The road-weary Vancouver Canucks, competing in their sixth game in the last nine days, met the Dallas Starts in a matinee game at the American Airlines Center on Sunday afternoon. Coming into the game, the Canucks had a perfect 26-0-0 record when leading after two periods – but Dallas brought that impressive streak to an end, as the Canucks were on the wrong end of a 3-2 overtime loss.
In the first period, Vancouver replicated their effort from Similar to their last game in New Jersey, Vancouver came out in the first period and were able to shut down Dallas for a good portion of the period. The Canucks had a couple of scoring chances (the best being Chris Higgins’ shot off the post), as did the Stars, but not a lot really went on as both teams were generally effective in shutting down the other. The teams went to the dressing rooms tied at zero with the Canucks holding the edge in shots, 8-6.
The Canucks opened the scoring early in the second, when a Ryan Kesler wrist shot eluded Dallas goalkeeper Kari Lehtonen. Midway through the period, the Canucks power play went to work and while both power play units were dominant from a possession perspective, they couldn’t get anything past Lehtonen. Shortly after the penalty expired, however, Mason Raymond doubled the Canucks’ lead with a weak, bad angle wrister went through Niemi and dropped into the net behind him at 13:36. At this point, I figured the game was effectively over, the way the Canucks can clamp down on their opposition and with the lack of action that I was seeing from Dallas.
Dallas, however, never quit. Micheal Ryder scored on the power play with just less than two minutes remaining in the second, as he fired a slapshot past Canuck goalie Roberto Luongo, and Vancouver took their 2-1 lead into the third period, a position that had netted them perfect results to this point in the season.
The third period was relatively even with the Canucks appearing tired and holding on. They did have an opportunity to salt the game away with a mid-period power play, but again they were unable to score even though they had some decent chances and looked very good all things considered.
Controversy ensued when Dallas defenseman Stephane Robidas lazily chased a puck into his own end, not taking a direct route to it, going in behind it, and watching as it barely made it over the goal line. In a ridiculous decision, the linesman didn’t wave off the icing and the puck went into the Canucks’ zone for the opening faceoff. More bad luck followed, as it appeared Kesler won the faceoff only to have it bounce off his skate to the point, where Stars’ defenseman Alex Goligoski put a puck toward the net and Mike Ribeiro deflected his shot past Luongo to tie the game, with only 53 seconds remaining in the contest.
Overtime featured some of the worst hockey the Canucks have played all season, as Dallas completely dominated the extra session. The Stars outshot the Canucks 4-0, and mercifully ended it when Loui Eriksson, inexplicably left alone for a number of seconds off the side of the net, received a Trevor Daley pass and tapped in the game winner for the home side.
Overall, this game was better than the New Jersey game for the Canucks as they continue to battle the NHL schedule maker. Their attack was not as impotent, and they were able to generate some offensive chances in the third, even hitting the crossbar at one point. It was just one of those games where the bounces, or the calls, didn’t really go their way. The Canucks will probably leave Dallas happy with their effort and comfortable with the knowledge that not every game is going to go their way, in a season where, for the most part thus far, it has.
- Coach Alain Vigneault left Kesler on the “third” line today, however, the minutes weren’t deployed as equitably as they were in the last game between him and Cody Hodgson. Hodgson’s line, including David Booth and Mason Raymond, only played approximately 12 minutes today.
- An injury to Dale Weise’s hand (after being hit by a shot) forced him out of the game part way through the second, and while Vigneault juggled his lines a bit, Raymond appeared to be the beneficiary of that loss as he took more turns than did his linemates in the third. There was speculation that the Canucks were “showcasing” Raymond for Dallas, a rumoured trade partner, in advance of Monday’s deadline.
- Raymond and Higgins were the Canucks best forwards. While still exhibiting the weaknesses that we are all aware of, Raymond’s play has been better, or late – and not just because he’s had two lucky goals in consecutive games. He seems to stand out more when the team is slow or tired. This will give GM Mike Gillis pause as he considers his options at tomorrow’s trade deadline.
- Speaking of the trade deadline, Canucks/Stars rumours are primarily surrounding Dallas forwards Brenden Morrow and Steve Ott. Morrow didn’t play due to injury, but Ott was in the lineup. He’s a good skater, but didn’t do a whole lot for the majority of the game. Gritty centre Vernon Fiddler was effective (as he usually is against Vancouver), and got Kevin Bieksa and Vigneault to giggle on the bench with a first period impression of Bieksa. If the Canucks are looking for an inexpensive fourth liner that will work hard and provide a bit of grit, Fiddler would be a good option.
- Higgins’ play is hopefully an indication that he’s back up to full speed after his latest illness.
- The Sedin line has fallen back again, and has struggled 5 on 5 in the last couple games.
- The entire team appears exhausted – not just physically, but especially mentally. On the tying goal, stud blueliner Dan Hamhuis was late to get to Ribeiro in the slot. On the overtime winner, Alex Edler chased Steve Ott around the net and almost back to the blueline, leaving partner Sami Salo alone in front of the net. Salo was completely caught in no-man’s land, and Eriksson’s goal was as easy as he’ll get. Those kinds of mental mistakes are more damaging than tired legs.
- Luongo was solid today, but I’m sure he would have liked to have had the first one back. It was obvious where the puck was going and Luongo didn’t get square to Ryder, or set, before the puck went by him.
- The Canucks have benefitted from luck and bounces a number of times this year – you don’t get 26 straight victories when leading after two periods without it. Today was just not their day for that. They hit two posts to Dallas’ one, and just prior to the Ryder goal, Manny Malhotra had a bouncing puck go off the heel of his stick and wide on a shorthanded 2 on 1. Kesler wins the draw after the blown icing call, but a bad bounce sees the puck go to the point. As recently as the Detroit game, the Canucks tied it in the last minute with an extra attacker and won the game, and today, the opposite came true. Over an 82 game schedule, this sort of thing is bound to happen at some point or another.
- It’s funny how different an overtime loss feels as compared to a shootout loss. After losing a shootout, I tend to think “oh well, we got a point”. The OT loss feels worse, like we should have had two. In the standings, however, they are exactly the same (tie breaking impact notwithstanding).
- Vancouver’s power play is very quickly turning from one of their biggest strengths to one of the largest weaknesses. It’s looked better recently, but it continues to fail to make a difference when the team needs it to. In the 21 games since the Boston game, the Canucks power play is a shocking only 7 for 57, or 12.3%. The PP is no longer the league’s best, as it’s now tied for second with San Jose at 21.2%. When the PP went into it’s funk 34 games ago, it was over 25%.
- The blown call on the icing was absolutely horrible. One would think the linesman would make sure the defenseman at least appeared to make an honest effort to retrieve the puck in the last minute of a one goal game. He didn’t, and it cost the Canucks a point. More importantly, it delivered Dallas two points they wouldn’t likely have had otherwise – Kings, Avalanche, and Flames fans should be irate about it.
Broadcast Observation of the Day: The American Airlines Center is one of my favourite rinks to watch games from since a good portion of the music they play is to my liking. Highlights today included Pantera and Faith No More – but it certainly wasn’t as consistently good as I remember it.
The coverage in the intermission, featuring Don Taylor and Garry Valk, was much better than the normal road game intermissions which feature any number of the Toronto-based Hockeycentral panellists. When it began, Sportsnet was a pioneer with its regional coverage, providing a stark contrast to the Toronto Sports Network (which for the record has still not learned its lesson). However, over the years, Sportsnet has fallen back to a more centralized approach. Home game intermissions are good, featuring game host Dan Murphy and a combination of other local sports announcers or writer discussing relevant Canuck-related topics. Today’s coverage was a welcome sight for a road game, even including revered ex-Canuck General Manager, Pat Quinn.
That is quality TV coverage and as they own all the regional rights to the various Canadian teams, you’d think Sportsnet would give each team that treatment on a more consistent basis.
Looking ahead: The Canucks finish this nightmare road trip on Tuesday with a game in Phoenix against the Coyotes. It will remain to be seen what changes, if any, are made at tomorrow’s deadline. Any Canuck trades will be updated and analysed at Fighting for Stanley.