Monday, January 4, 2010

Monday morning coffee

Well, wasn't that a surprising road trip? 3-0-1, with some gutsy performances from a team that looked like the hockey version of the Washington Generals a few weeks ago. The timing couldn't be better too, as they continue their pursuit of the Flames and Avalanche for control of the Northwest division. Let's look back at the week, and then at the week ahead, shall we? (cue the Tardis noise)

The previous week got off to a glorious start as the Canucks marched into Calgary and laid a little beating on the Flames that was more than just payback for the previous match between the two clubs, but sending a message that this team, when healthy can manhandle the cowpokes. In a season that has been a coming out of sorts, akin to last year's emergence of Kesler and Burrows, Mason Raymond had a hat-trick, including a gut-buster from in front of the benches that no one is gonna let Kiprusoff forget (just ask Dan Cloutier). Roberto Luongo continued his strong December play, and Canucks fans were reminded once again how good this team is when the entire team plays a 60 minute game. And did I mention Kyle Wellwood got the winner?

The Canucks made their way down to Phoenix to play the surprisingly (still...) hot Coyotes. The team had been on a roll at home, and battled the Canucks hard all game, fueled no doubt to help former Canucks backup Jason LaBarbera get a win over his old team. Speaking of former Canucks, Ed Jovonovski's power play goal gave the Coyotes the lead, but it was matched by Mikeal Samuelsson, who has played very well since telling his homeland his thoughts on not being selected for the Olympic team. Petr Prucha restored the lead for the Coyotes, after slicing Kevin Bieksa's calf with his skate in a collision on the boards. Two things about this come to mind: 1) Why is the NHL not using Kevlar socks to keep up with the technological changes to skate blades? and 2) Kevin Bieksa is a cursed man. It looks like a minimum of 2 months recovery for Juice, and considering how much his game dropped after the first time this happened, you have to know the Canucks are concerned about this. The biggest issue for the Canucks this season (IMO) has been their inability to get games to OT. They're losing outright too often, not being able to get that late clutch goal they need. They got it Tuesday, and no surprise... it was KYLE WELLWOOD? Welly goes back to back and the Canucks make it to OT for just the 3rd time this season. Sure the Canucks lost in the shootout, and sure they didn't give Kesler a shot at it (I am sure the stick-breaking that ensued from Mr. Kesler was to do with the loss and nothing more), but they got a point after trailing into the 3rd, and that is a huge step forward for this team.

New Years Eve, and seriously... who wouldn't want to spend it in Missouri? Considering the way the Canucks played the last time they visited the Blues, you had to know they were eager for a little payback. They played well in the 1st, but gave up a late goal to Alex Steen on the 5 minute PP for Rick Rypien and his rule 'interpretation'. The second was a bit of a let down (gasp!) as they soon found themselves down 3-0. Cue the Sedins. Strong down-low work by Daniel and Henrik led to a late goal of their own, giving the Canucks the spark they needed. Sure it was a fluky goal, I mean he didn't mean to bank it in off that skate, right? Another goal after some strong forechecking by Mikeal Samuelsson made it 3-2, and Henrik Sedin late in the 3rd sent the Canucks to their second straight extra session. The Blues have been utterly dreadful at home, and the lack of confidence showed, as the Canucks cashed in on a 4 minute PP via Brad Boyes clipping Ryan Kesler, with Christian Ehrhoff getting the winner. Another character win, and the final nail in the coffin for Andy Murray, who micro-managed himself out of another coaching job.

The last stop on this brief road swing is Dallas, and while the Stars and Marty Turco have been playing better of late, their record is so deceptive because of all the OTL points they have. Lots of emotion in this game, as is always the case with the Stars and Canucks, but it took until late in the 2nd for someone to open the scoring, Ryan Kesler with his 11th gave the Canucks the lead. The Stars thought they had tied it on a goal from Brendan Morrow, but after a surreal 5 minute delay to examine the video replay (the Sportsnet team confirmed it long before the war room did) the goal was waved as Morrow had clearly kicked it in. The Stars were game though, and Loui Eriksson tied it in the first minute of the 3rd. Another bank shot from Daniel however put the Canucks right back into the lead, and Alex Burrows potted an empty-netter with 17 seconds to go to give the Canucks a much-deserved 3-1 win. Odd to see someone win by more than 1 when these two teams play.

The defense of the Canucks has been taking a beating, and not just because of the injury to Bieksa. Mathieu Schneider's dispute with the team that saw him placed on waivers meant a call up of Brad Lukowich from the Texas Stars of the AHL. Both cleared waivers, and Schneider will report to Manitoba (and continue to collect his NHL salary, including bonuses) while Lukowich is in the #7 slot until Aaron Rome shows that he is not what they need in a #6 dman.

3 Stars Of The Week:
1- Henrik Sedin 2 goal, 4 assists and for a moment, the NHL scoring lead. Hank is making a case for the Hart trophy, as he continues his strong play.
2- Roberto Luongo Solid all week, even in the loss as the weak goals that plagued him earlier in the season aren't beating him now. Hitting a nice groove as the Olympics approach.
3- Kyle Wellwood Yes, Wellwood. 2 goals including a game winner and a much improved work ethic. He has to be consistent, but I felt he deserved some recognition.

Another tough week for the Canucks as they return home for another string of home dates. Columbus on Tuesday followed by rematches against Phoenix Thursday and the Flames at home for the first time this season on Saturday night. The Canucks have been one of the league's best at home and will need to continue that trend as the 14 game road trip from hell looms...

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