Tuesday, February 07, 2006

One Down – Three to Go

Blue Jackets 4 at Canucks 7 – 06-Feb-06

After what seemed like an eon on the road, the Vancouver Canucks returned to GM Place to host the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first game of a four game home stand. There was plenty to note in the game that featured eleven goals, seven power play goals, an unsuccessful penalty shot, two fights and eighty-six minutes in penalties.

Vancouver fans are noted for their agility in being able to jump on and off the Nucks' bandwagon with every win or loss. Certainly this morning's chat around the water cooler will be more up beat than not. In an attempt to maintain a more even keel to game reviews I’d suggest for the result last night the glass is half full.

The Good

Even before the puck dropped the Nucks received good news on a couple fronts. Henrik Sedin was named NHL Offensive Player of the Week. Daniel received honourable mention. League recognition of the Twins' success was nice to see. Also available for the media was Ed Jovanovski, looking mobile, happy and on the mend from his abdominal surgery. All expectations are six to eight weeks before Jovo will be back in the lineup. In contrast to Cloutier, it was nice to see Eddy around and about.

The Nucks stepped out to a quick first period 4 – 0 lead on goals by Carter (21), Green (4), Bertuzzi (19) and Ohlund (9). Carter was set up by the twins for the opening goal. Moments later Green when to the net without the puck and good things happened. Green finished off the work of Bouck and Allen. Just less than thirteen minutes in the WCE combined on the power play to make it three zip. Three minutes later, on another powerplay, Matty Ohlund retrieved the puck from Auld behind his own net – 140 feet later with the BJ Defense backing away Ohlund fired off a blast to the top right corner of the net. I’d like to say it was a coast to coast effort and certainly a rocket of a shot. The first period ended with Vancouver up 4 – 0 and visions of nursing one home like the 6- 2 Montreal game were acceptable.

This Columbus team is far better than their record. With players like Nash, Fedorov, Zherdev and Foote the CBJ’s reminded me a little of Colorado in their skill and effort. Starting goalie Denis gave way to Pascal Leclaire, Rick Nash (15) scored, Rick Nash was thwarted on a Penalty Shot and the third period started with the score 4 – 1.

Leclaire tweaked his back somewhere in the second and Denis returned to the cage to start the third. Zherdev (18) scored when McCarthy took and early holding penalty. The next shift Vancouver continued the let down with Klesla scoring on one Auld, the Brotha line and Allen/Ohlund would like to have back. All of a sudden with 17:34 to go in regulation the Canucks have played themselves into a hockey game.

Fortunately, a combination of penalties and power play success resulted in three more goals for the home team and only one for the visitors. Daniel (15) got the momentum changing, eventual game winner shortly after Klesla’s goal. Naslund (25) and Linden (6) got the insurance markers before Nash (16) got his second of the game. Daniel snapped one past Denis on a set up from Carter and his other brother Henrik. Nassy slid a backhand through from the slot on a nice three way passing play from Bieksa and Bert. Finally with the game over for everyone but Rick Nash and Gerard Gallant, Crawford rewarded the effort of Linden, Kesler and Burrows with some PP time. Bieksa took a good shot from the high slot and rebound went to Linden just inside the left circle. Linden made no mistake on the yawning cage with Denis beached.

The Bad

There were a number of concerning points in the game. Of these the most concern was the play of the defence and the own zone play of the Brotha line. Ohlund scored but was a minus two for the night. The defence is looking thin. Mojzis is doing ok for his second game but at times he was a step too slow. McCarthy is playing better as is Bieksa. Baumgartner should return soon. The Brotha’s scored twice, tallied six points but were a collective minus 3 on the night. In fact the trio surrendered all but one of Columbus’ goals. Salo and McCarthy joined Linden, Bouck and Green in plus territory. The rest of the team was even or lower. Hard to imagine in a game where three lines combined for seven goals.

For the first time in recent memory the Kesler line didn’t play a role in the outcome of the game. The extended power play times influenced this. Late in the third when Columbus resorted to brawn over skill, Burrows and Kesler looked to be seriously in need of enforcer help. Zebra Bill McCreary clearly let CBJ coach Gallant off easy when he sent Jody Shelley out with the express intent of evening some perceived score with Alex Burrows at 18:38 of the third. The resulting face washing and chirping netted Shelley double cross checking and a roughing minor. It could have gone the other way instigator and fighting majors along with the associated fines and suspensions. Given Gallant’s antics on the night, maybe, this is for the better as the ten grand might have popped his aorta. With Brookbank and Jovovski out, the tough stuff is left to Brian Allen and Tyler Bouck. We’ve seen Bieksa contribute and I’m sure Linden and Bertuzzi are willing but I’m concerned about the play offs when we run into a Laraque or a McCarty/Donovan.

The team was 39% in the face off circle. This has been a trend all year long. Morrison and Henrik had been improving but this stat seems to have fallen off again. Edmonton has four players (Stoll, Peca, Horcoff, Brodziak) all above 50%. The Canucks’ best is Henrik at an even 50%. Face off prowess is a measure of eye hand (or stick) coordination and hand speed. Good face off teams are good just because they do have several guys who are successful. The ability for Edmonton’s quartette to practice against each other keeps them honed. Vancouver’s centers need to work hard on drills and practice to gain improved face off success. These face off wins can be so critical late in close games and on the power play.

The St Louis Blues are next to visit the garage on Wednesday night. This version of the Blues will be with Tkachuk and without Sillinger and Weight. The Blues are coming off a OT win over Dallas. The game will be on PPV and CKNW Radio.

Calgary and Edmonton held there ground last night. Both came up with wins. Vancouver and Calgary are tied with 69 points. Edmonton is two points back. Cowtown has played one fewer game. Vancouver’s 69 points and one more win are good enough for 3rd seed in the west. If the playoffs were to start tomorrow Vancouver would draw Edmonton with home ice advantage.

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