Leigh Ramsden lives in Vancouver and is an avid Canucks fan, having been a partial season ticket holder for over 10 years. He's old enough to have witnessed all three Stanley Cup losses, as such, his prime goal is to remove those scars by seeing a Cup brought to Vancouver. Leigh is Fighting For Stanley's (www.fightingforstanley.ca/vancouver) west coast correspondent, and will also blog after all Canuck games for The Nelson Daily.
The Vancouver Canucks closed out their dismal, season-long home stand by squeaking out a 4-3 win against last-place Columbus on Saturday night at Rogers Arena. The game was close on the scoresheet and in game play, but the Canucks did enough to get the win over the scrappy Blue Jackets.
Columbus opened the scoring at 7:55 of the opening period, when veteran forward Vinny Prospal was able to corrall a bouncing puck that eluded Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa and squeak a shot through netminder Cory Schneider. The puck went through Schneider’s legs and barely crossed the goal line.
While the first ten minutes of the game were relatively even and didn’t feature a lot of high quality scoring chances, the Canucks came on after that goal and were able to get two goals past Columbus starter Steve Mason before the period was out. David Booth got Vancouver’s first after beating defenseman Aaron Johnson to a rebound before beating a swimming Mason and putting the puck into the empty net.
Just over a minute later, Daniel Sedin converted a great goal-mouth pass from brother Henrik, who started the play by outmuscling Columbus forward Derek Dorsett along the half wall. As a result, the Canucks took a 2-1 lead and a 14-11 advantage in shots into the first intermission.
The Canucks were easily the better team in the second period. After receiving their first power play midway through the period, the Canucks extended their lead when Alex Edler rushed the puck coast to coast before bearing in on Mason and beating him five hole. I’d say that he split the D, however, there just was nothing to split as Columbus just allowed Edler a clear path to the net in what was one of the worst displays of NHL defense I have ever seen.
Against the run of play, Columbus got back to within a goal with only four minutes left in the period, after a Jack Johnson point shot deflected off Ryan Kesler’s derriere and over Schneider’s shoulder.
The third period saw more of the same. The Canucks again took a two goal lead at 15:19 of the final frame, as Daniel scored his second of the night on another power play (the Canucks’ second in the game’s final seven minutes). The Blue Jackets, playing for jobs next season, refused to quit and replied once again, another point shot beating Schneider at 16:24, this time courtesy of James Wisniewski.
Columbus applied pressure in the game's final three minutes but the Canucks held on for the win. While being outshot 18-12 in the third period, the Canucks finished the game with an overall advantage of 38-36.
As compared to their previous horrible games during this homestand, this was again an improved performance for the home side. Interestingly, this game didn’t include any extended stretches of immense Canuck pressure, but the Canucks were able to put more goals on the scoreboard courtesy of the power play and the play of the Sedins.
At the other end of the ice, the Canucks gave up very few (if any) odd-man rushes against. Columbus was held to a very low number of prime scoring opportunities, and with any luck the Canucks could have had a shutout tonight as none of their goals against were a result of a defensive breakdown.
Basically, this game continued the trend of the Canucks putting a better effort on the ice but not being rewarded on the scoreboard – hopefully that trend continues as the team ventures out on the road and the results will start to become more clearly evident as the team steams toward the playoffs.
- Schneider started in place of embattled number one Roberto Luongo, and didn’t have his best night. If Luongo had allowed the goals that Schneider let in, the entire fan base would be screaming murder. The first goal was soft as Prospal shot it right at him, the puck squeaking through. The second and third goals were both point shots. Although the Johnson goal was deflected, Schneider got a piece but couldn’t react quickly enough, and the final goal beat him clean. Defenders will argue that he was a victim of circumstance on the last two (deflection, screened shot), and they will have a point. However, if Luongo had been between the pipes for these goals, he wouldn’t be given the same latitude.
- This goaltending contributed to the fact that even though they didn’t give Columbus much, the Canucks still allowed three goals against. In a league where goals are so hard to come by, a team just can’t afford to give up goals when there’s no legitimate scoring chance.
- The lack of scoring chances against is encouraging, however, as it indicates the team is rounding back into form defensively.
- None of Vancouver’s lines stood out tonight, but all were steady in their relatively evenly-distributed icetime.
- Max Lapierre was again noticeable in his 12 minutes of icetime, recording 5 hits. Jannik Hansen continued his solid physical play as well, recording 4 hits. No other Canucks recorded more than two, as they were outhit 24-16 for the game.
- Columbus’ defense on the Edler goal was simply atrocious. Edler rushed the puck up the ice, but nobody stood up to him at the blue line. As he continued into the zone, where usually the two defensemen will converge and squeeze out the puck carrier, he found unfettered access to the net. Hilariously, Dorsett can be seen yelling at his defensemen, arms raised in a “what is going on” manner, as he watched Edler score.
- The Sedin twins look to be getting back on their game. They didn’t have any truly dominant shifts tonight, but found a way to pot a couple goals. One was the result of a good physical play by Henrik (showing a side of his game that is often overlooked), and the other was a result of Daniel getting position in the slot on the power play, sticking with the play, and banging home a rebound. Neither of them were really “highlight reel” sorts of goals, but it’s encouraging to see them producing with less space on the ice – like they will see in the postseason.
- The Canucks won 60% of the faceoffs in tonight’s game. However, it should be noted that on both of Columbus’ second and third goals, the Blue Jackets won the faceoff clean and those wins directly resulted in the point shots that went in. The first was against Ryan Kesler, the second against Sammy Pahlsson.
- In the game’s final minute, Pahlsson lost two more critical defensive zone faceoffs, each against Mark Letestu. The first loss resulted in Blue Jackets’ pressure and a Vancouver icing, and the second resulted in a near-goal as time expired. Pahlsson was brought in to be able to win critical faceoffs, and although he finished the game 11 for 18, three of his seven losses resulted in goals or almost-goals.
- Manny Malhotra missed his second game in a row due to a personal issue. Typically Malhotra, one of the league’s best, would be taking these critical faceoffs. He doesn’t score a lot, but these plays illustrate his importance to the team.
IF THIS WERE A PLAYOFF GAME
If this had been a playoff game, I think the Canucks would have won. They were just a better team most of the night and Columbus just didn’t seem threatening. When down a goal early in the third, the Blue Jackets were given a power play, but even if they scored, the game just had the feeling of a Canuck victory. Unfortunately – the Canucks won’t be playing teams of Columbus’ stature once the playoffs roll around. Since I've been keeping track, the Canucks are now 2-1 "if they had been playoff games".
Broadcast Observation of the Night: I’m often very hard on Hockey Night in Canada, but one thing I do like about it is the play by play of Mark Lee (apparently, I am in a very small minority on this one). In general, I feel the quality of his broadcast is brought down by his typical colour partner, Kevin Weekes.
Tonight, however, Weekes appeared absolutely brilliant when early in the second period, he called out the fact that Columbus was struggling defending the middle of the ice, even going so far as to say that it wasn’t surprising that they were in last place when they couldn’t do that effectively. As it turned out, this discourse was perfect foreshadowing for Edler’s goal, when the Blue Jackets’ inability to take away the middle of the ice resulted in his stunning goal.
He’s not my favourite colour man, but did Weekes ever look brilliant after that statement.
Looking ahead: Vancouver heads out for a four game roadtrip, which gets underway Monday night in Minnesota against the Wild.