It's 12:30 a.m. and I need to get up early tomorrow for work. But with the caffeine of countless coffees still coursing through my veins and after watching a pretty sloppy Vancouver loss tonight, I feel the need to chime in with my thoughts on the Canucks squad after 26 games.
We're 14 - 12 so far, which puts us in a tie for 9th in the Western Conference, I believe, with Detroit and Columbus, and three points behind 8th place Phoenix. The Wings and Jackets each have a game in hand on us, while the Coyotes have played one more.
I don't entirely know what to think about the Canucks right now. Their play leaves me with more unanswered questions than Tiger Woods' statement on his late night driving activities. With Daniel and Luongo back from injury, I thought we'd go on a nice little tear, and while we did put two wins together before tonight, it still feels like something is missing with this team.
Not to nitpick and try to find fault in a four-goal victory, but I wasn't really all that impressed with the Canucks in their 7-3 win over the Oilers, Saturday night. Edmonton is clearly in free-fall mode, as it looked like there were only a handful of guys (Penner, Brule, Potulny, Stortini) willing to battle. (Note: The Oil need to get rid of Gagner and O'Sullivan while the stocks for those uncompetitive bums are still relatively high and they should do everything they can to shovel off Horcoff and Staios for peanuts... and take the 'C' away from Moreau, who hasn't done anything as captain in the past three years.)
But on Saturday, I'd say only a handful of Canucks looked hungry and tonight, I saw the same thing. While the Sharks are a bigger team, the Canucks shied away from the physicality and I really only saw Bernier out there hitting people. I'd say he was one of the only noticeable Canucks out there, along with the Sedins, who owned the puck whenever they were on the ice and Raymond, who was wreaking havoc all over the place with his speed. I still wish the Sedins would just shoot it a bit more.
I don't know if Kesler's still hurting from dislocating his finger Thursday morning, but his hands have definitely looked off in the last three games. He seems to be making the wrong decisions when shooting or passing and leading guys way too much when he does pass. While he did notch three assists on Saturday, they were all of the Crosby (first pass, not the set-up) variety. He is one of the only guys hitting, but he hasn't had much of an impact lately as he did earlier this season, even though the broadcasters big upped him non-stop Saturday. I'm going to chalk it up to the finger.
Burrows has looked comfortable with the Sedins, but he didn't do much tonight. Aside from his goal, I thought Wellwood has looked awful the past three games and I'm not sure why he's playing so much. More than once I've seen him dog it toward a loose puck that he should have had, only to see the other team pick it up and start back the other way. Samuelsson hasn't created very much since he moved from playing with Henrik and there is no chemistry on the Samuelsson/Raymond/Kesler line right now.
Tanner Glass has been a pleasant surprise so far, but when he's one of your more noticeable guys, that's probably not a good thing.
The defense, while picking it up offensively, has really been shoddy in their own zone. Tonight, there were too many turnovers to count and they looked a little hesitant to win the puck in their zone, knowing the big-bodied Sharks would come in and crush them. I know it was their second game in two nights, but that's really something Vancouver needs to start doing to their opponents.
Kevin Bieksa really needs a kick in his ass. I don't know how he gets away with being so laissez-faire in his own zone. He just coasts out from behind his net, like a 55-year-old Oldtimers' player, and tries some ridiculous cross-ice pass, which gets picked off 90 percent of the time. It's infuriating. When he's on his game, he's knocking people around and throwing the other team off with his unpredictable and unconventional passing, but now, he looks bored out there.
The most discomforting part of the Canucks right now though, at least to me, is what's supposed to be our strong point: goaltending.
I don't know why, but Roberto Luongo does not seem to be himself lately. Granted, he is coming back from an injury so he may not be back yet, but when you are supposed to be the best goaltender in the world, you need to steal a game every once in a while, and honestly, I can't remember him doing that in quite some time. He's actually been outplayed more often than not. He's been solid but he doesn't seem to command the crease like he did two years ago, where he was never out of position, and when he read the play better than anyone else on the planet. This year, his highlight reel saves come on lucky, last ditch efforts, which has never been the case with him. Also, he's looking around after routine shots, unsure of where the puck is, and he doesn't have the rebound control of old. To tell you the truth, I thought Andrew Raycroft played better in his brief stint as starter than Luongo has this year.
This is not to say that Luongo needs to be benched or anything, but I don't think he's up at where he should be. He's not playing to his standard and I don't know whether it's a confidence thing.
Right now, I'd be shocked if he was chosen as Canada's starter at the Olympics. And based on his play this year, I'm not entirely sure I'd even name him one of the top three. (Brodeur is a lock, based on experience, and Fleury should be too, since he's led his team to the Finals in back-to-back years. While Luongo has always been called the best goalie in the world, he's never led a team to the Conference Finals or won a Vezina. And he's already been traded twice. I'm just saying.)
The team's powerplay has been clicking, as the Sedins really are hitting their offensive prime, I think. Erhoff has also been a great addition for the powerplay, and having Schneider gives them a quarterback on their second unit.
The penalty killing will improve, once Luongo turns the corner, although I'm really nervous about our defense in our own zone this year. There isn't one guy from those six that doesn't make me nauseous when he has the puck in our end.
If I have four gripes about the year so far it's that (1) the team isn't physical enough, (2) the defense is coughing up the puck too often -- or the forwards aren't in position and getting the puck out of the zone -- (3) the team can't put together a second period -- either giving a lead away or falling into a bigger hole -- (4) and the fact that GM Place has to be one of the lamest crowds in the league. I'm sorry, but enough of the "(insert opponent name) sucks!" chants and the momentum and energy that becomes a pin-drop on a dime's notice, whenever something bad happens. Canucks fans need to start cheering about the little things and make it a real home-ice advantage.
All in all, the Canucks season is far from a write-off, and I still think they will make the playoffs and contend for the division title. I just hate how difficult it is these days to make up ground with all the three-point games out there, and especially since the Canucks have yet to gain a point in overtime. If they ever get everyone going at the same time, I believe they are still a Cup contender, but judging from what I've seen so far, it may be a little too lofty an expectation.
Prediction: Canucks wind up 6th in West.