Well, the 2009-10 Vancouver Canucks season is over. Frankly, it was not that large of a shock to me, but still stings anyways. We were playing a team that had equal or stronger talent up front, far superior defense & had a goalie who had better stats than Luongo in most categories. Yet still, there is that feeling this team should have done better.
A lot of the Canucks sudden ending came at the hands of some of its most reliable players thru the regular season. Guys like Kesler, Demitra, Burrows, Raymond and Ehrhoff who were stable & even at times exceeding their expectations pretty much vanished come playoff time. A parade to the penalty box did not help their cause much either. But the non-efforts of some of their biggest players was more concerning to me.
I think a lot can be said of a teams effort when guys like Kyle Wellwood, Jannik Hansen & Shane O'Brien might have put up the best efforts on the team in the game that mattered the most, the final one. No desperation or "we MUST show up now" effort seemed to ever show up in guys like Kesler, Raymond or others.
The same "we can overcome anything" mentality the Canucks had used all season in their late game come from behind victories, the same mentality they even displayed against the Kings a round earlier was non-existant in the Hawks series. Chicago outscored the nucks 11-3 in the 3rd period of this series, they beat them all three times in GM Place, where the Canucks had a 30-8-3 record this season. The Chicago Blackhawks schooled the Canucks in the building they had schooled so many teams this year, the way they had schooled so many teams this year.
Over the next few days, a variety of excuses will come to the surface for sure. "This player was playing with this injury" will be common. but lets face it, does anyone for a second doubt the Hawks players are not also banged up & playing thru adversity? Seriously? With the exception of Sami Salo, who truthfully probably shouldnt have played in the last game, but kudos to him for doing it, no one on the team really has a severe enough injury that they can say that was the reason for the sudden drop off in productivity. Aches & pains are expected in a playoff fight. If it was TOO serious, they wouldnt have been able to play thru it as is. So, an injury really is a thin excuse, not a reason, for a drop off in productivity. Yet fans will eat it up when it comes out that this player & that player were fighting thru a really irritating flea bite or a *GASP* an itchy beard. But seriously, things like shoulder, knee & back injuries in the playoffs are going to be suggested. So, either the Canucks palyers are less able to fight thru adversity, or the entire Hawks franchise were playing in Iron Man suits.
The blame of this season ending on the same day as it did the year before does not solely fall on the players shoulders though. Coach Alain Vigneault (aka- the 2nd best coach in the series) without question shoulders some of the blame. His irrational coaching decisions thru the series were without question as much of the problem as the players wearing the jerseys.
AV took Mikael Samuelsson, who was still producing with the twins, off the Sedin line. Replacing him was offensively invisible (and a major reason for the Canucks game 3 loss after a penalty of idiotic levels which caused the 3rd goal) Alex Burrows. He seemingly rewarded one of the teams least effective stars with a promotion to the top line. This was after Burrows caused the team to not only lose a great scoring opportunity off an icing call with the Sedin line coming out against a tired Hawks line by taking a penalty, but was also at a time that the player in question had ONE playoff goal (not including an irrelevant empty netter against the Kings) in his last 15 playoff games. This is compounded when you realize that till the 3rd period of Game 6, Burrows was more or less the Sedins linemate. For the record, he scored ZERO goals with that promotion (not including an irrelevant empty netter). Burrows has 1 playoff goal (not including 2 empty netters) in 18 consecutive playoff games, got promoted to the top line, where Samuelsson was still producing...BY ALAIN VIGNEAULT!!
The same coaching decisions were evident in round 1 when Andrew Alberts (granted he settled down later in the playoffs) was possibly the worst player on all 16 teams in the playoffs at the time, kept getting chance after chance despite continually blowing it. Odd part was that double A had shown no signs during his short regular season time here to believe he warranted multiple chances. The same Vigneault demoted the teams top goal scorer to the 3rd line after he had slight slump where he only scored 1 goal in 2 1/3 games. Top goal scorer in the playoffs, demoted 2 lines for a slump that even Conn Smythe trophy winners are bound to go thru during a playoffs. Pathetic.
Then comes Vigneaults decisions between the pipes. Roberto Luongo is an elite goalie, no question....when hes on. When he isnt on, its scary though. He clearly was not "on" at home, yet AV kept going back to him & in fact, he went to back-up Andrew Raycroft only once in the entire playoffs, and that was back against the Kings. Luongo gave up 21 goals in 6 games. A goals against average of 3.52 and a save percentage of .862 from the starting goalie in the 2nd round series, and you never once go to your back up?? How about his 5.35 GAVE at home in round 2? Shouldnt that warrant a look at the back up? A back up that in the regular season had a better GAVE & only slightly less SPCT than your 7 million dollar starter?
When did AV turn into Marc Crawford? When did Vigneault quit being a coach, and start being players "buddies"? He played the playoffs like he was trying to win friends with some of the players. Burrows, Alberts, Luongo, Bieksa, Kesler and Raymond were all given ample chances to "step up" & all of them kept wasting their chances for the most part. Yet players who did produce, who were showing up, kept getting the short end of the straw. Mikael Samuelsson told Team Sweden to go fuck themselves earlier this year after getting left off the Swedish Olympic team. What could he have to say about a coach that demoted him 2 lines for essentially having 1 off game or so in the face of all these other non-performers getting handed chance after chance??
AV can perhaps explain why in a do or die game that you are only down a goal or two, your top line is not being double shifted?
- The Sedins had ice times of 18:51 and 18:40 each in the final game.
- Burrows (he of the ONE non-empty net playoff goal in the last 18 games) 19:37??
- Kesler (he of 0 G in the last 7 playoff games & 1 this post-season all together) 18:42??? Wellwood 18:52
- Samuelsson (teams leading goal & points scorer in the playoffs) 16:10.
- Raymond (0 goals, 0 points, -3 +/- in last 4 games) 16:47 played more than the teams best contributor offensively.
The top 3 lines were grossly mismanaged in the final game perhaps more than any other time in the playoffs.
Coach Vigneault one night suggested that Luongo was the 2nd best goalie on the ice that night. He wasnt wrong. He was the 2nd best goalie that night. However, no one once made note of the fact that this comment came from the 2nd best coach in the series. Alain Vigmeault was grossly outcoached by Joel Quenneville and to be brutally honest, maybe a tire iron could have outcoached him.
If the blame is to be broken down into a percentage basis. I would have to split it up like this.
Bieksa & Ehrhoff 5%
Rest of the forwards 5%
Rest of the defense 5%
Sure some of that blame seems unfair. I mean the defense core was eating up minutes they werent really qualified to take on at times with the various injuries. But still, the fact is they had jobs to do & at times werent able to do it.
This team didnt win because of several performances on the ice, and one performance behind the bench.
A little piece of trivia for you new fans to the game of hockey. The Vancouver Canucks used to actually play in Vancouver. True story.
The Canucks, who might have started to wonder if NHL stands for Nomad Hockey League wrapped up a very impressive 14 game, 13 city, 6 week voyage that saw them go 8-5-1 on the trip & gain 17 of a possible 28 points. Not too shabby for a team that came in 1 game below .500 on the road prior to the odyssey.
This feat is even more impressive when you consider Henrik & Daniel Sedin had 6 goals combined on the road trip. Add in Mason Raymond (2 goals) to the goal challenged list & you start to wonder how they won 4 games, let alone 8.
Big performances by Mikael Samuelsson (10 goals), Ryan Kesler (6 goals...and an 11 game point streak), Alex Burrows (7 goals..including some without the Sedins) and a couple timely Jannik Hansen goals, and the goal production was not so bad after all.
The big story of the trip however, was comebacks. It started the 1st game of the trip when the Canucks spotted the hapless Toronto Maple Leafs a 3-0 1st period lead, but roared back to win 5-3 with revenge filled back up Andrew Raycroft coming in to pick up the win in relief duty. Boston Bruins would be spotted a 2-0 1st period lead before the Canucks would win in a SO 3-2. By the time they did it in Columbus, where they trailed 3-1 in the 2nd period, it almost seemed expected. Winning 4-3. Doing it to Columbus twice in a matter of weeks was the moment the "comeback kids" title seemed to really make the rounds with this team. Trailing 2-0, then 3-2 to the Blue Jackets, the Canucks again came from behind & won, again, 4-3 when Christian Ehrhoff scored in overtime. They were down 2-1 to Nashville at the end of 2 periods, but came back to win 4-2. They saved the best for nearly last. After trailing 3-0 at the end of the 1st period, and 4-1 with less than 1/2 a game to play, the Canucks roared back against divisional challengers, Colorado Avalanche, to win 6-4 on the back of a Mikael Samuelsson 2nd period hat trick & Jannick Hansen getting his 2nd straight game winning goal. Even their final battle of the road trip in Phoenix showed the same mentality, that they can do anything. Phoenix had the lead 3-2 early in the 3rd period, but the Canucks tied it up & only finally lost it in the 6th round of a shoot out.
That is 13 points this team obtained in road games that they trailed. Many in the 3rd period. How can you even explain that type of effort?
The likelyhood of a great road trip is even more shocking when you consider the sub-par stats of starter Roberto Luongo compared to his backup, Andrew Raycroft. In goal they had a solid, but not necessarily great effort by back up Andrew Raycroft, who played in part or all of 7 games on the trip. His 3-1-1 record, .914 SPCT & a 2.31 GAVE were a welcomed addition. While Olympic Gold medal winning back stop, Roberto Luongo had a more modest 5-4-0 record, .888 SPCT & a 3.53 GAVE. It was not some of Luis best hockey, yet somehow, the team managed to keep pulling out wins for him, like in Colorado where he surrendered 3 1st period goals, but got the W at the end of the night. It wasnt lights out great goaltending, but it got the job done on the trip.
The fact these guys managed to get above .500 on the trip when you take into consideration some of the things has to be chalked up to pure willpower. Their top 2 players barely scored, one of their top secondary scorers barely scored, they had a brutally thin blueline & their top goalie didnt play like a top goalie some nights. Yet they got it done. Whether it was Mikael Samuelsson, Alex Burrows or Jannik Hansen, someone kept coming up with the much needed timely goals to help them win.
In the grand scheme of 82 games, a 14 game stretch really shouldnt be the make or break of any season, but for the Canucks this likely was. Imagine if they finished the playing 1 game below .500 hockey, like they had on the road going into the trip this season. A 6-7-1 record would put them 4 points further back & no longer in the division lead, clinging onto 6th in the conference for their lives, and perhaps even worse depending who the extra losses would end up being to. If it was Colorado & Nashville, they are suddenly 7th & 3 pts back of the division lead.
The Vancouver Canucks will, barring a horrid collapse, finish with a playoff spot & possibly, a division title. This road trip, although only 17% of the season, meant more to their season than probably 25% in the long run. They survived it, maybe even thrived on it & developed a team game that might help them thru the rest of a season where they will be without staple defemseman Willie Mitchell & even worse, the possibility that Kevin Bieksa will be back.
Probably no team this season has had a more important 14 game stretch this season than the Canucks. Without question, no one had a bigger road trip... Mentally, or literally.
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From time to time I have something to say on hockey. Whether its the Vancouver Canucks, NHL in general, Womens Hockey or International Hockey...if I have something to post, it will be in here.