Canucks Win Battle of Traded Players, But Lose Game 5-3 to Buffalo
In this manner, they really are difference makers for this club. If they were scoring at their regular point-plus per game clip, it’s unlikely the Canucks would have had so many games reach overtime recently, and probably would have completed the comeback tonight. There’s certainly enough blame to go around for those three goals against – the fourth line of Lapierre-Malhotra-Kassian and the third defensive pairing of Rome-Gragnani were all on the ice for the first and third goals, with Malhotra in particular appearing to be uncharacteristically out of position on the first, Lapierre on the third. The second goal was a bit of a fire drill in the Canucks’ zone, Hamhuis turning the puck over, then chasing, an unlucky bounce across the slot, Luongo and Burrows losing their sticks, etc. As I mentioned above – it was just a perfect storm to Buffalo’s benefit. Leigh Ramsden lives in Vancouver and is an avid Canucks fan, having been a partial season ticket holder for over 10 years. He’s old enough to have witnessed all three Stanley Cup losses, as such, his prime goal is to remove those scars by seeing a Cup brought to Vancouver. Leigh is Fighting For Stanley’s (www.fightingforstanley.ca/vancouver) west coast correspondent, and will also blog after all Canuck games for The Nelson Daily. The Vancouver Canucks hosted the Buffalo Sabres in a rare meeting between the expansion cousins on Saturday night at Rogers Arena. What was, for the longest time, a ho-hum game on the late-season schedule took on increased relevance after last Monday’s trade between the two teams, which sent rookies Cody Hodgson and Zach Kassian across the continent. The play between the two players was an interesting subplot to the game, ending with a 5-3 Buffalo victory.This game was a story of two different games. The Canucks typically start games well and score first in two out of every three games. Tonight, they came out extremely flat, and that start coupled with some questionable goaltending by starter Roberto Luongo doomed them to a 3-0 deficit just over five minutes into the first. The Buffalo goals were scored by Ville Leino, who had the first two, and by Brad Boyes, who wired a shot past Luongo, off the post and in, then quickly back out, which caused officials to rule no-goal until the NHL situation room reviewed the play.Luongo can be legitimately faulted on the first two Leino goals, and once the third one went in, coach Alain Vigneault had seen enough and relieved him of his duties in favour of Cory Schneider.From that point forth, the Canucks were a different team, outskating, outworking, outhitting, outshooting, and outscoring the Sabres through the balance of the game. The second period featured a number of power plays and some immense pressure by Vancouver, however, they weren’t able to solve Buffalo netminder Ryan Miller until 15:37 when David Booth beat him on the power play. Booth added a second goal at 3:43 of the third, his goals bookending a fluky goal by ex-Canuck Christian Ehrhoff which went in a minute before Booth scored. Zach Kassian rounded out the scoring for the Canucks, scoring his first as a Canuck as he made a game of it at 17:14 of the final stanza, before Tyler Ennis iced it for the Sabres with just over a minute remaining, scoring into an empty net. I actually had to miss the first period of the game live, and watched it at the conclusion of the game. If you started watching tonight’s game at the beginning of the second period and didn’t know the score, you would have sworn the Canucks easily handled the Sabres. Unfortunately for the Canucks, tonight was one of those nights where there was a perfect storm early in the game, and every mistake wound up in the back of the net. Frankly, I thought Vancouver played with great intensity throughout the game and generally took the game to Buffalo. While they weren’t rewarded with any points for their efforts, there have been too many nights in the last month where the Canucks appear to be merely coasting through, and they are a good enough team to garner points based on those efforts.Those types of games are not going to produce a lot of wins come playoff time, so it was refreshing to see the Canucks being forced to play with some urgency – bringing the game to Buffalo physically, creating scoring chances, drawing penalties, and the like. Ehrhoff’s goal was completely against the run of play and went in off Aaron Rome’s skate – if that goal hadn’t found its way into the back of the net, the result would have been more positive for Vancouver. The Canucks just didn’t get the bounces tonight – and over an 82 game schedule, there are bound to be nights like this one. In a way, it’s somewhat comforting to know that the Canucks can put a bad effort on the ice, receive subpar goaltending, and still come within a hair of getting points out of the game. GAME OBSERVATIONS Hodgson made his return to Vancouver and centred Buffalo’s second line. He finished with no points in 16:52 of icetime, with a plus one rating. Hodgson made a few nice plays, but missed the net on his best chances. Kassian, on the other hand, was promoted to Kesler’s second line in the second period and wound up igniting the unit, as it accounted for all three Canuck goals. Kassian also led the team with seven hits, providing exactly what he was brought in to do. The ineffectiveness of the Canucks power play is becoming a major concern. The question here is one of chicken vs. egg: are the PP stats bad because the twins aren’t playing well; or, are the twins’ stats struggling because they are having trouble scoring on the PP? It seems obvious these are co-dependent – the way the games are being played (and called) now, it’s tough for them to find space on the ice to work their magic. This should be a major concern for everyone in Canuck Nation. Regardless, Luongo could have made saves on the first two goals, his decision on the second one being a horrible one, as he swatted the puck into the slot with his blocker. The Sedin twins continue to struggle mightily. Each time they appear to gotten over their scoring woes, they have another game like tonight where they fail to deliver any points. Some stats: they have combined for one point in the last five games; one power play goal in the last 19 games; and they have only had points in 4 out of the last 12 games. The second line nearly made the difference tonight. After Raymond was moved off the unit in favour of Kassian, they produced two goals. Kassian has come as advertised – he can skate, he hits, and provides a physical presence the team needed. I’m slowly being convinced the trade might not have been as disastrous as I originally thought. On the other hand, I have seen enough of Marc-Andre Gragnani. It’s one thing to “jump into the play” and try to get some points from the back end, but completely the other to play as a forward when you’re a rearguard. I don’t think he looked good tonight and look forward to seeing Chris Tanev back in the lineup. AV needs to consider making the demotion of Raymond permanent – his speed and defensive abilities are valuable, but not on a scoring line. I’ve changed my mind on this – I have felt that his abilities to create turnovers benefitted his linemates, but when you can predict with certainty how every foray he makes into the offensive zone will play out (ending with losing the puck), it’s time to try something different. “Something different” tonight resulted in two goals, so I say, stick with it. PARTING SHOTSBroadcast Observation of the Night: Oft-maligned Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play man Mark Lee was on the call tonight. Apparently I’m in the minority, as I like the way he calls a game. I like the intonation he uses and some of his nomenclature and sentence structure is entertaining. It was (rudely) pointed out to me on Twitter tonight that he makes mistakes – however, I believe that you could find errors by almost every play by play voice in the business.Frankly, the biggest thing I like about him is that he calls a fair game, not exhibiting any discernable bias for or against any particular teams. My distaste for HNIC is well-documented, and most of it stems from their tacit acceptance of everything the league does and lack of holding the league to account when it’s warranted. This bias starts at the top and filters its way down through the studio teams and right into the play by play teams. Lee, and his partner Kevin Weekes, may not call the best game ever and might say a few silly things here and there, but at least you can trust them to call what they see on the ice exactly how they see it, and tell you when they agree or disagree. As a viewer, watching a national broadcast, that’s all I expect.If you’re a Canuck fan and you missed HNIC After Hours, it’s a must-see. Find someone that PVR’ed it, or look for it on the CBC website. The segment starts with a good interview with Kassian, and finishes with a full 25 minutes of comedy, courtesy of Kevin Bieksa. Pure entertainment.Looking ahead: On Tuesday night, the Canucks host the Dallas Stars in the third game of their season-long seven game homestand. The story of this game really is the fact that Buffalo was up 3-0 before the Canucks realized a game was going on, and were provided tremendous goalkeeping by Miller compared to a subpar effort from Luongo.