Black Ice Issue #22 — Sleepless In St. Paul

“[T]hird game in four nights in the New York area,” was how coach Vee summed up the travel schedule. The Canucks played the Islanders and the Rangers on Monday and Wednesday night respectively, then flew to St. Paul, Minnesota to take on the Wild Thursday and now they have to get back on a plane a fly to Steel Town to face the Penguins on Saturday. Say what you will about West Coast travel, this one has to go down in the annals of most ridiculous travel for a professional sports team ever. (Our friend over at Yankee Hockey has a pretty good solution for this).

The travel seemed to provide a spark that only a neurotic, semi-comatose team could compose. It was brilliant; it was sublime. Time will show the genius of this victory. The Vancouver Canucks composed a convincing win that could be seen as a turning point as the season continues.

The first period was basically expected. The Canucks looked limp yet the Wild stood vapid, empowering the suffocating wait-for-the-other-team-to-make-a-mistake-then-pound philosophy, gainfully employed by coach Jacques Lemaire. The end of the first stanza looked painfully akin to Kasparov Vs. Deep Blue with the Canucks looking the human of the two. Curtis Sanford (filling in for Luongo) was shaky albeit keeping Lemaire’s androids off the scoresheet.

The second period opened up as the Canucks and Wild traded chances but Mikko Koivu opened the scoring with a questionable slapper from the left point that squeaked under Sanford’s left elbow. This is where the Canucks superior offense began to mount. Steve Bernier beat a 9-game goalless drought when he smacked a Willie Mitchell rebound through a thatch of sticks and over Niklas Backstrom. In the slot is were we will see the best of Steve Bernier and getting the monkey off his back was a relief to himself and his teammates. Later, Koivu put Minnesota up one on a shorthanded marker, but Pavol Demitra answered right back on a fluke bank off his old netminders backside.

What became glaringly obvious during the second period was that Vancouver are the superior squad. While they lack the discipline of the Wild it is obvious there’s a lot of talent and potential on the team this year. The Sedins and Demitra are an example of this talent. All game I was thinking the Sedins needed to make a statement tonight. They are veterans now and they cannot continue to stand alone as victims. Enter Demitra. The crafty Slovak knows this is his last chance for prominence in the NHL. The three Canucks looked deadly (while five-on-five and on the PP with Kyle Wellwood) and in the third they showed the look of an actual, bonafide first line.

Trapping the Wild in their zone for almost a minute the Sedins and Demitra passed the puck a total of a thousand times, but when it was time to shoot, it was all net for Daniel. Minnesota looked dizzy after the goal and it stood as the game winner when the home team caved in the last few minutes of the match.

As previously mentioned, this squad looks legit. With a qualified first line. A very competent second line (with varying combinations of Pyatt, Wellwood, Bernier and Raymond) along with the checkers Burrows, Kesler and Hansen. Throw in role players such as Ryan Johnson and Darcy Hordichuk and you have a unique combination of speed, grit and talent. It is often the type of combination you see in squads that excel. See for example: New Jersey in ’95 Montreal in ’86.

The defense was weakened tonight by injury and the flu, but if they stay healthy they are the best in the league. Shane O’Brien only managed 7 penalty minutes (logging ten minutes last night in New York) so we could call this progress. Willie Mitchell got an assist and showed the length of his stick work in spades offering 4 blocked shots and was a +2 on the night. Mitchell continues to log points as he reaches beyond his traditional roll of stay-at-home defenseman. With Sami Salo and Kevin Bieksa out it goes to show the measure of leadership Mitchell has taken on after the departure of Naslund and Linden. He will do it all if he has to.

Iain MacIntyre stated in his column after the game,

“The Canucks defeated the Wild and the NHL’s cartographer, who drew a map and placed Manhattan next to Minneapolis and decided it would be a good idea if the Vancouver played the Rangers and Wild on successive nights. You know, with a good four or five hours sleep between games.”

It goes to show that a little bit of insomnia can go a long way.

Next Up — Pittsburgh

Whatcha think?