NHL Playoffs 2011: 10 Vancouver Canucks To Watch Against the Chicago Blackhawks
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These players are all key performers that will need to be clutch if the Canucks want to beat their hated Blackhawk rivals and continue on their quest to win the Stanley Cup.
How these ten perform will go a long way to determining if the Canucks are the real deal, or a playoff pretender.
Daniel and Henrik Sedin
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Henrik Sedin #33 Center
2010 Playoffs: 12 GP, 3 goals, 11 assists, 14 points
Daniel Sedin #22 Left Wing
2010 Playoffs: 12 GP, 5 goals, 9 assists, 14 points
In last year's playoffs, the Sedin twins each finished with identical totals of 14 points in 12 games. Averaging more than a point a game is good, but the knock against them is that they didn't score enough goals.
Of the 8 goals they did score, 3 were game winners, so Daniel and Henrik were providing clutch scoring in terms of quality if not quantity. Also their superb passing enabled Mikael Samuelsson to put up an astounding 8 goals in 12 games.
However, against the Blackhawks in the second round, both Sedins were shadowed and closely checked by the agitating Blackhawks, specifically Dave Bolland and Andrew Ladd. The normally stoic Swedes took uncharacteristic penalties in retaliation, especially Daniel, as they attempted to beat the Hawks in the alley instead of on the scoreboard.
This year, Ladd is gone (traded to Atlanta) and Bolland is out with a concussion, so the Sedins won't have to worry about them personally. And while the Hawks will still try the tactics that worked last year, this year the Sedins have led the Canucks in showing discipline, being level headed and just playing their game instead of retaliating, and trusting in the referees to call penalties.
Keep an eye on the Sedins to see if this new found discipline can stand up to the rigors of the playoffs. If it does, their pinpoint passing should allow the Sedins to rack up points against the Blackhawks. If it doesn't, expect a deadly Chicago powerplay to make the Canucks pay.
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Ryan Kesler #17 Center
2010 Playoffs: 12 GP, 1 goals, 9 assists, 10 points
Last year, Ryan Kesler injured his shoulder early on in the first round against the LA Kings, and was largely ineffective after that point. He couldn't shoot with any sort of power or accuracy, and he wasn't able to play his physical brand of hockey, which seems well suited for the playoffs.
This year, Kesler is healthy. And he has worked on playing the game whistle to whistle, not engaging in the agitating extra curricular activities that made him so beloved by the other teams. He also isn't complaining to the referees anymore either.
This new found focus has allowed Kesler to put up a career high 41 regular season goals during the regular season, despite having a revolving door on either wing due to injuries and slumps.
Kesler will also be taking on the shutdown center role after the season ending injury to Manny Malhotra, but this shouldn't be a burden to the future Selke trophy winner.
Keep on eye on Kesler, as he has something to prove after coming up short both in the Olympics with Team USA and in the playoff against the Blackhawks. If the Canucks go deep, my money is on Ryan Kesler to be the team MVP.
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Roberto Luongo #1 Goalie
2010 Playoffs: 12 GP, 6 wins, 6 losses, 3.22 GAA, 0.895 Save Percentage
Last year Luongo was a rock in the Olympics for Team Canada, winning a gold medal. Fast forward a few months, and his former Olympics teammates were demonizing him in his own building, as the Canucks lost all three games in Vancouver.
This year it will be different.
Luongo has a new goalie coach and system, and is playing the best hockey of his career. He won the Jennings trophy for least goals against in the regular season, and put up a 38-15-7 record over 60 starts, with an excellent 0.928 save percentage. The 60 starts is the least amount of starts Luongo has recorded as a pro in a healthy season, so he should be well rested for the playoffs.
He also is no longer the captain of the Canucks, relinquishing the title to Henrik Sedin so that he could worry solely about stopping the puck.
Keep an eye on Luongo, as you won't see many highlight reel saves. With his new style and positioning, he doesn't have to make them as frequently as he did before.
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Alex Burrows #14 Right Wing
2010 Playoffs: 12 GP, 3 goals, 3 assists, 6 points
Last year, Alex Burrows played through a shoulder injury down the stretch and into the playoffs. However, that injury kept him from being the goal scoring, agitating machine he was during the regular season.
During the summer after being ousted by the Blackhawks, Burrows had surgery to repair the two cartilage tears in his shoulder, and then missed the first ten games of the season while rehabbing the injury.
Since then he has found his chemistry with the Sedins again, and is looking forward to a more prominent role in the playoffs. His lack of playoff success is really the only blemish on the resume of this undrafted forward who fought his way up from the ECHL to being on the top line of the best team in the NHL this season.
Like Kesler, Burrows has also stopped (most of the time) his constant chatter and agitating. Once his trademark as he broke into the NHL, Burrows is now focused on playing his own brand of hockey rather than trying to throw his opponents off with trash talk.
Keep an eye on Burrows to see if he can be effective with the twins in the more intense playoff atmosphere without taking needless penalties. My money says he can.
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Mikael Samuelsson #26 Right Wing
2010 Playoffs: 12 GP, 8 goals, 7 assists, 15 points
Last year, Mikael Samuelsson was promoted to the top line with the Sedins to replace the injured Burrows. And he showed off with style, at one time leading the NHL playoff scoring race during the first round, and ending up with a quite respectable point total as the leading scorer on the Canucks.
This year, Burrows is healthy, and Samuelsson is back on the second line with Ryan Kesler. As Kesler will be taking on more of a shutdown role, it is up to Samuelsson to make sure that he takes up some of the slack in the secondary scoring department.
Down the stretch, the Canucks rested Samuelsson for six of the last eight games with a leg injury. He appears to healthy now though.
Keep an eye on Samuelsson to see if he can still put up some secondary scoring while working with Kesler against the top lines of the Hawks.
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Alex Edler #23 Defence
2010 Playoffs: 12 GP, 27 hits, 25 blocked shots
Alex Edler was the Canucks best all around defender last year, although he ended up not being able to finish the final game against the Blackhawks with an ankle injury. Throughout the playoffs, he delivered thunderous hits and threw his body in front of shots.
This year he continued on the same pace, but suffered a back injury that required surgery in January 2011. Edler returned for the final two games of the regular season, and he was throwing hits and taking them without problem.
Keep an eye on Edler as he mans the point on the Canucks power play. Toews and Kane might want to keep an eye out for him as well.
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Kevin Bieksa #23 Defence
2010 Playoffs: 12 GP, 22 hits, 16 blocked shots, 3 goals, 5 assists.
Contrary to popular opinion in Vancouver, Kevin Bieksa was actually one of the best Canucks defenders in the playoffs. He led the defence in points, and was second only to Edler in hits.
Unfortunately, he was made to look rather inept (to put it politely) on several goals by the Hawks, including highlight reel goals by Patrick Kane in the deciding Game 6. However, the Hawks made every defence that went up against them look stupid at times. If Chris Pronger can bite on a deke and get turned inside out by Kane, you can hardly hold it against Kevin Bieksa if he fell for it too.
Bieksa has to listen all summer long to talk of his horrible play and rumours of his impending trade after the Canucks acquired Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard.
In training camp, he was given an A by captain Henrik Sedin, and from that point Bieksa has worked hard to prove his critics wrong (and it doesn't hurt that it is a contract year). Asked to form a shutdown pairing with Hamhuis, Bieksa put up a staggering +32 rating, second only to Zdeno Chara in the entire NHL.
Keep an eye on Bieksa as he and Hamhuis attempt to neutralize the top line of the Blackhawks. We can judge their success by how often we have to hear Chelsea Dagger over the series.
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Cody Hodgson #39 Center
Rookie Cody Hodgson has been thrust into the role of third line center due to the season ending injury to Manny Malhotra. After basically losing 18 months of development to an undiagnosed back injury, Hodgson is finally getting his pro career started, and now has an opportunity on the biggest stage in hockey.
The former CHL player of the year has a reputation of being a big game performer, so hopefully he can bring some of that will to win to the NHL playoffs.
Keep an eye on Hodgson to see if he is noticeable. The Canucks just expect him to win some draws and not hurt the team defensively, so being noticeable could be either a very good thing or a very bad thing.
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Raffi Torres #13 Left Wing
As everyone is aware, Torres will miss the first two games of the series as he serves his suspension for a blindside hit on Edmonton's Jordan Eberle. GM Mike Gillis brought Torres onto the team for his physical play and also for his playoff experience, as Torres went to the Cup finals with Edmonton in 2006.
When Torres comes back into the lineup, expect him to slot into the third line and be playing with a chip on his shoulder. Rightly or wrongly, he has been outspoken about his suspension, and hopefully he brings that passion to the ice.
Keep an eye on Torres not only for his physical play, but also for his offensive skills. He has 14 goals this year, including a couple hat tricks, so the Canucks are hoping he can team up with Hodgson to provide some secondary scoring from the third line.
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Manny Malhotra #27 Center
Manny Malhotra might be done playing this season due to his horrific eye injury, but he isn't done helping the Canucks. Malhotra was signed to bring both veteran leadership to the team as well as his defensive abilities. He can't win draws from the locker room, but he can still provide leadership.
Malhotra made a surprise appearance at Rogers Arena to help Canucks captain Henrik Sedin accept the President's trophy, and since then he has been working with the team to help break down video and provide a player's perspective.
It won't be the same as it would have been if he was on the ice, but Manny should be able to provide a voice of reason if the Canucks start to implode mentally as they did last year against the Hawks.
Aside from the inspiration to win for their fallen teammate, the Canucks can also be inspired by Manny's willingness to help the team achieve the goals they set back in the fall (ie the Stanley Cup) despite his potentially career ending injury.