From my vantage point, any win is a good win when you’re without more than 4,000 games of National Hockey League experience. And that’s what the Vancouver Canucks were up against last night when they beat the Edmonton Oilers 2-1 in overtime. With Dan Hamhuis (841), Alex Burrows (723), Chris Higgins (699), Ryan Miller (632), Brandon Sutter (511), Luca Sbisa (360) and Chris Tanev (260) all on the shelf with various injuries and ailments and Jake Virtanen (19) on loan to Team Canada at the World Juniors, the Canucks had to cobble together a line-up without 4,045 games at the NHL level.
You wanted a youth movement? You got one last night and may get another again Monday against Los Angeles.
And late in the game, it looked like the Canucks may have run into more injury problems when Jannik Hansen crashed into the cross bar as he drove to the net. With blood pouring out of a cut on his forehead, Hansen required medical attention as the teams battled into overtime. After a quick trip to the locker room, Hansen emerged to score the winner on a slap shot off right wing that seemed to go right through Oilers goalie Cam Talbot.
It was Hansen’s second of the night and 12th of a very solid season. And, as a team, on their 12th trip to overtime, the Canucks finally netter a winner. Yes, scratch that goose egg from the overtime win column as the Canucks move to 1-7 in games decided in O/T. With their 2-2 record in shootouts, the Canucks are now 3-9 in games decided beyond regulation time. That’s still way too many bonus points they’ve surrendered to opponents, but perhaps the tide is slowly turning as the Canucks have won two of their last three games requiring more than 60 minutes.
With wins in Detroit and Tampa Bay at the tail end of their road trip before Christmas and last night’s win over the Oilers, the Canucks are on a 3-0-1 run. You may recall they opened the season 3-0-1 as well. Unfortunately, there is the issue of the 29 games in between in which the Canucks managed just eight wins (8-14-7). If they can squeeze at least a point out of Monday’s match-up with L-A, the Canucks will match their season-best run of five straight games with something to show for their efforts in the standings. They went 3-0-2 over a five-game stretch in late October and into November.
If the Canucks are going to beat the Kings, they’re likely going to need to make Jonathan Quick work. Remember the last time they faced LA, the Canucks were outshot 40-16 on the night and 15-1 in the third period of a 2-1 overtime loss at Staples Center on December 1st. Shots on goal were an issue last night as the Canucks put 24 shots on the Oiler net, but had 18 attempts miss the target. Alex Edler missed the net on all three of his shot attempts while Sven Baertschi had three misses as well. I thought Baertschi had another solid game, but was unable to extend his goal-scoring streak to four game despite a great chance off the rush in the first period. So Pavel Bure likely slept well knowing his team-record of goals in eight straight games will live on (probably forever). Bure scored 11 goals on an eight-game run back in March of 1994.
The Canucks need to get their power play going again. They were 0 for 2 last night and have not cashed in on 13 chances over the past seven games. Sure, they’re facing injury issues — but aside from a hobbling Henrik Sedin, the top unit of the power play is pretty much intact. The Canucks last scored a power play goal on December 9th against the New York Rangers. That was a 5-on-3 goal from Alex Edler. The last conventional power goal the Canucks scored was Henrik Sedin’s goal in the second period against Buffalo on December 7th. Those are the only times the Canucks have converted with the man-advantage in the past 11 games. For the season now, the Canucks have dropped to 24th in the league with a power play that is sputtering at 16.9%. Daniel Sedin is having a terrific season, but his last power play goal was in LA on December 1st. Radim Vrbata, who has gone quiet in the goal-scoring department again, has not scored with the man-advantage since November 25th in Minnesota.
Last night was another solid — if not fairly quiet — night for Jacob Markstrom who made 32 stops in the victory. That’s now back to back 2-1 wins for the big Swede. And maybe that’s his lot in life to somehow make the most out of virtually no goal support. In his last five starts, the Canucks have given him four regulation goals to work with (plus Hansen’s O/T winner last night). In the month of December, Markstrom has stopped 148 of the 158 shots he’s faced posting an impressive 93.7 save percentage. In his last three starts (at PHI, at T-B and last night vs EDM), he’s allowed just four goals. Who knows what Ryan Miller’s status really is or when he might be able to return to the net, but Jacob Markstrom has earned the chance to run with the ball here for a while. And really, it’s a win-win for the Canucks who can see what Markstrom can do with a stretch of games while Miller gets some much needed rest.
*I liked what I saw from Andrey Pedan in his NHL debut as a defenseman. He wasn’t spectacular, but he certainly wasn’t overwhelmed by the moment. In his 10:43 of ice, he had four shot attempts, three hits and a blocked shot
*With Matt Bartkowski’s assist on the overtime winner last night, Canucks defensemen have now contributed 10+44=54 in 37 games. That’s the same total the club’s blueline generated in 40 games last season (15+39=54). So this year’s group is slightly ahead of the pace of one year ago although with fewer goals
*Henrik Sedin’s clearly nowhere close to full health. It’s hard to watch a guy have to stand at the bench throughout the game to avoid his hip/groin from tightening between shifts. He gutted it out last night, but you just wonder if he can continue to contribute at a level he’s comfortable with in upcoming divisional games against LA and Anaheim — heavy teams that that can grind opponents especially down the middle
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