When the lockout was settled everyone knew that hockey in the Western Conference was going to really suffer with such a condensed schedule.
But it wasn't supposed to come this early. The prevailing theory was that once genuine fatigue set in, teams would start lagging in the energy department and hence the games would slow to a crawl.
But that's what seemed to happen Sunday night when the St. Louis Blues brought their copy of Jacques Lemaire's trap credited to Ken Hitchcock to town, although a late Vancouver goal in regulation and a little bit of excitement in OT likely left the fans with the impression that it wasn't so bad after all.
But it was. There were more whistles than a poorly played field hockey match. The game took almost three hours to play, fully 2:45 had elapsed before they got to overtime and in the end the Canucks gave away a second point with another laughable shootout performance.
Despite the fact their record at home in shootouts is not good, they continue to shoot first rather than at least trying to change it up by letting the visitor shoot first, and they use shooters seemingly at random rather than settling on a top three like most teams.
Other than the ongoing concern that the difficulty outside the Northwest division is turning out to be a little more challenging than anticipated, about the only question one was left with following this one is whether this is the Mason Raymond we're going to see all season or whether he'll taper off and revert to his form of last year?
So far what he's delivered is pretty special. And whether it's the lure of putting himself onto the free agent market this summer with good numbers or the spur of being taken to arbitration by his own team this past summer, he is playing with a markedly higher degree of determination.
“Last year was last year and I don't want to dwell on that,” he said after pouncing on a rebound and whacking a rolling puck past Jake Allen to tie the game in the third period to get his team the one point they did manage on the evening. “I was lucky the puck came right to me, it was just a matter of bearing down on the rolling puck and make sure I got some wood on it.”
His five goals in 14 games works out to a pace of about a 28-goal season over 82 games which would be a career high, the Canucks getting big lifts so far from three guys they couldn't really have been sure of when the season began, namely Raymond, Jordan Schroeder and Zack Kassian, the latter tapering off as the coach moves him all over the lineup.
Other than Raymond scoring to give Vancouver a pleasant and refreshing two for three night on the power play and Allen robbing Alex Burrows on a breakaway in overtime, you would have to say that Henrik Sedin pretty much described this one when he said "it was like a chess match out there."
That certainly described the excitement level. Through most of the first and third periods the Blues were lined up five abreast across their own blueline trying to force the Canucks to dump the puck into their zone and Vancouver was so inept in the second period it seemed as though the entire period was played in their zone.
“You can't play 40 minutes in this league and expect to win,” said Raymond. “It was just a mental lapse on our part, we let down and they took it to us in that second period but I thought we rebounded well in the third.”
They did but they're going to have to pick things up considerably if they plan to survive the Madhouse on Madison Tuesday night in Chicago, the Hawks not yet having lost a game in regulation yet this season to reveal themselves as the class of the Conference to date.
“We've had some great games with them in there and this is going to be another one,” said Raymond.
“They're going for the record (most wins without a regulation loss to start a season) and we're going to try to stop them,” said Sedin. “It's going to be a lot of fun.”
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