Friday, November 17, 2006
Some said this game was a must-win for Vancouver, and that's a fair assessment. It was the fifth game of a six-game homestand, which isn't much of a big deal. In the homestand, however, the Canucks opened with a win against Dallas, then dropped the next three, aganst Anaheim, Calgary, and Detroit, respectively. A win against the Blues would give the Canucks their only chance to salvage a .500 homestand. After the Canucks got through their early hellacious road-dominated schedule with a .500 record, the consensus was that they'd use this six-game homestand to pad their record. Sadly, that hasn't been the case. Last season, the Canucks started 13-1 on home ice but went 12-9-6 the rest of the way, so you could say they really haven't had a true home-ice advantage since. They haven't based on results.
About nine minutes into the game, Jeff Woywitka battled for the puck in the left-wing corner and passed to Doug Weight at the left point. Weight passed to Woywitka along the left-wing boards and dodged Markus Naslund, who played the pass. Naslund never got a body on Weight, and worse yet, he didn't pursue Weight, who skated all the way to the net untouched. Woywitka hit him with a pass at the doorstep which he easily backhanded over Roberto Luongo to finish off a nicely executed give-and-go. Amazingly, it took this long into the season for Weight to score a goal.
»» 1, SAINT LOUIS, Doug Weight 1 (Jeff Woywitka, Lee Stempniak) 8:57
Just as a Vancouver power play had expired, Matt Cooke was setting up behind the Saint Louis net and found Brendan Morrison along the goal line on the left side, where his forehand shot beat Jason Bacashihua inside the far post from a pretty sharp angle.
»» 2, VANCOUVER, Brendan Morrison 4 (Matt Cooke, Mattias Ohlund) 14:49
With about four minutes left in the period, Lee Stempniak found Radek Dvorak crashing the net and centered the puck. Luongo stopped it and tried to play it but Dvorak physically crashed into him though the puck ultimately stayed out of the net. Vancouver outshot the Blues 13-6 in the period. They were 0-for-3 on the power play while Saint Louis was 0-for-2.
Henrik Sedin moved the puck into the Saint Louis zone near the left point and waited as Naslund skated to the net. Henrik centered the puck and it got through to Bacashihua, who stopped it, but Naslund was right there on the rebound and found the top corner over the glove side of Bacashihua.
»» 3, VANCOUVER, Markus Naslund 8 (Henrik Sedin, Ohlund) 6:17
With about two and a half minutes left, Morrison put another sharp-angle shot on the net, this time from the right side. The puck flung high into the air and came down to Bacashihua's left as three Canucks flew to the crease and tried to jab it through, but did so to no avail as Bacashihua eventually covered it. Seconds later, Henrik Sedin had the puck behind the net and struggled to get it through to Naslund, but did. Naslund skated slowly inside the right hash before wristing the puck through some traffic and past Bacashihua. This held up to be Naslund's first game-winning goal since October 25th of last season. This game was also his first multigoal game since December 23rd of last season. This also marked the first time in nine games the Canucks had scored more than two goals in a game.
»» 4, VANCOUVER, Naslund 9 (H Sedin, Daniel Sedin) 18:00
Vancouver badly outshot the Blues 14-7 (27-13 overall). They didn't get a power play while Saint Louis was 0-for-1 (0-for-3).
About seven minutes in, Bryce Salvador's slap shot from up high on the left side was stopped by Luongo. Kevin Bieksa went to the box for hooking, and with about seven and a half minutes left, Weight flung a centering pass from the left point that was deflected past Luongo a few feet from the net by Keith Tkachuk.
»» 5, SAINT LOUIS, powerplay, Keith Tkachuk 6 (Weight, Martin Rucinsky) 12:34
With the clock ticking near the final minute, the Blues had the puck in the Vancouver zone and were about to send Bacashihua to the bench for an extra attacker. Alexandre Burrows got control of the puck, however, and Bacashihua raced back to the net. Burrows passed to Ryan Kesler, who had one defender back for him, but he skated inside the left hash toward the net and backhanded it over Bacashihua.
»» 6, VANCOUVER, Ryan Kesler 2 (Alexandre Burrows) 18:59
Vancouver badly outshot the Blues 17-8 (44-21 total). They were 0-for-1 (0-for-4) on the power play while Saint Louis was 1-for-1 (1-for-4). Luongo stopped 19 shots for the game.
Three stars -- (1) Naslund, (2) Kesler, (3) Saint Louis' Doug Weight
H Sedin 0-2-2
D Sedin 0-1-1
In the faceoff circle, the Canucks won 29 of 64 draws (45%). Brendan Morrison won four of eight, Ryan Kesler won seven of 17, Matt Cooke won his only two, Josh Green lost his only two, Marc Chouinard won four of eight, Henrik Sedin won nine of 19, and Jan Bulis won three of five. Markus Naslund led the team with eight shots, Daniel Sedin had six, and Kesler and Henrik Sedin each had five shots. Alexandre Burrows, Trevor Linden, Kesler, Cooke, and Bulis dished out two hits each. Kesler also notched two takeaways. Naslund had two giveaways. Willie Mitchell blocked a pair of shots. Daniel Sedin missed the net with four shots.
In plus-minus, Vancouver had only one minus skater, and he was Kevin Bieksa. The Canucks had a plus-3 skater, and that was Sami Salo. At even were Linden, Green, and Chouinard. All other Canuck skaters (thirteen of them) were plus-1.
The offensive onslaught (relatively speaking) lifted the Canucks to a record of 9-10-1 (3-0 overtime, 1-1 shootout), good for 19 points and fourth place in the Northwest Division. In the Western Conference, only Los Angeles has played more games than Vancouver, and the Sharks and Ducks have played the same amount of games. All other West teams have games in hand on the Canucks. Vancouver is five points back of Northwest-leading Minnesota, two back of Edmonton, one behind Calgary, and one ahead of Colorado. Anaheim leads the West with 31 points, Detroit is second with 25, Minnesota is third with 24, San Jose and Dallas trail the Ducks in their division with 28 and 26 points, Nashville is sixth with 24, followed by Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver in seventh, eighth, and ninth. The homestand ends Sunday with a match against the Blackhawks, who are coming off a shootout win in Anaheim.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
The Canucks won in Detroit on opening night this season. Solid goaltending and hard work were the culprits there. Fast-forward about a month and a half, and the one-goal games that were going Vancouver's way are now going the other way. The team is getting a ton of scoring chances, but the players aren't burying them. What do they do now? In a way, the team has to not lose hope in the system and what they're doing, though you have to wonder how long the players will believe in it when they're not getting results. A loss in this game would make it six in their last seven games. Not helping the Canucks was the fact that the Red Wings had won eight straight and were gunning for a club-record ninth straight win. To help the Canucks in their suddenly dire pursuit of a win, defenseman Willie Mitchell finally returned to the lineup after missing nine games due to a concussion and its related lingering effects. To make room for Mitchell, Alexander Edler was a healthy scratch. Tommi Santala was also a healthy scratch for the game. Also helping the Canucks were a couple of injuries for Detroit, namely those to Jason Williams and Tomas Holmstrom. In related news, the Red Wings came in with an 8-0 record this season when scoring the first goal.
The Red Wings were called for two early penalties that landed the Canucks a prolonged power play including 25 seconds of five-on-three play. In that supposed Canuck advantage, Detroit won all four faceoffs that took place and the Canucks failed to register a shot on goal. Later on, Detroit had a three-on-one after Kevin Bieksa coughed up the puck, but Roberto Luongo came out to challenge and stopped a Mathieu Schneider slap shot. The Canucks had a power play later in the period and recorded one shot and missed the net with another. Detroit outshot Vancouver 10-4 in the period. They didn't get a power play chance, but Vancouver was 0-for-3 on the man advantage.
The Canucks weathered off a Sami Salo slashing penalty that included three Detroit shots and a ring of the crossbar by Henrik Zetterberg. However, it turns out Detroit is crap on the power play this season, but they make their bacon with strong five-on-five play. After Kris Draper beat Mattias Ohlund for a what would have been icing, Valtteri Filppula came out from behind the net and backhanded a shot that rolled up and over Luongo and into the net.
»» 1, DETROIT, Valtteri Filppula 2 (Daniel Cleary, Kris Draper) 4:36
A few minutes later on a Vancouver power play, Markus Naslund wristed a puck from the right faceoff dot that was stopped by Dominik Hasek, but the Czech left a rebound near the goal line to his left, and Henrik Sedin skated in and put the puck past Hasek from a very sharp angle.
»» 2, VANCOUVER, powerplay, Henrik Sedin 3 (Daniel Sedin, Markus Naslund) 7:49
With just over seven minutes remaining, the Red Wings had just come across the blue line when Robert Lang left a drop pass for Chris Chelios, who boomed a slap shot that went off the skate of Josh Green, and Luongo played the deflection very nicely, covering it up for the whistle. Detroit outshot Vancouver 14-6 (24-10 overall). They were 0-for-3 on the power play while Vancouver was 1-for-1 (1-for-4).
Ten seconds into the period, Josh Langfeld hung a leg on Ryan Kesler with no whistle, and Alexandre Burrows later took umbrage to the action. About a minute later, a battle for the puck in the left-wing corner of the Vancouver zone resulted in Brendan Morrison falling to the ice after contact with Zetterberg. He stayed down for a while in disbelief that no penalty was called. On the same play, the puck went toward the left point where Nicklas Lidstrom held it in and fed it through to Zetterberg low in the slot, who backhanded it past Luongo.
»» 3, DETROIT, Henrik Zetterberg 6 (Nicklas Lidstrom) 1:28
The Zetterberg goal had just been announced when Marc Chouinard had the puck behind the Detroit net and passed to Trevor Linden in the right-wing corner. Linden skated along the side boards and centered to Kevin Bieksa, who skated into the slot and buried it. It was a milestone for Linden, who had recorded his 400th assist and 700th point as a Canuck.
»» 4, VANCOUVER, Kevin Bieksa 3 (Trevor Linden, Marc Chouinard) 1:58
Just over four minutes into the period, Danny Markov was called for holding the stick. The Canucks mounted their best sustained pressure of the game on the ensuing power play and seemed to be knocking on the door for the go-ahead goal. As the power play ticked down into its final seconds, Sami Salo had a shot blocked and run quickly the other way. Dan Cleary held the puck at center and dished off to Johan Franzen just off the bench as the other Detroit penalty killers went off for a badly needed change. Franzen walked the puck across the blue line to the right point and to the back of the right circle, where Franzen used Patrick Coulombe as a bit of a screen and flung a seeimngly harmless wrister to the net that snuck through the five hole on Luongo and sucked the air out of the Garage.
»» 5, DETROIT, shorthanded, Johan Franzen 3 (Cleary) 6:19
A couple minutes later, Burrows had a goal that was waved off because Jan Bulis was in the blue paint behind Hasek and interfered with his pads, so regardless of the puck going in, Bulis would have gone off for interference anyway. The rest of the period didn't feature too many Vancouver chances, and even worse, the Canucks took two penalties, one of which was too many men (the Bulis penalty was the other). The Canucks killed those penalties, running their streak to 27 successful kills. The Canucks pulled Luongo from the net with 1:20 left for an extra attacker, but the best thing that happened after that was Burrows blocking a shot in front of the empty net. Detroit was outshot 10-9 in the period but amassed a big shot advantage, 33-20 for the game. They were 0-for-2 (0-for-5) on the power play while the Canucks were 0-for-2 (1-for-6). Luongo stopped 30 shots for the game.
Three stars -- (1) Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom, (2) Mitchell, (3) Detroit's Dan Cleary
H Sedin 1-0-1
D Sedin 0-1-1
In the faceoff circle, Vancouver won 24 of 53 draws (45%). Brendan Morrison won six of 14, Ryan Kesler won seven of 15, Daniel Sedin lost both of his, Josh Green split a pair, Marc Chouinard won all four of his, and Henrik Sedin won six of 16. Markus Naslund and Matt Cooke led the team with a trio of shots apiece. Cooke also led by dishing out a whopping seven hits. Morrison coughed up the puck twice. Willie Mitchell and Alexandre Burrows blocked a pair of shots each. Naslund and Henrik Sedin missed the net with three shots apiece.
On plus-minus, the plus-skating Canucks (all plus-1) were Kevin Bieksa, Lukas Krajicek, Trevor Linden, Green, and Chouinard. Minus-1 skaters were Naslund, Daniel Sedin, and Henrik Sedin. Minus-2 skaters were Mattias Ohlund, Sami Salo, Morrison, Taylor Pyatt, Cooke, and Patrick Coulombe. Mitchell, Burrows, Kesler, and Jan Bulis were even.
The Canucks' sixth loss in their last seven games sank them to 8-10-1 (3-0 overtime, 1-1 shootout), good for 17 points. The only team they lead in the Northwest Division is Colorado, and only by one point, and the Avalanche have played two less games. Other than San Jose, who has played the same amount of games, and Los Angeles, which has played one more game, every other team in the Western Conference has games in hand on Vancouver. The Canucks trail division-leading Minnesota by five points, second-place Edmonton by two points, and third-place Calgary by one point. In the West, Vancouver is ninth. Anaheim leads the conference with 30 points, Detroit thanks to this game is second with 25, Minnesota is third, San Jose has 26 trailing Anaheim in its division, Dallas has 24 also to trail Anaheim, Nashville is sixth with 21, Edmonton is seventh, and Calgary is eighth. Next on the schedule: Friday the Blues come to town.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Last Monday, the Seahawks were hosting the Raiders. No one questioned whether the Seahawks had to win that game. Rather, it was more that the game shouldn't have been in doubt. Thankfully, the Raider offense was completely inept, partly thanks to the Seattle defense performing much better than they had in weeks, possibly since the third quarter of the game against the Giants.
Against the Raiders, the mission was to win and dictate the tone, all that jazz. When it's Saint Louis on the schedule, home or road, all I'm looking for is a win. I don't care how they do it or what happens, I just want a W. Would I like the Seahawks to just blow out the Rams 65-3 and have nothing but third-stringers play the final three quarters of the game? Of course I would, but that'll never happen in this rivalry.
Against the Rams, a win is a win, no how weird the circumstances may be or how they might unfold. The Rams led 16-14 late in the third quarter after a Jeff Wilkins 35-yard field goal. The Seahawks got the ball back and went from their own 26 to the Saint Louis 35 in four plays, two of which were lengthy Mo Morris runs. Before the Raider game, we'd all grown accustomed to the same ol' Morris draw plays on first and second down that got absolutely nowhere and put the Seahawks in 3rd-and-forever situations. That happened for weeks. From the Rams' 35, the ball didn't find itself in Morris' hands for another chunk of yards. Instead, it went to Deion Branch on an end around/receiver pass play that ended in a three-yard loss.
Two plays after the trick play, Seneca Wallace was in the shotgun as the play clock ticked down to zeroes, and not just the kind of thing where the clock ticks to double zeroes and the officials let them show for one second before flagging the play -- those zeroes were up there for a while. I was fully anticipating the flags coming out, but the snap went off without laundry on the field. The Rams brought a ton of guys up to the line before the snap, and the play appeared doomed even before you consider the high snap. Wallace was driven back way too far and fumbled for the second time in the game (I'll get to the first later), giving the Rams the ball at the Seattle 33.
The Rams needed only 33 yards to give themselves a nine-point lead. They appeared well on their way to doing just that, converting a 3rd-and-1 with a Steven Jackson three-yard run to the left side, putting the ball at the Seahawks' 21. Jackson dragged a tackler on the next play and got four yards. On 2nd-and-6 from the Seattle 17, a Marc Bulger pass intended for Torry Holt near the 5 absolutely should have been picked off by Jordan Babineaux. That set up 3rd-and-6. Bulger fumbled the snap and dumped off to Kevin Curtis along the left sideline, who had the ball bounce between his hands and incomplete (in baseball, sort of a one-hopper). The Rams lined up for the field goal and Scott Linehan red-flagged the previous play before the snap, which would have resulted in a 34-yard field goal by Wilkins and a 19-14 lead for the Rams. Despite the fact I thought none of the replays showed indisputable evidence of a catch, the play was overturned, giving the Rams a 4th-and-1 chance from the Seattle 12.
Steven Jackson averaged 5.2 yards a carry in the game. With a 4th-and-1 at the Seattle 12, you figure it's going to the former Oregon State Beaver, right? What everyone saw was a pass to rookie tight end Joe Klopfenstein that went incomplete. The built-in reaction was "all these playmakers and you're throwing to Klopfenstein?" With the benefit of a few hours and Sando at the postgame press conferences, I'm able to see that if the play went off as scripted, it's "a two-man route off of play-action." To me, it's not the fact that they were throwing the ball to Klopfenstein on 4th-and-1, it's the fact they were throwing the ball at all. That'd be eating at me on Monday if I were a Ram fan. Maybe the throwing in that situation instead of running even though Jackson had been getting big chunks all game is a byproduct of Scott Linehan being a rookie head coach. And with all the talk of the Rams running the ball this season, the call didn't go to Jackson in a key situation when the run had been working throughout the game for the Rams.
Thus, Seattle had the ball on their own 12. How did they take advantage of this giftwrapped possession? By going three-and-out, of course. On the first play of that possession, Darrell Jackson should have had a catch past the chains on the right sideline, but couldn't hold on after Corey Chavous popped him. The Seahawk defense responded by forcing a three-and-out from the Rams, keyed by Chuck Darby's second sack of the day on 3rd-and-7.
Darby and the Seattle defense had bailed the Seahawks out yet again. How did the offense respond? Another three-and-out, of course, ending with a sack of Wallace by Leonard Little, who for some reason is not in jail (really).
Yet again, the Seahawk defense saved the bacon of the offense. The Rams started with the ball on their own 43. On 2nd-and-7, Julian Peterson snuffed out a Jackson run play, and Rocky Bernard and Darby finished it off.
On 4th-and-2, the Rams were forced to punt from the Seattle 49. What happened next was the purely electrifying Nate Burleson 90-yard punt return for a touchdown to put the Seahawks up 21-16. My immediate reaction was that I'd never felt that great after a special teams return since Charlie Rogers was a member of this team. It turns out Rogers has the franchise record for a touchdown return with a 94-yarder.
The Rams then got the ball on their own 31 with 8:13 to go and all three timeouts remaining after the kickoff. Obviously, the Burleson return had netted the Seahawks seven quick points, but the defense would have to trot right back onto the field. Up to that point in the second half, the Seahawk offense had the ball for four possessions. One of the possessions was the one that ended with the sack of Wallace and the fumble deep into Seattle territory. That happened on the seventh play of that particular possession. The offense went three-and-out on each of the other three possessions. The defense had bailed the offense out so many times in the second half, and it turned out they finally reached the breaking point, allowing an 11-play, 69-yard touchdown drive, ending in a 14-yard run by Jackson on which he dragged four Seahawk defenders to the end zone with him.
The Seahawks' saving grace at this point was Richie Incognito getting flagged for 15 yards after the touchdown play was over for a shove on a Seattle defender, apparently after some Rams claimed a Seahawk tried ripping off Jackson's helmet. The Rams tried a two-point conversion that would have put them up 24-21, and it appeared to have done so as Bulger found Holt in the end zone. Incognito was called for holding. The second try at the two-point conversion was incomplete to Isaac Bruce.
From there, Incognito's penalty backed the kicking tee to the Rams' 15, more than likely giving the Seahawks pretty decent field position to begin with. The planets aligned, however, and the Seahawks got a second consecutive good return as Josh Scobey got 33 yards, putting the ball at the Saint Louis 49 with 2:23 to play, and with the Seahawks having two timeouts and the two-minute warning on their side. From here, Morris got two good running plays in to move the chains once, and Darrell Jackson had a catch past the chains on the right side to move the chains again, putting the Seahawks at the Rams' 22. Three short running plays were called, then Josh Brown came out to nail the 38-yard field goal to put the Seahawks up 24-22. After the crazy field goals Brown has hit to win games, a 38-yarder almost seems like a chipshot, doesn't it? We as Seahawk fans are so spoiled with this guy.
I love how NFL.com reads the final play of the game: "J.Brown kicks 46 yards from SEA 30 to SL 24. K.Harris to SL 42 for 18 yards (J.Scobey). Series of laterals: Harris had the most yardage on the return." Series of laterals? I love it. Still, the hook-and-ladder series should have never gotten that close to midfield. I was on the edge of my seat there.
There were countless times during the game where I thought, man, I hope we're not looking back at this as the difference of the game in a Seahawk loss. The one that lingered the most, however, was the first Wallace fumble and the resulting touchdown return. Boy, that was a horrible feeling. The Seahawks had just used nine plays to march 77 yards down the field. They had 3rd-and-goal and needed only a yard when Will Heller got flagged for a false start, so that was boo-boo number one. Apparently the play on the fumble was one where Wallace needed to run the draw or quickly get rid of the ball, and that didn't happen (again, citing the Sando link). What ran through my mind at that point was, "here we go...another f'd up game against the Rams." Luckily the offense went 50 yards on their next two plays from scrimmage on that first touchdown drive that tied the game.
Though I'm almost spent, kudos to Wallace on that 31-yard scramble as well. That was some good stuff.
The point? Tons of weird crap seems to happen in these games against the Rams. The replay challenge went against the Seahawks, but that may have saved them. Ken Hamlin picked a pass on fourth down that he resulted in a big negative swing in field position for Seattle. Josh Brown had a 2004 flashback and put a kickoff out of bounds. The Seahawk defense had another slew of near-picks which hopefully someday turn into actual picks. Like I brought up, delay of game should have been called before the snap on the play resulting in Wallace's second fumble. Penalties to Incognito moved back the ensuing kickoff and wiped away a two-point conversion that would have made it a game that could have gone to overtime. And, of course, the Rams not running the ball on 4th-and-1 when they were 12 yards from the end zone. Any amount of weird crap can happen, but as long as the Seahawks come out with the win in these games, that's all I care about.
So, the Seahawks are 6-3. They are 3-3 without Shaun Alexander, are 2-1 without Matt Hasselbeck, and are 3-2 without Bobby Engram. Let's say you went around the Seattle area before the season asking a bunch of people whether they thought the Seahawks would beat the Rams at home in Week 10. A lot of people would have probably said yes, especially given the fact the game was a home game. I'm sure if you would have asked anyone before the season the same thing, except thrown in that Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Alexander, and Bobby Engram would all have been out of the game, those people probably would have answered with an emphatic "hell no."
I remember saying I didn't expect the Seahawks to retain their division lead with Seneca Wallace at the helm of the offense. A few weeks later, here we are talking about the Seahawks with a virtual three-game lead on the Rams. Furthermore, since the Rams lost to the 49ers earlier in the season, the Rams are technically in third place in the NFC West right now.
Speaking of won-loss records, thanks to the Giants' night loss to the Bears, Chicago is now the only team in the NFC with a better record than Seattle. The Bears are 8-1, with the Seahawks, Giants, and Saints all at 6-3. Presuming I'm reading tiebreakers right, the Saints are second, Seahawks third, and Giants fourth. The Saints have a 5-1 record against NFC teams to the Seahawks' 5-2, and the Seahawks have the head-to-head over the Giants.
Where can this team go once they get Hasselbeck, Alexander, and Engram back? It'll be something if those guys work out the cobwebs. As Tom Jackson brought up, Alexander will be running with fresher legs in December if all goes as planned. I just hope he's still sharp.
The way my mind works is just great. Why? Five paragraphs ago, I said I was spent. I swear I really am this time.
It's a win. It's 6-3. It's good.