Saturday, December 02, 2006
The good news was that Vancouver came into the game having given up the third-lowest amount of shots in the NHL. The bad news was that the Canucks came into this game with an 0-3 record against Colorado, but if they continued their offensive woes, the outcome wouldn't have anything to do with what team they were facing. Vancouver had scored three goals over their last four games, all but killing the momentum from a three-game winning streak. Josh Green took a shot off his toe last Wednesday that broke it, putting him on the shelf. As a result, Rick Rypien and Tyler Bouck were called up from Manitoba (Jesse Schultz was sent down). Matt Cooke was a scratch, still recovering from the ol' upper body injury, one he suffered last Thursday against the Ducks. Colorado was getting defenseman Jordan Leopold back from injury, he being a big piece of the Calgary trade for Alex Tanguay. Also on the shelf, though not a player, was Vancouver radio analyst Tom Larscheid, who was out with laryngitis. Turns out it's pretty hard to be a radio analyst when you have no voice. Dave Tomlinson stepped in for him.
Not even two minutes into the game, Rick Rypien (cousin of Mark Rypien) delivered a hit on Brett Clark and had to answer the bell, throwing down the gloves and scrapping with Ian Laperriere. Not even a minute later, Daniel Sedin centered a pass from behind the net to Markus Naslund, who missed the puck with his stick, but kicked it into the net with his right skate. It was ruled a goal on the ice but was disallowed upon video review (skate propelled puck rather than just redirecting). Milan Hejduk had the best Colorado chance in the period, but it wasn't a shot as he missed a wide-open net from just outside the crease. Colorado outshot the Canucks 14-6 in the period. Both teams were 0-for-1 on the power play.
The second period started with a bit of a surprise as Peter Budaj took over in the Colorado net after it was revealed Jose Theodore was suffering from a hip injury. The Canucks killed off three minor penalties in the first half of the period before the tide turned as the Avalanche got called for penalties 68 seconds apart. On the resulting two-man advantage, not only did the Canucks fail to get off a shot, Brendan Morrison and Mattias Ohlund fell down (at different times, mind you), the summation of which triggered boos from the crowd at GM Place. Luckily, with three seconds left in the second penalty, Sami Salo fired straightaway from the blue line and had his shot stopped or blocked in front, but Daniel Sedin put in the rebound. It was Daniel's first goal in 11 games and only the third in his last 21.
»» 1, VANCOUVER, powerplay, Daniel Sedin 7 (Sami Salo, Lukas Krajicek) 14:32
With just under four minutes remaining, Andrew Brunette attempted a wraparound to Luongo's right that was stopped, but Joe Sakic took two extra hacks at the rebound, but was stopped both times before Luongo covered. With just over two minutes remaining, Hejduk took one hack at a bouncing puck in front of the crease and had it stopped, then shot at the rebound from the edge of the faceoff circle and was foiled again. Later on the same play, Tyler Arnason got a hold of the puck behind the net and the puck found its way again to Hejduk, who this time fired from the right hash marks, but Luongo stopped and covered the shot. Colorado outshot the Canucks 17-10 in the period (31-16 overall). They were 0-for-3 (0-for-4) on the power play while Vancouver was 1-for-2 (1-for-3).
The Canucks gave the Avalanche more than life early in the final frame. About three and a half minutes in, the Avalanche got control of a faceoff and took it the other way quickly. A three-on-two rush resulted in Joe Sakic dishing to Marek Svatos on his right. Svatos shot hard from just inside the right hash, but Luongo covered and held on for the whistle. Luongo wasn't so fortunate half a minute later. Andrew Brunette took the puck across to the right point and centered to John-Michael Liles rushing down the slot. Liles got behind Brendan Morrison and deked to the backhand to put the puck past Luongo while being hooked by Morrison and slipping into the boards.
»» 2, COLORADO, John-Michael Liles 6 (Andrew Brunette, Marek Svatos) 4:03
On a power play with about twelve and a half minutes remaining, Kevin Bieksa attempted a slap shot from the blue line and had his stick break in half, after which Ryan Kesler backhanded the errant puck wide of the net. The puck found its way to Mattias Ohlund at the right point, who drifted a few feet from the boards before throwing the puck toward the net. Taylor Pyatt deflected the puck past Budaj for the go-ahead goal.
»» 3, VANCOUVER, powerplay, Taylor Pyatt 9 (Mattias Ohlund, Brendan Morrison) 7:36
Just past the halfway point of the period, Sakic raced out of the penalty box and got a perfect outlet pass and a clear path to the net, but Luongo covered up the five-hole successfully. Budaj was pulled for an extra attacker as the clock wore down, but Colorado's chances were all but gone once Daniel Sedin was tripped by Sakic with 1:14 left. Colorado outshot the Canucks 10-8 in the period (41-24 total). They didn't get a power play chance and finished 0-for-4. Vancouver was 1-for-3 to finish 2-for-6. Luongo stopped 40 shots for the game.
Three stars -- (1) Luongo, (2) Colorado's Joe Sakic, (3) Pyatt
D Sedin 1-0-1
In the faceoff circle, Vancouver won 39 of 67 draws (58%). Brendan Morrison won 11 of 17, Rick Rypien won all four he took, Ryan Kesler won four of nine, Daniel Sedin lost both of his, Marc Chouinard won five of eight, and Henrik Sedin won 15 of 27. Taylor Pyatt led the team with four shots while Trevor Linden and Kesler had three apiece. Mattias Ohlund, Rypien, and Kesler dished out three hits each. Markus Naslund coughed up the puck twice. Ohlund and Pyatt blocked a pair of shots each. Kevin Bieksa missed the net with three shots.
Not much happened in plus-minus. The only even-strength goal scored in the game belonged to Colorado, so the Canucks have no skaters with plus ratings. The minus-skating Canucks, all at minus-1, were Ohlund, Bieksa, Morrison, Pyatt, and Kesler. All other Canuck skaters were even.
The win lifted the Canucks to a record of 13-13-1 (4-0 overtime, 1-1 shootout), good for 27 points. The night featured interesting out-of-town outcomes as Edmonton was shut out at home by Columbus, and Dallas beat Minnesota in a shootout. Thus, Vancouver is third in the Northwest Division. Edmonton leads the division, one point ahead of the Canucks, and Minnesota is in second with the same amount of points (Oilers have a game in hand). Vancouver is third, one point ahead of fourth-place Calgary and last-place Colorado (Flames have two in hand on Colorado). In the Western Conference, San Jose has played 27 games like the Canucks, and Anaheim has played 28. All other teams in the West have played less games. Anaheim leads the conference with 46 points, Nashville is second with 37, and Edmonton is third with 28. Not leading their respective divisions but having more points than the Oilers are fourth-place San Jose (40 points), fifth-place Dallas (34), and sixth-place Detroit (32). Minnesota is seventh, Vancouver is eighth, Calgary is ninth, and Colorado is tenth.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
The Canucks were coming off a 1-0 win featuring one very good Markus Naslund goal and a very good Roberto Luongo shutout performance, weathering a stand-on-head performance by Columbus goalie Pascale Leclaire as well. Their reward for doing such a thing? Two nights afterward, they would host the Anaheim Ducks, a team running away with the Western Conference and that had won three straight overall and five straight in Vancouver. Somewhere, Anaheim general manager Brian Burke is laughing. Or maybe not. The difference between nowadays and the last year Burke was in Vancouver is that the goaltending is a ton better, but rather than everyone being ticked off about all the goal-scoring talent that doesn't seem to be doing anything, now everyone's ticked off because there's no scoring, but the goal-scoring potential of the players now on the roster is way lower. Some fear the Canucks have turned into the Minnesota Wild, but I think they're turned more into the Calgary Flames, but a work-in-progress version. Josh Green would be out for a while after having suffered a broken big toe when a shot went off it in practice. For the Canuck radio telecast, Tom Larscheid was out with a bout of laryngitis, so Dave Tomlinson stepped in for radio color analysis.
About four minutes into the game on an Anaheim power play, Corey Perry broke loose behind three Vancouver defenders and walked in on Roberto Luongo, but his shot was stopped by Luongo's glove. Near the halfway mark, Teemu Selanne dropped a pass over to Sean O'Donnell near the left point. O'Donnell then found Andy McDonald near the left side of the net, and McDonald quickly put it into the back of the net past Luongo.
»» 1, ANAHEIM, Andy McDonald (Sean O'Donnell, Teemu Selanne) 9:45
O'Donnell creamed Matt Cooke into the boards with about five minutes to go. With about a minute left, a Chris Pronger slap shot from the left point was gloved through traffic by Luongo. Vancouver outshot the Ducks 11-10 in the period. They didn't get any power play opportunities, but Anaheim was 0-for-3 on such chances.
On an early Anaheim power play, a Chris Kunitz one-timer was stopped by Roberto Luongo's right elbow and apparently snuck into a soft spot or gap in the padding, causing him to fall to the ice and even necessitate a visit from the Canuck training staff. On a Vancouver power play with about six minutes to go, Henrik Sedin from the back of the right circle slap-passed to Daniel Sedin mid-slot. Daniel flung the puck toward the net and had it go off an Anaheim player, but Jean-Sebastien Giguere still had to make a great save to hold it out. Francois Beauchemin was his usual self, decking Brendan Morrison in the neutral zone without just under two minutes remaining. Anaheim badly outshot the Canucks 14-7 in the period (24-18 overall). They were 0-for-1 (0-for-4) on the power play while Vancouver was 0-for-1 on their first power play chance of the game.
Alexander Edler had a slap shot from the left point deflected before getting to the net. The puck bounced into the left-wing corner, where a scrum for the puck resulted in Pronger trying to clear it, but Edler held it in at the left point and immediately fired another slap shot, but this one beat Giguere through a screen.
»» 2, VANCOUVER, Alexander Edler 1 (unassisted) 8:22
Twenty-three seconds after the Edler goal, Cooke took a penalty for holding the stick. This began a too-quick rash of Canuck penalties. Kevin Bieksa was called for slashing Dustin Penner's stick in half with seven seconds left in the Cooke penalty, but Vancouver killed off that seven-second two-man advantage the Ducks had. Less easy to kill off was Luongo trying to clear the puck but having it go over the glass with 61 seconds left in the Bieksa penalty. With a boatload of two-man advantage time at their disposal, the Ducks capitalized. Scott Niedermayer near the right-wing corner bided his time with the puck and snuck a rink-wide pass to Ryan Getzlaf at the back of the left circle, and Getzlaf one-timed it through to the back of the net.
»» 3, ANAHEIM, powerplay, Ryan Getzlaf 11 (Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger) 12:26
Shots were six apiece in the period (Anaheim 30-24 total). The Ducks were 1-for-3 (1-for-7) on the power play while Vancouver was 0-for-1 (0-for-2). Luongo stopped 28 shots for the game.
Three stars -- (1) Anaheim's Jean-Sebastien Giguere, (2) Edler, (3) Anaheim's Andy McDonald
In the faceoff circle, Vancouver won only 15 of 48 draws (31%). Brendan Morrison won two of 11, Ryan Kesler won three of nine, Marc Chouinard won two of 11, and Henrik Sedin won six of 14. Daniel Sedin led the team with four shots while Markus Naslund and Jesse Schultz had three apiece. Matt Cooke dealt out four hits but coughed up the puck three times. Four other Canucks gave away the puck twice each. Mattias Ohlund blocked three shots while Willie Mitchell and Kesler blocked two shots each. Naslund missed the net with five shots.
Plus-minus for this game wasn't too eventful. Plus skaters (all plus-1) were Sami Salo, Naslund, Daniel Sedin, Alexander Edler, and Henrik Sedin. Minus skaters (all minus-1) were Ohlund, Kevin Bieksa, Alexandre Burrows, Kesler, and Jan Bulis. All other Canuck skaters were even.
The loss dropped the Canucks to a record of 12-13-1 (4-0 overtime, 1-1 shootout), good for 25 points. Vancouver has played the same number of games as San Jose, and they have a game in hand on both Anaheim and Los Angeles. All other teams in the Western Conference have games in hand on Vancouver. The Canucks trail Northwest Division-leading Edmonton by three points, second-place Minnesota by two points, third-place Colorado by a single point, and they lead last-place Calgary by a single point. Anaheim leads the Western Conference with 44 points, Nashville is second with 36, and Edmonton is third with 28. Not lead their respective divisions but having more points than Edmonton are San Jose (38 points, fourth in West), Dallas (32, fifth), and Detroit (30, sixth). Minnesota is seventh, Colorado is eighth, Vancouver is ninth, and Calgary is tenth.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
I promised a follow-up post on the experience of Hawaii Winter Baseball, and here it is...
Hawaii Winter Baseball consists of four teams comprised of players of various Major League affiliations as well as players with Nippon Professional Baseball (Japan) affiliations. This year's schedule started on October 1st and ended on November 21st, with the championship game being on November 22nd. Yes, this does mean that the Hawaii Winter Baseball season ends about a month before winter starts. This of course leads to the following question: is winter in Hawaii really winter at all? The league uses two home stadiums, Hans L'Orange Field in Waipahu on the western side of the island of Oahu, and Les Murakami Stadium on the eastern side. Hans L'Orange is the home field for Hawaii Pacific University, but specifically for the winter league, the field is home to the North Shore Honu and the West Oahu CaneFires. Les Murakami Stadium is home to the University of Hawaii baseball team, but home to the Honolulu Sharks and the Waikiki BeachBoys for the winter league.
The bad thing is that though I was aware the league existed, I was not aware it was actually in full swing until a week or so ago. Thus, I immediately looked at the league schedule and figured out which games to attend.
The team about which Mariner fans everywhere would care most were the Waikiki BeachBoys. Dana Williams, slated to coach for single-A Wisconsin next year, coached third base for Waikiki. The five players with Mariner affiliations were pitchers David Asher and Joe Woerman, first baseman Reed Eastley, outfielder Sebastien Boucher, and of course, the man for whom Kenji Johjima is a seatwarmer, Mariner catcher of the future Jeff Clement.
I went to the game on November 20th (Monday) with the objective of taking as many pictures as possible and getting the five Mariner farmhands onto the memory card. I also thought of an outside chance at an autograph.
After driving in a circle, I finally got to the parking booth on the lower campus of the University of Hawaii. Event parking cost $3, which wasn't too bad. I found a spot, then walked toward the biggest structure, which indeed turned out to be Les Murakami Stadium, right across the street from Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium. I got there very early, almost as early as I used to show up to Safeco Field. I remember the mission then was to get to the Center Field Gate since it opened three hours early (pre-California power crunch), then go inside to watch the tail end of Mariner batting practice, hoping to get home-run balls in the stands. The other gates opened two hours prior to game time, but by then you're stuck with the road team and don't get to see Seattle taking hacks.
Anyway, with no walk-ups being let into the stadium and the ticket window not opening until 6p local time, I took a walk around the perimeter of the stadium, counterclockwise. By the flagpoles beyond the outer fence in rightcenter (field equipment is stored between the inner and outer fences), I found a baseball that appeared to have some wear on it, and looking at the seams, it looked to be a tiny bit misshapen. Anyway, I walked away with it. That was my future autograph material.
The ticket window opened at 6p, as expected. The best seats in the house cost $6, all in the lower deck. It didn't matter if it was behind the dugout or behind the plate, all those seats were $6. My ticket was for the back (eighth) row in the lower deck behind the plate, but I decided I'd reassess my seating position as gametime drew closer. The event staff managing the game were all campus college students wearing requisite green shirts proclaiming themselves as such. The public address announcer was also obviously someone that was late teens/early 20s in age, definitely. Not so much a public address-type voice as a guy-speaking-into-the-PA-microphone voice.
I started taking pictures of stuff and found that since I'm not exactly an aficionado with taking pictures with substandard light, I was getting all sorts of blurs and trippy pictures of things or players in motion. That doesn't mean I came away emptyhanded (see below). The BeachBoys took the first-base dugout as the "road" team on the field. Players were playing long toss, stretching, chatting, and/or playing pepper. Maybe of some note, there was some evidence of Mariner guys sticking together as Clement played long toss with Woerman, who at that point I thought would be the starting pitcher. As these things were taking place, a handful or so people were on both ends of the Waikiki dugout. They were seeking autographs and had great access to the players. I was busy getting settled in, so I didn't go over there right away to try to get the ball signed.
I noticed some guys in front of me that seemed a bit important, having snazzy cellphones, a scorecard with Colorado Rockies letterhead, and a radar gun. I think it might be safe to assume they were scouts. If so, they were scouting their own guy(s). Most notably, they had the radar gun there to clock righty Ching-Lung Lo. I didn't end up going over to ask how fast he was throwing.
The starting lineup for the BeachBoys that night had Boucher starting in rightfield and Eastley starting at first base. Ultimately, the game itself was a 10-3 win for Waikiki. Boucher and Eastley were the only Mariner farmhands that played, virtually guaranteeing I would attend the next night's game. Boucher doubled, singled, walked twice, and struck out twice. Eastley went 3-for-5 with four RBIs, including a seeing-eye three-run double into the rightfield corner. All of Eastley's RBIs came with two out.
The problem with the game was that it was incredibly long, and I had to work the next morning (my shift starts at 6:30a). Keep in mind I've sat through hundreds of Mariner games that were over three hours long. If it was a Major League game with television commercials and promotional stuff between innings, I could understand, but at this level -- a wood-bat league with all minor-league players -- I didn't figure the game would last three hours and 13 minutes. There wasn't much in terms of promotional stuff beyond a t-shirt toss and a "pick which of the three bags has the hidden prize" contest. In the BeachBoys' marathon top of the eighth inning, Shun Tono loaded the bases with nobody out, but it didn't draw a mound visit from manager Gary Kendall (Pirates' system). After getting a strikeout, Tono walked Eric Young, Jr. to force in a run and get the hook. Anyway, the game ended, and autograph hounds went straight to where they were before the game, and they were getting quite a few signings. Also, some players were coming straight up the steps and onto the main concourse, some of them signing stuff and some of them going straight to the concession stands to get food. Still other players were easily accessible on the lower concourse just inside the turnstiles coming out of the locker room. The player access is incredible in this league.
Since I don't know where else to fit this, have you ever attended a baseball game where the sound person tried to play sounds or music between every single pitch? Have you ever heard Nelly's "Pimp Juice" used as a stepping-to-the-plate song? I can't say I did until last Monday. Of course, I knew what I was dealing with since the entire field staff was a gaggle of college students. By the way, I hope to never hear "Pimp Juice" at a sporting event ever again. Actually, I hope never to hear it for the rest of my life.
A day at work passed, and I caught a quick nap before catching something to eat and heading off to the game (November 21st). I got a bit of a late start, and bad traffic (including the presidential motorcade going in the other direction on the H-1 freeway) compounded my lateness. I got my parking spot and walked to the ticket booth, got a ticket closer to the Waikiki dugout, and walked in with my baseball and camera.
I got there a bit later, so I went straight to the seats above the end of the dugout to see what the autograph scene looked like. By this point, I'd decided autograph priority number one was Jeff Clement, but I saw he was warming up the starting pitcher (fellow Mariner farmhand David Asher) in the bullpen, so I shelved those plans until after the game. I was definitely assured of a quicker game as sheets posted around the ticket window warned that the day's game would run for seven innings. Unfortunately, right after the national anthem was played, the infamous Manoa Mist started falling from the sky, prompting anyone in uncovered seats to move back about six rows into covered seats. I waited it out for a few minutes until it tapered off a bit. Thanks to the guy at the gate for handing me a complimentary copy of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, since I used it to make sure I sat on a dry seat.
How'd the game end up? Well, Waikiki got rocked. The good news was that Asher had struck out seven after 2 2/3 innings of work. The bad news was that he gave up six runs (five earned) as well, throwing 70 pitches in the process and getting the hook. Eastley didn't appear in this game, but Asher and Clement started (as noted) and Joe Woerman finished off the game with 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. The homer was Boucher's only hit to go with a walk, and Clement had a single into shallow right (pictured below).
After the game, I surveyed the near-dugout scene and decided to head elsewhere. Some players headed to the concourse and the concession stands, but I didn't go after them. I went to the lower concourse. A few players came out with their jerseys still on, so if all you knew was the number of the player and the name, you could get your desired autograph. I saw a player come out with a shirt on (not a jersey) and a big bag. He attracted a couple of autograph hounds and I put one and one together and realized the bag was more than likely full of catcher's gear. I saw what the other two guys were handing him to sign, and it turns out this guy was Jeff Clement. As he signed the baseball I'd found the day before, the following conversation ensued...
me: "Give 'em hell next spring, bud."
Before I launch into the pictures, I'll just say Yoshiyuki Kamei (Yomiuri Giants) has got some wheels. I watched him at the plate and kinda panned him because the swing is a bit Ichiro ripoffish, but he drilled a ball into the gap and it was one of those things where it's usually a double, but he legged a triple out of it.
At long last, the pictures. Please credit me and link back in the unlikely event that you use these.
Reed Eastley, playing first base
Sebastien Boucher in the on-deck circle
David Asher waiting to get the ball back from Clement
Joe Woerman on the mound
Jeff Clement (29) stepping to the plate
Clement singling into shallow rightfield
For the second time on this site, the Clement ball
The league has a pretty good thing going here. The crowd Monday night was 416, and the crowd Tuesday night was 715. I didn't go to the championship game. The crowd for that game was 3783, probably a night where if I went, I wouldn't have been able to cheat forward in the seats.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
A three-game mini-road trip saw the Canucks score a gaudy (for them) four goals in Detroit to pull out an overtime win, but then followed that by scoring one goal total in the final two games, which is bad in itself, but the Canucks also gave up a ton of goals, losing 6-0 in Nashville on Thanksgiving (stateside) night, then losing 4-1 in Colorado. The latter loss ran the Canucks' pathetic record against Northwest Division teams to 1-6-1, something that undoubtedly would have to change for Vancouver to even hope about making the playoffs. To compound that mess, Roberto Luongo has zero career wins against Colorado. Points are ever more precious considering how tightly packed the Northwest Division teams are in the standings. However, this game was against Columbus, not long after the Blue Jackets had hired Ken Hitchcock as their new coach. Jesse Schultz was called up to the big club from Manitoba before the game. Pregame ceremonies saw the BC Lions honored for winning the Grey Cup two days beforehand.
With just over six minutes to go, a Mattias Ohlund shot from the high slot was stopped by the chest of Pascale Leclaire, who didn't immediately find it, but covered it up once he did. Inside the final minute, Matt Cooke bounced a centering pass from the left-wing boards to Trevor Linden skating down the slot, who was stopped in close by Leclaire. The rebound went to Cooke at the left hash, who had a wide open net but shot to the blue paint, where Leclaire dove back to cover it up. Vancouver badly outshot Columbus 14-6 in the period. They were 0-for-3 on the power play while Columbus was 0-for-4.
Lukas Krajicek passed up the right side from his own end boards to Jesse Schultz near center, who was creamed into the boards by Ole-Kristian Tollefson. Henrik Sedin had the puck in the neutral zone and centered to Markus Naslund near the red line. Naslund skated across the Columbus blue line with the puck, split two defenders, deked from the forehand to the backhand, and went top shelf to beat Leclaire for a badly needed Vancouver goal.
»» 1, VANCOUVER, Markus Naslund 12 (Henrik Sedin, Kevin Bieksa) 8:49
With just over five and a half minutes to go, Nikolai Zherdev passed from the left hash across to Alexander Svitov, whose shot close was nicely gloved by Luongo. Seconds later, Rick Nash centered from behind the net to Sergei Fedorov mid-slot. Fedorov snapped it through an Anson Carter screen and to the net, where the puck was whistled dead, although it wasn't covered. Video review revealed the puck didn't completely go across the goal line, and it was swept off the goal line by Luongo's blocker. Why play was whistled dead was a mystery. With just over three minutes to go, NHL newbie Jesse Schultz got through on a rush and had a shot stopped. Brendan Morrison skated past the rebound, but Taylor Pyatt had the best chance to get to it, but it bounced past his stick. Cooke took a monster hit from Rostislav Klesla just before the horn to end the period. Vancouver was outshot 10-9 in the period but led 23-16 overall. They were 0-for-2 (0-for-5) on the power play, but so was Columbus (0-for-6).
The Canucks killed three Columbus power plays in the period, including some six-on-four late when Columbus pulled Leclaire from the net. Vancouver outshot Columbus 10-8 (33-24 total). They were 0-for-1 (0-for-6) on the power play while Columbus was 0-for-2 (0-for-8). Luongo stopped all 24 shots he faced in the game.
Three stars -- (1) Luongo, (2) Columbus' Pascale Leclaire, (3) Naslund
H Sedin 0-1-1
There have been many games this year where it seems like every goaltender the Canucks face ends up looking like Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur. This wasn't an exception, but Pascale Leclaire was simply on fire in the Columbus net.
In the faceoff circle, Vancouver won 22 of 56 (39%) draws. Brendan Morrison won eight of 12, Ryan Kesler won four of 20 (mega-ouch), Josh Green won three of five, and Henrik Sedin won seven of 18. Markus Naslund led the team with five shots, and Lukas Krajicek and Sami Salo had four apiece. Mattias Ohlund shelled out five hits, though he also coughed up the puck twice. Salo blocked four shots and Willie Mitchell blocked a pair.
Since only one goal was scored in the game, the plus-minus is pretty simple. Vancouver had no minus players. The plus players were the ones on the ice for the goal, and they were Ohlund, Kevin Bieksa, Naslund, Daniel Sedin, and Henrik Sedin. All other Canuck skaters were even.
The win pushed the Canucks to a record of 12-12-1 (4-0 overtime, 1-1 shootout), good for 25 points. San Jose has played 25 games as well as the Canucks, and Los Angeles and Anaheim have played 26. All other teams in the Western Conference have games in hand on Vancouver. Edmonton leads the Northwest Division, three points ahead of Vancouver. Minnesota is in second place, one point ahead. Vancouver is in third with Calgary and Colorado both a point back in fourth and fifth with Colorado having one more regulation loss. Anaheim leads the conference with 42 points, Nashville is second with 32, and Edmonton is third with 28. San Jose (36 points), Dallas (32), and Detroit (30) all trail in their respective divisions despite having more points than Edmonton and are therefore fourth, fifth, and sixth, respectively. Minnesota is seventh, Vancouver is eighth, Calgary is ninth, and Colorado is tenth. Vancouver continues a five-game homestand against Anaheim on Thursday night.
Okay, so they got the win. After it was all over, however, it felt like so much more than that.
Did anyone expect Shaun Alexander to break out for 201 yards? I said in the game post that I didn't expect him to break the century mark, let alone get double that. Alexander hasn't looked that great running the ball since last year's NFC title game. He was the cutting running back that could pound the ball through holes, break a few tackles, and get some extra yards. I thought going into this game we might see 18 carries for 85 or 90 yards or something. Instead, 40 for 201. It wasn't just about Alexander, though, and not just about the suspectness of the Packers' run defense. The offensive line was without Robbie Tobeck and Sean Locklear. Floyd Womack got subbed out some with rookie Rob Sims as well. Based on recent play, though, I feel pretty comfortable turning the offensive line over to Chris Spencer for the coming years. Mack Strong also deserves props for his great blocking.
Needless to say, the Seahawks had to get through the first half before really taking control of the game. I knew Matt Hasselbeck was going to be rusty, sure, but three interceptions in the first half? Sheesh. Passing routes were jumped by Charles Woodson and the very much hated Al Harris. Woodson also grabbed a pass that was thrown off the helmet of Green Bay defensive lineman Ryan Pickett. Then there was the fumble. I consider the interception off the helmet and the fumble run all the way back for a touchdown to be freak plays. It takes me back to that trap game in Cincinnati a couple years ago where every pass Hasselbeck threw was batted at the line of scrimmage and/or picked. Other than the picks (and what turned out to be three touchdowns), you look at his completion rate. He was 17 for 36, a pretty low completion rate for a well-functioning West Coast Offense. Granted, it was snowing outside, which may explain some of the throws that were off target or picked, combined with Hasselbeck's rustitude. However, how many of these passes were right to the receivers' hands? Whether it was Mack Strong, Nate Burleson, Darrell Jackson, DJ Hackett in the end zone (he arguably could have had two touchdown catches), or Jerramy Stevens (I'll get to him later), there were a lot of balls that should have been caught.
I didn't expect that much yardage out of Alexander, sure. I was hoping for some actual interceptions out of the Seahawk cornerbacks as well. They got 'em. The first interception of Kelly Jennings' NFL career basically sealed the game. Kelly Herndon picked off a pass in the end zone that would have been a 27-yard touchdown catch by Donald Driver had it not been overthrown. Still, those were the first interceptions by Seahawk cornerbacks since November 5th last year against Arizona. Interceptions out of the cornerbacks are a good thing. An extra pick from Marcus Trufant was also greatly appreciated. Still, there were some faults on the big plays. I could have done without the long Driver catch-and-run. Ahman Green didn't pile up a bunch of rush yards (he caught for more yards off of dumpoff passes), sure, but he did prove to slip a lot of tackles. Missed tackles were still a problem for the Seahawk defense. Also, Brett Favre was never sacked until the final play of the game, though he did face some pressure during the bulk of the game. It definitely wasn't enough pressure.
Nate Burleson. Sometimes he has some adventures on returns. Last night, they let him return kickoffs as well as punts. He ended up averaging 25.8 yards per kickoff return, though that only matters so much if the ball's way deep and he runs it out to the 28-yard line or whatever. The Seahawks hit a field goal to bring the Seahawks within one point before halftime, and Burleson ran a punt back to midfield to situate that drive. After Seattle three-and-outted on their first drive of the half, they scored touchdowns on the next three drives. They started off from their own 38-yard line on the first drive, their own 23 on the next drive, and the 49-yard line on the third. Burleson might not run back another punt for a touchdown for the rest of the year, sure, but if he can get decent chunks of yardage, that means a lot. This team hasn't had a decent returner since the days of Charlie Rogers or Michael Bates, so any meaningful return yardage is welcome.
Jerramy Stevens. When people get on his case, it better not be for anything that happened last year not including the Super Bowl. You can get on him for being the guy who seemed for years before that like he'd never get his head on straight. You can get on him for not catching balls thrown to him this year (that's been quite a few), though he hasn't been healthy the whole year either. People giving him guff better not be doing it for anything related to the bulk of the 2005 season, because he made a ton of big catches in a year where going in, we were freaking out about Itula Mili not being able to play. To say Stevens went through a rollercoaster in this game would be an understatement as well. He dropped passes, he had passes broken up, and he was hearing it from the fans, etc. In the end, eight of the Seahawks' points were caught by his hands. The two-point conversion gave the Seahawks a 27-21 lead. And for Hasselbeck to still show enough confidence in him to hit him in the end zone on third-and-goal, well, that says a lot too for both Hasselbeck and Stevens. The final touchdown accounted for the final score. Do I wish Stevens would catch more of the balls thrown to him? Of course. Hopefully that'll come in the near future.
Also, Paul Allen and/or Tim Ruskell need to pool together some dough right now and lock up Josh Brown to a long-term deal immediately. While he didn't hit any crazy-long field goals, the conditions made it all the more challenging. His four first-half field goals kept the Seahawks close before the offense hit full stride (especially in the red zone) in the second half.
The number one thing about this game? This is the closest to the 2005 Seahawks that we've seen on the field this season. Even in the game against the Giants, Alexander didn't run all that well and ended up with the crack in his foot, so most of those points weren't put on the board with the run game.
After a crazy Sunday of football and a Seahawk win on Monday, they have placed themselves nicely in the NFC. Chicago leads the NFC at 9-2, but the Saints, Seahawks, and Cowboys lie at 7-4. Based on conference record, the Saints' 6-1 record trumps the Seahawks' 6-3 record, and Dallas is 4-3 in the NFC. Thus, the Saints are second, the Seahawks are third, and Dallas is fourth. The Giants and Panthers are 6-5. and in fifth and sixth, respectively.
The Seahawks have a short week to prepare for a journey to Denver to start the Jay Cutler era, but before that happens, I'll let out one gigantic sigh and thank goodness that this one went okay.