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X's and O's - Vrbata toys with Rask

by Jeff Angus / Vancouver Canucks
Radim Vrbata has been exactly as advertised this season for the Canucks – smart, consistent, poised, and skilled. He’s on pace for over 30 goals and 60 points, and he has remained productive in recent weeks despite being moved off of the Sedin line in favor of Alex Burrows.

As Canucks play-by-play man John Shorthouse said after Vrbata’s dazzling goal against the Bruins on Friday night, the slick winger constantly displays patience with a capital ‘P.’ Poise and hockey instincts are tough to define but easy to spot in players, and Vrbata has both in spades. He isn’t big. He isn’t fast. He isn’t overly physical. But he thinks the game at an elite level, and whether he is shooting a lightning-fast wrist shot or dangling around opposing defenders and goaltenders, Vrbata is a wizard with the puck on his stick.

Let’s take a look a goal that involved all three Canuck forwards – and most of all Vrbata – making very smart plays with the puck.

The goal:

One of Linden Vey’s best attributes as a hockey player is his play along the wall. He uses his body (and the boards) very effectively to create offense. This was a staple of his game during his time as a star forward with the Medicine Hat Tigers in the WHL and with the Manchester Monarchs in the AHL, and at times he has shown it off this season in Vancouver too. On this specific play, Vey gains the zone with speed and then draws in a few Bruins before reversing the puck down low. I am not sure if this was a set play or not, but the five Vancouver players moved in unison to create an odd-man opportunity down low.

Vrbata peels off and makes a straight line for Tuukka Rask and the Boston goal as Vey distributes the puck behind the net to Chris Higgins. At this point the two Bruins defensemen – Adam McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg – are in decent position. Seidenberg is a bit wide but he still has the angle on Vrbata. McQuaid has about four inches and forty pounds on Higgins, so he naturally looks to play the body as the Higgins goes in to retrieve the puck behind Rask.

Higgins makes an incredible play with the puck, shielding it away from McQuaid, drawing Seidenberg in just enough to free up Vrbata, and flipping it through his legs all in one motion. Perhaps Higgins was inspired by St. Louis Blues forward TJ Oshie pulling off a similar move the other night.

Vrbata takes the puck very wide on his forehand and quickly pulls it to his backhand. Instead of quickly trying to beat Rask (one of the quickest goalies in hockey), he lets the Boston netminder make the first move. As mentioned earlier, Vrbata isn’t all that tall, but he does a great job to create separation between his body and the puck (which forces Rask to respect the potential of a quick forehand shot).

That extra patience pays off. Vrbata deposits the puck behind Rask and puts the Canucks back up by two goals. Although Vancouver’s Stanley Cup defeat to Boston was almost four years ago, there was definitely a buzz in the building last night. These two teams still do not like each other, and this was an important goal to give the Canucks some breathing room.

The goal was so nice that even Bruins coach Claude Julien couldn’t wait to get a second look at it.

The goal line view shows Seidenberg on Vrbata as Vey rings the puck around the boards. Sometimes taking snapshots of such a fast-paced game produces interesting findings… like Dan Hamhuis here. Where’s he going?

This shot doesn’t do justice to the deftness of the play Higgins makes. He quickly turns away from McQuaid and recognizes that Vrbata is all alone cutting to the net.

McQuaid looks to be setting up shop in Wayne Gretzky’s office behind the net. Too bad he is in his own zone, though. Vrbata waits until Rask has stretched as far as possible before tucking the puck into the open net.

Rask probably would have had a shot at stopping the shot if this was almost any other player. But, as we have learned through the first half of 2014-15, Radim Vrbata is a pretty special offensive talent. Burrows agrees.

“He’s got great skills. He brings a lot of speed and has really good poise with the puck and is able to find the back of the net. He works extremely hard and he’s the kind of player we’ve needed.”

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