Thursday, April 03, 2008

Canucks: From the heights to the depths

Wow. It wasn't all that long ago that a certain over-optimistic homer (or former-home-r?) wrote about the Vancouver Canucks making a run at the Northwest Division title. Not only did that fail to materialize, but the opposite happened: they promptly went into a slump and are now on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. To squeeze into the playoffs, the Canucks now likely have to run the table and hope Nashville drops points against either St. Louis or Chicago. The Vancouver Province does a nice job of breaking down the potential scenarios here (except if Chicago and Edmonton both pass the Canucks, they'd finish 11th, not 10th).

Tonight's game against Edmonton could decide things one way or another, and the interesting part is the staggered time zones. The Nashville-St. Louis and Calgary-Minnesota games both start at 8 ET, while the Canucks don't take the ice for another two and a half hours. As the Globe's Matthew Sekeres points out, there will probably be a lot of scoreboard-watching in the dressing room. Regardless of what happens in the other games, though, the Canucks really need to take this one to have a good shot at the playoffs. If both Nashville and Vancouver win, it's not the end of the world: that's postponed until Saturday. What would be much better from a Vancouver perspective would be a victory for the Canucks and a loss by the Predators, which would vault Vancouver back into the final playoff spot.

Unfortunately, the Canucks again have injury issues. The Province's Ben Kuzma tells us that Taylor Pyatt, who's been one of the better forwards recently, will miss the game with a concussion. He'll be replaced by Rick Rypien. Sekeres adds that Matt Pettinger, who's also made a surprisingly positive contribution since being snagged at the trade deadline, is also likely to miss tonight's clash: Jannik Hansen may take his place. On the bright side, the Oilers have their own injury woes: they're missing Kyle Brodziak, Ales Hemsky and Mathieu Garon, so the Canucks will probably only have to deal with Rollie the Goalie.

The thing that's so frustrating about following the Canucks is their highs and lows. One day, they'll put a great 6-2 thrashing on the Flames and look like a team that could actually do some damage in the playoffs. The next game, things will start well and then go completely off the rails. Alanah perfectly nails the frustration that comes with being a Canucks fan these days. "I wouldn’t bet on either of those Vancouver games, other than to say that the Canucks will win one of them FOR SURE—probably Thursday’s against Edmonton—just to keep the pain alive," she writes. That seems like the most likely option, having it come down to the wire and falling just short: it would be completely in character with this season.

A special hockey edition of the Links of the Day:

- Kuzma has another great story referencing Monty Python and the Holy Grail, one of my favorite movies of all time. There's some good parallels, too: the Canucks seem to be insisting that they're "not dead yet".
- Sticking with the Province, Jason Botchford has a good piece on Roberto Luongo, and how a superlative performance from him will be crucial to any hopes the Canucks have of success.
- The Hockey News has a pretty funny Top 10 list of Canucks' excuses for missing the playoffs. My favorite? "We haven’t been the same since losing all-star Rory Fitzpatrick."
(Thanks to Alanah for spotting this one).
- Zanstorm has a good game preview up. Despite the Canucks losing 4 of their last five, he's still feeling pretty positive: wish I could share that emotion.

General hockey:
- The guys at Orland Kurtenblog remind Vancouver fans that fans from the rest of Canada (except those from Montreal) are feeling the same pain.
- James Mirtle has a nice post on Ken Hitchcock's selection as head coach of the Canadian World Championships team. Hitch is a pretty good pick in my books as well.
- The Globe's Roy MacGregor on the Sens' latest struggles. Best lines: "Murray candidly admits he has no idea what went so very wrong with this group. No one really does. 'I'm not throwing anybody under buses,' the coach said, while the rest of the city was busy tossing so many players under the bus, that the wheels no longer touched the ground." For some reason, that sounds pretty familiar.
- Neate has a brilliant demolition of Pierre LeBrun's ill-advised piece on the other day calling Bobby Nadeau a "Nancy Boy" for letting Jonathan Roy punch him without fighting back. I usually like LeBrun and find him pretty insightful, and he makes some valid points in the column, but there's no reason to start throwing out those kind of terms, and Nadeau is the wrong person to blame. I enjoy the occasional hockey fight myself, but it's never been acceptable to go and just start beating on someone who clearly doesn't want to drop the gloves. Hockey has had a long history of on-ice violence, but that also doesn't justify making it a taboo topic. The world has done some pretty horrible things in the past (say immigrant head taxes or Jim Crow laws, for example), and we don't advocate keeping those just because they used to be enforced.

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