Dan Hamhuis will be missed
Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis sustained what is “probably a broken jaw,” according to Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins when he was struck by an errant Dan Boyle slapshot in the third period of Vancouver’s 2-1 regulation victory on Wednesday.
That’s an enormously painful injury, and one that will likely keep Hamhuis out of the lineup for a while.
Hamhuis’ play has drawn a fair bit of criticism in recent weeks, but he remains a sturdy second-pairing blue-liner. Among regular Canucks defencemen, Hamhuis is second on the team in shot attempt differential and first in goal differential.
The Canucks haven’t been good enough defensively through the first 30 games of the season, and will be extraordinarily hard pressed to replace the contributions of an effective defenceman like Hamhuis in the medium term.
Rested Miller out-duels The King
A rested Ryan Miller is a good thing for the Canucks.
The Canucks rode Miller hard through the first six weeks of the season, culminating in a series of tough outings for the workhorse starter during the club’s mid-November road trip. In the month of December, Miller has split starts pretty evenly with backup goaltender Jacob Markstrom. He’s started only three games in the past 10 days.
More rest looked good on the Canucks’ No. 1 goaltender on Thursday, as Miller was dialed in.
The Canucks starter benefited from favourable goalpost bounces and a fortunate no-look goal-line block by Jared McCann, but that shouldn’t take away from an excellent performance. The Rangers peppered Miller with high-quality chances on Wednesday night, and the 35-year-old kept his club in the game through the first two periods.
By the time the final whistle blew, Miller had stopped 32 of 33 shots while making nine saves on high-danger chances, according to war-on-ice.com. It took something pretty special – a slick forehand deke by Dan Boyle on a penalty shot – to beat Miller in this game.
Whistle while you work
The third period of Wednesday night’s game became, as Vigneault described it postgame, “a little bit strange.”
If Vigneault felt that way, just imagine how referees Graham Skilliter and Ian Walsh felt.
The craziness started when the Canucks got a favourable matchup early in the third period, prompting defensive centre Dominic Moore to take a hooking penalty. On the ensuing power-play, Jarret Stoll was called for delay of game after he fell on the puck and refused to let it loose.
By the letter of the law, it was the right call — but it wasn’t one you see enforced all that regularly.
The call was odd enough that Vigneault screamed in protest at the referees as the Canucks went to work on a two-man advantage.
After Alex Edler scored the go-ahead goal with a seeing-eye wrist shot, cameras caught Vigneault mock clapping at the officials from the bench.
Vigneault’s sarcasm, while objectively glorious, netted the Rangers bench boss a bench minor, which extended Vancouver’s two-man advantage. The 5-on-3 power-play was extended further when Ryan McDonagh caught Alex Burrows with a Brandon Dubinsky-quality cross-check to the head.
By the time the parade to the penalty box ended, the Rangers players appeared to need clarification on the order in which they were supposed to leave the sin bin.
Of course, an interesting night for the referees didn’t end there. The officials awarded the Rangers a penalty shot when Chris Tanev was thought to have covered the puck in the Canucks crease (video evidence was inconclusive). The Rangers tied the game on the ensuing penalty shot.
Power-play finding its groove
The Canucks’ power-play converted on one of six opportunities Wednesday night, but it looked a lot better than that number would imply. Two of those six opportunities, after all, lasted 11 and 44 seconds respectively.
For a second consecutive game, Vancouver’s first power-play unit threatened throughout. They managed six shots in roughly eight minutes of work and manufactured a key third-period goal.
The Canucks have managed a power-play goal in two straight games, but perhaps more importantly, have found seams and generated consistent offensive zone time better this week than they have all season.
Vancouver is at a point in its season where things could go either way. Following Wednesday night’s regulation victory over New York, the Canucks are second in their division (somehow) but they’re also only six points clear of the 30th place team.
That’s life in the meek Pacific Division for you.
While a tough finish and a top pick are still possible outcomes for the Canucks this season, it seems likely that Henrik and Daniel Sedin simply won’t permit it. The twins are the anti-tank battery.
With another two points apiece on Wednesday night, we’re running out of superlatives to describe what the 35-year-old twin brothers are doing this season. With 33 points, Daniel is now fourth in the NHL in scoring, and he’s in the top 10 of both goals and assists. Henrik is fifth in assists and with 29 points in 30 games, and has squeezed into the top 10 in points.
It’s probably fair to say that the twins are playing their best hockey in three or four years, which is tough to wrap one’s head around. Afterall, they’re 35-years-old.
The biggest difference in what the twins are doing this season appears to be Daniel’s finishing game. Daniel converted on an extraordinarily low percentage of his shots for three seasons from 2012-13 through 2014-15. Among NHL players who took at least 550 shots, only Brad Richards and Henrik Zetterberg converted on a lower percentage. But Daniel’s finish is back. And it’s glorious.