For the first time in years, all eyes were on the Vancouver Canucks Saturday night, as their leading scorer took control of his own destiny.
With the newfound parity in the league partially created by the “3 point system” (overtime loss points), season’s end creates more subplots. The last time a Vancouver Canuck was being watched this closely league-wide was when Markus Naslund was chasing Peter Forsberg for the league scoring title. Naslund would eventually lose that race, due in part to a poor Canuck finish to the season. But that was a different Canuck franchise.
I claim just about as much responsibility as anyone else for putting the magnifying glass on Henrik Sedin and the scoring race for the Art Ross Trophy (See: Henrik’s Eye for Art). What an incredible roller-coaster ride it has been too, with Alexander Ovechkin having his way with the Atlanta Thrashers, scoring his 49th and 50th goals and adding an assist, he pulled ahead of Henrik Sedin with 109 points (to Henrik’s 108). Don’t forget Sidney Crosby’s attempt to make it a three horse finish, by having a 4 point game (104 pts) against the New York Islanders Thursday.
It makes it easier for Canucks fans to forget about their recent 8-3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings. It also appeases the nagging doubts about Roberto Luongo’s consistency since the Olympics. On that note, many have asked me my thoughts on Roberto. While we’re on that, let me just say that I’m still quite happy with what he brings to the team. Many lose sight of the fact that the Canucks have scarcely had very good goaltending, let alone elite. Luongo knows he will ultimately be judged by what he does in the playoffs, and he’s professional enough to carry that load. I would be immensely surprised if he more than one or two bad games total. You have to respect his professionalism and dedication; he’s going to be ready.
I’m not saying Luongo doesn’t deserve some criticism, but my last thought on the matter is that he hasn’t exactly had everything working in his favor. Some of the inconsistency can be attributed to Willie Mitchell’s prolonged absence (30 games+), and the subsequent mixed bag of defensive pairings in front of him. But kudos to Canucks defensive coach, Rick ‘Bones’ Bowness, who has had to be so creative with his pairings that he briefly recruited (LW) Alex Burrows for penalty kill assignments.
As of the time of writing this blog, Alex Ovechkin ran out of time, and was held goalless and pointless against the Boston Bruins (Sunday, noon PST). Most of the NHL sked is left to be played, but there is now a window for Steven Stamkos to take the Rocket Richard (most goals) Trophy lead, as the Lightning play the Florida Panthers in their season ender. Sidney Crosby still has a good shot at it as well, with 49 now, and a repeat game against the hapless Islanders. But I’m going out on a limb that Crosby will not net 8 points to tie Henrik Sedin for the Art Ross trophy. If so, I will immediately issue an appology blog, and perhaps promise never to jinx journalism again.
Speaking of the useless winged birds, the Penguins have been a real X-factor this year. Not content to win the Stanley Cup last season, they are wreaking havoc on other NHL starting rosters. Evgeni Malkin’s Jan.16th hit on Willie Mitchell has left the Canucks without their best shutdown defenceman. Matt Cooke’s head hit on Marc Savard has left the Bruins without their best player/playmaker, and also looks a lock to not return this season (or playoffs). There have been other not-so-notable injuries, but I think it’s a shame Malkin’s from-behind hit wasn’t more closely scrutinized. If it happened the other way around, you can BET the league would have given it a second look. Anyways, sour grapes.
All in all, fans were kept on the edge of their seats this weekend, and the Vancouver Canucks 1st line center was one of the main reasons. One of the most memorable games in recent memory occured during a game that normally wouldn’t have ‘meant anything’, with nothing at stake in the standings. Perhaps Gary Bettman got something right with the new points system. Regardless, Henrik Sedin put on a “when it matters” performance that will not be soon forgotten, and for once, Canucks fans have the Calgary Flames to thank for something…
And to those readers that thought that I had jinxed Henrik with my article, this is for you:
Hail King Henrik! Art Ross Trophy winner, thanks to an astonishing finish.