first_imgLeigh 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 ( west coast correspondent, and will also blog after all Canuck games for The Nelson Daily.Two Saturdays ago, the Colorado Avalanche were victimized by a strange bounce off a stanchion that led to the Canucks tying goal in the last minute of regulation.  While the drama wasn’t quite as high on Wednesday night at Rogers Arena, Vancouver was again the recipient of a fortuitous bounce, and it led to a late goal that propelled the Canucks to a 3-1 win – only their second win in regulation in their last nine games.  The Canucks are now 13-0-2 in their last 15 games against Colorado, and extended their lead in the Northwest Division to a whopping 16 points.The Canucks jumped out to an extremely early lead, as David Booth scored only 13 seconds into the game at the end of a rush off the opening faceoff.  The Canucks dominated possession play for the rest of the period, but were unable to extend their lead.  Starting netminder Jean-Sebastian Giguere left the game late in the period due to a groin injury, replaced by Semyon Varlamov.The second and third periods were more even.  The Canucks started well but, in a familiar pattern, were thrown off by a couple of penalties that helped their opponent get back into the game in the second period.  Colorado built on this bit of momentum and broke through on the scoreboard midway through the second, when Milan Hejduk fed a beautiful cross-ice feed to Erik Johnson, who fired the puck past Roberto Luongo.The teams continued their even play through the third.  With six and a half minutes left, an Avalanche clearing attempt by defenseman Kyle Quincey bounced off the linesman’s leg into the slot, where Cody Hodgson had good body position, took possession of the puck, and slid a pass to a wide open Jannik Hansen who fired a slapshot past Varlamov for the game-winner. Alex Burrows added an empty netter after a nice play at the blue line by Chris Higgins, who returned to the lineup and played a solid game for the home team.This game was yet another familiar one for Canuck fans.  Vancouver was the better team on the night, however, they were unable to capitalize on many of their chances and hence let the Avalanche stick around and tie the game up. Although he didn’t have to deal with a vast number of difficult stops, when he was faced with a prime scoring opportunity, Luongo played his part and stymied Colorado on a handful of occasions.  Most importantly, he made a couple of great saves after the Canucks had taken the late third period lead to preserve the win, including this one on Paul Stastny. WHAT IS WITH ALL THESE CLOSE GAMES – ARE THEY GOOD OR BAD?The Canucks have now played 22 games since the Christmas break, approximately one-quarter of the season.  Their record over this stretch is an impressive 15-3-4.  However, the makeup of these 15 wins is worth taking a deeper look at.Of the 15 wins, the Canucks have won seven in regulation time, three in overtime, and five in a shootout.  The seven wins in regulation include two over Minnesota one over Edmonton, Anaheim, Boston, San Jose, and Colorado. Other than Boston and San Jose, it’s not an overly impressive list; Minnesota has been the worst team in the league since mid-December, and Edmonton and Anaheim are closer to the bottom of the Western Conference standings than they are the top.  Moreover, of those wins, only the two against Minnesota and the ones against Edmonton and Anaheim had a margin of victory of greater than one goal, not including empty-net goals. If you boil it all down, in their last 22 games, the Canucks have only four wins in regulation where the margin of victory was greater than one goal, and only one since January 4.On the flip side, it’s worth pointing out that the Canucks only have two losses in regulation by a margin greater than one goal over this timeframe.Clearly, the trend is that the Canucks are playing a ton of close games, with 12 of the last 22 being tied at the end of regulation.  The Canucks’ spin on this in the media has been what you’d expect, full of all the cliches:  all the teams in the NHL are good and you can’t take a night off; teams are really playing dull defensive systems and “there isn’t a lot of space out there”; the Canucks are coming up against desperate teams who are playing “playoff style hockey”; and various other standard responses that we have all become accustomed to.  There has even been rumblings from a couple of players that in this market, winning doesn’t seem to be good enough, but it now matters “how” the team wins. I believe there’s an element of truth to what the team is saying.  For instance, their last four games, and five of their last six, have been against teams that are within five points of the last playoff spot (three points if you count games in hand) in the West – they are clearly playing with some level of desperation as they clamour to get into the Stanley Cup tournament.In addition, games all across the league are tightening up defensively, as it appears we are headed back into “Dead Puck Era V2.0”.  Further, it’s been noticeable of late that more and more obstruction fouls and interference calls are not being whistled by the officials, which leads to fewer power plays and less time and space on the ice.That all said, I can’t figure out if it should be troubling that the Canucks don’t seem to be able to put any distance between them and their opponent on a night to night basis.  This team certainly feels different to last year’s President’s Trophy team, which seemed to win with a certain level of dominance that has been rare this season. There are many games, tonight’s included, that just feel like with a little bit more effort, if the team were just to bear down a bit more in a few key moments, the Canucks would be able to put their opponent away earlier than they do.However, it should be viewed as a positive that they just don’t let teams get away from them when they aren’t playing well.  They almost never let a team get out to a lead of more than two goals, which more often than not, allows them to press and more often than not, get the game tied (or better).I believe there’s a subconscious realization by the team that they don’t *need* to lay it all out on the ice game in, game out at this time of year.  They have seen what it takes to get the ultimate job done and know how the grind of the playoffs can wear the team down both physically and mentally.  If they are leaving more in the tank this season to prepare for that, I’m all for it.The most important thing, when the time comes, will be their ability to put the foot on the gas and put teams away when they have them down and are carrying the play – this will ultimately determine just how successful a season this turns out to be. SEDIN TWINS STRUGGLING, BUT SHOW BETTER TONIGHTDaniel and Henrik Sedin are struggling by their standards, as tonight they were held off the scoresheet for the third game in a row.  In their last 12 games, they have combined for only 13 points – about half of their typical point-per-game average.Certainly, part of the twins’ struggles have to do with a lack of significant power play time – the Canucks have only 30 power plays in those last 12 games (2.5 per game), and only 7 in the last three.  The PP has only scored four times in those 30 power plays, and has no goals in the last three games.  Clearly, the power play is struggling because the twins are struggling, as this is where they do a lot of their damage.Tonight the twins had good puck possession and were able to sustain pressure in the Avalanche zone on a number of occasions.  Daniel missed two opportunities from the side of the net, one going off the side of the netting and the other saw the puck bounce over his stick. Hopefully tonight was a harbinger of better things to come for the duo, as they need to be firing on all cylinders if the Canucks hope to get things rolling again. PARTING SHOTSChecking in on the standings:  A large section of this blog has focused on the Canucks’ last 22 games and how their record over this period may be slightly deceiving given their lack of ability to win by more than one goal.  Make no mistake about it – although they haven’t appeared dominant on the ice, they have certainly been so in the standings.Tonight sees the Canucks second in the West and third overall with 78 points from 57 games.  They hold a game in hand on Detroit, the Western Conference leaders, if they win that game they would tie Detroit for first.  The league leading New York Rangers hold two games in hand on Vancouver and if those games were won, would have a five point lead on the Canucks.In terms of the all-important stat of regulation losses, only the Rangers have fewer than Vancouver (13 to Vancouver’s 15).   The Canucks are getting points from almost every game they play.  During the past three weeks or so, other contending teams such as Boston, Philadephia, San Jose, and Chicago have struggled.Broadcast Observation of the Day:  There’s not much of note here tonight.  I disagreed with John Garrett’s assessment of Luongo’s play, when he stated that it wasn’t the number of saves he made, but WHEN he made them.  Luongo did make a couple of saves in key situations tonight, but my problem was the fact that Garrett was not talking just about tonight’s game, but rather his recent run. Just last game, against Phoenix, Luongo did the exactly the opposite – let in an absolutely horrible goal with less than three minutes left to tie the game.  If Garrett had contrasted that performance with tonight’s, it would have made sense.Looking ahead: Vancouver hosts the team from the Centre of the Universe, the dreaded Toronto Maple Leafs – another team fighting for a playoff spot.  The game is laughingly again at 4pm PST – wouldn’t want any of the Toronto-based TV audience to have to stay up too late on a weekend.last_img

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