, and integrity…? Yes, integrity.
And if you simply add the word “Garland” in place of “Corolla” in this ad, it fits like a glove:
“You want a car that gets the job done? You want a car that’s hassle free? You want a car that literally no one will ever compliment you on? Well look no further.
The 2023 Conor Garland.
Let’s talk about features.
Bluetooth: nope
Sunroof: nope
Fancy wheels: nope
Rear view camera: nope…but it’s got a transparent rear window and you have a neck that can turn.
Let me tell you a story. One day Garland started making a strange sound. I didn’t care and ignored it. It went away. The End.
You could take the engine out of this car, drop it off the Golden Gate Bridge, fish it out of the water a thousand years later, put it in the trunk of the car, fill the gas tank up with Nutella, turn the key, and this puppy would start right up.
This car will outlive you, and it will outlive your children.
That’s the beauty of Conor Garland. Put him in your top six, and he’ll get you 50 point seasons. Put him in your bottom six, he’ll drive his line and do his best to set up the Steve Berniers and Brendan Gaunces of the world with some goals.
Now, nobody is arguing that the Canucks aren’t overpaying him for what they’re asking of him right now. That’s the beauty of the Jim Benning retirement package, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
And no one is arguing that the Canucks can’t move on from him if they wanted to free up some cap space and invest it elsewhere.
But on a night in which Casey DeSmith pitched a shutout to lead the Vancouver Canucks to a 2-0 victory over the Minnesota Wild, Conor Garland stood out as one of the best players on either team.
Setting up his linemates? Check.
Drawing multiple penalties? Check.
Being incredibly strong on the puck along the boards? Check.
Solid defensive player in his own zone? Check.
Driving the play on his line? Check, check, check.
The only thing he didn’t do? Score.
Which admittedly, that’s a valid concern. His point output has been subpar this season, it’s fair to point that out.
But in almost every other metric? Garland has been a perfectly reliable car player, full of integrity.
You know what breaks down in the snow and rain of winter? That fancy Lamborghini driving down Robson street, trying to impress everyone eating at Earls.
You know what gets your kids to school no matter what the weather?
The Toyota. Freaking. Corolla.
For the comment section in the back, let’s make some gif money, shall we?
Best back in black
First off, this marks the second unscheduled Skate jersey game the Canucks have done this season. I have written enough about the Skate coming back full time, but the signs keep getting louder and stronger. We just need to accept it as a reality at this point. When Christine Sinclair shows up to watch your team play, you put on your Sunday bests, everyone knows this.
Secondly, the fact Casey DeSmith somehow got coloured pads past Ian Clark absolutely tickles me to no end. You just wonder if he’s waiting for DeSmith to have some massive blowout loss in them so he can march in and tell Casey to shave his sideburns and get rid of the pads or he’s off the team.
Unfortunately for Ian, Casey put those pads to good use early and often during a first period in which most of the Canucks showed up like they were going to game with their friends. “Yeah man, I’ll be online in 10 minutes,” only to see them show up two hours later.
In a first period marred by breakdowns from the Canucks, the Wild generated several in close chances on the Canucks’ goaltender:
Joel Eriksson Ek, as ruthlessly efficient in front of that net as you are at wasting money on Amazon purchases you don’t need, set up shop throughout most of the first period, firing away at any rebound that came his way. Casey, though? He turned it aside like it meant nothing.
I think a key part of this is that when players are shooting at black pads, they can’t find the puck, you see. On white pads, that puck stands out like a sore thumb. It’s pretty much science at this point.
The Wild, who’ve never met a 0-0 tie they haven’t loved, continued to generate chances as the Canucks’ structure continued to look shaky at the best of times in the first twenty minutes:
Noah Juulsen had five hits on the night, which hey, that’s good! I enjoy watching hockey players attempt to physically break down another player as much as the next guy, which reads sarcastically, but it really isn’t!
The problem is he’s still hunting for them a little too much, putting himself and his team out of position. Leading to players not knowing where they should be going. Leading to giving up dangerous chances down the middle.
Basically the same thing Kuzemnko has been accused of, minus the fact Kuzmenko isn’t hunting for hits, he’s hunting for spins.
In the end, however, Casey DeSmith and those black pads once again thwarted the Wild, who were faced with a giant massive gaping swatch of the color black when coming around the net. How is one supposed to shoot the puck when you don’t know where the puck starts and the pad ends? Answer? You don’t.
Save, Casey.
Best good cop bad cop
Hey, you know what doesn’t need $120 to fill up its tank?
Conor Garland:
The mileage you get out of Garland is incredible. You don’t stall out in the offensive zone, and you have more than enough gas to make it back to your own zone. This leaves you with plenty of time to think things through as you make the perfect defensive play when you intercept a passing attempt near your blue line.
Best random roll of the dice
Hey, as Tim Peel taught us, it wasn’t much, but sometimes you want to get an effing penalty against a team:
So yes, this was officially recorded as hooking. This is what hooking is in the NHL.
Now, the 1-10 scale of ludicrous calls starts with Raffi Torres on the 1, and Tyler Motte watching the other team high stick themselves in the face with his stick at the 10. This call falls solidly at a 9 in terms of “what are we even doing here?” because it truly takes a generational call like the one against Tyler Motte to push you to 10.
Either way, the Wild walked out of that with a powerplay where once again old friend Eriksson Ek had several whacks at a rebound, to no avail:
Again, how is he supposed to score when his stick, the puck, and the pads, are all the same colour? It’s impossible. Eriksson Ek is flailing away at the puck like me looking for a hyphen in his last name.
That same play against white pads? Easily pick out that puck, drag it back, top shelf snipe, wheel, celly, and Bob’s your uncle. It’s really that simple.
Now how bad was this first period for the Vancouver Canucks? They didn’t even have their first shot attempt until 11 minutes had passed in the first period.
We’re talking about shot attempts. Not shots. Not shots. Not shots. We’re talking about shot attempts. Not shots. Not shots that the Canucks go out there and die for and play every shift like it’s their last. We’re talking about shot attempts.
Suffice it to say, the Corsi was not in the Canucks favour in this one.
Best black attack
The Wild, who had 11 high danger chances in the game to the Canucks’ six, generated one of them in the slot halfway through the first:
Once again, two d-men close behind the net on one player, and the forward doesn’t pick up net front, and once again Casey DeSmith is forced to make a huge save. Even with nothing but white ice and netting standing out in stark contrast to black pads, somehow Casey is able to defy all logic and make a save on a shot in close.
Incredible.
Best efforts are rewarded
You want to see a shot that almost got a standing ovation?
Yes, the Canucks finally found a way behind the Minnesota defence with a quick turnaround play started by Ian Cole, who had a huge bounce back game after that disaster against New Jersey. Three Canucks deflect the puck down the ice until Ilya Mikheyev gathers the puck and shoots it on net.
To which, and I kid you not, got one of the loudest cheers a shot has ever gotten in Rogers Arena. That was the kind of first period it was.
Hey, you know what kind of car you don’t need to bother re-painting if it gets chipped?
The Conor Corolla.
Honestly, his game was so good on the night that it felt almost like he was betraying the legacy of the Corolla. He almost got too sexy at times on the ice with his play, but luckily, he didn’t score any goals, so he kept everything reasonable.
Still, this is another example of him just being very aware of where the puck is and being able to use that to his advantage to jump up in the player to create turnovers and generate scoring chances.
Best science of hockey
But as any long standing hockey fan knows, when your team is getting heavily outplayed, that’s just setting up the perfect chance for a counter-attack:
With Nikita Zadorov rushing towards the net to set a screen, Nils Höglander walked in and casually released a shot that didn’t look very threatening, were it not for the giant Russian man-beast blocking the vision of Wild goaltender Filip Gustavson.
With his ninth goal of the season, Nils is set to break his career high of 13 goals he set way back in his rookie season back in 2021, back when Matty Highmore, Jayce Hawryluk and Tyler Graovac were platooning in the bottom six. Oh man, remember Jimmy Vesey? Yeah, he played 20 games that year too. What a time to be alive.
As it stands now, Höglander is certainly making the most of his top six audition, racking up 15 minutes of ice time and scoring the game winner on a night in which the team was desperate for some offence.
Best integrity
Hey, you know what car is going to get into an accident but hold up really well?
The Conor Corolla:
 
This was the first of two penalties that Garland drew on the night and as usual, it comes from a combination of him outworking people along the boards, and then a mystery element we haven’t been able to figure out quite yet.
It could very well be that NHL players, with all of that machismo oozing around, get tilted when a smaller player out works them and bests them in a contest of strength.
Or it goes back to my earlier theory that he spoils TV shows for players on the ice. Like, who’s to say he isn’t digging hard in the corner and then whispering who won Squid Games.
His ability to get people to want to punch and hurt him is what lets the Canucks get powerplay chances like this:
The Canucks best scoring chance was an Elias Pettersson shot after some slick passing, but Gustavsson was up to the challenge.
You’ll notice that Kuzmenko is getting PP1 time, which honestly makes a lot of sense. Sure, teach him your lessons at 5 on 5, but you’re now paying this guy a lot of money, so you should at least try and utilize his highly polished offensive skill set when you’re up a man.
Best test of character
Look. You drive Lamborghinis to score. The Toyota Corolla? You take that work. You get paid. You go home.
Nothing fancy.
But you provide for your kids:
After a very miserable first period that had the energy of a team that had just listened to a Sean McDermott motivational speech, the Canucks came out much better in the second period.
As you can see in the clip above, they were engaging their forecheck a lot more aggressively, and causing Minnesota to be the team that was breaking down its structure as it tried to handle the pressure from the other team.
That was twice on one play in which the Wild couldn’t get the puck out of the zone, and if you give Quinn Hughes an inch, he takes a mile as he skates his way into setting up Garland for a perfect shot in front.
Not a fast shot, mind you. But that shot will take you where you need to go.
Assuming where you need to go is the goalie’s pads.
Still, it gets you there every time.
Reliable.
Best dapper clapper slapper
I think a good sign you’re starting to feel it is when you take around 30 slapshot attempts in the course of 20 seconds, led by this 97 mph zone entry slapper from JT Miller:
That had Cody Hodgson bar-down energy behind it. I’d recognize it anywhere. It just needed to hit the net. And the bar.
But still, anytime you’re thinking of going Full Cody, you know you’re starting to get your mojo going.
Best scouting report
Full credit to Daniel Gee for pointing out that while Höglander is scoring goals and earning his way up the lineup, Kuzmenko is dropping because of his lack of forecheck and his spinning ways.
As Daniel points out, Kuzmenko is used to creating a lot of rooms with his spinning, and used it to his advantage quite often in the KHL. It was something that hey, maybe you COULD try it out against three players, because there is just so much open ice there.
But in the NHL? To quote a vendor friend of mine, time is money in the NHL.
So while it’s fine for Kuzmenko to lean into his skill, and he has done very well with it at times in the past, if you’re not generating shots or offence and are struggling at the grind lifestyle your coach loves? That’s going to hurt your spot in the lineup. It’s that simple.
Best play the hot hand
This is basically that meme with the guy sweating about which button to press:
Do you want Höglander to shoot, or do you try and pass it to your leading scorer??
I still say Höglander should have shot it there, with the caveat being if he had made that pass and Boeser had scored, then he clearly should have passed there.
The Canucks continued to put the pressure on the Wild to the point where Jacob Two Two Middleton lost his absolute shit because Dakota Joshua skated right around him:
That’s a great rush and pass by Joshua, which he then has to answer the bell for because he’s a better skater than Middleton. I’m not quite sure how the hockey guidebook works here, but I think that’s it.
Best push back
You know what kind of car could hit a pothole at high average speed and keep on trucking along like nothing happened?
The Conor Corolla:
Once again that is Mr. Garland winning a puck battle and being so effective at guarding the puck that Freddy Gaudreau takes a penalty trying to get him off of it, because how dare a smaller player do this to him.
For a fan base that created a shotgun drinking movement to celebrate a 6″1, 230 player that couldn’t win a puck battle to save his life, there is something to be said about how reliably Garland wins these things.
The resulting powerplay then created two prime scoring chances for JT Miller that once again could not find the back of the net:
This is one of those good news bad news scenarios where the powerplay looked good on the night, but it ultimately didn’t score, so you have to call it a failure in front of its family at Christmas.
Best proof that it happened
See? See? He can back check!
But can he hit like Höglander?
Nils plays such a visually satisfying game.
At this point, I think Kuzmenko’s best bet at getting back in the coaches’ good books is by dropping the gloves and fighting the next person who dares look him in the eyes.
Best that’s how this works
You know how your friend’s car wouldn’t start in the cold, so they asked you to go pick them up?
That’s the Conor Corolla:
That is just an incredible pass from Garland, who threads the needle to Teddy Blueger, who then dekes Gustavsson to the point where the goaltender’s soul almost leaves his body.
Gustavsson bit on that move like a young Dan Cloutier. He basically packed up all of his belongings and moved across Canada on that goal, before realizing he left his credit card back home.
The Canucks began generating more and more offence at this point, which led to a Brock Boeser post:
That delicious sauce from JT Miller is usually reserved for Savio Volpe, but give him credit for just generally being really good at offensive hockey. I couldn’t make that backhand pass in my wildest dreams, despite my best efforts to do so every week in beer league.
Sam Lafferty then uses his speed to generate a nice shot and rebound attempt that Mikheyev almost whacks in:
You know what kind of car can squeeze into tight parking spaces with no problem?
The Conor Corolla:
 
Joshua went full Sum 41 and got in too deep, and was unable to finish off this play, but Garland has been setting his bottom six linemates up all year. He is going to see a dip in production playing with bottom six guys, it’s the Kyle Wellwood Rule.
But end of the day, Garland is driving play, is dependable in his own end, and is setting up teammates with brilliant passes like this one.
Toyota Corollas man. They get the job done.
Best the PR will continue until morale improves
With the game coming to a close, you can rely on Garland to get the puck deep and eat up some time off the clock.
This is how you gain a coach’s trust.
Best rocky ground
We all knew shooting percentage regression was coming for Kuzmenko, but I don’t think anyone foresaw him following the Nikolay Goldobin career path so closely this season.
You can’t help but wonder if this is a player that will just never fit the vision the coach has for him.
Time will tell.
Best the stats don’t lie
Conor Garland’s terrific game translated itself nicely into the stats.
The good news for Kuzmenko is he didn’t hurt his team too terribly defensively.
The bad news is it came at the entire expense of his one massive talent: his offence.
Best request approved
Who knew this was the only way to get Shorty on Twitter?
Best jersey Botch
I talked before the game of having one of the most epic jersey Botchs of all time, and I stand by that.
Was it Canuck super legend and future Ring of Honor member Mats Sundin?
No, of course not, Sundin jerseys are everywhere in a city he’s known for.
Was it Petri Skriko, a fellow turtleneck enthusiast?
No, that’s a very solid pull, but the man was an incredible player in the 80’s, he’s not niche enough.
Was it a Michael Del Zotto custom jean jacket??
On most nights, that would be the clear winner. I don’t know how this came to be, but I know I must have answers. I am driven to know more about this. I need to know the who, what, when, where and why of its origin story.
But even with saying that, it doesn’t hold a candle to the winner:
That’s right. Ian Kidd.
Who is Ian Kidd you ask?
He was a supplemental draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks, an old system from NHL history when the league needed a way for teams to sign college players too old to enter the draft and avoid Detroit being able to simply buy any overage college players they wanted.
Which amusingly enough in this case, Detroit ended up selecting Ian Kidd first overall in the 1986 supplemental draft. He put up an impressive 108 points as a defenseman for the Penticton Knights in the BCJHL, and had a 60 point season with the University of North Dakota, playing with Atlanta Thrashers future legend Tony Hrkac, ultimately winning the NCAA Championship in 1987.
But as Sean writes in his article, Kidd was ineligible to be drafted according to the rules of this particular draft. This was back in the day when the NHL would simply throw away your pick for making a mistake, or hand you Pavel Bure if you asked nicely enough. It was like playing DnD with your friends, you could kind of make up the rules and punishment as you went along back then.
The naïve simple days before Gary Bettman, as it were.
So Detroit had to forfeit their pick and the end result was Ian Kidd eventually fond his way to Vancouver for two seasons, before spending the bulk of his career in the IHL, aka that league that Curtis Joseph went to and dominated while the Edmonton Oilers tried to continue riding the decomposing corpse of Bill Ranford’s career in 1995.
In two seasons with Vancouver, Ian played 19 games in 1987. He got 4 goals and seven assists. His number for that year? The number 2.
In his second season with Vancouver in 1988? He played one single solitary game. No points. Minus one on the night. His number that year? 32.
This right here is a jersey from Ian Kidd’s one year in Vancouver in 1988, the year he had to wear number 32 on the night because Kevin Guy had his number 2.
This is one of the oddest, niche jersey sightings of all time.
Truly a thing of beauty.
And also begs the question? Is that Ian Kidd??
Once again I find myself asking the who, what, when, where and why of this jersey.
We must have answers.
We must have the truth.

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