The Vancouver Canucks started their toughest road trip of the season by going up against the best team in the NHL, the dreaded Chicago Blackhawks. This would be a measuring stick game, where the Canucks could see how they compared to the class of the NHL.
Unfortunately, they were measured and found wanting. Except for Schneider; he was great despite getting stuck with the shootout loss.
The Hawks outshot the Canucks 43 to 32, which doesn’t sound totally one-sided. But that doesn’t quantify the quality of shots the Hawks were getting. Just in the first period alone, Schneider had to stop three clear break aways. The hockey analytics blog Canucks Army measures scoring chances, and they had it at 30 to 10 in the Hawks favor.
And, if anything, that seemed a little low.
A few takeaways from how badly the Canucks were outplayed in this game:
First, if the Blackhawks, who aren’t even in the Northwest Division can figure out how to take advantage of the Canucks' predicability and anticipate the Sedins, why can’t the teams that play them more often figure it out as well?
Does Edmonton not use video to break down the play? Is Joel Quenneville just that much of a better coach than Mike Yeo?
Yes, there is an issue with the quality of players in Chicago versus the rosters in Edmonton, Calgary, Colorado and Minnesota, but the rot in the Northwest Division starts with management, not on the ice.
Second, as I mentioned earlier, Cory Schneider was awesome. He gets stuck with the loss, dropping his record to 4-3-1, but he actually improved his save percentage to .915 on the season.
If Schneider doesn’t stand on his head, this is an ugly blowout halfway through the first period. This was definitely a game where the Canucks stole a point, and they can thank the goalie for that one. Expect Schneider to start in Dallas on Thursday.
Third, the Canucks can come away with a positive that despite being outplayed for most of the night, they did come up with some clutch scoring, recording two goals in the last three minutes of the game to tie it up and force overtime.
It was also nice to see the goals come from simplifying tactics with the man advantage. Work it to the point, heavy shot on net with Burrows and screening, and the goals will come like they did tonight. Hopefully we see more of this on the power play in the future so opponents have to do more than defend the cycle off the half boards.
Fourth, there is a lot of chatter from Hawks players and fans about the Marian Hossa injury. Hossa, as we all know, suffered a serious concussion at the hands of Raffi Torres in last spring’s playoffs, and tonight was left motionless on the ice for several minutes before being helped to the dressing room.
Hossa and Jannik Hansen were both reacting as a puck was flipped over their heads in the neutral zone, and Hansen’s forearm (or elbow, the video isn’t really clear) cuffed the back of Hossa’s helmet as he tried to glove the puck down. It happened within five feet of an official who was looking right at them, and nothing was called.
Hansen did eventually get a roughing penalty, but that was a good 10 seconds later after the play had been called dead and scrum had developed. And there were a dozen more powerful gloves punches to the head thrown in that melee than the accidental blow Hansen delivered to Hossa.
I expect it will be reviewed by the NHL due to the injury and whining from Jonathan Toews, but there won’t be a suspension. No one wants to see a star go down, but it was incidental contact while attempting to play the puck.
It clearly wasn't a Duncan Keith type elbow.
All in all, this wasn’t a bad game for the Canucks if you consider it a learning game. They got outplayed, even dominated at times, by a very good Blackhawks team that is setting NHL records.
But even with the Canucks working Ryan Kesler and David Booth back into the lineup and figuring out line combinations and effective defence pairings, they still managed to hang in at the end and force overtime before losing in the shootout.
The Canucks now have a better idea of that they need to work on to beat the best in the league, and we can expect a different result when the teams meet for the third and final time on April 22nd, the last week of the regular season.
Hopefully we'll also get to see a rematch in the playoffs as well. And in the playoffs, there aren’t any shootouts.