Coming on the heels of the extremely entertaining 4-1 win over Calgary 2 days earlier this was a snooze-fest in comparison, but the 1-0 win over the Kings last night was exactly what most of us wanted to see from the Boys.
As they pursue home-ice in the playoffs wins are obviously important, however of far more importance to a prolonged Spring on the Left Coast is having the team play the way they're supposed to. How many times have we heard the coaching staff preach it's all about the process?
it's the standard take care of the little things and the big stuff will take care of itself … it's the same in every Sport, the Devil's in the Details and when players don't play to their strengths and execute the game-plan, they'll lose more than they win.
After some very sloppy play that started in a 2-1 win in OT in Minnesota on March 31st, the Canucks just got worser defensively as the next 4 games came and went. This team is built from the goaltender out and when all 5 skaters play a smart and tight 5-man game supporting the puck in all three zones they are a very tough team to beat.
Defense wins championships, and after giving up a boat-load of shots and scoring chances versus Calgary they knew to a man that they had to get back to basics, and that is what last night's game was all about for the Canucks.
Perhaps they were fortunate that they seemed to stray from their style that had given them so much success in the past with a handful of games left in the regular season and that the Luongo-win over Calgary put a huge exclamation mark on the glaring deficiencies, as there was no denying they were lucky to win that game.
I wrote after that crucial win that kept their Division hopes alive that AV & Co would have a very attentative group on their hands in practice, and Thursday's team-game win certainly bared that out.
Granted the Kings aint the Flames, but they were held to 20 shots in the game, which is less than Calgary got in the first period alone on Tuesday. Shots are one thing, but scoring chances are another, and after surrendering a mid-twenty's worth of them to the Flames the Kings managed less than ten on the night.
Going in that was the primary focus for the Canucks, not to put on a show for the fans at GM Place. They knew they had to try and recapture their Bread & Butter and if that meant a less entertaining game then so be it. There were still some breakdowns here and there so no one can say mission accomplished or anything, but this game was a nice rebound and a very good start to getting back on track as the playoffs approach.
Speaking of rebounds, there weren't too many popping out of the Canucks' crease as Roberto Luongo continued his own little bounce-back after 3 less-than-stellar performances last week. If there was any justice in this world he would have had a shutout in the Calgary game, but it didn't take long for him to make “amends.”
His Bagel last night was his 8th of the year, a career-high, and tying him for second-most in the league and setting a new Franchise Record for shutouts in a season passing Dan Cloutier for top spot in the team's record book. Oh, and you might remember that he missed 2 months and 24 games of the campaign while on the IR.
Not only did he pass Cloutier, who is collecting his $1.5 Million'ish sitting on his duff somewhere this year out of hockey thanks to the Kings, but that was #19 as a Canuck, leaving him just one behind Kirk McLean's all time record of 20. Oh, and McLean played 514 games for Vancouver while last night was just the 202nd time that Lui has played an NHL game wearing The Whale … this just in, this guy is pretty damn good!
The back–to-basics game was most definitely no award-winner, but the team handed out their annual awards prior to the game and Ryan Kesler, who scored the only goal of the game and was the best player on the ice, deservedly took home the big one as he was named Team MVP for his outstanding break-out season. He's still everything he used to be on the defensive and super-pest sides of the puck, but his offensive game has gone up ten-fold and his leadership on this team even more than that.
Other than Luongo, Kesler is this team's most important player and can now, I believe, be considered an absolute lock for the American Team in next year's 2010 Olympics here in Vancouver. Many of you know that I've worn my #17 Jersey around this city for a long time so I'm always a little leery of being seen as having some bias towards my favourite player and as a result, many times I feel I don't give him his due in this space because of that … so MAJOR PROPS to you Kes, and I know you're gonna step up your game even more in the playoffs.
The 2 points earned last night puts the pressure back on the Flames who still hold the upper hand in the battle of the North West. Calgary plays tonight in Edmonton before facing the Oilers again tomorrow night at home to end their regular season, and as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter what happens.
The Canucks have now locked up a no-worse than 5th place finish in the standings and all I want is another solid team-game in tomorrow afternoon's tilt against the Avalanche in Colorado as further preparation for the games that really matter. They'll then have a few days to reinforce things in practice before they play their first playoff game on either Wednesday or Thursday, and no matter whom they play and where that game is, all that matters is that they play their own game.
The Grades …
A … Luongo, Kesler
B … Mitchell, Salo, Bieksa, O'Brien, Sundin
C+ … Ohlund, Edler, Henrik, Daniel, Burrows, Demitra, Wellwood, Bernier, Johnson
C … Raymond, Rypien, Hordichuk
The other Team Awards went to Alex Burrows for most exciting player, the 2nd consecutive year he has won it. Willie Mitchell also doubled up with his 2nd best Dman title in two years while Steve Bernier took the unsung hero award, which is a little odd to me considering he was brought in to be the ultimate triplet, but whatever.
On the Farm Scott Arneil has been named Coach Of the Year in the AHL and Cory Schneider was just named as the best goaltender in the league.
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Written by Mark Gage