While I spent time watching Game 1 of the Canucks versus Kings series, due to circumstances beyond my control I wasn’t able to write a proper game review last night. Needless to say, it was a horrible effort put forth by the Vancouver club on many different levels. At this point, anyone reading this knows exactly what went down in last night’s game, so there’s no real point in delving into tremendous amounts of detail about what happened and why the team lost.
That said, a number of issues cropped up and a few things stood out, and for my thoughts on the game and for a few things to keep an eye on as the series goes forward, read on.
The Canucks took way, way too many of them. In looking at what happened, however, the 5 on 3’s the team gave up were unfortunately not really their fault, as each was caused by the black and white “shoot the puck out of the rink” call. The percentage of times this call is actually the result of a player intentionally shooting the puck out of the rink is asymptotic, so really it’s a penalty that is assessed primarily for being careless and often it’s outside of the player’s control.
Many of the other calls were marginal, at best, but those sorts of calls usually go both ways over the course of a series. I can’t recall the last time that the Canucks took this many penalties and even more, I can’t recall a time when they’ve given up eight (yes, eight) power plays. That’s certainly not a way to win come playoff time, and I expect the Canucks to clean up their act considerably going forward.
2) Power Play
As bad as the Canucks were for most of the game, the dreaded (I can’t believe I’m using that adjective) power play had two glorious opportunities in the third period to put the Canucks in front, and failed on each occasion. The PP has been brutal since mid-December and at this point, I am losing any faith that it’s going to get back on track this season. The last PP, which occurred late in the game, was much more effective as urgency and desperation decreed that the Canucks shoot more from the points. With any kind of scoring slump, the way to break it is to put pucks on net and go looking for deflections or rebounds. I hope the Canucks learned their lesson, as the last PP looked quite dangerous.
3) Shots on Goal vs. Scoring Chances
The Kings’ motus operandi coming into the series was that they throw a lot of pucks on net. Well, last night they showed this to be the case, peppering Canuck goaltender Luongo 39 times, of course assisted by their eight powerplays. The Canucks were only able to muster 26 shots on Kings’ netminder Jonathan Quick, however, in the third period when the game was on the line, the Canucks had 12. As Vancouver was sitting in the penalty box for much of the first and second period, it’s not surprising they were only able to generate 14 shots.
However, shots don’t always tell the whole story and luckily, the fine gentlemen over at Canucks Army track scoring chances. The chance counts were much more even between the two teams, and the Canucks should be encouraged by what they were able to do considering how often they were in the box and how absolutely awful their power play was.
Many Canucks fans were complaining about the calls made against the team. In looking back, clearly the “puck out of the rink” calls were no brainers and were bad luck more than anything. Sami Salo also took a hooking penalty that was relatively indisputable, and the Bitz hit was a bad one and given the current-day stance on head shots, the match penalty was deserved.
One call that has many people talking was the Kesler Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty, when he gave Kings netminder Jonathan Quick a snow shower. Frankly, I like this rule, but why giving a goaltender a snow shower is deemed “unsportsmanlike” while other equally benign, but wholly annoying, transgressions are allowed to continue is beyond me. I didn’t have a problem with this call, since it seemed pretty obvious what Kesler was trying to do, and it’s in the rulebook. Live by the sword, die by the sword – that was a stupid play and the penalty was deserved. You can’t call for penalties to be called according to the rulebook only when it suits you – and I believe the calls should be made that are in the rulebook.
The two more concerning and vexing calls were the charging penalties assessed to Zack Kassian and Max Lapierre. Each of these calls were on what were legitimate body checks, in my estimation, and are hits that are delivered numerous times throughout the course of any regular season game. The fact they were singled out by the officials is concerning – it’s no wonder the players have no idea right now of what constitutes and penalty and what doesn’t. Potentially, the referees were “sending a message”, but the only message they were successful in sending was that the players should have no idea, at any time, what kind of play will draw 2 minutes out on the ice.
5) Ryan Kesler
I’m a huge Canucks fan but like any fan, I have players I love, players I don’t like much (for varying reasons), and players I’m pretty ambivalent about. Ryan Kesler is a guy that, for many reasons, I’ve just never loved.
Early in his career, Kesler was a guy who could skate, but whose hands were suspect as he often struggled to convert his chances into goals. All this changed last year, when he potted 40 goals, and it appeared he had truly arrived as a player. His effectiveness in the playoffs was unfortunately limited, as his penchant for injury reared its head. This season, coming off his hip surgery, he came back too soon and struggled for most of the year – it was a return of the Kesler of old.
Parallel to his actual play is his antics on the ice. Early in his career, he was hard working, but he always had some dirt in his game. I’m reminded of a game a couple seasons ago, where I was lucky enough to sit 10 rows from the ice along the goal line to watch the Canucks play the Ducks. At one point, Kesler, tried to dig the puck out of Jonas Hiller’s glove. Scott Niedermayer, a player whom I respect greatly, had his back to Kesler and was between him and his goalie, and just turned around and gave Kesler the dirtiest look I’ve maybe ever seen, kind of a “you’re such a loser punk”. When a player of Niedermayer’s stature and pedigree thinks that of a player, it’s silly not to take it to heart – to me, it really said something. That, coupled with his petulance during the Olympics, soured me on him more than ever.
Last year, after a sit down with GM Mike Gillis, Kesler cleaned up his act significantly. The discussion around “playing whistle to whistle” seemed to resonate with the entire team, and Kesler took the next step up to being a great player, winning the Selke trophy and as noted above, scoring at a rate he’d never seen before. He seemed to have matured, and it showed in his play, his leadership, and his success. It’s no coincidence that the Canucks had the season they had.
During this season, quite frankly Kesler seems to have regressed to his previous ways. He has done a ton of whining and often, when he’s knocked down, his first instinct is to look to the referee for a call. At his worst, Kesler is petulant and frustrated and will take dives in attempts to draw penalties. We didn’t see a lot of the blatant diving last season, and for most of this season it was the same way. But last night, it was like Kes just wanted to amplify all the anti-Canuck hatred that is tossed our way (that is the topic for another blog) by doing everything he could to draw the ire of the Kings as well as pretty much every non-Canuck fan that may have been watching the game. He dove blatantly on three or four occasions, and I just don’t believe there’s any place in the game for that kind of stuff.
It’s well documented what kind of reputation the Canucks have and frankly, I don’t believe it’s warranted. Most of the guys on the team play an honest game, and in a couple occasions, guys are stuck with reputations they garnered when they first entered the league but which are not supported by their play on the ice at this time. Kesler is was one of those guys, and it saddens and angers me to see him reverting to this stuff at this stage. It certainly makes it difficult to defend the team in the face of all the “hatred” that is directed toward it.
At his best, Kesler’s a big difference maker and one of the better two-way forwards in the entire league. The Canucks need to see much more of that Ryan Kesler, and not the guy that was on the ice last night, if they want to go deep into these playoffs.
6) Alex Edler
To put it bluntly Alex Edler had a poor night on D, and it culminated in his brutal giveaway to Mike Richards late in the third to that directly led to the Kings’ winning goal. Edler is another guy that needs to step up and be way better for Vancouver. For much of the back half of the season, he’s been extremely inconsistent, and he’s not bringing the physical presence that the Canucks need.
Not a lot went well for the Canucks last night, but there were a few encouraging points.
Firstly, Luongo was a stud between the pipes and kept the Canucks in the game. Goaltending like that, more often than not, will win hockey games.
Secondly, I can’t imagine the Canucks playing that poorly more than once in every half-season. The Canucks have had some bad outings this year, but realistically only the early-season 5-1 loss to the Blackhawks can compare with this horrible game. The Canucks are a veteran team and their playoff experience should help them get up and dust themselves off as the series rolls forward. It’s instructive that even at their absolute worst, they were in the game right up until the last three minutes and had every opportunity to emerge with the win. I think the Kings put a great game on the ice last night, and at their worst, it was just slightly too much for Vancouver. The Canucks’ players can bear that in mind and know they are a better team and just need to play their game in order to win this series. I predicted a seven game series, because I believe the Canucks are only marginally better than Kings, and I will stand by that now – but that slight difference will be enough for Vancouver to win.
Broadcast Observation of the Night: We are getting to the point where I’m going to have to go to extreme measures to avoid having to listen to Hockey Night in Canada. At this point, Jim Hughson is barely passable, but he’s the least of my concerns.
Craig Simpson was at his most arrogant, conceited, condescending self last night and makes me puke a little bit in my mouth every time he opens his. His descriptions of what is going on in the game are so clearly biased against the Canucks that I don’t understand how HNIC can even pretend that they are some sort of “neutral” broadcaster. I think we’d get a more even account of the game if we tuned into the Kings’ broadcast.
Don’t underestimate how much the subtle digs and (generally) unwarranted potshots affect the average viewer and their opinion of the team. At this stage, there are many hockey fans across the country who are watching the Canucks now that don’t watch them often, and to describe certain plays so one-sidedly can only serve to reinforce the negative impression of the team. The fact that the “other side” of an issue is under-reported (or not reported at all) is never mentioned, and most viewers just trundle along, eating whatever they’re being fed.
In my mind, it’s just another clear example of the media bias that exists against the Canucks and of Vancouver in general. It doesn’t really bother me anymore, it is what it is – I’ve lived my entire life here and by now, I’m used to it. That said, it bears mentioning because if you don’t speak out against it, you become part of the problem.