2010-2011 NHL season preview: Vancouver Canucks


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)

PHT Morning Skate: Scheifele and Seguin play rock, paper, scissors after pregame warmup

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–How do you decide who gets to be the last player off the ice after warmups? Play rock, paper, scissors of course! (Top)

Connor McDavid has the city of Edmonton buzzing again. (The New York Times)

–The fight against Alzheimer’s means a lot to Leafs president Brendan Shanahan. (Sports Illustrated)

–Justin Bieber played hockey with a pro team in the UK and pulled off a serious celebration. (BarDown)

–Would Wayne Gretzky have set all those records if he was playing in today’s NHL? Mike Brophy weighs in. (CBC.ca)

–Six forgotten players that are off to fast starts in 2016-17. (USA Today)

Kings win ugly with Budaj, making things even uglier for Predators

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 31:  Drew Doughty #8 of the Los Angeles Kings reacts to the overtime goal of Jeff Carter #77 to beat the Nashville Predators 4-3 at Staples Center on October 31, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

How would you describe the Nashville Predators’ Stanley Cup bandwagon at the moment? A few flat tires? One of those abandoned school buses at a dump?

An unlikely occurrence – Peter Budaj winning four straight games for the Los Angeles Kings, all in overtime, all seriously in 2016 – puts a spotlight on an unsightly start for Nashville following a 3-2 OT decision.

In other words, it was another night where the Predators (early or not) didn’t look the part of Stanley Cup contenders.

Pekka Rinne has often been the scapegoat for Nashville’s losses, and his recent numbers justify some of the criticisms. Thursday doesn’t fall into that pattern, however. Instead, the Predators wasted a strong performance from their $7 million man, who stopped 42 out of 45 shots.

Budaj? He only needed to make 24 out of 26 stops to keep his unexpected winning streak going.

For the Kings and Predators, very different patterns continued on Thursday night.

Los Angeles has people wondering “How long can they win with Budaj?” and “Is there a team that can finally hog the puck against the Kings enough to expose him?” Don’t blame Kings fans who never want this strange sequence to end.

Nashville devotees, on the other hand, must wonder if they’re stuck in some sort of sick nightmare.

They’ve been a chic pick to win it all, yet they’re now at 2-4-1 with three away contests remaining on a challenging five-game road trip.

It’s early, but the headaches just keep multiplying for the Preds.

Mrazek comes up big as Red Wings win sixth in a row

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 21: Petr Mrazek #34 of the Detroit Red Wings looks on in the first period while playing the Nashville Predators at Joe Louis Arena on October 21, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Are the Detroit Red Wings for real or are they headed toward a humbling regression? We might have to wait until their goalies look human before that question can really be answered.

For yet another game, Detroit’s netminder was outstanding, with Petr Mrazek helping the Red Wings beat the St. Louis 2-1 via a shootout (and a pretty stressful shootout in that).

It took eight rounds until Henrik Zetterberg managed Detroit’s second and decisive tally of the “skills competition,” and now Detroit is on a six-game winning streak.

Mrazek made 31 out of 32 games through overtime and was only beaten by Alex Steen in that shootout, stopping seven of eight attempts. He’s faced more than 30 shots on goal in all six of his appearances in 2016-17.

It is not as if there has been a big drop-off when Jimmy Howard has taken the net, either. Howard has only given up one goal in his two games, winning both of them.

Are the Red Wings asking a lot of Mrazek and Howard? Yep. Just take a look a this lopsided possession chart from Natural Stat Trick for another reminder.


You can see why skeptics murmur about this six-game winning streak being fool’s gold, but the Red Wings keep finding a way to win. Usually, it’s their goalies who have been doing the heavy lifting.

It wasn’t pretty, but Coyotes beat Flyers to end five-game skid

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 27: Roman Lyubimov #13 and Chris VandeVelde #76 of the Philadelphia Flyers collide during the second period against the Arizona Coyotes at the Wells Fargo Center on October 27, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Martin Hanzal and Brad Richardson scored the decisive goals to help the Arizona Coyotes beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 on Thursday night to snap a five-game road losing streak.

Jamie McGinn, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Ryan White also scored for Arizona. The Coyotes have their only two wins this season against the Flyers.

The Coyotes salvaged one victory on a season-long, six-game road trip.

Louis Domingue stopped 28 shots and won his first game of the season. He had been 0-4 with a 5.03 goals against average and had stopped only 85 percent of his shots.

Nick Cousins, Brayden Schenn, Andrew MacDonald and Wayne Simmonds scored for the Flyers.

The Coyotes snapped a tie with two straight goals in the third scored in a bit of a bizarre manner.

Schenn leveled defenseman Michael Stone and Coyotes teammate Jakob Chychrun quickly came to his defense. Chychrun and Schenn brawled against the boards as the crowd erupted – and no one paid attention to the puck.

Hanzal made it 3-2 and led to a few confusing moments as officials checked to make sure the goal was scored before the fight. Wildly cheering fans fell silent in a second when the goal was announced.

Chychrun was tossed for instigating the fight.

Richardson made it 4-2 on a goal that was reviewed because the Flyers thought he ran down goalie Steve Mason. Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov took Richardson down and they went into the net together so the goal counted.

MacDonald, having a miserable season, made it 4-3 but the Flyers were out of rallies.

White scored an insurance goal late in third to send fans toward the exits. Simmonds scored with 14.3 seconds left.

The Flyers again had to rally from an early deficit, a troubling theme for a team with playoff aspirations. The Coyotes led 2-0 in the first, the latest slow start for the Flyers. They have been outscored 8-1 in the first period this season and allowed the first goal for the seventh straight game.

Coach Dave Hakstol hoped a line change would boost the Flyers offense. He moved 19-year-old rookie center Travis Konecny to the top line with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek after that late-game pairing helped the Flyers come back from a 3-1 deficit to beat Buffalo.

“We needed a spark, that’s why we’re trying something a little bit different,” Hakstol said.

Konecny, the Flyers’ first-round pick of the 2015 draft, has been solid since he opened eyes in training camp and scored his first career goal against the Sabres. He entered tied for the rookie lead with five assists and said he would keep the same approach even with the line promotion.

“I’m not going to change anything in my game,” he said. “I’m just going to try and help them and create space for them.”

The Flyers needed help early.

Moments after they honored former great Eric Lindros – in his No. 88 sweater – another 88 got them with a goal. McGinn scored his first goal of the season to beat Mason. Ekman-Larsson followed with a slapper from the point for his fifth goal of the season.

The Coyotes, who last won on opening night against the Flyers on Oct. 15, failed to hold the lead.

Cousins pounded home a rebound for his first goal of the season and Schenn followed with a power-play score to help the Flyers at least tie the game when down two goals for the fifth time this season.

Notes: The Flyers played without a suspended player for the first time this season. … The Flyers honored 14 members of the team’s Hall of Fame, along with the family of six other members, including: Bob Clarke, Ron Hextall, Bernie Parent and Dave Schultz. The Flyers have a variety of nostalgic celebrations planned this season for their 50th anniversary. … Coyotes D Luke Schenn, a former Flyer, played against his brother.


Coyotes: Host Colorado on Saturday.

Flyers: Host Pittsburgh on Saturday.