Rob The Hockey Guy

// A Vancouver Canucks Hockey Blog

Canucks-Blackhawks Game 3 Preview: Raffi's Back

Before every Canucks playoff game, Canuckz.com will be looking back at the previous game and provide a preview of the upcoming game. We’ll let you know what happened, what needs to happen and what’s likely going to happen.

There are a couple of ways to look at the Canucks 4-3 win over the Blackhawks on Friday night. On one hand, the Blackhawks finally found a way to get pucks past Roberto Luongo. Ben Smith and Viktor Stalberg scored on Luongo, and they weren’t great goals. If the Blackhawks can get goals from their depth players on a regular basis, they will climb back in this series. Another way to look at it is that the Canucks were able to win game when they let the likes of Ben Smith and Viktor Stalberg score and get an average game from Roberto Luongo.

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Game 2 Preview – Canucks look to take stranglehold on series

Before every Canucks playoff game, Canuckz.com will be looking back at the previous game and provide a preview of the upcoming game. We’ll let you know what happened, what needs to happen and what’s likely going to happen.


On Wednesday night, the Vancouver Canucks rode a dominant first period en route to a 2-0 shutout victory over the Chicago Blackhawks to take a 1-0 series lead. Here are a few quick hits of what I noticed in game 1:

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The Official Canuckz.com Playoffs Sideburns Tracker

Here’s all you need to know:
1) Rob’s had a weird man-crush on my sideburns since 2001′ish
2) I can’t really grow a playoff beard (doesn’t fully connect)
3) I do really feel like a teenaged girl posting pics of herself on Facebook, etc… (but Rob thinks this is a good idea lol)

Day 62 – June 13, Stanley Cup Finals Game 6

Day 48 – May 30

Day 38 – May 20, Western Conference Finals Game 3

Day 34 – May 16

Day 29 – May 11

Day 23 – May 5

Day 14 – April 26, Game 7, #WINNING Sideburns!

Day 12 – April 24, Game 6

Day 4 – 5 – April 16 – 17 @ the Annual Tall Grass Party

Day 3 – April 15

Day 2 – April 14

Day 1 – April 13

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Is this a dream or a nightmare!? Canucks vs Blackhawks 1st round preview

It took the Blackhawks losing on the final day of the regular season as well as the Dallas Stars choking versus the Minnesota Wild, but here we have it, Canucks versus Blackhawks for the third year in a row. Like most Canucks fans, I was cheering for the Dallas Stars to win their final game, not wanting to play the defending Stanley Cup champions in the first round. But as soon as the Wild-Stars game ended, I began to get excited for this matchup.

Ok, I’m excited, but I’m also a little nervous. I’m excited because this could be great revenge. I’m nervous because if they were to lose to Chicago AGAIN, it would be the biggest nightmare scenario anyone could have written up.

So is this a dream? Is this a nightmare? This year feels different, but if I hear this song a few times during game 3, 4, and 6, I might start getting a cold sweat.

The Canucks are getting a rare chance to exorcise their demons, getting a third chance at a team that has had their number in previous playoff appearances. Canucks fans for their part, will get a chance to throw a salmon on the ice:

So will this year be different? I think it will. The first series between the Blackhawks and Canucks in 2009 featured an unproven yet talented Blackhawks team that found a way to get to Roberto Luongo and win the series in 6 games. That series was a close one and could have gone either way. In last year’s series, the Blackhawks were simply the better team. This year’s matchup the Canucks go into the series as the clear favourites.

As you are probably aware, the Blackhawks have lost a lot of their team that hoisted the Stanley Cup last season. For the most part they’ve been unable to replace some key parts of their team. Meanwhile, the Canucks have kept their important players and added some key pieces to the puzzle that have made them a better team.

Goaltending:

2009: Luongo vs Khabibulin

The Canucks were supposed to have the big edge in goal in 2009, but didn’t. While the Canucks were outshot in 5 of the 6 games, Khabibulin was capable when called upon. Luongo did not have a good series, and was particularly awful in game 6. It’s a game that has haunted him ever since.

2010: Luongo vs Niemi

Despite winning the series, Antti Niemi wasn’t particularly impressive for the Blackhawks last season. He let in 4 goals or more on three occasions. The problem for the Canucks is it didn’t matter. In the 4 Blackhawks wins, Luongo gave up a total of 21 goals. While Luongo was tested a lot, facing 30+ shots in all 6 games, he wasn’t nearly good enough. His battles with Dustin Byfuglien are well documented, and he just seemed to get rattled by Chicago.

2011: Luongo vs Crawford

Is this Luongo vs Niemi 2.0? It certainly could be. Corey Crawford has played and won more games than Niemi did last regular season and he has a better save percentage too. Niemi didn’t wrestle the number one job away from Cristobal Huet as quickly as Crawford did to Marty Turco this year. But the difference this year should be the play of Roberto Luongo. In 2009, Luongo was at the top of his game, but had an injury riddled season in which he only appeared in 54 games. In 2010, Luongo had an off-year and wasn’t himself from start to finish. This year is different. He played only 60 games, to rest, not recover from injury. He’s quite simply posted the best numbers of his career and has never been this rested heading into a postseason.

Defense:

While everyone talks about the forwards Chicago has lost, perhaps the focus should be on the Canucks defense this season.

In 2009, the Canucks defense looked like this:

Salo-Mitchell

Ohlund-Edler

Bieksa-O’Brien

Due to injury in 2010, the Canucks defense looked like this:

Salo-Edler

Ehrhoff-Alberts

Bieksa-O’Brien

This year the Canucks have added Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard, and Kevin Bieksa is playing significantly better. Sami Salo also no longer has a ruptured testicle, so that should help too. The Blackhawks for their part have boasted the same top 4 defense corps in all 3 seasons, and they lean heavily on them. Campoli and Leddy are in this year, replacing the likes of Walker, Barker, Sopel and Hendry (injured) from years past.

Forwards:

The 2010 Blackhawks were a better team up front than the 2009 team, mostly because of the addition of Marian Hossa and the maturation of a boatload of young talent. This season, gone are the likes of Byfuglien, Brouwer, Ladd, Versteeg, Burish and Eager. They also had Sami Pahlsson in 2009 and replaced him with John Madden in 2010. So who are the replacements? Michael Frolik has probably been the best, but that’s not saying much. Bickell, Smith, Pisani, Stalberg and Johnson are the rest, so it’s not surprising that head coach Joel Quenneville has leaned heavily on his top 6 forwards this season.

The Canucks, on the other hand, have improved their forward lines considerably since the first team that faced off against Chicago in 2009. For one, their players have improved, too. Daniel and Henrik Sedin are now bona fide superstars in the league, while Ryan Kesler is a 40+ goal scorer. The Canucks second line also no longer features Pavol Demitra or Mats Sundin.

The Hawks still matchup well with the Canucks top 6 forwards, but at best it’s a wash. Where the Canucks will need to take advantage is the battle of the 3rd and 4th lines, something that absolutely killed them in 2009 and 2010.

Injuries

I haven’t heard a lot of talk about it, but injuries were a key last season, and will be a key this season as well. Last year the Canucks entered the series versus the Blackhawks with Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler playing with significant injuries. Their best shutdown defenceman, Willie Mitchell, missed the entire series with a concussion. Sami Salo was knocked out of game 5, and hobbled around in game 6. Alex Edler was injured early in game 6. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, played without Kim Johnsson.

This year the Blackhawks are the beat up team. Patrick Sharp returned early from injury and isn’t 100%. It’s uncertain whether or not Dave Bolland will be able to start the series, recovering from a concussion. Troy Brouwer’s status is also uncertain. The Canucks, for their part, will be without Manny Malhotra for the entire series and Raffi Torres (suspension) for the first two games. The Canucks are much more well prepared to deal with injury than the Hawks this season, and that’s likely to be a key.

Prediction

In 2009 and 2010, I predicted a Blackhawks victory. This year, I think the Canucks will win it, but it won’t be easy. The Blackhawks stars will be tough to beat, but the combination of the improved play of Roberto Luongo, the depth/mobility on defense, and the lack of forward depth for the Blackhawks will be the difference this year. Canucks in 6.

 

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Raffi Torres suspended 4 games – NHL lacks consistency

Yesterday the NHL announced that Raffi Torres would be suspended four games (two in the regular season and two in the playoffs) for this hit on Edmonton Oilers forward Jordan Eberle:

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Canucks sit back and wait for Blackhawks, Ducks, Predators… Who do you want?

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, the Vancouver Canucks have locked up the President’s Trophy as the NHL’s top team in the regular season. We know this because they absolutely took the night off in their first meaningless game against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night! But I digress. They’re the top dogs, which means we know that they will play whichever team ends up in 8th place in the conference. In case you haven’t seen the NHL standings in a while, here they are:

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Canucks clinch first place, President's Trophy… But what does it really mean?

With an impressive 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night, the Canucks clinched first place in the entire National Hockey League. In case you’re counting at home, that’s the first time in 40 years that we can say the Vancouver Canucks are President’s Trophy winners. It’s a nice feather in their cap, and nice to have won it for the first time. Enjoy it Canucks fans… for now.

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April 2011 Calendar featuring the Hart Foundation

1) If this name catches on, I want royalties lol.
2) If I have to explain this name to you, well then smh, I’m clearly getting f’n old.

[Update] My buddy, Davie D, has poignantly pointed out that I’ve got this reversed.. And it’d be better if it was Henrik the Hitman and Daniel the Anvil! But oh well, too lazy to make that change lol.

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Malhotra Out for Season – Panic Ensues

I’ve got to admit that when I heard the news this morning that Manny Malhotra would be lost for the regular season and playoffs due to his eye injury, I began a mini-panic. Weird that a season ending injury to a 30-35 point scorer could cause such angst, but anybody that has followed this team closely knows why.

Malhotra brought a lot of intangibles to this Canucks team, the type of intangibles that help a team win a Stanley Cup. Aside from his mild offensive output, he was one of their top penalty killers, one of the best in the league at faceoffs, and brought leadership to the dressing room. Now Canucks fans have to hope that he will be able to regain his vision for the sake of his life, nevermind his career.

What Next?

With Malhotra officially done for the season, what next? There’s now an opening in the middle on the third line and it appears Maxim Lapierre will get the first crack at it. Lapierre is a natural centre, but might not be the answer. Other options would be to play the more talented Chris Higgins or Mason Raymond in the middle, although their experience at centre is limited.

Alex Bolduc has been called up from Manitoba, so perhaps he gets another chance on the 4th line but it’s another centreman from the Moose that has me intrigued. What about Cody Hodgson? I have been fairly critical of the Canucks forcing Hodgson into a 4th line role earlier this season, but this could be the perfect opportunity. Hodgson is a two-way centre with lots of offensive upside. He’s not exactly putting up eye popping numbers with Manitoba this year (27 points in 45 games), but they are respectable.

In my mind, Hodgson has the most potential to adequately replace Malhotra, albeit in different way. The Canucks should give Hodgson another chance and see what he can do. It’s by no means a slam dunk, and the more realistic option will probably be to hope that Maxim Lapierre can prove he belongs on the 3rd line.

Can it be done?

Can the Canucks win without Manny Malhotra? Of course they can, but it won’t be easy. With that said, there are a few examples of teams losing key members for long periods of time in the playoffs and still going on to win the Stanley Cup:

  • The Chicago Blackhawks lost one of their top 5 defensemen, Kim Johnsson, for the entire playoffs last year but still went on to win the Stanley Cup.
  • In 2006, Erik Cole had 30 goals in 60 games while playing on the Carolina Hurricanes’ top line. He suffered a serious injury at the hands of Brooks Orpik which kept him out for all but the final two playoff games. Despite this, the Hurricanes still managed to win the Stanley Cup.
  • Perhaps the best example of a team winning despite an injury,  was in 2001 when Peter Forsberg missed the conference finals and Stanley Cup finals, yet the Colorado Avalanche still managed to win it all.

So what’s the moral of the story? If you’re a good enough team, you can overcome an injury to a player like Manny Malhotra. The Canucks will need someone to step up in the 3rd line centre position, combined with excellence in other areas. Of course, on top of that they’ll need to get the bounces and try to limit further injuries, but that’s what makes the Stanley Cup the hardest trophy in all of professional sports to win.

 

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Step Aside, Hazel Mae

It’s been seven days since our last posting on Canuckz.com, and if you’re wondering if this is because we’re getting fat and sassy after our Canuck Nation post was featured in Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog, you may be right. Binh and I have spent the last week counting our money and collecting accolades from the blogging community.

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