I was at Rogers Arena last night as the Vancouver Canucks hosted the New York Rangers. With the tribute to Rick Rypien, the return of Ryan Kesler, and the newest Canuck Dale Weise facing his former team, it promised to be a memorable night. Unfortunately, with respect to the actual game, people will be remembering defensive breakdowns and seeing the Rangers win their first game of the young season.
As always, here are a few things that make me go hmmm…
1. Roberto Luongo – or more accurately – his supporters and detractors. The netminder is easily the most polarizing sports figure on the Canucks let alone in the entire province. After the game, likely 75% – 80% of the Canucks-related tweets had to do with Luongo. When he’s not playing well, his supporters preach patience while his detractors call him a waste of money and bust. When he is playing well, his supporters remind us that he’s the best netminder we’ve ever had while his detractors say that he hasn’t proven anything until he leads the team to a Stanley Cup. I’m not afraid to proclaim that I’m a Luongo supporter. But I don’t flippantly point to him being a traditionally slow starter as an excuse for only one win in four starts. Luongo must bear some of the blame, but he can certainly share it with his forwards who aren’t scoring enough and his defencemen who are breaking down at the most inopportune times. One thing’s for certain however: for the Canucks to win he can’t be the second-best goalie on the ice.
2. Powerplay problems. Why is Coach Vigneault so insistent on keeping Mikael Samuelsson on the point on the first powerplay unit? I’ve already written about this before, but Samuelsson’s ineffectiveness was on display once again Tuesday night. He had trouble generating decent scoring chances and he struggled with keeping the puck in the zone. While I would love to see Sami Salo on the first powerplay unit, I’m presuming that the coach wants to balance things out with a booming shot on each unit (with Alex Edler playing marksman on the first unit). However, when the home team goes 0 for 8 on the powerplay in a game where we desperately need goals, something has to give.
Also, as an aside, I would love to see Hamhuis and Ballard play together. They are both good skaters and the steady Hamhuis would help offset the riskier play of Ballard. And can you imagine the hip checks they could dish out? Ever since the Canucks acquired them last summer within 6 days of each other, I’ve been hoping to see them on the ice together. But it hasn’t happened yet. Then again, Ballard didn’t spend much time on the ice with anyone last season.
3. Speaking of polarizing players…the love/hate Luongo phenomena reminds me of the feelings towards Todd Bertuzzi after his hit on Steve Moore. I happened to be in GM Place on that fateful March 8, 2004 evening. The game itself was a blowout, with Canucks fans looking for something to cheer for. We were wrought with anticipation as Bertuzzi chased Moore around the ice and we cheered like mad upon Bertuzzi’s first punch. The cheers quickly subsided as players and fans alike realized that Moore was seriously injured. There was an eerie silence in the stands followed by a reserved buzz as fans compared notes as to what they had just witnessed. The radio shows and internet were abuzz with chatter for weeks afterwards, with equal percentages of people applauding and condemning Bertuzzi.
Can you imagine if Twitter had been invented back then? Whereas last night’s Luongo Twitter chatter kept the social networking platform busy, Bertuzzi’s hit might have shut the whole thing down.
PS: Kudos to the Vancouver Canucks for an emotional and classy tribute to the late Rick Rypien. The most touching moment for me was seeing Kevin Bieksa embracing Rick’s mother Shelley. It brought a tear to this writer’s eye…and I’m sure I’m not alone. Rest in peace Rick…you are already missed.