Welcome to Northern Exposure, a weekly tour around the NHL’s Canadian teams. With news, notes and opinions about all things Canadian and NHL. For more coverage of your favorite teams, please feel free to click on the links to be taken to that team’s own Fansided page.
Lets begin the tour now. We will start today way out West:
The success of the Vancouver Canucks has spawned a lot of NHL awards talk heading into the end of the regular season. Daniel Sedin & Ryan Kesler are among the favorites to win the Hart and Selke trophies respectively.
The team consisting of the Sedins, Kesler, Roberto Luongo, Christian Erhoff, and Alex Burrows among others, is the President’s Trophy winner in a runaway. However, if the Canucks do go on to win the Stanley Cup, there is one player who I would consider to be among the most important to the team this season. This choice will surprise many, and the fact is that this player may not even play a playoff game in Vancouver.
Cory Schneider has given his team something this season that Vancouver has not had in Roberto Luongo’s 5 seasons as a Canuck. Schneider has provided Canucks coach Alain Vigneault with the ability to confidently play his backup netminder without a suffering a severe drop in talent. With all due respect to previous Luongo understudies Danny Sabourin, Curtis Sanford and Andrew Raycroft, they didn’t inspire the confidence to throw them out there in a game and be assured of getting a consistent performance. This has forced Luongo into playing many more minutes than any goalie really should, and still be fresh for the playoffs. Putting Luongo’s injuries in 2008-09 (24 games) and 2009-10 (6 games) aside, Luongo would have started a minimum of 73 games in each season. Add this load to the Olympic pressure cooker that Luongo endured last season, and there is no wonder the Canucks’ netminder was seemingly worn out against Chicago in 2010.
This season, however, Schneider’s emergence has allowed Luongo to take a break every now and then, and a healthy Luongo has been held to about 60 or 61 starts, which is right where you would want him to be heading into the postseason. Playing 75 games a season is a lot to ask, even of workhorse like Luongo. Being able to send Schneider out for 3 or 4 games each month has given Luongo just enough rest maintain his sharpness for May and June.
So while he may not see much action past April 10th, if the Canucks do hoist hockey’s Holy Grail in June, make no mistake that Cory Schneider and his 15-4-2 record in 23 games between October and April will have been one of the most important reasons why.
NOW ON TO THE REST OF THE COUNTRY:
- The loud noise you heard around Southern Ontario Sunday afternoon was the Maple Leaf Nation uttering a collective expletive as Erik Christensen and then Wojtek Wolski scored shootout goals for the Rangers in their win over the Flyers. The Rangers were the last team the Toronto had a snowballs chance in July of catching for a playoff spot, but the win moved them 5 points ahead of the Buds with 3 games to play for each. They are not mathematically eliminated yet, but it is only a matter or time. Sorry, Leafs fans, it was a valiant effort but this will be another year ended early.
- Joining the Leafs in the close but not quite department soon could be the Calgary Flames, who have to win out over their final 2 games and have a lot of help if they don’t want to be watching from the sidelines this time next week. They did come up with a 2-1 win over the lowly Colorado Avalance Sunday night, but they still trail 8th place Chicago by a point. The fact that the Hawks have 2 games in hand, as does Dallas (trailing the Flames by a point). Dallas has the easiest schedule of the three, as they don’t have a playoff team on their schedule for the rest of the season (Columbus, home & home with Colorado, Minnesota).
- Edmonton will be looking to play spoiler by ending the Flames’ hopes with a win over their provincial rivals, savaging at least some satisfaction this season. They are virtually assured of a top 2 pick, no matter who wins the Draft Lottery. With a 40+ percent chance of picking first, focus will shift to weighing the needs of the club (defence) vs. selecting an uber-talented forward. If they opt for forward, they need to decide on which one of 3 very different stlyes of player at the top of the prospect list they covet.
- Montreal will need some confidence building wins this week as they have struggled to put together any type of consistency over the last couple of weeks. Wins over Atlanta and New Jersey are a start, but they have three games left to send a message that they are playoff ready. Carey Price has had a great season, but memories of Jaroslav Halak‘s playoff performance last season still hang around the Bell Centre like the ghosts of the Forum. He will need to go deep in the playoffs to push aside that legendary performance and really command the respect of the Habs’ faithful.
- Ottawa is in danger of losing their grip on a top 4 selection, as they could conceivably leapfrog the Panthers and Islanders to move to 25th spot in the league. However, three very challenging games await this week as Philadelphia and Montreal visit Scotiabank Place before the Senators end their season in Boston. All of these opponents have something to play for, in terms of playoff seeding. If the Senators manage to lose all three, they should secure the top 4 pick their fans (if not the coaching staff) covet so greatly.
That’s all for this week. Hope you enjoyed the trip. Come back next week as the playoff matchups for at least 2 teams will be set, and the off-season will have begun for as many as 4 Canadian clubs.
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