Well here we are, the last game before the all star break.
All the pre-season predictions, all the early season successes and the horrible schedule that left us without some of our big guys when we needed them the most…it’s all been the classic roller coaster ride. And if there is anything that has come out of this journey it is that there thirteen teams that could make the playoffs. If you concede San Jose and Detroit, you are talking 11 teams vying for six spots.
The bad news is, if we lose tonight we could be in the basement of the outhouse, looking up, wincing and grimacing. The good news is, we remain in the hunt, even with the schedule and the injuries we’ve had. And if we win, we could be back up on the main floor, sitting in fifth place with a reasonable chance of challenging for the division if we can put any kind of run together.
So, do you believe?
Do you believe, as I do, that this is one of the most talented group of Canucks we have seen for a long time. Three balanced lines with a decent 4th energy line. Eight NHL quality defenseman. Not to mention an all-world goaltender who has time to return to form and take us on that magic run. And do you believe, that even if we don‘t win tonight, we still have that hope?
Well, of course you do. You are a Canucks fan.
We live in the city of Hope. Knowing that with just a little tinkering, a little puck luck, a little more work, we can be a team that no one wants to play.
And after the all star break, the silly season begins in earnest. By that I mean the trade deadline. Already trade articles are dominating the chat boards. Suddenly Eklund has become a source again. Spector’s hockey page is checked out before work. Everyone waits to see if Bob MacKenzie will comment on a rumour. Pierre LeBrun starts to hone in on the most likely moves. Hell, even Al Strachan suddenly gets quoted.
But the truth is, the teams that are going to make a move (not a trade) are the ones that come out hard after the all star break. The trade deadline receives the most press…mostly because the all star game is so meaningless. But the simple fact remains: the teams who play hard from the all star break to the end of the season, are the ones to be the most feared. And the Canucks do have a shot at that.
We all know the issues. Will Roberto regain his form? Will Mats Sundin lead on the ice? Will Kevin Bieksa regain his confidence? Will Willie Mitchell once again become “the Man?” Can the Sedins maintain their terrific pace of the first half.? Will we get the promised secondary scoring?
And what will Mike Gillis do?
Ahhh, there’s the key question. Mike has had a terrific early run. He strengthened the fourth line. He shored up the sixth, seventh and eight positions on D. He out waited (and I say outsmarted) every GM in the league who thought they had a shot at Mats Sundin.
What will Mike do?
So it’s no secret that the Shark’s have owned the Canucks the last few years. We’ve squeaked out the occasional win, but often they’ve spanked us, shanked us and thanked us for the two points. I notice that during the first period, we play a completely conservative game. The safe play rules the day. And it is smart hockey, because if we start thinking we can out-hustle or out-muscle these guys, we will be in serious trouble.
The return of Sami Salo is not so important for what he does out there for us…it’s what the other D-men don’t have to do. Like play minutes that they can’t handle. Or get put out against lines they have no business being out there against. Sure, Sami’s had more breakages than a character in an M. Night Shyamalan movie, but he is a talent. A player that calms the game down. And if he gets a chance to unleash a boomer, everyone better close their eyes cause it’s best that you don’t see it.
The couple of times we get away from the conservative game, the Sharks hold true to their name.
They smell blood and they swarm. Even the survivors don’t look so good once the Sharks have had their fill. The outshoot us by a wide margin, but they only get two real scoring chances to our one. And fortunately it is the Sedins that create our one. And Taylor Pyatt once again shows that although he may not have the fastest feet in the game, he has very quick hands. One to nothing for the good guys.
And I say again to the toe rags that call them the sisters.
Learn a little about the game of hockey before beaking off. These guys are gold and Gillis is no fool. You don’t find this combination of skill, desire and fearless play very often. And anyone who thinks otherwise (no matter how they try and justify it) obviously doesn’t know very much about the game of hockey.
The Sharks have so many weapons that it becomes a coach’s game to try and stop them. Sure you can use the Kesler line against big Joe Thorton. But who do you use against Marleau? This is the kind of game that has so many changes on the fly that you wonder who is going to get the first too-many-men on the ice penalty.
We stick to the conservative game, short passes in our own zone, trying always for the safe play. But it doesn’t always happen as the Sharks have the best cycle game since Lance Armstrong. They control the puck, often exhausting our defense. But we hold tight in the second period with Lou coming up big on the two occasions where the Sharks have clear scoring chances.. The Sedins create our best chances with Mats Sundin having a couple of near misses as well. It’s best not to watch the clock or the scoreboard. There’s just too much game to play. But we do get some more shots on Nabokov in the second period and also kill the Sharks PPs without too much danger.
As for the third, I’ve never seen a team play the trap in their own zone…usually a trap clogs up the neutral zone. This time we clogged up the ice in front of Lou. They kept us behind our blue line but couldn’t score until they pulled Nabokov. And then drove in the nail. Rope-a-dope works when the other team eventually gets tired. But like their ocean counterparts, the Sharks continually move and it seemed an inevitability that they’d tie it up.
We have an excellent OT record and the first minute saw us get two chances in the first 40 seconds with the Sedins setting up Pyatt. But a hooking penalty two hundred feet from our own goal looks to seal our fate. We’ve played their PP tight all game but 4 on 3 is the most feared man advantage. Two quick breakaways and still Lou stones them. But the breakaways lead to a break down.
Look, I still believe. We got two points out of Columbus and SJ. That’s about what I expected. And we have the all-star break to really get our focus back.
The run to the post season starts then.