After raking up the Leafs Saturday night, the Canucks will head out for what promises to be their toughest stretch of games this season beginning Monday night in Phoenix. How will the Canucks start their Pacific division swing? Read on to find out.
Well I think I am man enough to admit I was wrong when I said that winning against Toronto wouldn’t be the cake walk it once was. Even a cake walk would have presented more of a challenge than the Maple Leafs did on Saturday evening. Right from the opening face off, the Canucks dominated the Leafs, outshooting them 11-0 midway through the first period and 47-21 overall. Had it not been for an anemic power play and James Reimer (never thought I would say that…), the score could have been much worse. Daniel Sedin’s jersey, Zack Kassian, Chris Higgins, and Dan Hamhuis provided the offence en route to a dominate 4-0 win. The only thing the Maple Leafs excelled at in this game was hitting the Canucks from behind. They were excellent at that.
The Phoenix Coyotes have apparently reverted back to their “how the hell are they winning games” mode. The Coyotes have begun the season at 10-3-2, good for 22 points and 4th in the Western Conference. Much of their offence to date has been provided by the defence led by Oliver Ekman-Larsson (OEL) and Keith Yandle who have 11 points apiece. Radim Vrbata is their current scoring leader with 12 points, followed by Martin Hanzal with 11. Team Canada goalie candidate and scoring dynamo Mike Smith provides a solid foundation in net.
After an impressive win against the Leafs, it’s hard to imagine John Tortorella changing up his lines (except the recalled Zac Dalpe, in for Yanick Weber on the fourth line), especially with the 2nd unit of Higgins, Mike Santorelli, and Alex Burrows starting to find some good chemistry. David Booth is skating again, but he’s on his way to Utica, not Phoenix.
D. Sedin – H. Sedin – Kesler
Higgins – Santorelli – Burrows
Archibald – Richardson – Kassian
Sestito – Welsh – Dalpe
Garrison – Edler
Hamhuis – Tanev
Stanton – Bieksa
1. Burrows, Santorelli, Higgins
To say the second line had themselves a game would be a slight understatement. The line of Burrows, Santorelli, and Higgins in particular thoroughly dominated the Leafs almost every time they were on the ice, offensively and defensively. I wanted to point out Higgins because I don’t think I have ever seen him more confident with the puck in his entire tenure with Vancouver. He controlled the play in the offensive zone and showed a level of patience with the puck that will hopefully continue throughout the season. His night was also capped off by a perfect shot on a two on one. Although the trio look more like the perfect third line, I have no problem with them as the second line if they continue to play the way they did on Saturday.
2. Can the Canucks start the road trip off on the right foot?
On this road trip, the Canucks will face the Coyotes, San Jose Sharks (Oh dear God not again…), Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. Suffice to say, not the easiest 4 games one could imagine. The Canucks have a real opportunity to start on that right foot when they play in Phoenix on Monday. You can argue that out of the four teams, the Coyotes present the least amount of threat. It is important that the Canucks walk away with some momentum before diving into the Shark tank.
3. Zack Kassian
I really enjoy talking about Zack Kassian because I believe he will be a gigantic part of the Canucks moving forward. Over the last few games, we have seen some of that promise manifest itself into a few goals. His shift on Saturday that led to his goal (Bolland injury aside) is exactly what Kassian needs to do to stick around and really make an impact for Vancouver. Plaster a guy (preferably without slicing his ankle) and use that natural offensive ability to finish the play off. If Kassian can provide that on a regular basis, the opposition will be forced to focus their energy on containing Zack, leaving the twins with a little more freedom for top defenders.
It’s going to be ugly, and not much fun to watch, but I believe the Canucks leave Phoenix with two points after a 3-2 win. Mike Smith draws at least one penalty.