On Wednesday night, the Canucks and their fans alike saw a totally different team donning the teal with black and orange trim jerseys – and a very familiar one in their own home colours of blue and green.
The Sharks came out in game 1 with a lot more speed and strength than they’ve ever had before, preventing the Canucks from generating any offense (except for a garbage goal attributed to a number of players, ultimately accredited to Kevin Bieksa).
Former Canuck Raffi Torres, while responsible for the lone home-side goal, put in a performance that reminded fans why he was so useful in the 2011 Cup run. Alongside teammates like Adam Burish and Brent “Caveman” Burns, Torres and co. threw big hits, went hard on the forecheck and put effective pressure on the Canucks defence.
Logan Couture also broke through the back end and showed the Canucks what a real offensive performance looks like. The Guelph Ontario native tied the game on a screened shot on Luongo, the result of a dominating power play, and assisted on another goal by Patrick Marleau. While the Canucks focus on getting “five times better” offensively in game 2, some focus needs to be on the Sharks young phenom if they want to relieve some pressure off of Roberto Luongo, who was named Friday’s starter as Cory Schneider is still out with a “body injury.”
Despite the score and fan reaction (note: never listen to call-ins during the TEAM 1040’s post-game show after a Canucks loss), the Canucks did well in shots, possession and scoring chances according to Corsi and Fenwick ratings, two statistical gauges that determine those factors.
Where they failed was matchups. For example, the dominant Couture-Marleau-Torres line was on the ice at the same time as the Sedins-Burrows line for much of the game. Forcing the Canucks top line to play against another dominant possession and shooting line prevented them from gaining meaningful advantages. Despite this limiting factor, the Sedin twins, Daniel in particular, looked too nervous to shoot in situations where they could’ve made a difference.
The Kesler-Higgins-Hansen line on the other hand showed an ability to maintain pressure and possession for the time they were on ice. Unfortunately, the combination of Kesler’s “I’ll-do-it-myself” mentality and the fact that he had a case of the runs (via stomach flu), meant that he wasn’t at best – “beast mode” wasn’t activated.
Vigneault, who juggles lines so much that it could count as credit towards a degree at the Ringling Bros. Clown College, will make some needed changes for Friday’s game in Vancouver.
For starters, the aforementioned Kesler line will be split up, and Chris Higgins will be sent back to play with Derek Roy, bringing together two players who have shown some innate chemistry, but not at a Wonder Twin level.
The question then rests with whether or not Kesler will be put on the wing with those players, or put back on the third line to spread out the scoring capability. The problem here is that Kesler and Raymond’s conflicting personalities of always wanting to hold onto the puck don’t blend well together, so we may see Kesler, Roy and Higgins together on the second line.
Another question asked of Vigneault this week has revolved around introducing current AHL-er Jordan Schroeder back into the lineup, in the place of an unimpressive Andrew Ebbett. At the mid-point of the season, Schroeder showed his potential as a top-six forward by being the Canucks second line centre while Kesler was injured, and Derek Roy was still a Dallas Star. Currently there is no word on whether he’s making his way to Rogers Arena, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Ebbet, Ebby, Ebbs, you’re a great plug and all, but we need someone who can make the good end of a highlight reel.
What does the team need to do to secure a 1-1 split in the best-of-seven series? The key rests with scoring, and preventing the Sharks top line from trying anything sneaky. The Sedins need to shoot more, and act like the back-to-back Art Ross winners they’ve shown themselves to be. Alex Burrows needs to crash the net. Zack Kassian needs to throw hits big enough that would make his idol Todd Bertuzzi proud, but stay disciplined at the same time. Ryan Kesler needs to pop some Cold FX. Derek Roy and Chris Higgins need to take a page out of the Sedins book and learn how to mind-meld, and convert on some chances. The defense need to clear the puck quicker, and throw more shots on the net. Luongo needs to just keep playing the same way.
The bottom line is that the Canucks need to play the full 60 minutes like how game 1’s second period looked. That was entertaining hockey, and if it doesn’t produce a win, it’ll at least keep some fans in their expensive seats.
Puckdrop: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: TEAM 1040
Vyas Saran is Vancity Buzz’s Canucks Columnist. Follow him for more Canucks updates and commentary via @vyassaran.
Image: Brendan Hoare, and CanucksArmy.com