This post also appears at Canucks Hockey Blog
I’m taking a break from planning my Saturday morning “Ruin the Bruins” party to offer up a few quick thoughts as the Canucks have reached the midway point of the season. It feels so strange to type the word “morning” when blogging about a hockey game, but I digress.
On this eve of the Stanley Cup Finals rematch, here are a few Things That Make Me Go Hmmm:
1. The need for perspective. There are so many intriguing storylines heading into Saturday’s game against the Boston Bruins, notwithstanding the fact that it’s the only regular season meeting between the two Stanley Cup Finalists. Luongo or Schneider. Mason Raymond’s return to the rink where he nearly had his career ended. Daniel Sedin vs. Brad Marchand. Burrows, Bergeron, and biting.
Thursday afternoon, I tweeted: “48 hours from now we’ll either be celebrating a bit of revenge for the Canucks or wondering what it will take to beat the Bruins in Boston.” I received a couple of replies, with both of them intimating that a Canuck win had limited upside (as opposed to a Canuck loss having a larger downside) and that true revenge would be winning the Stanley Cup. While I didn’t disagree with these sentiments, I pointed out that a win is a win and we can’t do much about the Stanley Cup until June. It’s important to remember that this is game #42 of an 82 game regular season and that we shouldn’t read too much into the result of the game, whatever it may be. I don’t buy the argument that a Canuck loss will have a long-term effect on the team’s psyche… the same way I won’t get too excited if the Canucks walk out of Boston with a win. Enjoy it for what it will be: a hotly-contested battle of two of the top teams in the league.
2. Biggest surprises and disappointments. There have been numerous “midseason evaluation” posts including an excellent one by CHB writer Matt Lee already, but I thought I would chime in with a few of my observations. For me, the biggest surprises up front have been Jannik Hansen, Cody Hodgson and Chris Higgins. The collective Triple H has combined for 31 goals and 37 assists for 68 points, a welcome wave of secondary scoring behind the big four of the Sedins and Kesler and Burrows. On the flip side, Manny Malhotra is still struggling to regain his pre-injury form of last year and the jury is still out on David Booth, who was picking up his game before his knee injury.
On the back end, the play of the top four d-men (Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis and Sami Salo) have helped some Canuck faithful forget about Christian Ehrhoff. In particular, Hamhuis is quietly piling up the points and is on pace to match his career high of 38 points (2005-2006 season). Hamhuis and partner Bieksa (who has overcome a shaky start) have become one of the league’s premier shutdown pairs, while Edler and Salo continue to contribute at both ends of the rink. Conversely, Keith Ballard is still not playing like a $4 million defenseman, and he is still prone to making risky plays in his own end. I really like him and I want to see him succeed, but 6 points and -1 just doesn’t cut it.
3. The Canucks in the Winter Classic. On the heels of another entertaining Winter Classic and HBO 24/7 series, there’s increased chatter about the possibility of the Canucks appearing in the big game in the near future. One would think that Montreal and/or Toronto are likely to be considered ahead of our local team, but you never know. With respect to the 24/7 series, it’s hard to predict what kind of ratings a Canadian team would draw south of the border. But one thing’s for sure: the Canucks would make for some interesting TV. I would find it fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes look at the player’s preparation and personal lives. What is Luongo like away from the cameras? How are the twins different in how they approach the games? Who are the locker room leaders? Does Dale Weise un-follow and block people in real life? And where does Bieksa come up with his comedy gold? With respect to opponents, I think it’s a toss-up between Boston and Chicago. The former for all of the reasons listed above, the latter for the playoff history and animosity between the teams for three years running. A dark-horse would be Detroit, but their rivalry with the Canucks is one based on respect and similar playing styles as opposed to the dislike that comes with the Bruins and Blackhawks.
Amidst all these questions, it’s good to see that the Canucks have emerged from the first-half of the season at the top of the Western Conference (albeit with the other teams holding games in hand). Now please excuse me as I continue preparations for my Saturday morning viewing party. I’m curious as to how many of my friends will be drinking while watching the game. 10 AM seems a tad early, but I’m certainly not here to judge. Hmmm…