Saturday, 15 March 2014

Canucks lose 4-3 to the Washington Capitals

Some notes on tonight's defeat of the Canucks against the Capitals.

1)  Yannick Weber again was in the lineup as the seventh defenceman/12th forward.  He didn't have much ice time, playing less than 10 minutes, but looked skillful and assured when playing the point on the powerplay.  He got off a few shots and was impressive walking the line and dealing the puck to the open man.

It looks like this may be his ceiling in Colin Campbell's SmashUp Derby NHL, which is too bad, since he can actually carry the puck and pass and shoot, but he can't crosscheck or elbow with the likes of Mark Stuart and Eric Gryba.  So he doesn't get to play, but they do.

2)  As an illustration of my very casual expertise when it comes to the Canucks, let me offer the fact that I don't really know the difference between Jannik Hansen, Jordan Shroeder, and Nicklas Jensen (yes, I had to look up their names to spell them correctly).  In my mind, they're nebulously the same player, kind of slender, kind of fast, not bruisers or bangers.  They're the reason why the Canucks felt they could let Mason Raymond walk in free agency, they had the 'speedster with wooden hands' angle covered with these three.

3)  Henrik Sedin is impressive.  He's stoically excellent, always working hard, not giving up on himself or his team or the season.  Even down Ryan Kesler and Daniel Sedin, and devoid of the quality goaltending the team had last season, and things looking grim for the 'Nucks, I never saw him give any less than 100% effort in this game.

4)  Jason Garrison, who was brought in to great fanfare as a free agent from the Florida Panthers, is on third pairing playing with Ryan Stanton, a guy the Canucks got from the Blackhawks on waivers at the start of the season.  At $4.6M for another four seasons, that's pretty expensive for a #5 defenceman.

The galling thing is that when the Canucks were negotiating with Mr. Garrison, they had to leave Sami Salo twisting in the wind, asking him to wait and they'd make him an offer.  Knowing full well that he could be left without a chair when the music stopped, the latter decided to accept an offer from the Lightning and not wait for a putative offer from Mike Gillis.  At the time, once Jason Garrison was in the bag, the departure of Sami Salo was rationalized in Vancouver, he was pretty brittle after all, struggling to stay healthy, and his input on the powerplay would be replaced by the former Panther's big bomb from the point.

It hasn't worked out that way.  For some reason, Jason Garrison hasn't been as effective with the Canucks' powerplay, at times he's really struggled to get his shot through.  He's a leftie and Sami was a rightie, and a right-handed shot seemed to work better with the Sedin brothers' preferences, and Ryan Kesler's tendency to lurk in the faceoff circle to the goalie's right, ready for a one-timer.

We bellyache about some of the problems with the Canadiens' roster and salary-cap situation, but most if not all teams have these.  The Canucks have four defencemen who are dependable and can play quality minutes, all wrapped up for a few more seasons at relatively reasonable cap hits around $5M per season.  But it's not perfect, the fans think they're paying too much for what they're getting, and that they need another rightie, they're having to use young Chris Tanev too much too soon, since he's the only rightie other than Kevin Bieksa.

Very rare will be the team that has Mike Babcock's desired symmetry on the blue line.  And for those who think Kevin Bieksa can be swindled from the Canucks this summer, since they're on the rebuild, that's being optimistic.  For them to let go his combination of leadership, toughness, and potent mix of offence and defence, and deprive themselves of his services on the right side, the returns will have to colossal.

5)  David Booth.  Sigh, David Booth.  He's the Canucks' René Bourque, in that he's a bigger scoring winger by reputation, but if anything they have given up on him to a degree greater than we have with René.  He's due another $4.25M next season, and most believe he'll be bought out.

It's not like he's not talented.  He's had two 20-goal seasons, and one 30-goals season.  Since he's joined the Canucks though, he's declined steadily, precipitously, through a combination of injuries and poor relationship with his coaches.  Alain Vigneault wasn't happy with his effort during games and practices, so you can imagine how John Tortorella feels about him.

At the start of the season, when I wondered if the Canucks' window to contend for the Cup could stay open for another season still, I thought that Zack Kassian and David Booth would have to be the pleasant surprises.  If Zack could crash and bang and put it all together, including his sweet hands, and if David Booth could just give a steady twenty-goal contribution like he's shown he could, then the Canucks had a shot.  If he could recapture some of the magic he had for a brief while with Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins on the 'American Express' line, that would take some of the pressure off the Sedin line to do everything themselves.

Instead, he's been injured again this year, and when healthy has often been chained up to Torts' dog house.  On one shift in the second period, he won the foot race to negate an icing call against his team, and had the inside position to gather the puck behind the Caps' net.  Instead of banking with speed and trying to pick up and protect the puck, he took two glances over his shoulder at the Caps' defenceman, and seemed more concerned with protecting himself.  Sure enough, he lost the puck.  Later on, he was standing alone in front of the net and got a bobbling puck on his stick.  He had time, but he ineffectually batted the puck right on Jaro Halak's pads.  Not that this was an easy play to make, but if he's not going to muck and grind in the corners, he better pot some goals.  We'll forgive a few soft plays from Michael Ryder if he cashes in some chances on a regular basis, but not when he grows cold.

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