It was French-accented Sedinery, the Vancouver Canucks’s finest offensive magic trick.
Just three minutes into a Tuesday night game against the visiting Colorado Avalanche, Henrik Sedin, on the boards and tightly checked, in an instant backhanded the puck between his legs to an open Alexandre Burrows near the slot. The Quebecker tapped the puck to Daniel Sedin, behind the net, who drove for a wraparound and stuffed it by Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov.
The goal was the start of a wire-to-wire 6-0 thumping of the Avalanche, complete with a Daniel Sedin hat trick. It was Vancouver’s eighth W in nine outings, as the Canucks faced a tough, driving Colorado team but continued their climb back to the top echelons of the NHL.
“We didn’t play that good,” conceded Daniel Sedin, acknowledging his team had been badly outshot through two periods, 24-11 (a count that ended 33-23 in Colorado’s favour). Still, he noted the hockey gods work in hard-to-predict ways, pointing to the 6-5 loss booked against Nashville last week even though the Canucks outplayed the Predators.
The current 8-1 run echoes what the Canucks did exactly a year ago, when the team went 18-1-3 from later November through early January, an assault on all comers that rocketed the team to its first-ever Presidents’ Trophy.
Last night’s win came at a cost, however. The suddenly super American Express line of Chris Higgins, David Booth and Ryan Kesler – which starred in the win against the Calgary Flames on Sunday – is suddenly seemingly disemboweled. Higgins missed last night’s game with a swollen foot, due to a likely infection. “The pills are working,” said coach Alain Vigneault of the antibiotics Higgins is on – and he will join the team on the road.
More worrisome is the fate of David Booth, whose right knee suffered an injury of unknown extent after he was kneed by Avs centre Kevin Porter, who was flagged for a five-minute major, kneeing, and slapped with a game misconduct. Booth couldn’t skate off the ice – helped along by Henrik and Kevin Bieska – and hobbled to the dressing room, no weight on his right knee, which he had clutched laying on the ice. He did not return. An MRI is scheduled for Wednesday.
The second injury worry was Roberto Luongo, who fended off an assault of Colorado shots and then, in the second, took a slapper on the neck under his right jaw, which felled him like so much British Columbia spruce, pine and fir. Luongo was face-on-the-ice for some 90 or so seconds, before recovering to skate off.
“Had trouble breathing for a few seconds there but felt fine afterwards, just a little bit lightheaded,” said Luongo after the game, his neck still red where the puck hit.
Cory Schneider ably filled in, after he arrived on the ice to a massive roar from the Luongo-skeptical Vancouver crowd. The shutout was appropriately a Luongo-Schneider co-production in this year of the who-is-the-No.-1-goalie saga. It was the first blank for Vancouver since Game 5 of the Cup final, before the team imploded to lose against Boston.
To celebrate the shutout with Schneider, Luongo joked: “We kissed. Just at the red line.”
Now, Vancouver hits the road, as a string of relatively easy opponents extends, giving the team ample opportunity to mimic their wondrous run of a year ago. The only real test comes at the end of the five-game road trip, a Hockey Night in Canada showdown in Toronto Dec. 17.
“Confidence is the thing,” said winger Jannik Hansen after the second period. His nice give-and-go in the second put the team up 2-0.
With Higgins uncertain for the Thursday game in Montreal, and Booth looking unlikely to a fast return, Vancouver will have to lean on players such as Mason Raymond. The leftwinger is still very freshly returned from his arduous recovery from a broken back, suffered in the finals against Boston, and is playing well, with 18:23 on the ice on Tuesday in 24 shifts.
“Whether he’s quite ready or not,” Vigneault said about Raymond and his diminishing lineup choices, “he’s getting in.”
Where have you gone, Christian Erhhoff?
Rhetorical question. No one in Vancouver actually misses the once-key Canucks D man, who tramped away for Buffalo and $40-million after the Cup final last spring. During training camp, the (clearly very wise) Henrik Sedin baldly stated that the team wouldn’t miss the man who led the team D in points last season. Indeed, the Swedish twin knew something that few, if any, others could foresee.
The Canucks, going into last night, had four D men in the top 36 scoring blueliners in the league, when, all things being even, Vancouver should have at most two. Alexander Edler leads the way – he notched a goal and an assist Tuesday – and the likes of Kevin Bieksa has been coming on very strong, with points in six consecutive games, including Tuesday, when he handled a give-and-go for Hansen. Erhhoff, meanwhile, has been unable to replicate last season for the Sabres.
Where have you gone, Peter Stastny?
The Canucks for years were fish food for the Avalanche, Cup winners in 1996 and 2001, and the Peter Stastny-powered Quebec Nordiques in the 1980s, before the team betrayed la belle province to head south to get their mile high on.
But the Avs are not the Avs they once were, even if le fils de Peter Stastny, 25-year-old centre Paul, plies his trade in Denver these days (the younger Stastny did not play Tuesday, injured – no word whether Peter was around).
The Canucks W Tuesday night increased Vancouver’s run against their division rival to 11-0-2 – and evened up the all-time tally to 57-57-24. The rubber match, meeting No. 139, comes Feb. 4 back in Colorado.
A fiery curse
Vancouver demolished feeble Calgary in the faceoff circle on Sunday. It seems Calgary – the league’s worst team on draws – rubbed some of its fairy dust on Vancouver. The Canucks, one of the league’s best teams on draws, won a terrible 36 per cent against Colorado through two periods on Tuesday.
Kesler’s net fetish
Lastly: Go to the net, coaches counsel players. Ryan Kesler takes such instruction seriously. Last week, in the oddest oddity in a strange match against Nashville, Kesler was at one point fully on top of the Predators net. Tuesday night, as he took a pass from Hansen on a rush, couldn’t deliver a goal, but the momentum carried the centre, pushing Avs goalie Varlamov into the back of his net, with Kesler following, an arm being the only part of Kesler that was not over the goalline and fully ensconced. It was late in the first and Kesler was awarded a two-minute minor, interfering with the goaltender. His teammates ably fought off the ensuing power play.