Thursday, October 06, 2005
Yes, it's a pain to be on the east coast and try to follow your west-coast hockey team. Sure, I'd like to crank out a post right after the game, but to go to bed at 3am and get up at 6 for work just wouldn't be sane.
On the first night of the NHL's new era, this game featured the head-coaching debut of a certain someone by the name of Wayne Gretzky, and it also featured the return of Todd Bertuzzi to competitive hockey, over a year and a half since the suckerpunch seen 'round the world.
The Canucks were looking to get the new season off on the right foot. The West Coast Express line of Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison, and Bertuzzi can be devastating when they're on their game, but things after that are less certain. For instance, losing Marek Malik and Brent Sopel off the blueline didn't help their defensive depth. Many Canuck faithful cringed at the thought of Bryan Allen ascending in the depth chart and getting top-four minutes. Other questions included how well the Sedins' latest linemate, Anson Carter, would mesh with the twins. Also, Richard Park doesn't just provide depth, but also possesses offensive skills that weren't exactly on display given the system of the Minnesota Wild. Also, the eternal question lingers as to whether Dan Cloutier can prove himself in the playoffs. We would have known the answer to this question back in 2004, but he was injured in the Calgary series.
But how would they do on Opening Night?
Let me say that I have no idea how many of these games I'll be able to post about, or how extensive I'll be posting, or if there'll be any sort of template like with the Seahawks and Mariners or Sonics. I'm just going to wing it from here and see what happens. Heck, that's what we do with a lot of things here at Sports and B's.
Okay, enough of this spiel. Let's get to the game...
This period was largely a goaltending exhibition by Curtis Joseph of the Coyotes and Dan Cloutier for Vancouver. Joseph stopped two big chances early, and it helped the Coyotes along, as they jumped out to an early 10-3 lead in shots on goal. The Canucks were able to help turn the tide a bit when they were able to keep the pressure on a delayed call, keeping the puck for a long time until Mike Johnson finally went into the box for hooking. I said that this was a goalie exhibition, and Cloutier did go post-to-post to make a toe save to rob Boyd Devereaux. After being down 10-3 on shots, the Canucks fought back, and the period ended with the Coyotes up 16-12 in shots.
The Coyotes didn't fare as well in the second twenty minutes. The Canucks didn't wait long to tally their first of the year as Nolan Baumgartner kept a puck in the offensive zone, and the puck found its way to Mattias Ohlund on the left point, whose slapshot went off of Coyote Derek Morris' glove and past Joseph. Phoenix may have had some attention directed toward Jarkko Ruutu on the play, who had been throwing his weight around.
»» 1, VANCOUVER, Mattias Ohlund 1 (Nolan Baumgartner) 2:19
»» CANUCKS 1, COYOTES 0
New Vancouver blueliner Steve McCarthy was whistled for high-sticking right after the Ohlund goal, which isn't timely, though luckily the Coyotes didn't capitalize. A few minutes later, Markus Naslund broke away and deked to the backhand to beat CuJo and finish off a three-way passing play that netted points for the top line.
»» 2, VANCOUVER, Markus Naslund 1 (Todd Bertuzzi, Brendan Morrison) 7:59
»» CANUCKS 2, COYOTES 0
The Coyotes were starting to turn the puck over more frequently. Sami Salo and Richard Park put together a great scoring chance that was stopped. Markus Naslund was hooked late in the period by Tyson Nash, but the Canucks didn't capitalize on the ensuing power play. Vancouver outshot Phoenix 14-7 in the period and were leading 26-23 in that department after forty minutes.
The Canucks had to hold off the Coyotes' last gasp. Early on, Sami Salo was nailed by former Seattle Thunderbird Oleg Saprykin and came away clutching his right arm, though he did return for a few more shifts. Anson Carter hit the post with a shot. Just short of the halfway point of the period, Matt Cooke was whistled for a hook, but Saprykin was sent off for diving on the same play. Thus, the result was a couple minutes' worth of 4-on-4 hockey. Midway through the 4-on-4, the Canucks were caught off to one side, and Keith Ballard took a pass from the defenseman Mike Johnson and walked in on Cloutier for his first NHL goal.
»» 3, PHOENIX, Keith Ballard 1 (Mike Johnson) 11:01
»» CANUCKS 2, COYOTES 1
In what seemed like a dagger at the time, the Canucks had a 2-on-1 with Naslund on the right wing, who went stick side just inside the post just nineteen seconds after the Phoenix goal.
»» 4, VANCOUVER, Naslund 2 (Morrison, Sami Salo) 11:20
»» CANUCKS 3, COYOTES 1
So the Canucks just had to hold off the Coyotes for the last half of the period and not blow a two-goal lead. Unfortunately, Daniels Sedin hooked and went to the box with 1:35 remaining in the period. For the last ditch, Gretzky had pulled Joseph and had the 6-on-4 with the empty net. Saprykin made up for his earlier dive by pouncing on a rebound in the slot and burying it inside the final minute, getting the Coyotes within a goal.
»» 5, PHOENIX, powerplay, Oleg Saprykin 1 (Shane Doan, Mike Comrie) 19:16
»» CANUCKS 3, COYOTES 2
The Canucks got a break late when they iced the puck, but the clock ran a couple of seconds too long. Gretzky pleaded for three seconds to be left on the game clock, but he only got one. Of course, the solution here is to send Trevor Linden to the faceoff circle. That's what happened, he won the faceoff, and the game was over. Phoenix outshot the Canucks 9-4 in the period and 32-30 for the game.
Three stars -- (1) Naslund, (2) Cloutier, (3) Phoenix's Shane Doan
Dan Cloutier stopped 30 of 32 shots, including the Devereaux shot in the first as well as a great stop off of Mike Ricci.
As for the banged-up Canucks, Bertuzzi, who barely played in the preseason due to a bad back, had two shots on goal, delivered five hits, and was a plus-1 in 17:42 of ice time. Ohlund, who didn't play a single shift in the preseason, had one of his three shots hit paydirt, delivered three hits, and was a plus-two in 20:33 minutes on the ice.
Bryan Allen, Ed Jovanovski, and Anson Carter were the only minus players for the Canucks in this game, all with minus-ones. Ohlund, Salo, Morrison, and Naslund were all plus-2.
One thing that helped the Canucks' hopes was when Petr Nedved left in the third period with a groin strain. Sure, he hasn't lived up to expectations, but he did burn the Canucks as an Oiler late last year.
So went the first victory for new Vancouver GM Dave Nonis. The Canucks are 7-2 in their last nine home openers.
The Canucks travel to Edmonton for a Saturday night game against Mike Peca, Chris Pronger, Ryan Smyth, and the rest of the Edmonton Oilers. It's a western Canada battle.