Jeff Paterson: What does preseason mean?
Hey, anybody know how the Canucks made out in the preseason? Anybody?
Did I hear one of you say 7-0-2? Nice try, but wrong answer.
Okay, technically it is the correct answer, but it’s not the right response.
If you’d been paying attention over these past few weeks, you’d know by now that the proper reply to that question is that results don’t matter, the process is the only thing that’s important. But when the record in exhibition action is seven wins and just a pair of overtime setbacks, it’s difficult to roll that up into a ball, chuck it out the window and completely dismiss it.
Still, the reality of the preseason is that it’s an evaluation period for coaches and management with different players in the line-ups on different nights. And while the Canucks had more success than any other National Hockey League team over the past few weeks, their final five games were all tied at the end of regulation time so it’s not like they were mowing down opponents every time out. And at last check, there is no trophy handed out at the end of exhibition play.
So in the big picture the preseason mark doesn’t mean anything. But the process by which it was achieved revealed a number of things about the Vancouver Canucks heading into the 2009-10 games that count:
Roberto Luongo certainly looks ready to roll. The Canuck captain won all four of his preseason appearances, gave up just five goals in the process and stopped six of the seven shootout attempts he faced. He even gave an emphatic little first pump after his final stop to seal the deal in Calgary on Saturday so you know he was into it.
The Canucks won all three shootouts they were involved in and Mason Raymond scored in two of them. Every bonus point matters in the competitive Western Conference and Raymond appears to have earned a spot in Alain Vigneault’s shootout rundown with nifty moves on Evgeni Nabokov and Miika Kiprusoff. AV hasn’t had a go-to-guy in the shootout since Trevor Linden. Mason Raymond looks ready to step into that role
Canuck defensemen contributed nine of the 28 goals the team scored in the preseason scoring in seven of the nine games the team played. It’s unlikely defensemen will account for a third of the team’s goals scored in the regular season, but the Canucks will certainly welcome solid contributions from the blueline
Christian Ehrhoff gets around the ice. The newcomer from San Jose scored a pair of preseason goals and also chipped in with three helpers. His skating allows him to jump into the rush with ease. It also allows him to get back in position. It certainly looks like he’ll bring an added dimension to the hockey club. He’ll probably get caught a few times, but that may be a small price to pay if his forays into the offensive zone result in chances and ultimately in Canuck goals
The puck seems to follow Sergei Shirokov around. All NHL’ers should be so lucky. It was clear from the first preseason game in Terrace that the guy has hockey sense. He also seems to have the good sense not to overhandle the puck. The rookie’s work with the Twins on the power play in the preseason should earn him more looks there in the weeks ahead. It may also make Shirokov a sleeper for hockey poolsters to consider with a late round selection
If Alex Burrows plays with the Twins and Shirokov starts the season with Ryan Kesler and Mikael Samuelsson, it’ll be interesting to see who becomes the goal-scorer on the second line. None of the three right-handed shooters is a natural marksman, but someone will have to finish off chances. It may be the ultimate case of scoring by committee, but one of the three will need to chair those committee meetings
While not concerned about a guy who was the team MVP last season, Ryan Kesler did not score in the preseason. And while he’s been fabulous in the second-half of the last two seasons, Kesler has never been a quick starter in his NHL career. With the role he plays on the hockey club and the fact he’s battling for a spot on the U-S Olympic team, it would be nice to see Kesler light it up early for the Canucks rather than having to crank it up after Christmas
Tanner Glass may not start the season with the Vancouver Canucks, but he will suit up for the team at some point in 2009-10. An unheralded free agent signing in the off-season, Glass did what more prospects need to do in the preseason – he made things happen. Too many guys squander preseason opportunities. Glass looked intent on getting noticed every time he stepped onto the ice. It’s pretty safe to assume Canucks management took note
Considering the Canucks never once iced their top two forward lines together in the preseason, the notable (but no longer talked about) exhibition record is that much more impressive. The hockey team now has to find a way to make the preseason mean something by carrying forward the positive feelings and building off the momentum it has created. Two road games in two and a half days (Thursday night in Calgary and Saturday afternoon in Colorado) won’t be an easy start to the schedule.