I count four posts tonight amongst a bevy of very solid scoring chances, but if you don't capitalize on the ones you do get you can't win, especially when you twice decline the power play by taking stick infractions shorlty in to the two you were given. I was really nervous of a St.Louis team in the middle of a change of ownership and a long stretch of ineptitude. I picked them to win the Central this year, and I know Detroit and Chicago look terrific but I made that decision based on their amazing forward depth. They're without solid veteran playmaker Andy McDonald and a guy who many consider to be among the top ten in puck skills in the league in David Perron and they won by three on the road against the defending President's Trophy Winner.
Cory Schneider played very well. Without his calm play between the pipes it could've been a lot worse. Sure, his .903 SV% on the night is pedestrian, but he made some beautiful saves and showed good rebound controll. It wasn't enough gas to poor on the goalie controversy fire though and it may just be a blessing in disguise. Roberto Luongo is getting a chance now to come in and play saviour Saturday against an undefeated Capitals juggernaut the same way he did in this building in the winter of 2010 replacing legendary Martin Brodeur to take Canada to Gold. Goaltenders are different mentally and while Roberto hasn't shown he can play great in a pressure cooker situation but he has shown a need to be wanted and boy do we want him to play to his full potential Saturday.
The offense was putrid. They had some scoring chances and posts but late in the game we saw Keith Ballard and Sami Salo leading rushes and all too many times we were breaking out with one man and no support and making bad line changes. Outside of the Hodgson-Volpatti-Hansen shift early in the game there was little consistent pressure. David Booth had a good chance on a rolling puck and just missed the net. He finished all his checks tonight and showed the ability to carry the zone. My concern is that without Christian Ehrhoff we lack the transition game that made us so succesful and it's obvious a power skater like Booth excels on the breakout catching teams flat-footed through the neutral zone; are we the same system anymore or are we adapting?
I loved seeing Volpatti get a chance on the wing on a third line with some offensive options. Last year Raffi Torres' physical play created a lot of opportunity for the Canucks third line and set the tone physically in the offensive zone. There aren't many top-pairing defenseman gripping their sticks and rushing the play wondering if Tico is charging down the wing anymore and don't underestimate the power of physical intimidation. Even better is offensive intimidation and St.Louis couldn't have cared less who was on the ice upfront for the Nux tonight, and that is a sad state of affairs. Late in the game there was a great rush when AV juggled the lines to put CoHo with Booth and Kess. I've said it before that Higgy is too much like Booth and Kess and should rather be used as an offensive option on the third line to make the line matching game hard for opposing coaching staffs. I think CoHo should be centering him on that line rather than on the wing with the Booth and Kess. CoHo has the skill to play their but I think the Canucks are morphing rapidly in to a three line team rather than a top six/bottom six group.
So who should get a shot with Booth and Kess? If it were up to me I'm throwing pass happy Andrew Ebbet out with the American snipers and running a Hansen-CoHo-Higgins third line. That will be very hard for teams to match should it work out, and I think it deserves a trial run. Manny on the wing on the fourth with Lapierre is a lock-down pairing if I ever saw one, toss Peppermint Patti or Dale Weise on that wing and this might be the shake up we need.
I was pumped that Alex Sulzer got in to the mix tonight, played nearly 20 minutes and was a member of what was the Canucks top pairing with Keith Ballard. Hamhuis and Bieksa were -2. Salo looked good again on the point but it's evident the fingers are hurting Alex Edler. His physical contribution in Edmonton was top notch and when he's healthy again it will be a big boost. In the meantime this group needs a major shake up as well and I believe the lynch-pin is in the transition game. Alex Sulzer had a great stretch pass but it's not so much the distance of the break out play as the quickness and if the offense is hinging on it then it needs new life in the form of Kevin Connauton. The 21-year-old offense minded d-man could be the key to improving the breakout and quarterbacking the powerplay, atleast while Edler heals up.
I'm glad a real challenge is rolling in Saturday - this team looks like it needs a sense of urgency and what's more inspiring than playing the star-studded Caps.