2010-2011 NHL season preview: Vancouver Canucks

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GYI0060387074-sedins-lam-getty.jpgLast season: (49-28-5, 103 points, 1st in Northwest Division, 3rd in Western Conference) It was another great season for the Canucks, winning their division and showing great promise heading into the playoffs. For the second year in a row, however, they were unceremoniously disposed of by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round. Once again, Roberto Luongo was nowhere to be seen against the Blackhawks in the playoffs.

Head coach: Alain Vigneault enters his fifth season as coach and for three of his previous four, he’s taken the Canucks to the top of the Northwest Division. Things shouldn’t be any different this time around as the division appears to be a walk in the park for his team. The trick this time is making sure that the Canucks will be ready for the playoffs, something they’ve got to improve on or else Vigneault will start to hear whispers.

Key departures: F Michael Grabner, F Steve Bernier, G Andrew Raycroft, F Pavol Demitra, D Willie Mitchell, F Kyle Wellwood, F Ryan Johnson. This is certainly a lot of talent to be losing from a team that had over 100 points and won their division. Fear not, the Canucks did their part to replace everyone.

Key arrivals: F Manny Malhotra, F Jeff Tambellini, D Keith Ballard, D Dan Hamhuis, G Cory Schneider. Malhotra and Tambellini make for solid depth presence and Malhotra will bring the Canucks a third-line center that can win faceoffs and play solid in his own end. Ballard and Hamhuis more than make up for the loss of Willie Mitchell and the Canucks ensure that Roberto Luongo won’t have any defensemen to hang a loss on after a tough game. Everyone the Canucks have on defense now is more than formidable.

Under pressure: Who else but Luongo? He’s been the focus of all the attention in their last two playoff exits and after winning Team Canada the gold medal last year, Canucks faithful are even more anxious to have Bobby Lu do the same thing for the hometown team. Luongo showed signs of irritability the last few seasons when questioned after hard losses, especially in the playoffs, and the pressure will only mount this year as this Canucks team appears to be stacked.

robertoluongo6.jpgProtecting the house: All right so Luongo is the man and he’s been overworked like crazy the last few seasons. Getting him some rest so he’s at his peak in the playoffs will be key and providing that break for him this time around is prospect Cory Schneider. The former Boston College goalie gets his first chance to be Luongo’s caddy this year after spending the last few seasons in Manitoba of the AHL making sure he can handle the pressure and the workload of being a top tier goalie. Working Schneider into about 25-30 games should be the goal, but I’d still expect Vigneault to ride Luongo hard, just not as hard as in the past.

On defense, the Canucks are loaded. Even with an Achilles injury to Sami Salo, the Canucks really don’t have a lot to get fussy about. Hamhuis, Ballard, Alexander Edler, Christian Ehrhoff, Kevin Bieksa, Shane O’Brien, and Andrew Alberts make up this very deep unit that provides everything from thumping physical abuse to offensive ability on the power play. Ideally with this much talent on defense and in goal, the Canucks should not have issues keeping opponents off the board. As they like to say in cliché land: There’s a reason why they play the games.

Top line we’d like to see: Why mess with what works? Henrik Sedin-Daniel Sedin-Alex Burrows was an incredible line last season and it helped give Henrik Sedin the MVP award. Burrows gets out there to create havoc and disrupt play in a talented fashion while the Wonder Twins do their thing. Whether Burrows helped the Sedins evolve into top of the NHL talent or if they brought him up with him doesn’t much matter because it all works out great. Only issue here is that Burrows will miss a little bit of time to start the season coming back from offseason shoulder surgery.

Oh captain, my captain: Funny thing happened with the captaincy. Luongo gave up his ‘C’ and, for the moment, no one has been named the new captain. That will change, and possibly soon. If you’re looking for leading candidates for the job, look no further than Henrik Sedin or Ryan Kesler. We don’t know what goes on in the room, but to our eyes picking Kesler seems like the logical move. He’s feisty, he’s fiery, he plays the game with an edge and he’s got the whole media savvy thing working for him. Plus, he’s an American and that makes us feel good here. USA! USA! USA!

GYI0060069252-hordichuk-gross-getty.jpgStreet fighting man: There’s a few characters here you can pick from. The obvious one is Darcy Hordichuk. He’s been in the league for what feels like forever, he’s got the name of a tough guy (really, who messes with a guy named Hordichuk?), and he’s not afraid to fight. Then again, you could run with upstarts like Rick Rypien or Tanner Glass if you want your fighters to be a bit younger and a bit more tenacious. With the kind of depth the Canucks have at forward throughout the organization though, they could easily roll four lines without a designated brawler.

Best-case scenario: This one is easy. They get the same kind of season from the Sedins (or better) while Burrows continues to be the dirty kind of 30-goal scorer he was last year. The defense does what they’re built for and makes Luongo’s season easier to play in nets while Cory Schneider makes sure he’s well rested. The Canucks steamroll through their division and through the playoffs to the Stanley Cup finals and lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup for the first time in franchise history.

Worst-case scenario: Burrows struggles coming back from surgery and doesn’t play as effectively as he did. Secondary scoring lines don’t produce as well as they’d like, putting more stress on Luongo to not just be good but great. The Canucks still win the division but are strong upset candidates in the first round of the playoffs. With their luck, they’d draw Chicago one more time and suffer a similar fate. This team is no threat to miss the playoffs, but an early playoff exit is a bugaboo they’d need to avoid in their worst of situations.

Keeping it real: This team is loaded. They’re an instant favorite for the Stanley Cup and will be a wrecking ball kind of team all season long provided the injury bug doesn’t interfere too much. That’s about the only thing that can really hamper the Canucks chances this season. They’re on par with only a handful of other teams in the NHL that on paper you believe can win the Stanley Cup right away. They’re going to be very good, they’re going to make their mates in the Northwest Division look really bad by comparison, and they’ll be playing the regular season as an extended training camp for the playoffs.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, the Canucks are an absolute 5. This team is deep, they are very talented and they’ve got superstars all around the lineup. They’ve got all the parts in place to win the organization’s first Stanley Cup and considering it’s their 40th anniversary season, it’d be all too poetic of a finish to get it done this year.

(Sedin photo: Rich Lam – Getty Images)

(Hordichuk photo: Jeff Gross – Getty Images)

‘It’s embarrassing,’ says Gulutzan after lopsided loss to Oilers

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 21:  Head coach Glen Gulutzan of the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on November 21, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Battle of Alberta was a tad lopsided Saturday.

The Edmonton Oilers scored early. They scored often. And despite holding a distinct advantage in shots on goal and puck possession, the rival Calgary Flames couldn’t get much going until the third period and by then the damage had been done.

The Oilers, tied in points with the San Jose Sharks, are one point back of the Anaheim Ducks for the Pacific Division lead after their 7-3 win over the Flames. Laurent Brossoit also collected his first career NHL victory.

This game wasn’t even six minutes old when Jordan Eberle scored to give Edmonton a three-goal lead. Chad Johnson was promptly pulled from the Calgary net, making one save on four shots faced.

The Flames were bad from the start. They didn’t get any better in the second period, falling behind five goals after 40 minutes and watching as the likes of Eberle and Connor McDavid piled on for a regular-season series sweep of Calgary.

Flames coach Glen Gulutzan had some strong words to describe the play of his team, which still holds down a wild card spot in the West.

“It’s embarrassing,” he said, per the Calgary Sun. “Our resolve to stick to it wasn’t there.”

“That’s a bunch of games in a row now where we’ve fallen behind and haven’t been able to get any push-back. And in our rink, it’s unacceptable,” added Mark Giordano.

The coach was utterly perplexed by his team’s breakdown on Edmonton’s third goal, which started off as a rush in the neutral zone and finished with Eberle, wide open down the right wing with a clear path to the net, beating Johnson on the shot.

“I don’t know what we were doing,” said Gulutzan. “I actually have no explanation for what our ‘D’ were doing on the third goal. It was a complete mistake.”

That should be concerning for the Flames.

They hold a playoff spot, but just barely with the Vancouver Canucks one point back and with two games in hand.

Talk about a Wild comeback for Minnesota

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The Minnesota Wild took back sole possession of the lead in the Central Division, thanks to a thrilling comeback win over the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks on Saturday.

Minnesota trailed 3-1 early in the second period. Jason Zucker closed the deficit in the middle period, before they took the lead for good thanks to a frenzy of three goals from Erik Haula, Ryan Suter and Zucker in 1:59 late in regulation for a 5-3 victory.

“When we came in in between the second and third, knowing we were only down a goal, and knowing our history, we didn’t think we were out of it,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, per the Pioneer Press.

And so the Wild remain one of the hottest teams in the league, leading Chicago by two points.

While it’s a comeback for them, the Ducks don’t quite see it the same way.

“It’s not what they did, to be honest. We self-imploded. Gave up too many opportunities, left our goalie out to dry,” said Cam Fowler.

Additional bad news for the Ducks, however, was that goalie John Gibson left the game in the second period with an upper-body injury, and didn’t return.

 

Bust a move: Capitals win includes unlikely OT hero and dad’s dancing in Dallas

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The usual suspects contributed for the Washington Capitals on Saturday. Down a pair of goals entering the third period, Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie helped ignite the comeback on the power play.

But then an unlikely hero emerged.

Jay Beagle scored his 10th goal of the season and the overtime winner to give Washington a 4-3 victory over the Dallas Stars. That aforementioned goal total matches his previous career high from two seasons ago.

He initially accomplished the feat over the course of 62 games. This time, he hits 10 goals in 46 games played.

Officials needed to review the play, although replays quickly showed the puck over the line from the Beagle shot in the slot.

The comeback win led to a memorable post-game celebration.

Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home.

The Capitals maintain their lead in the Metropolitan Division ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

This game versus the Stars included some feisty moments, particularly in the first period when tempers boiled over. Tom Wilson and Brett Ritchie dropped the gloves for a lengthy fight. Three seconds later, Daniel Winnik fought Antoine Roussel.

Ducks goalie Gibson leaves game versus Wild with upper-body injury

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 01:  Goaltender John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks in action during the preseason NHL game against Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on October 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Anaheim goaltender John Gibson has left Saturday’s game against Minnesota with an upper-body injury.

A short-angle shot from Mikko Koivu appeared to hit Gibson in the upper chest with 5:39 to play in the first period. The goaltender immediately went down on one knee and was quickly attended to by a trainer. Gibson gingerly skated to the bench and went straight to the locker room.

Anaheim announced that Gibson is doubtful to return.

Gibson is 7-1-1 with two shutouts in his past nine starts. He was replaced by Jonathan Bernier.

Gibson stopped four of five shots he faced while making his fourth straight start.