Western Canada Musings
Thursday, 01.31.2008 / 11:27 PM CT / Feature
By J. Douglas Foster
On the Road With DotCom
Four days and 38 TimBits (20 old-fashioned sugar, 10 honey-dipped and eight strawberry-filled) into the Stars’ post-All-Star, Western Canada road trip, and the traveling crew has made several observations.
For starters: Remember when Vancouver’s Sedin twins were just two-thirds of the Canucks’ second line? When they sat in the shadows of what was hockey’s best line for some time, consisting of Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison and Todd Bertuzzi?
Oh, how things have changed.
These days, Naslund struggles to reach the same numbers in the “new” NHL, Morrison has been hobbled with injuries and Bertuzzi has worn three different uniforms since manning that wing. In the meantime, the Sedins – who seemed like anything but stars in their first few years in Vancouver – have established themselves as one of the league’s most formidable duos. Henrik’s passing ability, combined with Daniel’s propensity to bury his brother’s feeds, has turned the Swedish twins into a nightmare matchup for the opposition. Watching those two control the puck around and sometimes below the opponent’s net is a thing of beauty. And somehow – some way – they always seem to come up with a misdirection scoring chance, leaving the goalie having to make a great save while moving back into position.
It’s a great weapon to have. Now, if the Canucks just had a second line like the one they had a few years back …
Watching Calgary defeat San Jose at home Wednesday night brought us to a rather obvious conclusion.
Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf is a bad man.
At 6’3”, 212 pounds Phaneuf is unusually nimble on his feet while possessing a great point shot and surprisingly soft hands. After all, the guy did win the elimination shootout competition last weekend. Think about that for a minute: A 212-pound defenseman beat out all the league’s craftiest players in the shootout competition.
And those soft hands aren’t so soft when the gloves hit the ice. Phaneuf is the perfect combination of size, skill, mobility and nastiness on the blueline. He can stand toe-to-toe with just about anyone in the league when fisticuffs are required, and with his gloves and stick still in tact, he easily possesses one of the league’s two or three most physical body checks. When Phaneuf hits you, you know you’ve been hit.
Unless Nicklas Lidstrom plays until he’s 50 – and wins every Norris Trophy along the way – don’t be surprised to see Phaneuf’s name on that trophy a few times before his career ends.
LUONGO OR NOT
As impossible as it is to overlook the fact Roberto Luongo was not in net Tuesday, you still can’t downplay how important it was for the Stars to open the current road trip with a win at G.M. Place.
After all, Dallas had lost five of its last six in Vancouver, and having played four games more than Pacific Division-leading San Jose entering the All-Star break, it was imperative to start the second half with two points and end the brief two-game slide they had entering the break.
The confidence level of a team that wins the first game of a road trip is also infinitely higher than a squad the starts a road trip with a loss. If the Stars can mimic their usual success in Edmonton and Calgary, this trip could prove to be a turning point in this season, one which helps start a push past the Sharks.
GUESS WHO’S BACK
Then again, San Jose might not be the team to beat in the Pacific when it’s all said and done. Don’t forget the defending Stanley Cup champions reside in this division, and boy did the Anaheim Ducks just get a lot more lethal.
For those who think bringing Teemu Selanne back isn’t that big of a deal – well, think again. As much as Canadian television wanted to talk about Selanne’s past knee problems, the extended layoff since winning the Cup and his advanced age (37), there are a few counters to that argument.
For starters, he’s a 540-goal scorer who scored 48 goals just last season (at age 36). Yep, 48 goals, and 40 the year before that. For a reference point, no player in the Western Conference netted more than his 48 last season, and only Vincent Lecavalier (52) and Dany Heatley (50) scored more league wide. The last time the Stars had a 40-goal scorer? You can probably guess it was Mike Modano. You probably wouldn’t guess that it was in 1993-94, the team’s first year in Dallas, when Modano scored 50.
The point? Scoring 40 goals isn’t easy. And the Ducks are adding a guy who scored 48 last season. Put him on a line with Doug Weight – one of this generation’s best, if not overlooked pure passers – and Selanne could turn into a scoring machine yet again. Don’t be surprised if he scores 15 goals or more in the Ducks’ final 25 games.
The beauty of Canada is that even on vacation, you are sure to get your fill of hockey.
Last Saturday, while somehow fighting through a brief break from the schedule in beautiful Banff, this writer almost -- for about 90 seconds – forgot the reason he was on a break was that the All-Star festivities were underway in Atlanta.
Leave it to Canada to make sure you don’t miss anything important.
Just prior to an evening soak in Banff Springs as the snow began to fall, dinner plans were made. While debating between the bison pizza with mozzarella and grilled onions and the elk pepperoni pizza with fried leeks (both were ordered, and were equally delicious), we wondered just where, exactly, our server had gone.
Look no farther than the television above the bar, where the entire waitstaff – and our party as well, once we realized what was going on – was locked on the tube to watch the skills competition. We’ll have to agree with the Canadian purists that the new “breakaway challenge,” formatted like the NBA slam-dunk contest, was an incredibly failed bit. And no matter how cool Alexander Ovechkin’s attempt at bouncing the puck off his stick, then doing a 360 into a baseball swing at the puck looked, the bottom line is he didn’t even get off a shot on that move. How does a guy win an event without getting off a shot?
Even in the dunk contest, you have to actually dunk the ball to win, right?
Hopefully, next year we won’t see Tiger Woods trying to hit his 3-wood “stinger” past opposing goalies. Just give us freaking hockey!