A tale of 39 games…

We are nearly halfway through the season! Can you believe it? Last year at this point it still was not clear if there would even be a season!

39 games in & Tortorella’s influence on the team is becoming clearer with each game played.

What exactly would the Canucks look like as team coached by John Tortorella after being coached by Alain Vigneault for 7 years?Would Torts be able to light a fire under this team that they had been missing for almost two years? Would he have the same ever interesting relationship with the Vancouver media that he had with the New York Media? How would the players react to Torts? Would there be communication between the coach and his players and would it translate onto the ice?

Torts is never afraid to show his passion for the game with the players or the refs.

Torts is never afraid to show his passion for the game with the players or the refs.

OVERVIEW:

October was an incredible surprise as many did not expect the Canucks to have any real success in the early goings of learning an entirely new coaching system. Octobers prior to Torts time have not been kind to the Canucks, but this season they surprised nearly everyone posting an impressive 9-5-1 record. Perhaps the most impressive part of October was a season long 7-game road trip on which the team finished 5-1-1 picking up 11 of a possible 14 points. Remember it was trip that most did not have any expectations for the team do well.

November opened with a bang on Pavel BURE night as the Canucks opened the month with a BIG win against Toronto. The games that followed were back and forth contests and despite playing many of the games very well they could get win back to back games for the entire month. The most frustrating stretch for the team and fans alike was perhaps the 5-game losing streak that included 4 straight home game losses. They finished what felt like a very long November with a 4-5-4 record to bring their season record to 13-10-5. The Canucks would have a long climb ahead of themselves as a member the Pacific division that you cannot afford to lose points in and 4 other rivals playing well.

December where to begin? The team knew they had find a way to get better results and end up on the winning side more often than not. Cue two back to back two-goal games from Ryan Kesler to lead to the team to back to back wins for the first time since OCTOBER. The question remained could they make it three in a row when they returned home for a 5-game home stand? They opened with an overtime win against Phoenix and thanks to Luongo and Santorelli they also beat Patrick Roy’s Avalanche to stretch their success to a 4-game win streak. Could they continue their success? YES..they posted back to back shutouts [ONE each by Lack and Luongo] to stretch the streak to 6 games!
Boston came knocking in the next game and the atmosphere in the arena was electric like that of a playoff game…the fans were LOUD. It was a tight game until early in the second just after Boston tied the game at one and Torts called for T/O to get the team back on track..they never looked back winning to game 6-2 and a season best 7-game win streak. [Did I mention that was 5 straight wins at home?!]
The team struggled a little in their next few games BUT they found their way back to win column against the Blackhawks and the Jets. In 11 games in December they have posted a very impressive 9-1-1 record with 3 games left to play before the new year.

FINER DETAILS:

SPECIAL TEAMS: Everyone knows that you need to have success not just 5-on-5 but also on the special teams [power play & penalty kill] to have success in this league.

POWER PLAY: It is no secret that the team struggled on the power play to start the year. It was highlighted by every media outlet and fans alike. Why couldn’t they have the success they used to? Through the first 20 games of the season, the team only managed to score just 6 power play goals; whereas in the last 19 games they have scored 13 power play goals, including a stretch where they scored a PPG in 7 straight games! It’s been fun to watch the team’s success in an area that they struggled with early on.

PENALTY KILL: Success on the power play is important BUT it is also vital that a team kill penalties they take rather than allow their opponents to score on the man advantage. Shot blocking is KEY to a successful penalty kill. This team has had some great shot blockers in the past BUT Torts made it clear that EVERYONE would need to pitch in the shot-blocking department. The entire team has pitched in with the shot blocks but the defense has stepped up the biggest this year with Tanev leading the way with 73, Bieksa with 70, *Edler with 67, Hamhuis with 61, Garrison with 54 and Stanton with 47. All those shot blocks and some great goal-tending have allowed the Canucks to have the league’s best penalty kill success rate of 89.4% while allowing a league low 13 power play goals against.

Like I said, special teams are vital to a team having success in this league and incredibly vital to success in the post-season.

SURPRISE, SURPRISE:

Roberto Luongo with his position on the team CLEAR, he has been able to let his game on the ice do the talking for him. Despite the outcome some nights, he always gives the team a chance to win games and has been the most consistent Canuck, including having his BEST Canuck October!  Luongo’s December in particular [minus that Dallas game] has been sparkling and has played himself into Olympic contention. The only question that remains with Bobby Lu is when he will return from his recent injury? If there ever was a good time to have an injury occur, it was right before a 6-day break like it happened. Here’s hoping that Luongo returns to the line-up sooner rather than later! No matter the length of his time out if any games are actually missed, the Canucks are in good hands with Eddie Lack to man the crease.

Ryan Kesler leads the team in goals with 15 and has been playing his best season in 2 years. May I just say that it is incredibly refreshing to see a 100% healthy Ryan Kesler back to his heart and soul play making ways?! He will be a force for the USA during the Sochi games.

Everyone was so focused on the big trades and big signings that Mike Gillis DIDN’T make that they didn’t consider how big or important a small signing could turn out to be.

Mike Santorelli has more than exceeded the expectations that people considered him to be worth. Santorelli has been a perfect fit with Torts and the players…and his versatility enables him to play anywhere in the line up. Recently he has found a permanent line spot with Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins as they have formed a line with some fantastic chemistry that is fun to watch. Santorelli quietly gave this team some depth that a lot of people did not expect the team to have this season. Santorelli has been one of the most consistent players in the line up this season going back to training camp. With 26 points in 39 games and 550k cap hit he IS without a doubt one of the league’s best steals.

How about rookie defense-man Ryan Stanton who Mike Gillis picked up off the waivers from Chicago? Stanton until a recent injury has been one of a few very dependable defensive players including a respectable 47 shot blocks and 11 points. He has been a great find this season!

It’s true that Gillis didn’t make the big trade that people expected or sign any big names this summer that people wanted BUT he did find some great signings that have more than exceeded any expectations that people had. Perhaps we shouldn’t focus on the things that did not happen but on the ones that did and have had an impact on this team.

It has been quite a ride through 39 games as the team has adapted to the Tortorella system and surprised a lot of people in the process. Torts has been everything that he said he would be in his first press conference, and only had ONE note worthy bench rant during the Boston game. He has brought a determination back to this team and even in their losses they have a compete in their game that had been missing for the last two years. The team needed a change of voice and Torts has been up to the task in helping this team find their way again. As he said from the start, he hates losing, he’s a bad loser and to be a good loser, you are a loser.

DIVISIONAL CONUNDRUM:

43 games remain to be played before the new playoff format madness begins. A lot will occur between now and then BUT one thing remains true; the Pacific Division will be a battle all the way to the final buzzer of the regular season. 9 points separate the top 4 teams…just 4 points separate the Canucks from 2nd and 2 points separate them from 3rd. It’s going to be a wild finish, are you ready for all the will occur between now and then?

As always, until next time, nuck said.

Sarah E.L.

7TH Heaven

The Vancouver Canucks have now won 7 straight games. Hard to believe that just last month they couldn’t string together two wins in a row isn’t it? Let alone to think that since their loss to Chicago (Nov.23), the team has posted an impressive 8-1-1 record.

In their last 7 games, the Canucks have won road games and home games, posted back to back shutouts (1 by EACH goalie) and outscored their opponents 24-8. Let that sink in…the fact they have outscored their opponents by a 3-1 margin and only allowed 8 goals against during this 7-game stretch is impressive. Remember that power-play that everyone has complained about all year long…well don’t look now BUT in their last 15 games the Canucks have scored 12 power-play goals (yes you read that right…12!).

Here is the goal from Mr. Beast Mode himself Ryan Kesler that began the 7-game win streak:

Who would step to help the lead team to victory for their 2nd straight victory & 3rd in 4 games? Ryan Kesler steps up again with another 2-goal performance:

The trip finished with 3/4 victories and momentum that the team was determined to translate on home ice. After a disappointing result from their last home stand where they finished 1-2-3 in 6 games, the team made sure that this one had different results picking up 10/10 points in 5 games. That’s a pretty impressive feat considering that this latest home stand featured not ONE back to back games in back to back nights situation, but TWO. The second of those back to back scenarios included closing out the home stand with a game with the pesky Boston Bruins.

Who would be the team’s first challenge be in the 5-game saga? The Phoenix Coyotes presented a challenge for a team that was looking to take 2 points from a division rival. The home team looked great as they jumped out to a 2-goal lead that they carried into the 3rd period….BUT again the lead did not last as Phoenix came back to the tie the game forcing extra time. Over time at home had not been kind to the Canucks on their last home stand and they were determined to start this one off on a different tone.

Cue one very determined Chris Higgins with the OT winner as every Canuck fan breathed a sigh of relief.

Next up on the docket was the ever challenging Colorado Avalanche. Say what you will about Patrick Roy but the guy has succeeded at every level of the game he has played and coached at. The Avalanche brought a great challenge for the Canucks with their young talented core.

The Canucks would need someone to step up and step up Mike SANTA Santorelli did scoring TWICE and setting up Kesler’s game winning goal to help lead the team to a 3-1 victory.

Was it disappointing that the team gave up a goal to the Avs with 7.1 seconds left to ruin Luongo’s shutout bid or perhaps like many you believe John Garrett is too blame for saying the “S” word ON AIR before the final buzzer? Sure the shutout would have been nice, BUT despite those last 7 seconds, the team played a heck of a game to win their 4th straight game and earning an important 2 points.

Speaking of shutouts…Sweet Carolina came calling just one week after their previous tilt with the Canucks. The Hurricanes had been playing some great hockey leading up to their re-match with the Canucks. Eddie Lack made his home debut in front of a home crowd and dazzled them with his maturity in the game.

Chris Tanev scored the opening goal in this one as the Canucks did something in this game that they had not been able to do in previous games…maintain a 1-goal lead.

The team worked in hard in this one as they made sure as the clock was winding down to not let this one slip away, Jannik Hansen scored an empty net goal to seal this victory. Congratulations Eddie Lack, on posting your first career NHL shutout!

The Canucks had 3 days following the Carolina game before they would close out their 5-game home stand with 2 very different but equally important to the standings games against Edmonton and Boston.

How would Luongo respond after Lack’s shutout you ask? Why by posting his very own shutout of course. The entire team was solid from the first puck drop to the final puck drop. The team out shot the Oilers 40-19 and every line contributed a goal.

The game winning goal from a very nice #sedinery play on that suddenly revived power play:

Luongo has been solid all season long and after that debacle closing out the Colorado game, it was the nice that the team closed this game out for him. This was a game that the Canucks could have lost focus as they had a much bigger opponent coming in the next day BUT they never lost focus in this one.

The Vancouver Canucks closed out their home stand with a game against the Boston Bruins. It was just another game…OR so they said leading up to this game. It was not just any other game. The home crowd was the most electric and loudest they have been all season long, and very vocal in their dislike of the away team.

It was the just the second time the Canucks have met the Bruins since June 2011. Sure the rosters have changed slightly since that heated playoff battle, BUT the rivalry definitely still there.

Luongo faced the Bruins for the first time since the heartbreak of game 7. He was looking to help the team continue their winning ways, steal two points and end the Bruins win streak.

The Canucks opened the scoring on a Jannik Hansen goal from centre ice that took Rask by surprise and it was a lead they would take to the first intermission. Did I mention that Kesler and Jarome Iginla threw the gloves to help set the tone in this pesky affair? the The Bruins came out in the middle frame with determination to come back in this game…and come back they did as they controlled the first 5 minutes of play in the 2nd to tie the game.

Not exactly what the Canucks or Torts particularly wanted to do…once a team gives Boston momentum, they will always run away with it UNLESS you take it back. Did I mention Torts was NOT happy with the Canucks giving the momentum to Boston albeit briefly? Torts immediately called a timeout (something AV almost NEVER did)…and made it very clear to the team they needed to be better.

How did the team respond to the rant? David Booth..yes BOOTH put the home team up 2-1 just 1:30 after the TORTS pep talk. Not to be out done, the line of Kes & SANTO set up Higgins for a goal to put the team ahead 3-1 before the end of the 2nd period.

The third period would be interesting to see how the Canucks would carry themselves. The Bruins kept pushing BUT Luongo kept saying NO. Luongo made key saves and allowed the Canucks to keep momentum on their side which was aided by 3 more Canuck goals(yes 3 more goals!) to seal this game to the delight of the home fans. Two of their last three goals were special teams goals(1 power play, & 1 short-handed). The Bruins did get a second goal as they peppered Luongo with 41 shots on the night BUT the Canucks goal keeper was solid making 39 saves on the night.

The Vancouver Canucks defeated the Boston Bruins on this night and won their 7th straight game. Let that sink in…that is their longest win streak in 2 years. The Canucks are winning not just because Luongo has been incredibly solid(he’s been consistent all year long) but because the team is playing well as a TEAM from top to bottom as of late.

With an 8-1-1 record in their last 10 games. the team will be looking to build upon their recent success on the road. They have a tough 3-game road trip coming with stops in Minnesota, Chicago and Dallas that will be another great test for this team. It’s been a great month to watch the Canucks and I look forward to seeing how they close out 2013.

As always, until next time, nuck said.

Sarah E.L.

Road Trip #3: Part TWO

The Vancouver Canucks vs. The Nashville Predators

The Vancouver Canucks vs. The Nashville Predators

Stop #4: SMASHVILLE

The Canucks came into this game looking to win back to back games for the first time since OCTOBER (yes October!). Seems almost unbelievable does it not? Believe it…it happened BUT the Canucks know they have to more consistent for 60 minutes (not 58 or 59 minutes BUT the entire 60.

Kesler was a HUGE factor in the Carolina game and was looking to build on that solid performance. Build on that he did indeed. He had a fire in his eyes and brought that same intense determination to the Nashville game. We all know Kesler loves playing in that Predator’s arena.  He reacquainted himself with his opposition by being a driving force for the third period.

Who else to break a 1-1 tie in the 3rd period but that beast that has become Kesler? #17 was at it again!

KESLER strikes again on the power-play!!!! That makes 8 power-play goals in the last 10 games!

2 straight games with 2 goals from Ryan Kesler and #17 led the way for BOTH victories. Will he be the hero again tonight as the returns home for a 5-game home stand?  Who knows perhaps we will see him get his 4th career hat trick on this current home stand…or maybe someone else will step up as hero?

It all begins TONIGHT (Dec. 6th) as the Canucks start their 5-game home stand with a game against the Phoenix Coyotes. A single point is all the separates these two teams….a regulation WIN would push the Canucks past the Coyotes and put them a 3 points behind Colorado.

The 5-game home stand will also feature those pesky Coyotes, a re-match with the Carolina Hurricanes, the Edmonton Oilers(never to be taken lightly…they’ve got some great young skill) and of course the big bad Boston Bruins. This home stand is a great opportunity for the Canucks to grab some very important points to help them gain some ground in a very tough Pacific Division.

March 2nd may see The excitement for the Heritage Classic featuring the Canucks and Senators is beginning to pick as tickets and official merchandise have now gone on sale. In case you missed this gem of a sneak peek at what the Heritage Classic & NHL Revealed has in store for Vancouver & Ottawa fans…here you go!

Tell me that doesn’t make you excited to see the FULL NHL Revealed special.

I got a game to finish watching (the team leads 2-0 heading into the 3rd period!)!

As always, until next time, nuck said.

Sarah E. L.

Road Trip #3: Part ONE

Stop #1: Capital…absolutely Capital timing as the Canucks met with the Ottawa Senators.

The game perhaps did not start the way the team intended as it was all Ottawa in the first period and it reflected on the scoreboard when MacArthur scored his 100th Career goal. Needless to say Torts was not impressed with his team’s poor start to the game and he let it show behind the bench with his words in particular to Jannik Hansen.

Mind you it was only a 1 goal lead for the Senators heading into the second period BUT Vancouver could not waste time in letting this game get away from them. Props to Hansen for taking the harsh words in stride and for the rest of the bench taking words in stride to turn the tide of the game.

Cue Mr.Clutch Alex Burrows getting the gritty puck work done along the boards behind the net to set the twins up for the tying goal just 31 seconds into the second period. JUST 45 seconds later David BOOTH gave the Canucks a 2-1 lead which was followed by a power-play goal from Jason Garrison just 2:50 later! Midway through the middle frame the Canucks had stretched their goal count to 4 and Craig Anderson’s night was over. Offense that had been lacking in recent games was on the menu for the visitors this night.

Milestone #300 finally goes in for DANNY BOY! Congratulations DANIEL! [Did you know of his 300 goals, Henrik has assisted on 214 of them? That is insane in the most awesome way!]

**Daniel Sedin is only the 3rd Canuck to hit the 300 goals mark! He now only trails Trevor Linden [318] and Markus Naslund [346]. With 53 games still left in the schedule…it is plausible that Daniel could surpass Trevor Linden before the season ends.

Garrison seems to have found his game recently and was rewarded with this fantastic cannot miss shot for his first goal since game #2! Looks good playing point on the power play don’t you think?

Stop #2: New York, New York…where the Canucks had anything but an Empire state of mind.

Oi vey…where to begin with this game. The Rangers were looking to have a bounce back game while the Canucks were looking to put a string of wins together. One team was going to achieve their goal and it all came down to who put their best team effort on the ice…and that is exactly what happened.

The Rangers jumped ahead to 2-0 lead much to the delight of the home crowd and their delight did not end there as in the second period they jumped to a 4-0 lead. Luongo’s night at the 3-0 goal and Lack in to try and spark the team in some way. Booth’s goal put the Canucks on the board before the end of the middle frame.

The Canucks put themselves in a pretty steep hole making the comeback improbable. The Rangers all but secured their victory when Kreider put the home team ahead 5-1 as he completed a hat trick and hats rained down at MSG. The Canucks did manage to get another goal as Daniel scored a power play goal late in the game to make it a 5-2 overall score.

This was definitely not the Canucks best game by any means, possibly one of their worst BUT the good news is that they had an immediate opportunity to have a bounce back game the very next day.

Stop #3: Sweet Caroline…bounce back they did indeed. Torts was not happy with the team’s effort on Saturday and neither was the team. The Canucks knew they had to have a MUCH better effort for their Sunday matinee game. Eddie Lack made his 5th start of the season.

Remember that power play that struggled in the first 20 games? Including Ryan Kesler’s first period goal against the Hurricanes, Vancouver’s power play has scored in 7 of the last 9 games. It should be noted before Kesler made it a 1-0 lead…he took a puck to head, shook it off and gave the Canucks a rare FIRST goal of the game lead [a trend that has not happened enough if you ask me!].

The first period was all Canucks as they dominated the first 20 minutes out-shooting Carolina 9-4 as they visitors jumped up to 2-0 lead. The second goal was a point shot from Garrison tipped in front from Tostito [aka Sestito!].

As we all know NO lead in ANY game is ever safe.

The second period was Carolina’s turn to take this game over. The Hurricanes not to be outdone by the visitors came back VERY quickly scoring two goals in 10 seconds to tie the game at 2. To be honest when Carolina tied the game so quickly…I had flashbacks to the Chicago game when they similarly changed the tide in 9 seconds. That being said the Canucks did not give up their compete in this one, they shook off the shock and came right back. Just 27 seconds after the Hurricanes tied the game…Ryan Kesler scored his second of the night give the Canucks a 3-2 lead.

Despite the quick start to the middle frame and despite the Hurricanes out-shooting the Canucks 17-10 in the middle frame, were not able to find the 3-3 equalizer.

The third period was a pretty even affair. Carolina came very close, if not for a little help from Burrows, the Hurricanes may have tied the game again! Heck of a save BURR!

Kesler came oh SO CLOSE to completing the hat trick BUT Ward made an important save to keep it a one goal game. Carolina pressed for the equalizer late in the game even pulling Cam Ward for the extra attacker as the clock was winding down. You do recall that the other team pulling their goalie has been the Canucks kryptonite as of late right? They ALWAYS get it…or at least that is how it has gone all season long. NOT THIS TIME. The Canucks held on to the ONE goal lead and walked away with TWO points in REGULATION. Yes…this really happened! Lack was solid in net finishing with 29 saves.

The league’s number one penalty kill unit got put to the test killing 6 straight penalties! Needless to say, by the final buzzer this was a much more complete game from the team. Can they be better? Every team can always be better and can always learn from mistakes made in previous games.

Next Stop: The Canucks will close out their 4-game road trip in Smashville….otherwise known as Nashville. It won’t be an easy game…it never is against the Predators and the Canucks will have to put their best game on the ice to earn the two points.

Let’s close out this road trip in style boys!

As always, until next time, nuck said.

Sarah E.L.