Another game against a team with little to play for is not much different then one against a team with everything to play for. Every team gets up to play the very best in the league in 2011. The Columbus Blue Jackets were no different today. In the end, it mattered little, as they lost as so many before.
With supposedly little to play for, the Canucks looked like a team that is fine tuning systems and trying to play the right way, regardless of opponent. Some will tell you after this one that this team was outplayed this afternoon. Don’t be fooled.
For instance, if you look at the shots on goal, and penalties drawn, you would say the Jackets outplayed the Canucks badly. 13 to 7 in shots, and with an early power play from a Torres penalty. The Jackets just were not that crisp. Kesler showed his heart by blocking two shots in a supposedly mean nothing game, and the penalty kill set the tone for the special teams play with a confident pressure that kept their opponents to the outside.
Of course, when needed, there was the secret weapon, the Ginga Ninja, looking almost like a carbon copy of hie creasemate. Always in the right spot, making the saves look easy, and never giving up on pucks. One sequence with consecutive saves on Vermette and Umberger had both forwards shaking their heads.
With about 6 minutes left in the first, the Canucks did suffer a blow, when Dan Hamhuis and Bieksa both went to hit Rick Nash at the same time. While Bieksa got more of the big forward, he looked to send him through his partner in an awkward position. The refs blew the play down immediately, and he was later diagnosed with his second concussion of the season.
Lets not get all doom and gloom though folks. While a second concussion is not a good thing, we have nothing more than a report of a concussion. And of course, as always with this years’ new and improved version, there are definite and talented options. Tanev will draw back in, Edler and Alberts are closer every day, and the five that got more minutes today are all players that are Top 4 and Top 2 defense men on 95% of the teams in the NHL.
Keith Ballard, for instance. His 20 :39 TOI was below all four of his compatriots left today. His time included only 9 seconds of power play time. In that time, he blocked 6 shots, was credited with 2 hits and 1 takeaway ( though looked to have way more of both ) and was rock solid when asked to control the Jacket’s only real star, Rick Nash.
The opening goal in this game came a bit against the run of play, set up by Kesler’s hard work, and a beautiful play by Mason Raymond to find Ehrhoff coming off the bench. Mason heard him, and the big German beat Garon for his 12th of the season.
Higgins would take a penalty in the last minute, but of course the penalty kill, one of just about every statistical category the Canucks are #1 in ( GF, GA, PK, PP, #1 scorer, #1 assists, #1 goalie in wins, the only goalie in Vezina talk in Top 3-5 GAA and sv %…who was the back up today! ) looked good again, taking care of whatever pressure the league’s 28th power play could muster.
That penalty kill would do the same to start the second, and the five remaining defense men looked to have no trouble adapting to unfamiliar partners and increased ice time. That comes from leading the league in different players started due to injury as well.
Columbus once again would lead the Canucks in shots, this time 12 to 5 through the second period, with Schneider once again showing the rest of the league how much he deserves to be a starter somewhere soon. His best on a Dorsett backhander was calm, and looked almost easy. Even another power play for the Jackets did not seem to help, and the Canucks went to the dressing room for the second time being out shot 25 to 12, but 3 for 3 on the penalty kill, and looking as relaxed as American election finance laws.
The third started with more offensive pressure from the visitors, and that pressure forced Sami Lepisto to take a tripping penalty. The best power play in the league showed the home fans how it is done, using puck movement to get the Jacket’s running around before Henrik had all day to finish off some nice passing, outwaiting Garon and calmly beating him on the backhand to make it 2-0.
That goal looked to take the fight out of the Columbus team. Even when Kesler and Burrows took penalties in short order, and offered up a 5 on 3 power play for 65 seconds, it was the Canucks that looked the team in control, limiting any real tough chances. Whatever was getting through was being stopped by the Ginga Ninja anyhow.
It all lead to the virtual “nail in the coffin”. Raymond chipped the puck out of his one zone, Kesler showed how speed kills, and Higgins showed what a veteran with skills can do, just by going to the net. Even after RJ Umberger got a lucky goal that I refuse to link to, when a shot went off the post, off of Schneider’s back, and slithered into the net to break the shutout, the Canucks seemed to carry the territorial play. This led to some frustration penalties for the young Jackets. Vorachek took a stupid run at Schneider to get a goalie interference call, and only Vermette knows why he would cross check Ballard with the play long gone from the Canucks end, and the only skater close the one with an orange stripe accenting his black and white stripes.
It was on this second straight penalty that the #1 power play let the second unit get some ice time. This time Kevin Bieksa smartly just got a puck on net, and Higgins once again showed great instinct by being in the right place at the right time.
The home team did not even try to pull the goalie to get one to salvage some entertainment in the quickly emptying Nationwide Arena, and the Canucks had their 50th win to set another record, in a tear of records set for this team.
No one knows what the playoffs will bring. Injuries can and will affect what happens. But Canuck fans feel both smug and excited with what looks to be a deep run in the making. They do not really give extra points for style, and when a team leads in so many aspects of the game ( the Canucks could be the first team since the ’81 Islanders to finish both #1 in power play and penalty kill, and I am not even sure if even they led in goals for and against that year as well ).
Just keep winning boys. This is much more fun than not winning.