THE VANCOUVER Canucks dropped game one of their playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings by a score of 4-2. Mike Richards, former Canuck Willie Mitchell, Dustin Penner and Dustin Brown (into an empty net) scored for the Kings. Alex Burrows and Alex Edler replied for the Canucks.
It was a less than impressive effort from the heavily favoured Canucks. We have long heard that Canucks regular season malaise would be eliminated when the playoffs started. I guess someone forgot to tell the Canucks that this was game one. While it is far too early to hit the panic button, it would have been nice if the Canucks had found that magical switch come playoff time that they promised they would.
Most alarming was the Canucks undisciplined play. For a team that says they learned their playoff lessons last year, it was a disappointing to see their application in game one.
Most disheartening was the Canucks continued unnecessary unsportsmanlike antics that have vilified them league wide over the past couple of years. Embellishments and dives. Leaping on hits and snowshowers. And yapping. Endless and unnecessary yapping. And that’s just Ryan Kesler. Okay, Max Lapierre and Alex Burrows, too. But Kesler sets the tone of the game for the Canucks. He needs to put an end to that and just play hockey. Not only is that the reason why the rest of the league hates the Canucks so much (that and the fact that they are so successful), but this directly hindered the game plan all night long. Kesler does not necessarily need to score goals to beat the Kings, but he needs to show much better leadership.
The Canucks needed to play with discipline and composure, controlling the play like they so often have over the last couple of season. Too often they were erratic which led to more penalties. LA had an unthinkable eight power plays! Don’t blame the refs Canucks fans. Blame your Canucks!
And when the Canucks are killing penalties, their top player, Henrik Sedin, is sitting on the bench. Alain Vigneault has impressed with his growth as a coach over the past couple of years, but his reluctance to use star scorers like the Sedins on penalty kills in such games continues to hurt them. Henrik had played only 10 minutes and change after two periods, and spent the first half of the third trying to find his rhythm. Last I checked, Henrik is a pretty good player, especially when you need a goal. The Canucks really need to make sure their captain is always involved and his ice time is high. Give him a couple of penalty kill assignments when there are long stretches of short-handed play.
Another guy who impressed, surprise, surprise, was Roberto Luongo. Oh I’m sure somehow the haters will blame Luongo for the 5-on-3 goal or on the winning goal which was beautifully set up by the feet of Jeff Carter (a player I have long admired). But Luongo was clearly Vancouver’s best player, from opening puck drop through the end of the game. Defenseman Chris Tanev and the third line of Jannik Hansen, Chris Higgins and the invisible man Samuel Pahlsson also stood out with strong games. The defense as a whole did a good job of protecting the slot, keeping loose pucks and rebounds away from the Kings.
Alex Edler had a terrible opening 10 minutes or so, and was goofed on the winning goal late in the third. Vancouver needs Edler to emerge as a true number one defender, a dominant blue liner that all Stanley Cup champions have. Edler, just 25, has yet to evolve into that, but the Canucks had hoped for more consistent, solid play from the big Swede.
Let’s give credit where credit is due. The L.A. Kings played a heck of a game. Mike Richards led the way (take note, Kesler) Yet the Kings never really struck me as a team that could beat a disciplined Vancouver team over a 7 game series. They did play a pesky game, and if Vancouver does not smarten up, could have them in trouble. The Kings were aggressive on every puck pursuit and finished every check with enthusiasm. In some ways they remind me of the 1989 Canucks that almost upset the Calgary Flames, who ultimately won the Stanley Cup that year.
Game two is on Friday night. Expect a much better Vancouver team to show up for that one.
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