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X's and O's - Alley-oop in LA

by Jeff Angus / Vancouver Canucks
It wasn’t Kobe to Shaq, but a pair of Canucks pulled off an incredible alley-oop last Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles.

The goal:

Nick Bonino still has some work to do in the celebration department to catch up to the Big Diesel, though:

(Side note – I can’t even imagine how scary it would be to have to get up for a chest bump with Shaq).

This goal was a culmination of a few very nice (and extremely difficult) plays all coming together. From Kevin Bieksa’s breakout pass, to Radim Vrbata’s incredible lob pass, to Bonino’s impressive hand-eye display for the finish, this goal serves as a great reminder as to the skill level necessary to play in this league. This is the second time Vrbata has appeared on the X’s and O’s this season (and he has deserved a few more spots, too).

Let’s take a closer look at the goal:

The play starts with Bieksa, who recognizes a potential odd-man situation and quickly sends the puck up the ice. The Kings typically aren’t a team that you can move the puck through the middle of the ice against. Sloppy line change, perhaps?

At this point, Bieksa has just zipped a pass up the ice to Vrbata, who is waiting for it at the opposing blue line. It many appear that the Canucks are outmanned three on four at this point (Chris Higgins is hiding in the foreground), but in reality this is a three-on-two scoring opportunity. Vrbata recognizes this and holds onto the puck as his linemates look to provide him with an outlet. Unlike most snipers, Vrbata is also an incredible playmaker, and that is why the Kings can’t pressure him too much.

Vrbata pulls defenseman Brayden McNabb over to him as Bonino goes to work on one of the game’s very best – Drew Doughty. Vrbata has been on fire lately for the Canucks, and his display of patience with the puck here is simply world-class. Most players would have just dumped the puck in or fired it on the net for a rebound opportunity.

Vrbata should have put some napkins on the puck after firing this pass loaded with sauce (I’ll show myself out…). This is one of the most unique passes you will see – 10 foot high saucer pass that covers about 15 feet of ice and lands in a perfect spot. Think Tiger’s infamous chip at the 2005 Masters.

Bonino gets his stick on the bouncing puck and roofs it over a stunned Jonathan Quick. A still frame won’t do it justice, but Bonino skates a perfect route past Doughty to get himself into position to receive Vrbata’s feed.

Another view of Vrbata at work. This is a play that only a half dozen other NHLers (and perhaps one recently-retired former NBA two-time MVP…) could have made.

Doughty’s watching the puck. Quick’s watching the puck. Bonino is doing all he can to get his stick free and open for a clear shooting opportunity.

And he does just that.

Bonino likely won’t repeat his 22-goal output from a season ago in Anaheim. But he is coming on strong as of late, and is a proven postseason performer. The Canucks will need him if they have any hopes of playing hockey well into April and May this season. As for Vrbata, he’s on pace for 30 goals and 60 points (including 11 points in his last 11 games) – which is relatively in line with what many hoped for after the Canucks pried him out of the desert last year. What has been a surprise with him has been his versatility, though. Expected to be a mainstay with the Sedins, Vrbata has skated less than 60 percent of his even strength shifts with them.

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