At least Mason Raymond showed up last night...
I Watched This Game is a recurring feature on Pass it To Bulis, chronicling the observations and insights of two people who watched a hockey game.
Harrison rarely has anything to say after a Canucks loss - he gets all despondent and mopey - so it falls to me to make the I Watched This Game post this morning.
What an incredibly frustrating game to watch. My initial reaction was that the Canucks fell into the same trap as last season, getting an early one-goal lead and then falling back into defensive mode, trying to protect that lead for 40+ minutes, but on closer inspection, that's not what happened. The Canucks didn't let up offensively; in fact, they continued to press on the forecheck, continued to direct shots towards the goal (though few made it through), and didn't sit back to defend the lead. The problem was that they tried to play Chicago's game, letting the Blackhawks dictate the pace of the game instead of setting the tempo themselves and controlling the play instead of reacting to it. They let the game become a series of end-to-end rushes and were unable to sustain any pressure in the Blackhawks' zone.
Still, there are some positives to take out of this game and plenty of reason to believe the Canucks will respond with a better effort at home in Game 3. Some quick points:
- The Sedins and Samuelsson, other than a beautiful 5-on-3 goal, were invisible. The issue was that they were never able to set up and create good goalscoring opportunities and tried to force the puck through on low-percentage shots. Then, when they were on the powerplay they did the opposite, trying to set up the perfect play with too many passes when just getting a shot and a rebound might have been more effective. Frustrating game for the top line.
- The second line, on the other hand, was great. Alex Burrows finally started to look effective and it was while he was doing the simple things: working hard along the boards, protecting the puck, and getting it to the front of the net. Ryan Kesler continued his strong defensive play, backchecking effectively and creating turnovers. Still, it would have been nice if he had done more with that 3-on-1...more on that later.
- Mason Raymond was a beast. I reffed a soccer team a few days ago that had two sisters that looked almost like identical twins. I didn't realize there was two of them at first and thought it was just one girl dominating the game, appearing everywhere on the field. That's what it was like watching Mason Raymond in this game: he was everywhere, offensively and defensively. The goal he scored was an atypical Raymond goal, created by getting body position in front of the net rather than with his speed. He was easily the best Canucks player on the ice.
- Brent Sopel looked like Brent Sopel last night. There was a lot of talk after the Nashville season about how amazing he was on the penalty kill. Didn't see it last night. That 5-on-3 goal doesn't happen if he keeps his stick on the ice. As soon as he lifted it, Henrik slid the pass through to Samuelsson.
- There will be a lot of talk about the Canucks physical play (or lack thereof) after this game, but in one area I appreciated it: the Canucks did not respond at all to the cheap shots and smack talking after the whistle (other than one ill-advised run at Dustin "Feather-Ryfuglien'" Byfuglien by Rick "I'm Much Better at Punching" Rypien). The highlight was SOB gazing skyward as Burish tried to get in his face, as if SOB was contemplating the miracles of the universe.
- Besides, the hits were only 38 to 31 in favor of the 'Hawks. It wasn't the physical play that did the Canucks in, it was their inability to play their game and get set up in the offensive zone.
- According to Kelly Hrudey during the first intermission, Luongo showed a "different energy" while entering the arena for games 1 and 2 of this season. Apparently, to Hrudey, teal = energy. Also, what was with his half-assed paisley tie? If you're going to wear paisley, wear paisley. Don't wear a tie that's only a partial paisley.
- Bieksa had an awful game. Just awful. Beyond the Henrikian pass he made to Seabrook for the Blackhawk's first goal, he was out of position all night, letting Chicago players just waltz in on Luongo like they were in Vienna. The third goal happened because Bieksa left his feet on a 3-on-2, dropping down to block a non-existent shot instead of staying up and taking the man.
- SOB, also awful. Poor choices in defensive coverage, weak clearing attempts, and just all-around sloppy play. His worst moment was when he thought he was a winger and made a blind drop pass while entering the offensive zone, directly leading to a Ben Eager breakaway. Luongo had to make a ridiculous save to preserve the one-goal lead.
- On that note, Luongo played a great game. But did the officials think he was embellishing all game? Is that why no goaltender interference penalties were called?
- Does it amuse anyone else that Jim Hughson refers to Patrick Kane as "Pat Kane?" It's as if trying to make him sound more like an adult, rather than a punk kid. But we all know he's still just a punk kid.
- Special teams? The penalty kill was good, the power play was not. That about sums it up. You can't be giving up odd-man rushes shorthanded. The Canucks were far too casual on the power play and didn't display any hunger for the net.
- Speaking of shorthanded odd-man rushes, Kesler wasted a good 3-on-1 opportunity with an ill-advised shot. Harrison seems to think he made the right decision, but the fact is that the goalie and the defenceman were playing the shot and he had two wide open teammates to pass to. Niemi made a decent save, but he would have had no chance if Kesler had fed the puck across.
- As an aside, who was the doorknob 'Hawks fan that threw a hat on the ice after Patrick "Pat" Kane's empty net goal? Newsflash: hats are for hattricks.
- After all that negativity, I'm still optimistic about the Canucks through the rest of the series. It's now a best-of-5, with the Canucks having the home-ice advantage. The Canucks were dominant to start the game and could have easily been up 3-0 early if not for some unfortunate bounces. I'm enough of a believer in Kevin Bieksa and SOB that I believe they will bounce back from this game and lead the charge physically in game 3.