It is so much fun to care again.
It's been really hard these past few years for someone who wants the home team to win so badly and doesn't particularly believe in "rebuilds". The thing is, if you threw yourself into a game like tonight, you would always be disappointed. The missed chances would come back to haunt you. The team would allow bounces, miscues and panicking to beat them. Not so tonight, and possibly not so again for a long time. There will of course be nights where we lose games, but not without a fight, and not with the utter hopelessness that has been present until recently.
Tonight for a few minutes against last year's Stanley Cup losers (WOOOOOO!!!! I mean...LOOOUUUUUUSSSSEEEERRRRRRRR) we were absolutely unstoppable. We took off and came at them in waves. It was a semi miracle that Vancouver wasn't down 4 or 5 goals after that outburst. To watch our guys rock and roll like that was one of best sights that ice has seen in years.
The only reason we were able to reach that point is that our entire team weathered a rather vicious storm in the first period. The Canucks threw everything they had at us and we gave them absolutely nothing. There could be no honest whining from the Canucks coach about them playing horribly in this one. That was an impressive period and if we had been able to keep 6 healthy defencemen, would have meant that this becomes a 4 or 5 goal win for our squad. The Canucks were on the ropes badly.
The third period was certainly a trial by fire for many of our players, and I have to credit Renney for properly realizing that the path to victory tonight required the kids to keep playing a whack of minutes. Staying aggressive for most of the game made sure we got the win tonight.
We can certainly face the Canucks with a different look this year, as we can finally bite back when they play their typical, classless game. We absorbed a lot of punishment tonight but it did not distract us from our game plan. Getting popped didn't change what our players were out there attempting to do on the ice where it has in the past.
I'm going to take it pretty easy on the defence tonight. They were in it up to their necks and certainly made some mistakes that could have been bad...but they bent without breaking and gave every last bit of sweat they had to this game. It is tough against any NHL team when you lose your #1 Dman early in the game, but against a pesky rival with a lot of speed it is usually fatal. It wasn't pretty, but they found a way.
I actually prefer beating the Canucks to the Flames, because as I've covered before many many times, I really really don't like their Edmonton-based fans. This one felt great, and especially because it was our young guys that came out and took it to the Canucks.
- Before he allowed the first goal, he was utterly stupendous. He was once again active, engaged and clearly fired up for this one. He had a couple sequences including the key one in the second period where he was so locked on it was amazing. An unfortunate stick that directed Cody Hodgson's shot into the net threw him off his groove a bit though, and to be honest he fought the puck pretty hard for the rest of the game. He gave up a giant rebound then overplayed the puck to allow the second goal, and made similar plays down the stretch that thankfully didn't cost us. I'm very interested to see how he rebounds next start.
- These guys showed tonight that they can play some amazing hockey against a strong opposition. Vancouver had no answer for these guys all night, as they drove possession and created an absolute ton of chances. Eberle's goal was one of the best wrist shots you'll ever see and he was clearly incredibly happy to get it. Hall made a fabulous read and pass to set it up as well. 14 and 4 were pretty locked in tonight, with 93 often deferring to a support role (and playing it beautifully, this is a complement about his hockey sense not a slight). The second goal looked like a replay of several plays we've already seen from that line this year. Either Eberle or Hall had a wide open net and Hall made no mistake. I'm still surprised they didn't score on the 4-on-1 after Bieksa made the world's stupidest pinch, but that actually revealed one of the only troubles these guys sometimes have...they get aligned horizontally across the ice sometimes and don't have any depth to their attack. They'll find this soon enough, which only means they're going to produce more. It cost them on both that rush and in the third on the play where Eberle had no angle and shot it into Schneider's glove. The pass that Hopkins made on that play was just amazing. I'd actually like to commend 93 on his defensive and neutral zone efforts tonight. He was in such good position and made great stops and poke plays to disrupt the Canucks. He played an every zone game for the whole game. Hall took hits and it only focused him more. He was flying around the ice and is really looking for his linemates right now. I heard Eberle was angry to the point of expletives after the game regarding his missed chances...you have to love a guy who is nearly PPG and is angry at himself for not being better. What we are watching here is truly something special. 3 complete players playing hockey on a level we haven't seen in at least 20-some years at a very young age...it is something else on nights like tonight when they're really tested.
- I'm a little conflicted on what to say about these guys tonight. On one hand, their absolute results look pretty solid as they logged a ton of minutes and did well to keep the Canucks top guys from hurting us too badly despite the situation on D. On the other...Horcoff for one missed a whole ton of passes in the first, gave the puck away several times late, and lost a ton of faceoffs. He didn't look right tonight, but went to the right place and scored a very similar goal to the triple OT goal vs. San Jose several years ago. Smyth looked very tired and slow most of the night. He didn't seem to be able to forge past the Canucks D very much at all. Again though, he makes the key play behind the net to set up a huge goal. Jones worked hard to keep things moving in the right direction, but tipped a puck into his own net and missed his check on several occasions. SO these guys were kind of all over the place tonight. I think it showed why it is so important that they get Hemsky back and get him on this line...they need someone to do more of the puck work and add some dynamic play. In the meantime...I'd try a split of Eager and Petrell in Jones' spot...but then again I'm crazy.
- Sam was pretty bad early on...there's no getting around that. He made a bunch of weird passes that didn't connect or were picked off, and was making some really strange skating/turning decisions. His game improved as things went on until he got hurt, but 89 needs to put some work in before he's ready. He honestly looks overmatched on this team at the moment. Magnus was playing a decent game in the first and then got absolutely pasted on his typical board rush. I haven't seen anyone catch him on this play yet this year...and it wasn't pretty. After that play, there was a pronounced back-off in 91's game, which is not good because he's already not the most in-your-face drive-through-people guy. He did play a solid defensive game and maintained strong position, but really didn't use his speed in the same kind of way he has for most of the year. The one guy on this line who was pretty impressive was Belanger. His defensive positioning was excellent, he skated many pucks to safety and really took charge in his late shifts when others were panicking like crazy. Big effort from 20.
- These three played an excellent fourth line game. Eager, despite the two penalties was effective on the forecheck and moving the puck down the ice as well as getting in the Canucks' face just enough. They hate him and it throws them off. He also got in some hidden elbows and stick shots, which are usually the exclusive tool of the Canucks in abusing our squad. No longer. 57 and 37 both played strong games on their line, on the PK, and when they were elevated to play with Belanger. Petrell specifically made some absolutely tremendous blocks, landed several hits and was seemingly always in the right position. Maybe he won't need to be sent down...could be he's learning on the job. Lander really stepped up as well and once again, took a beating and kept going. We seem to have rounded up a bunch of really tough young forwards.
- For most of the night GIlbert was excellent. He had a few giveaways as all the defencemen did tonight, but he got it done. You could certainly see that he was somewhat out of his comfort zone after not being able to play full time with Smid.
- He made some great plays including a huge breakup play late in the game to prevent a goal after a puck hit the ref's stick and went to Hansen in front of the net. 5 seems to step up in these Vancouver games so it certainly is not surprising but it is definitely impressive.
- It was a strange mixed bag of a game for Sutton. He was so tired by the end that he was getting knocked around in utterly embarassing fashion. He actually won some races that mattered and moved the puck okay at other times. He also defused a couple situations where the Canucks would have gotten some cheap shots in against us in the past. There were also a couple solid hits but also some nasty giveaways. I don't know what to say...he had to play too much and did okay with it. His attempt at defending Burrows in the third might have been the saddest thing I've ever seen an NHL defenceman do. It was like watching a horrible curve ball hitter take the worst swing of his life and smash his face into the ground.
- At times it was ugly...he sort of skates into pinches with caution and tends to be too late to do much of anything. Thankfully on the most dangerous 2 of these plays tonight, he had enough sense to take the body. He also made some solid outlet passes and was okaya on the powerplay.
- Honestly he made more mistakes in this game than in any other he's played for us...but still put forth a tremendous effort. Amazing to see that he was the TOI leader tonight but he was indeed everywhere, moving the puck, blocking shots, hitting people, it was pretty terrific. Specifcally, he made an excellent little play to get the puck to Hall, who then got it to Eberle for the first goal. I heard a variation on this on an old Beta tape from the 1988 playoffs...."THANK GAWD FOR COREY POTTER!"
There were moments tonight where it really felt like we'd arrived and I'll tell you what...if they find a way to beat Washington and end their winning streak, it's officially on in this town. At that point, management must go out and get a defenceman and get this show on the road. You cannot waste what these kids are doing and the efforts we're getting from vets right now. It's falling into place people.
Smid great defensive stop late
Potter lovely play to Eberle goal