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2/5/13

2013 LMHF Game Report #4

EDMONTON 2

VS

VANCOUVER 3
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Well, that was a weird one. Not just weird but also containing many contradictions and I'm sure there will be violent opinion either way as to how the game should have went. I understand why some people will say the Canucks deserved the win but I'm heavily inclined to disagree. Both of their goals were just garbage. This had serious potential to be a 1-0 game if things didn't get weird numerous times tonight.

Early on, Vancouver was doing a very good job of keeping us to the outside in their defensive zone and also standing up at the blue line on their PK. We took a while to figure out that you have to chip and chase against this strategy. It resulted in a goal pretty damn quick though.

We on the other hand were not very sturdy defensively for much of the game. There was a time in the second where we got really tough in our own end and I really enjoyed that. It continued briefly into the third but not long enough. I really appreciate a team that can separate the puck from the man and defuse a play quickly. We were that team plus some solid checks for a time tonight. It is something we need to work on doing more. It is really too bad our D wound up short staffed. It had a big impact on our ability to finish. I understand and to some extent agree with benching Whitney tonight, but we did miss his ability to make the first pass. There was a time tonight where we really struggled to get moving out of the defensive zone. He makes a difference there, even at 60ish%.

The thing was, we held firm enough against Vancouver efforts that we wound up with enough of a lead to take this thing home. We were right there and did not close. There were an absolute ton of chances to do so. It reminded me a lot of the opening period in Colorado, where we should have staked ourselves to a nice lead. Thankfully we didn't roll over and die at any point tonight so we at least got a single, but with the chances we had, this could easily have been a regulation win.

I know a lot of people will look at the shot clock and think the Canucks controlled the game. Again, I understand this line of thinking but I strongly disagree with it. An absolute ton of those shots were from WAY out and at bad angles. I'll get into why they were doing that a little later.

I think this may have been the first game that Krueger over-coached. I know he was forced to do some different things due to injuries, but that does not excuse him on this one. The fourth line was having a tremendous game with limited ice time and had a ton of energy going into the third. I'd argue they actually were our third line tonight. But instead of forechecking the hell out of the Canucks with that unit (as they had all game), he pops Paajarvi in Yakupov's spot, has Lander center Smyth and Petrell for a time, and benches Hartikainen (who was having the best game of the fourth liners). Terrible. Backing off like that costs games. It was part of why we blew the lead. I get sitting down a rookie every now and again, but in a game like this messing with the equilibrium of lines who are at least all moving the puck north on a routine basis is playing with fire. We ignited late.

One thing I did enjoy is that we were effectively able to shout the Sedins and Burrows. That's always key to playing the Canucks. The lines that did it deserve commendation for the work.

A word on our breakout: It needs to become much more versatile. I can remember Joni Pitkanen's skyhook passes out of the zone when there was trouble, Pronger's stretch pass plays out of nowhere, forwards criss-crossing rather than simply being on rails the whole night...teams really shut us down for extended periods and we need to stop that now.
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Dubnyk
- Ya know, he was tremendous, except when he was not. He made a ton of stops on really good chances that good shooters had from good shooting positions, including a lovely bounce-back save after that first goal. But, let us talk about that first goal. Horrible and inexcusable. Why he's coming off that damn post so much I have no idea. No reason for that. No reason to let that play of all plays handcuff you on a night when you're doing great work. The Canucks recognized this and then began specifically shooting from weird angles. It almost worked multiple times. Don't get me wrong, I'm so glad he bounced back with confidence on the tough chances, but he looked like an monkey falling out of a tree for most of the third period, on horribly weak shots. Why does he get so rattled? The Bieksa goal has to be a save all day long. That was really weak. Stabbing at a puck like that is not NHL goaltender material. He nearly missed another shot high to the blocker side near the very end of the game as well, batting the puck into the air before recovering. Again, don't get me wrong, the diving through the air save on the awkward rebound, the beauty glove to keep it 2-1, the solid stops from great positioning through the first two periods were phenomenal and he kept us in it, but he's so schizophrenic in that net. It's baffling.

Petry-Smid
- Petry made some great plays including a beautiful third period jump into the rush that should have resulted in a goal. He should have finished it himself however, as he had ideal shooting position and a goalie playing the pass. He also made some stellar defensive plays and an amazing stretch pass to Paajarvi in the second (at least, I think it was Petry). He also turned the puck over in the neutral zone a number of times, got beat clean to the net by rushing Canucks and nearly cost us the game. Far from his best effort, but still flashes of what is to come. I liked Smid's game except for a couple times that he skated himself into corners with the puck. The only disadvantage of playing Smid with Petry is that #5 is too worried about covering for #2 that he doesn't skate with the puck like he used to. That's a distinct strength of Smid and we are missing it. He played a physical game and made several key defensive stops though.

N. Schultz-J. Schultz
- Nick is leaving the zone too early. He had several easy pinch opportunities tonight and passed up most of them. Some of them were nearly no-risk and came in the third when we badly needed a dagger goal. I'm not sure why he's playing so passive. This is a guy with some offensive talent and a partner who can skate like the wind. Not exactly a tightrope situation. I suppose he was pretty decent most of the game, but he's too tentative at times for my liking. Justin has flashes where you really do think he could become a Pronger type defenceman. I don't know if he'll be able to put on the muscle, but the few times tonight where he ranged around in the defensive zone, deftly using his reach to break up the Canucks' opportunities brought back a lot of memories. Beautiful deke and presence of mind to blow by the Canucks defender who'd lost his stick after Hall blasted him in the third period. Needs to finish some of those though. The wrister is just too easy for goalies to read at this stage.

Potter-Fistric
- This was Corey's chance and unfortunately he did not step up. He struggled to get the puck moving on the powerplay and that really hurt his linemates' attempts to do anything. He also tried to be physical in the corners but succeeded on a very limited basis and got caught out of position a number of times. Fistric was playing the kind of game we need him to play against Vancouver until he left. I'm assuming it was the hit he missed that messed up his back? Too bad. He may have made the difference for us tonight.

Hartikainen-Lander-Paajarvi
= Really, really solid game from this crew and especially from #s 56 and 57. They were in on the forecheck harder and more effectively than just about anybody in the game tonight and it nearly paid dividends on a number of occasions. They made the Canucks work more than anything else and you could see it having an impact. They started backing off Hartikainen and that gave him and advantage. Lander started attacking the puck as well and did a good job. He was also pretty excellent on the penalty kill, making a number of key clears while also making physical plays without getting himself out of position. Not the easiest thing to do in the NHL. Paajarvi also had a successful night but on a more limited basis. He used his speed and at times improved positioning to both get scoring chances and move the play forward. He had a couple really nice rushes in the second period. Just needs to work on his in-close shooting some. What I didn't understand was why he played so high in the zone. This is not consistent with the Oilers' system and cost him scoring chances when his linemates won corner battles and he was too high up to receive a pass. He needs to be more aggressive. There is no need to cheat for defence on the fourth line, especially when you are that fast. He looked a little out of sorts with Hemsky and Gagner, which is understandable and not his fault but Krueger's.

Petrell-Horcoff-Smyth
- Horcoff was actually moving his feet much better and took a couple nice shots at the net before he was injured. Not playing great by any stretch of the imagination but certainly an improvement. Petrell managed to land a couple of hits and get himself a great scoring chance where he reminded us all that he's the shooter on that line. They really need to get him the puck some. Smyth worked hard and was again better than the last time out. His goal was classic, hideous Ryan Smyth which is fair enough. The amount of times where he went in on rushes and all you can think of is "he's got NO chance" was rather sad though.

Yakupov-Gagner-Hemsky
- As a line they were a bit ragged at times, but also produced many of the best chances at other times. They were absolutely robbed in the second when Yakupov was given that tripping penalty on what was a clean 3-on-1. Pretty sure we cash that chance at that point in the game and the rest is academic. They also got hosed when Gagner took an elbow to the face and they didn't get a chance at a five-on-three in the third period. Tough breaks at times. They had moments. Yakupov's play to Hemsky who then used positioning and strength for a beauty goal was fabulous. Ales was going most of the night and generated most of the chances this line got. Really liked the play he made when he got stuck out shorthanded and got a key clear with a nice hit. I'm sure there will be people who complain about the fact that he went 1-on-3 in the Canucks zone and didn't get through on a play in the third. You may not have been able to see that Hall had hooked around the other side and they were inches from a clean 2-on-0. You have to take those chances. There was another sequence in the second where the puck whizzed around between the three linemates and I believe it was Gagner who was unable to pull the trigger. It was unfortunate that he was a half-step off the pace tonight. His shots were coming too late, from too far out and he wasn't quite in the right spot for passes. I recall a long powerplay shot that he put on net with no one in front and Luongo having a clear view in the third. Not a one-timer either. Then again, not all his fault. The Dman (Potter I think) had Yakupov wide open for a one-timer at a great angle and didn't look. Idiot. I'm getting the impression some people (and possibly our coach) thought Yakupov was bad tonight...I didn't see it. He didn't do anything too electrifying and there was the penalty he took, but other than that he was certainly okay at the very least. I don't blame him on the OT goal because every person on the ice was busy fiddle-farting on that play. That was just UGLY. Eberle knows much better and so does Smid. Petry was out to lunch in the OT. At least these guys aren't having the issue the next guys are having.

Hall-Hopkins-Eberle
- So, here's the real conundrum. You've got a first line who is indeed driving the play forward, getting a bunch of chances and doing it against good opponents. That is all great and would seem to mean you leave them together forever. There is however a substantial problem developing. While it is understandable for even the best players to go through times when they are truly snake-bitten, as long as the players don't believe this is an actual trend, they will be fine. Our flashy franchise players have started to pass off scoring chances. They are not confident in themselves and that spells trouble. Where Hall or Eberle especially would normally fire a shot, they are passing them up. Granted the players they are making passes to are in great scoring position, but it just doesn't work all the time. You need to mix it up. This has been what has always been so great about these guys...you never know what is coming. Right now it is way too telegraphed. They're also doing horribly trying to beat the other team's D 1-on-1 while carrying little speed. Hall had a great shooting chance in the third where he was roaring and had Luongo cheating...he passed it up despite the fact that even if he didn't score we were rebound-ready. Eberle was shooting to the wrong side of the goalie or passing up as well. The good news on Eberle is that was in all likelihood the one bad game in every 30-to-40 we see from him. He should be good for a long while now. I don't know what he was thinking tonight; from missing rebound chances, to wandering around in OT, to passing up shots and stumbling into the back of Canucks defenders...it was WEIRD. I must say as a whole this line falls more than any line I've ever seen. It's like a contagious disease that Hall started with and now they all have. Hall was the best of the three tonight and could have been combined with Hemsky to win this thing. Hopkins is still a little lost. He's looking down while stickhandling and not beating anyone clean. They need him to carry the puck less and be the transition or net guy much more than he is right now. Overall, things need a shuffle even though these guys are pushing a big boulder up a hill. You can not let their confidence be shaken for long.
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Many interesting things to be learned from this one. I understand we're also without Horcoff for some time now. Time to grab a C. There are several out there and I only hope the coaching staff/management doesn't see fit to let the 'D' class take up the bottom two center spots. This could get ugly in a hurry as those lines are not scoring at all. Get someone. Guys like Arnott and Connolly are flawed, sure, but they whup Chris VandeVelde any day of the week.

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