The Thin Blueline
The Vancouver Canucks' depleted defence corps is the topic o' the week, but the real story, at least tonight, is that they managed to win with a group of blueliners who are led in NHL experience by 25-year-old Bryan Allen's 193 career games.
And, not only did they win, but they did it in a nearly unwinnable situation: playing at the Saddledome in Calgary. Prior to tonight's contest, the Flames were an unreal 20-5-3 at home, where starting netminder Miikka Kiprusoff has a 1.70 goals-against average.
Before I continue, here's a rundown of the vitals for the Canucks' top six defenders who played tonight (with age in brackets and stats totals minus this year's numbers):
Bryan 'Ace' Allen (25) 139 GP, 7 G, 15 Pts
Steve 'Skippy' McCarthy (25) 134 GP, 3 G, 16 Pts
Sven Butenschon (29) 132 GP, 2 G, 14 Pts
Nolan 'Bomber' Baumgartner (29) 48 GP, 1 G, 8 Pts
Kevin Bieksa (24) DNP
Tomas Mojzis (23) DNP
How motley is this crew? Well, the venerable Mr. Butenshon, now with his fourth NHL team, played last season with the Manheim Eagles in the German league. His totals there? Including playoffs, 'Boots' had one goal and seven points in 64 games. (Manheim's goaltender, Cristobal Huet, had three fewer points in five less games.)
And those unsightly totals were enough to get him 19 minutes and 39 seconds of icetime on the Canucks' backend tonight.
Whew, how'd we like to be coach Mark Crawford about now?
With the win, Vancouver is inexplicably leading the nastiness that is the Northwest Division this year. Given all the hardship, all the injuries and under-performing stars, that is incredible.
Tom Benjamin said prior to the game that you'd "probably have to go back to the mid 80's to find as poor a team as the Canuck will ice tonight," but given where they sit in the standings (and, of course, the downright hideousness of many Vancouver rosters in the 90s, the times when Peter Zezel was B.C. hockey fans' hero), maybe that's a tad overzealous.
Tom's right in that, if you're used to being a Canucks fan (as I formerly will admit I was), you're fully used to tempering your expectations. Since 1994, it has been relatively easy to predict impending doom for the team because it's always been around the corner.
Then again, with the Florida Panthers waltzing into Tampa and pounding the defending Stanley Cup champs 8-2 tonight, I don't really know what the heck is going on in this new, crazy NHL some nights.
We've entered Parity Territory, where any one can beat any one, and this year's playoff drive looks as though it's going to be as nutty as we've ever seen.
Maybe Alex Auld's 2.82 GAA is enough? Maybe the Sedins's sudden dominance is all the offence required? Maybe it's just taken Baumgartner 11 years to recapture the glory of his Memorial Cup days with the Kamloops Blazers?
No Dan Cloutier, increased secondary scoring, solid defence from unexpected places — my, it's like all of the Canucks' weaknesses come playoff time have been addressed. Jovanovski, Ohlund, Salo — who needs them?
Go Boots go.