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X's and O's - WCQF Game 1

by Jeff Angus / Vancouver Canucks
Gritty goal by a gritty guy.

After each Canucks postseason game in 2013, an important play will be broken down and analyzed. More likely than not these plays will be of the “goal for” variety, but they could also include a highlight reel save, a nice hit, or an understated play that led to a scoring chance.

Today’s X’s and O’s will look at Kevin Bieksa’s gritty goal from Game 1 Wednesday evening.

The Canucks had a tough time generating sustained offensive pressure against an underrated San Jose defensive group in Game 1. However, this is a best-of-seven and not a best-of-one, so it is time to get back to the drawing board. Bieksa broke the 0-0 deadlock with a goal in the second period. It wasn’t one he will tell his grandkids about, but they all count the same on the scoreboard.

The Goal:

Let’s take a closer look.

Jannik Hansen started the play off by skating into the zone with speed and dropping the puck to a trailing Kevin Bieksa. Bieksa was by far the most effective defenseman at creating offense on Wednesday evening. Hansen’s speed forced the San Jose defense to back up, which created a ton of open ice for Bieksa. The Canucks have the speed edge against the Sharks (and most teams in the NHL) and they need to use it as much as they can in Game 2.

Bieksa fires a hard and accurate shot that forces Niemi to make a save (and subsequently give up a rebound, too). The Sharks are in pretty good position here, asides from the fact that no one picked up Bieksa. There are three San Jose Skaters to one Mason Raymond – not typically a Canuck-friendly ratio to finding a loose puck. However…

Bieksa charges the net like, well…. Bieksa. His aggressiveness was a welcomed sight on Wednesday evening, and this goal is a perfect example of it. Raymond is in the process of getting knocked down, but the puck is still loose. Derek Roy has tied up his man as he approaches the net, too. No sign of the goal scorer, yet. You hear the mantra over and over again – pucks and bodies to the net in the postseason.

Hansen comes in from the side relatively unchecked. The Sharks now have two goaltenders – behind Niemi is Logan Couture, who is doing his best “look big in the crease” impression. Also from this frame – a great job by the referee to stay in position and keep an eye on the back of the net the entire time. The puck bounces around before finding its way behind both Niemi and Couture.

Not a sight you see every day. Unfortunately for the Canucks, Couture would get his revenge a few minutes later with a much prettier goal than this one. Off to the side Bieksa has engaged in a big of a skirmish with defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Quite an involved 20 seconds for Bieksa to say the least.

The Sharks defenseman has a tight gap on Hansen, but look how far into the zone he has been pushed. Two players pick up Roy streaking (figuratively, of course) through the middle. As mentioned above, this is exactly what the Canucks need to do more in Game 2 – use their team speed to push back the San Jose defenseman, and bring a second wave of attackers behind them.

You can see the puck in between a pile of legs. Raffi Torres actually knocked this into his own net trying to clear it out of the crease (or perhaps he wanted to do his old teammates a favour – I’d probably go with the first explanation).

The post-goal celebrations begin. Notice where Bieksa is now, and he manages to get himself into a fight within the next five seconds. So he ends up crashing the crease twice on this play.

The effort is appreciated from Couture, but his five-hole leads a lot to be desired. Thankfully he’s pretty good at the whole playing forward thing.

The Canucks had a particularly strong second period. They weren’t able to generate a lot of offense, but they were hitting hard and creating turnovers with consistency. They got away from that game a bit in the first and third periods. San Jose is a very good team, and their defense doesn’t give up many chances (not surprising considering they are coached by Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Robinson).

The Canucks need more efforts like the one that resulted in this goal in Game 2.

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