Canucks Season In Review
By: Kevin Kinghorn
There were a few too many disappointments for Canuck fans' this season, but a little rooting around turns up plenty of positives. At least 10 by my count.
10 - A six-game win streak kicked off October 14th with a 5-3 victory in Minnesota and finished two weeks later in Colorado.
Vancouver manhandled their opponents 28-14 during the run which included wins over Dallas, Colorado, and an old nemesis in Jake Lemaire's Wild.
Eight of the Canucks' goals came from defenders, and by December, the team boasted one of highest scoring defensive units in the league.
Rear guards tallied 46 times by season's end, and the team went 24-6-4 in games when a defenceman netted a goal.
"It's good," said Naslund after the fifth straight victory, a 6-4 win over the Avalanche. "But I've said it before, we can play better. We can get the power play working and use our speed more. We'll keep getting better here."
They did, it just didn't last.
9 - With three games remaining, and the Canuck desperately needing points in a home-and-home series with the Sharks to capture a playoff spot, the team came out flying. Nolan Baumgartner bagged two assists and Bryan Allen scored his seventh goal of the year in the third to take a 4-3 lead. Joe Thornton's magic tape eventually won it 5-4 overtime.
While the lost point pretty much buried the Canucks' post-season hopes, the 'depth' defenders each capped breakout seasons that night.
A career minor-leaguer, Baumgartner made the opening night roster and skated in more NHL games this season (70) than he had in the past 10 years (48). He finished tied with Henrik Sedin for the highest plus/minus on the team (+11), and racked up more points (34) than any other defenceman.
Bryan Allen averaged over 20 minutes per game and finished a plus-4 while recording a personal-best seven goals and 17 points.
Despite fears that the Canucks' blue line was desperately thin to start the year, the depth guys proved capable and steady.
8 - Prior to opening day, several high profile members of the media predicted the Canucks would meet Ottawa in the 2006 Stanley Cup finals. Those picks seemed pretty shrewd two months into the season. Ottawa led the NHL standings and the Canucks were battling for the Northwest Division lead with an 18-9-2 record when the teams met December 9th.
Markus Naslund and Henrik Sedin scored in regulation while Alex Auld stoned Danny Heatley, Jason Spezza, and Mike Fisher in the shootout. Daniel Sedin, the Canucks' fourth shooter, won it by lifting a puck over Dominik Hasek's glove.
"It was a playoff atmosphere," said Bertuzzi. "It was one of those games where you've got to dig real deep in order to be successful, and we did a lot of that."
The victory in the "Battle of Canada" was Auld's 10th of the year and improved Vancouver's home record to 13-1.
7 - The Canucks rode a three-game losing streak into General Motors Place November 13 in game 18 against Detroit. Back-to-back losses in Calgary had allowed the Flames to pull even in the Northwest Division race.
Todd Bertuzzi came screaming out of the clear blue sky and tore a gaping hole through the middle Detroit's defense.
Bert's fourth career hat-trick paced the Canucks to a 4-1 victory improving Vancouver's record to 11-5-2.
"It was just getting little bit more puck luck," said Bertuzzi, whose hat-trick gave him seven goals on the year. "The chances were there, I just wasn't putting them away before. I was fortunate enough to get a handful of good chances tonight."
While injuries and spotty defence eventually hobbled the playoff drive, Bertuzzi's three-goal effort gave fans a reason to cheer.
In all, the much-beleaguered Bertuzzi finished what Marc Crawford described as the "most challenging year any player has had to go through," tied for third in team scoring with 25 goals and 71 points. That's more than both Jarome Iginla and Martin St. Louis. It was also the third-most productive year of Bertuzzi's career.
Despite all the talk-radio rhetoric, Bertuzzi stated unequivocally that he wants to be back in a Canuck uniform next year.
6 - By game 79 the Canucks probably would've needed a hostage to get into the playoffs. Two points behind the Sharks for eighth spot and having lost three straight, hope was fading fast. The Canucks needed a lift and they got it when Ed Jovanovski returned after missing 38 of the previous 40 games with a torn abdominal muscle.
Swashbuckling Ed broke a 2-2 tie in his first game in over two months when he slid into the slot and snuck the overtime winner through Mikka Kiprusoff.
The 3-2 win over the division-leading Flames eventually gave the Canucks an opportunity to catch Edmonton for the eighth seed.
In all, Eddie scored eight goals and had 33 points in just 44 games. The Canucks were 19-17-2 without him, and just as bad, Team Canada is 0-1 at the Olympics minus Jovo's 'crazy legs'.
"I think you learn from disappointments," said Jovanovski. "It's another year gone by that hasn't been what we wanted. You have to give yourself a good look in the mirror and recharge yourself and get back to giving that extra little bit to take the next step."
5 - The Leafs floated into Vancouver January 10th for the only meeting between the national rivals. The Canucks were coming off a big OT win over Calgary, but just two wins over an eight-game holiday stretch had them four points back of the division lead.
While sticking it to the insufferable Toronto fans is enough to earn fifth spot on its own, the 4-3 victory over the Leafs isn't why game 43 sticks out.
Alexander Burrows, the 25 year-old whirlwind from Pointe-Claire, Quebec, scored his first NHL goal spinning out from behind the net and lifting the 3-2, go-ahead goal over Ed Belfour's glove late in the second period.
Over the next 37 games Burrows endeared himself to Canuck fans with his pure enthusiasm and tenacity. He scored in back-to-back games against Buffalo and Montreal in mid January, and became only the fifth Canuck rookie to record a hat-trick when he potted three in a 6-3 victory over the Kings March 27th.
"I learned so much being around these guys for three months," said Burrows, who spent last season in the ECHL. "Even though we didn't make the playoffs and kind of struggled down the stretch, there were still a lot of positives for me personally."
In all, Burrows dressed for 43 games and scored 7 goals and 12 points.
4 - The Canucks trucked the tail end of seven-game road trip into Calgary February 3rd in game 54. After dropping three of the first five games, they sat tied with the Flames in the division standings and had beaten them just once in five previous meetings.
Daniel Sedin scored three assists but was a distant second star to Ryan Kesler - the lanky greenhorn from Michigan.
Kesler scored the winner in the final minute of the second period kicking a Daniel Sedin pass up to his stick off the wing and beating Mikka Kipprusoff between the legs. Just as impressive as his goal, Kesler challenged Jarome Iginla off a puck-drop early in the first with the Canucks trailing by a goal.
"Things happened," he said. "Emotions were running high and I think the team needed a lift, so I gave it to them."
The scrap was easily the best of the season and signaled Kesler's arrival as a difference-maker for Vancouver.
"That whole game was a personal highlight for me," said Kesler, who played in all 82 games and had 23 points while averaging 14 minutes a night.
3 - On March 27th, after taking four of six points from the Oilers in a three game set, the Canucks sat in eighth spot needing a win in game 73 to keep pace with the pack in the Western Conference playoff race.
Aside from a lopsided 7-4 score, and the fact that the win boosted the Canucks into a seventh-place tie with Edmonton, the game was significant because of Anson Carter.
After signing a one-year, $1 million deal to start the year, Carter had rolled out a dream season riding shotgun with the Twins.
Against the Kings he set a new personal best with his 29th of the year late on a first-period power play.
"I'm playing with two guys who are great passers and shooters, so I had the best of both worlds," said Carter, who poached so many gift-goals off the Twins passing that he should name his first-born Danrick. "It certainly helped rejuvenate me."
Carter led the team in goals (33), power-play goals (15) and game-winning goals (7), and was named "Most Exciting Player" by the fans at season's end.
"I think scoring my first goal as a Canuck," said Carter, when asked to name his personal highlight. "You never get sick of scoring firsts I guess."
2 - it's almost unfair to lump these two guys together, but seeing as they play the game like some a kind of eerie unibeing, it's hard to look at them individually.
Canuck fans will remember 2005-06 as the year the Twins lived up to the hype.
It's hard to pick out a single game that does justice to their many accomplishments because they hit so many milestones.
They each hit new career highs in goals, points, assists. Henrik led the team in helpers and finished second only to Markus Naslund's 79 points. Daniel finished the year tied with Bertuzzi for third in team scoring with 71 points.
At $1.25 million apiece, they just might have been the best bargains in the league this season.
Along with Carter, the trio combined for 201 points and was a plus-17. Between them, they amassed 146 points (18-57-75 for Hank, 22-49-71 for Danny) in under 17 minutes of ice per game. Given the Twins took regular penalty-killing shifts on the 7th most penalized team, their accomplishments are even more impressive.
"We felt like we didn't do what we knew we could do the first few years," said Daniel. "I guess you could say we wanted to prove ourselves to the city and money wasn't the most important thing. We wanted to show fans and ourselves that we could play at this level. We did that this year."
To put their year in perspective, imagine where Vancouver would have been without the Twins. Their new winger scored 33 goals to lead the team, but one or both of the Sedins assisted on 32 of Carter's 33 goals. In all, they accounted for 73 of Vancouver's goals and were the most consistent performers all year long.
1 - midway through the first period of a 3-2 win over the Ducks in game 21, Rob Niedermayer plowed into Dan Cloutier's crease and plopped himself on top of Vancouver's franchise netminder. Cloutier tore a knee ligament as a result and didn't play another game.
With an NHL resume 28-games long, back-up Alex Auld was tossed into the soup. The 25-year-old Thunder Bay, Ontario native played the next 56 of the final 61 regular-season games.
"It was a lot of pressure for a long time and you definitely feel it," said Auld. "But I never wished it would go away. It's something I always took the approach to embrace and thrive under. And it comes with the territory of playing in a passionate market."
Auld finished a 2.94 goals-against average, a .902 save percentage, and a record of 33-26-6. He was the Molson Cup (three-star selections) winner at season's end and was voted the team MVP by the fans.
Only eight goaltenders had more wins than Auldy, and only four played more games. Though he didn't record a single shutout, he won 17 one-goal games and was outstanding in his first real NHL season.
And despite the fact he couldn't will his team into the post-season, Auld gave Vancouver fans a lot to look forward to.