The Vancouver Canucks took their first steps on the long road back to the Stanley Cup Finals with a 4-3 shoot-out loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Rogers Arena on Thursday night. I was in the arena for the home opener and I noticed a few Things That Make You Go Hmmm…
1. The sluggish crowd. Just like the team, the crowd seemed very tentative for the first half of the game. It was a classic chicken and egg example: it’s hard to tell if the crowd was relatively quiet because the team started slowly or if the team had trouble drawing energy from the quiet crowd. Regardless, once the Canucks figured out how to stay out of the penalty box, both their play and the energy in the arena improved dramatically.
2. Keith Ballard is exciting. There are many Canucks fans, this writer included, who want to see Keith Ballard have a bounceback season this year. With the departure of Christian Ehrhoff, the door is wide open for Ballard to stroll on through. Last night, we saw both the risk and reward of Keith Ballard. On the second Penguin goal, Ballard had trouble retrieving and clearing the puck from behind the Canucks net, leading to Matt Cooke’s power-play goal. And there were a couple of shifts where Ballard and defence partner Chris Tanev were scrambling around in their own zone. But also, there was Ballard streaking down the left side and scoring the game’s nicest goal late in the second period. Add this to a couple of end-to-end rushes and it made for a very eventful night for the Canuck blue-liner.
3. Dan Hamhuis is solid. Hamhuis had a very solid game in his first full-game back since game 1 of last spring’s Stanley Cup Finals. He made numerous poke checks on Penguin forwards and played with enough physicality to keep Pittsburgh at bay for most of the evening. I’m convinced that he was the missing ingredient in the Canucks’ series against Boston: if we have a healthy Hamhuis, we have a Stanley Cup.
4. Where was Cody Hodgson? The prized rookie was unnoticeable all evening until the final 6 minutes or so. It doesn’t help that he is flanked by aging forwards who are both coming off of serious injuries. The entire second line struggled and was clearly the weakest of the four lines. Granted, it’s early, and they will likely need a few games together to develop some chemistry. Hodgson had a chance to score a game-winning goal, but his nice scoring chance was barely foiled by Marc-Andre Fleury when the puck squirted though his legs but a couple of inches wide left.
5. Wishful thinking. Buoyed by the inflated 50/50 pot (it included unclaimed money from last season), my friend Mike and I bought a few tickets. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, as the huge $65,000 prize went to someone else. And with the new ticketing system and numbers, we were only 300,000,000 (yes…that’s 300 million) numbers away from winning. The computerized 50/50 tickets is just one of many changes in Rogers Arena for this season…check out my latest Clay’s Canucks Commentary for a look at some of these changes.
All in all, it was an entertaining game between two teams predicted to do well this season. And don’t fret Canucks fans – the team lost their first game of last season via shoot-out too. The regular season turned out all right.