Category Archives: CANUCKS – BILL HEINTZ

GAME 12: NOT TOTALLY CONVINCED

By Bill Heintz

Despite the modest winning streak that includes the shutout against Edmonton, I’m not convinced the Canuck Super Tanker has turned things around.

Certainly we are better than we were, but it could be argued that we were lucky to take two points from Toronto. I haven’t seen the Canucks pinned in their own zone for an entire period since mark messier was collecting six million bucks for not back checking.

And the Edmonton squad we handed the goosegg to was about as healthy as Lindsay Lohan on a Saturday night in the Viper Room.
Oh, we’ve had our own squad decimated by injuries and unlike some, I’m certainly willing to use the broken and sprained limbs as an excuse. You cannot lose two of your top six (I include Demitra) and arguably your best D-man without seeing a dip in the quality of play. Add in Kyle Wellood’s toe and Rick Rypien’s groin and you have one key member of each of the four lines out of the game.

Yep, it’s going to hurt.

But the injury depletion isn’t what I’ve noticed the most.

I still see a lack of attention to detail. I still see decision making that is often over complicated by the “better idea” strategy. What I mean by that, is that on any given play, when a guy like Bieksa just needs to chip it off the glass for a safe play out, and then decides to fool the opposition with a “better idea” we have run into big problemas. Like maybe the old quick reversal where he runs into the second fore checker he didn’t see and then loses the puck. Or maybe Edler is in trouble with two guys on him and we don’t offer proper puck support and we get outnumbered. That should never happen in your own zone.

These kind of mistakes lead to the Afghani fire drill where we run around in our own zone chasing phantoms and panicking for about 30 seconds. Now trying to just get the damned puck out of our zone becomes a monumental challenge. The kind of shifts that Hughson often says, leads to a goal or a penalty.

Of course, Roberto’s game seems to be rounding into shape so he’s been available to bail us out recently…unless he’s forced to handle the puck.

Yikes!

He can say what he wants in his own defense, but as great a tender as he is, he may well be the worst I’ve ever seen handling the puck outside the blue paint. If the NHL banned goaltenders from touching the puck outside their own crease, Luongo might never ever lose another game.
So we play the once mighty Wings of Hocketown tonight. As much as they’ve fallen back into the pack, they will be a far better test for the vaunted Canuck turnaround than the flu-ridden Oilers or the Burke-ridden Leafs.

And the game is not without excitement.

I was probably more bummed by Michael Grabner’s pre-season performance than I was about the Cody Hodgson injury. At least Hodgson’s injury can (hopefully) be solved. With Grabner, it looked like we had a guy who clearly did not have the skills to play in the NHL. The fact that I had him penciled in before the season in a top nine role seemed to add to my own disappointment. To see his performance the last few games is one of the best Canuck stories of the early season. Grabs is playing the kind of hockey that should see him stick even after Sedin and Wellwood return.

So yeah, maybe we will have a Dave Nonis draft pick who will work out for us.

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GAME 10: WHY WE HATE THE LEAFS

By Bill Heintz

Well, you could start with the mis-use of the plural on Leafs. As every school child and anti-Toronto wag will tell you: it should be the The Leaves.

Okay, how lame.

And it doesn’t even scratch the surface of why we hate the boys in blue and white. To do that, you have to travel in the Way Back Machine. Back before there were thirty NHL Teams. Back before twenty…back before twelve teams. Way back to the six team NHL when The Leafs were often described as Canada’s Team. Which really was a snub to Les Habitants, BTW, a team with so many Stanley Cups (I mean, doesn’t Henri Richard have 11 Cup rings?) that the great Spring tradition was the simple ceremony of awarding Lord Stanley to the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.

But somehow, Canada’s Team (English Canada, that is) was supposed to represent the real Canadian spirit…well, at least the spirit that was decided by the Battle on The Plains of Abraham. Montreal may have been bigger in those days, but there was never any doubt in the minds of the brokers of Bay Street where the real power in Canada resided. And it wasn’t on Mount Royal. Nor even Sussex Drive. Toronto was then and still considers itself today, the center of the Canadian universe…and therefore the center of the hockey universe.

Easy to hate the center of the Empire.

So when lowly Vancouver was ushered into the league and began play in 1970, Toronto took great pleasure in kicking our expansionist arse. But strangely, we always played them pretty tough on the wet coast. Check the stats for the Pacific Colliseum when T.O. was in town. We did well, damned well.

Yeah, it was always great to beat Toronto but two images stick in my mind. The first was when Tiger Williams rode his stick down the ice after the Big Trade…that bit of circus was after he scored a goal for us in the old Maple Leaf Garden. Brought most of us out of our chairs. And then there was one of the great moments in Canuck history, against a Leaf team that felt entitled by Doug Gilmour and Felix Potvin to finally bring a Stanley Cup home to hog town.

The Canucks were ahead in the series but the Leafs were clawing their way back in. But after coming back from a three nothing deficit in the first period the Canucks headed into OT against the Leafs in what was to be the final game of the 1994 Western Conference Championship. Greg Adams backhander past a slowly splitting Felix the Cat had Jim Robson waxing poetic while the rest of us jumped around our living rooms.

Ah yes, those magical words from Robson…“The Canucks are going to the Stanley Cup finals!”

Still warms my heart to this day.

So that’s why the hatred. Because Toronto really is the center of the hockey universe. Toronto GM Lord Voldemort said as much when he took the job after claming he would not leave Anaheim. And like I said, when you are going up against the Power, the center of the empire, it is easy to hate.

But the ragtag group of red-headed step children that are limping into town for this weekend’s contest should not be underestimated. A team that hasn’t won, that could hardly wait to escape the Town Without Pity, could indeed be dangerous on Saturday afternoon (because of course we have to adjust our schedule for them) and we cannot afford to take them lightly. The brilliant performance against the Hawks notwithstanding, the Canucks are still a fragile group. We need to outwork them and check them all over the ice. And Bob Luongo has to be one of our best players. Cause if we loose…

Man, I’m going to hate those Leafs all over again.

GAME 8: CHEAP TALK

by Bill Heintz

Most sports have trash talk.

Football is notorious for it, with D-backs constantly reminding wide receivers about the loose morals of their sisters.

Hockey is much the same. Guys like Sean Avery raised (lowered?) the bar set by guys like Mathew Barnaby a few years back.

On the Canucks we have Kesler and Burrows getting involved in chirping at the opponents. Ray Ferraro said he heard five short jokes in a skirmish with the Nucks and Habs recently. And he was pleased to report that he hadn’t heard three of them before!

After the Minnesota game the Canucks were saying all the right things about team effort and such. The newspapers concurred the next day. And that’s a head scratcher for me. I maybe watched a different game. I thought the Canuck efforts on the weekend bordered on the pathetic.

They didn’t look anything like a team. As my friend Gord said, “we were supposed to have great depth! A couple of injuries and we look like a bad high school team.”

Certainly we have a couple or three key injuries. But good teams pull together at times like these. We aren’t pulling together and the quest for the Stanley Cup is falling apart before the season even gets going.

No need to panic, true, but when I see rival teams playing with twice the intensity of our guys, it brings up some serious questions. And I mention the quest for the Stanley Cup only because the leadership of this team spoke openly about it before the season began. The last time we did that we didn’t make the playoffs.

The good thing about the collective malaise is that it is early. This attitude thing can be turned around. I’ve seen other teams do it and I know we can. But attitude is amorphous. It’s difficult to identify the exact problem affecting the team. But for my money, I see a sense of entitlement in this group and that is an infection that may be difficult to cure.

Will it help that we are playing another division rival tonight?

The Edmonton fans are salivating at the prospect. They love to refer to the Sedins as the sisters, but that kind of ridiculous bravado belies the fact that Daniel and Henrik have absolutely owned these stubble jumpers from the oil sands for a few years now.

Now, with Daniel out, the Edmonton fans see a ray of hope, built both on our injuries and the fact that Edmonton hasn’t stunk out their own arena this season…much like they did for most of last year.

But talk is cheap. Our boys are all singing the same tune about work ethic and commitment to sixty minute hockey.

I just need to see it on the ice.

GAME 4: PRE-GAME

by Bill Heintz

The urge to point fingers can be overwhelming. Especially when off season signings and pre-season hype were so overwhelmingly positive. The defense looks terrible. Edler is confused. Bieksa can’t skate. Who is this Ehrhoff character? Can Salo hit the net? Ever?

Remember the picture of Cloutier with a beach ball behind him? How about Roberto’s performance last game!!! Kristian Huselius beats him…with an unscreened wrist shot? Ah, jeeze Louise.

And where’s the offense? Anyone who said we were a one line team before the season was roundly thrashed on the chatboards. Kesler, in a contract year, was about to take the next step. Shirokov was being mentioned in Calder Cup previews. Newly slimmed Wellwood and Bernier would team with newly bulked Mason Raynmond and suddenly we had a first line and two second lines, all of whom could be counted on to score. In bunches.

Talk about a WTF moment three games in!

Now before we get too deep into hysteria (from the Greek, wandering uteris) take a quick glance at the current standings and see who the last place suckers are in the three Western Conference divisions. Yep, Detroit and Anaheim also are undergoing early season struggles so we ain’t alone in the pity pit.

Of course the pundits tell you that a win will clear all the fog away and we will once again resume our journey to our assured destiny. Well, I’d like to make a small point here. What I’m looking for tonight is not a win. What I’m looking for tonight is a total team effort where the Canuck automobile runs on all cylinders. A team in synch where everyone does there own jobs and trusts that everyone of their teammates does the same. A game where no one is hung out to dry.

Because I’ve watched the game long enough to get a sick feeling in my stomach when I don’t see that team effort…and trust me it takes all of about three minutes to see whether it’s there or not. When it’s not, we see players struggling to get out of their own zone, passes that end up in skates, slap shots that are “just wide” and sure goals bouncing off posts. And a group of players that deflates at the first sign of adversity.
We’ve seen the other side of this coin as well. And when that happens the sun shines in Canuckville. But that kind of magic is, by definition, ephemeral.

We know it comes out of work, of couse, but we’ve seen hard work produce horrid results. It’s simple really: true team work results in wins. And team is what’s missing. That’s what I need to see tonight, win or lose.

I need to see a team.

GAME 3: PREVIEW

by Bill Heintz

The problem is like an old episode of King Of Queens.

Remember the one where Doug Heffernen is coaching Deke’s boy Kirby (“Can I take off my football costume now, Dad?”)?

During the practices, Doug runs wild. He is unstoppable at the line of scrimage, bowling over nine year olds in his quest for glory. Typically, Doug decides he should follow that dream and tries out for a semi-pro team on Long Island. The result is predictable and Doug is left crying like a little girl.

Kind of like the Canucks in pre-season. We ran roughshod over the AHL opposition on a nightly basis. And even when we lost, we managed to tie the score up and grab a point. The problem wasn’t that it was just pre-season. The problem was the bad habits that were setting in.

Blindly throwing the puck up through the center in your own zone is going to cost you when the other guys are skating a bit faster than ¾ speed.

You thought those other guys were legitimate opposition? Well, they weren’t.

And now they are.

King-of-Queens-782672courtesy of media.herald-dispatch.com

Calgary had an opening night and loads of revenge in their game this year.

First, there was last year’s opener to atone for…and also the theft of the division title when they iced a roster of fifteen skaters near the end.

Calgary was pissed off and we paid for it. Well, no problem we’ll get it back against Colorado, right? All the pundits said they’d be one of the worst teams in the league. Except the pundits missed the fact that the Avs added Craig Anderson in net…the guy who’d made Florida’s run to the post season a possibility last year.

And apparently our scouts didn’t notice, or forgot, that Colorado was decimated by injuries last year and had very few healthy bodies the last third of the season. Add in a touch of youthful speed and suddenly our Canucks looked like the Washington Generals playing against the Harlem Globetrotters.

So, heads held low and tails between the legs we limped home. I say that because I don’t hear any angry growls coming from the Canuck room. Just a lot of platitudes about attention to detail, tightening up and righting the ship.

No one is panicking they say.

Well, that’s great. But I’d like to hear some passion in those voices. A little early season desperation. Be nice to hear some of that instead of talk about a Stanley Cup.

Hopefully it won’t take a nine game losing streak for that to happen.

GAME 2: TAKE A DEEP BREATH

By Bill Heintz

It’s a long season folks.

San Jose opened their season and got spanked by the team we are playing this afternoon. A team that was expected to be a lottery finalist in next summer’s draft!
Scotty Bowman said to me one time…well the truth is, I never talked to Scotty Bowman. I never liked Bowman. He tried to talk to me one time and I cut him dead.

I kid. I kid.

But Scotty Bowman did say, to someone other than me, that the talent level of 95% of the players in the NHL is fairly equal. What changes from game to game is motivation.

All the old stand-byes.

The truth is we just got out worked by Calgary until they had a comfortable league. And the Sutter family knows how to shut it down from there. The scribes can talk all they like about Kipper, but I said this before: Calgary trapped and collapsed for the final period and our real scoring chances were actually quite limited. Any hockey fan knows; shots alone are not a great measuring sick. It’s quality that counts.

So today we need to out hustle the Avs. And if we work harder than they do, we’ll win.

We are a better team. But hard work always beats talent. Against the Sharks the Avs were on an opening game high and the retirement of Burnaby Joe that night provided the inspiration that propelled them past the boys from SJ.

Our loss to the Flames should do the same for us.
The first period established a couple of things for me. One is that the Colorado Avalanche have a new team identity. Give credit to coach Joe Sacco. He has iced a scrappy team that checks all over the ice. They win the little battles and they have a fairly complete team with a scoring line, a hard nosed defense and a goaltender that plays big…much like a certain goalie playing for Vancouver.

Secondly, although I felt we carried much of the play, we looked tentative when the battle was truly engaged. And when you play tentative, you are thinking too much. Reacting instead of acting. There’s only one way out. Hard work. Calgary out-hustled us in game one and Colorado did much the same in the first period. The Sedin line was the only forward group that managed sustained pressure. We need that from everyone else.
Need to get the lunch pails out boys.

The second period was more of the same. The Sedins pressed offensively at times but the second and third lines looked shockingly ineffective. Our PK is put to the test as well because on a number of occasions, the Avs are beating us to loose pucks and we are reduced to clutching and grabbing…and in today’s NHL, that kind of flatfooted approach leads to the box. Stastny’s cute tip-in starts our guys squeezing their sticks and missing chances.

The third period becomes one of just looking for a break. And the penalty parade continues. Everyone knows that the breaks disappear when all you do is look for them.

The odious Darcy Tucker gets the backbreaker on yet another holding penalty by the Nucks.

These are the salad days for the negative crowd.

They’ll point out that the Sedins havn’t lead us out of the wilderness yet and now we are saddled with a bad contract for the next five years. But those types, as boastful as they will become, really know very little about hockey. Some others will pick on Luongo, who has not stolen a win while the team in front of him tries to find their game. Others will find a different whipping boy…from Bieksa to Kesler and then right through the line up. Still others will call for coach V’s head.

But it’s a team game folks and until this team fires on all cylinders we’ll be the ones looking like a June lottery team. We’ve been through losing streaks, both long and short, before. And if you believe, as I do, in the essential talent and character on this team, then you will believe that they will work their way out of this.

The key word is work.

GAME 1: DRINK UP, FOLKS

by Bill Heintz

I generally drink a fairly modest brandy…usually a California distillation, or I might even pour one of the better Mexican brandies before a game. But the first game of the season? Well, then I uncork the old Martell Cordon Bleu and treat myself to a triple hit of this legendary cognac… just to get the ears and gears lubricated, of course.

Ahh, it’s great to be Canadian on a night like this.

We’ve waited all summer…well truthfully, at least since last spring, for the puck to finally drop and the race to begin anew. And judging by the comments the last couple of days, I’m not the only one sampling the sauce. Everyone, from noted cynics such as Ed Willies right to that nasty albino Tony Gallagher…and then even to insiders like Alain Vigneault and Rick Bownes.

And all are calling for the Canucks to make a serious move for the Stanley Cup. Hell, even the Toronto Sports Network said we’d be there at the end.

Hesus de Cristo! The Stanley Cup. The Vancouver Canucks. This year!

So yeah, I’m not the only one who drinks.

But that kind of Kool Aid can quickly turn sour after a few losses…just ask the Oiler fans…so I’m not having any of it. Not yet anyway. Like my colleague, Ron Spence, I’ve seen some pretty good Canuck teams over the years. But the only Cup I’ve seen going down Robson St has been covered in tin foil. Lucky to be there in 1982 against the vastly superior Islanders, we wuz robbed in 1994.

The league gave Mike Keenan an extra day for the meds to take hold so that Brian Leetch and Mike Richter could drive that final stake into the Linden-lead Canucks.
Still, that might not have been the best Canuck team ever.

A couple of years later, we somehow managed to have Linden, Bure, Maclean and Mogilny all on the same team. And then Pat Quinn brought in what we all thought would be the missing piece of the puzzle for a true run at the Cup. The greatest leader in all sports was signed to what was then a massive six million dollar deal to provide the spark that would see us take home the big one.

The problem was, mark messier just cashed the checks instead of back checking. While Linden was getting hammered in front of the net, messier was cruising around the perimeter, possibly in Pt. Roberts Washington, and the Canucks never became a real team. So they brought in Mike Keenan to fix it.

Once again. Hesus de Cristo!

You probably all know the vandalism that was committed on this franchise by the likes of Keenan and messier. We couldn’t even make the playoffs let alone win a Cup.
Strangely, it was the Mouth That Roared that brought this franchise and it’s leadership back to respectability. The night that Linden came back and played (I think it was against Minnesota) for the Canucks was one of my all time proudest moments as a Canuck fan.

Of course, Brian Burke was never the same after he was tossed from the Nucks camp…it seems to have affected his moral compass as well…and the entire organization took years to emerge from the Bertuzzi Brain Bashing.

And now it seems we have emerged. Finally. But all Canuck fans know to sip the Kool Aid slowly. We’ve had too many years where the optimism of the Fall turns into the golf courses of the Spring.

One game at a time.

And the first period is a perfect example of the evils of drink. It can make you fat and lazy. And for most of the period, fat and lazy is how we looked…well at least for the first 19 minutes and 59 seconds. The only positive note was the reaction to Celine Dion’s elbow on Daniel Sedin. Typically, Phaneuf retreats and will not man up. Nice to see Bieksa go after him before Samuelson did the smack down.

The only other good thing is that it was only one period…the first period. Of course it can always get worse. But this may be a perfect test for the Mike Gillis theory about character. So before we switch from Kool Aid to Hemlock, let’s see how we respond in the second period.

Which was mo’ better.

It wasn’t so much the goals as it was the intensity. We didn’t show up in the first period. But we did in the next twenty minutes. Yes, it showed up on the scoreboard. But it also showed up on the sideboards. And the endboards. Because that’s the only way you can beat a team like the Flames. You beat them on the boards. Is it too late? Well, it’s clear that Roberto has to shut them down the rest of the way. And we have to beat them…beat them into submission.

Forty one seconds in Alex Burrows pulls us within one. It is a real bone fide hockey game now. And we dominate but the Flames spend the period in the Sutter trap. We get chances but the Flames collapse to the middle, mucking up most scoring chances. We are left with the pulling the goalie gambit. Phaneuf burries it on Conroy’s interfence and kills our chances.

We can bitch but the truth is we didn’t bring it early. We’ll need to learn from that.