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Thursday, December 22, 2011
Daily Debate: Cup-worthy Canucks, controversial hit and a crabby coach

By Craig Custance and Pierre LeBrun

Craig Custance and Pierre LeBrun discuss another controversial hit, a confounding move by a certain coach and the high-flyin’ Canucks.

Custance: Hey, Pierre. Hope you're not feeling as groggy as I am this morning after a late night of watching hockey. But last night was an entertaining one in the NHL. Let's start with Claude Giroux's triumphant return to the ice, where he provided further proof that the world of concussions is a highly unpredictable one. He missed just four games with his concussion, and you couldn't tell he missed any time with the way he played. He finished with four points, again establishing himself as the favorite in the Art Ross Trophy race. The fascinating thing was watching his recovery unfold on HBO during another great episode of “24/7.”

Too bad we can't say the same for Chris Pronger's recovery, a storyline that has been noticeably absent for most of the series.

The most intense game of the night came later between the Red Wings and Canucks, a matchup I'd love to see rekindled in the playoffs. Lots of debate about Niklas Kronwall's hit on Ryan Kesler. Kronwall clearly left his feet, but it didn't look like Kesler's head was targeted. Maybe I've spent too much time in Detroit, but I didn't have an issue with the hit, although Kronwall needs to stop leaping into guys. Kesler's biggest issue was that Kronwall refused to drop the gloves after the hit, but that's another debate altogether.

There was more than just one incident. Jimmy Howard went after Jannik Hansen after he felt he was interfered with. I know this is a touchy subject with Howard, who doesn't think he gets the same protection opposing goalies get against Tomas Holmstrom. But what a win for the Canucks, who have now won three straight and are one point behind Minnesota. It won't be long until we forget their slow start, don't you think?

LeBrun: If we get Wings-Canucks in the playoffs, Craig, count me in. You and I can collect the air miles together and cover what would be one heck of a series based on last night’s thriller. I’m a huge Ryan Kesler fan, but I think he’s dead wrong on saying Niklas Kronwall had to drop to gloves after that big hit. It was clean in my opinion, and there’s no need for a fight because of that. It’s annoying to me that today’s players feel a fight is warranted whenever there’s a loud hit -- even if it’s clean. A fantastic game, though, and the Canucks are on a roll and then some, having won 12 of their past 15 games. And if you’re the Minnesota Wild, you better get ready to hand over the penthouse keys in the Northwest Division, because there’s no way you’re staying there for much longer.

Of note, Roberto Luongo was sensational last night, and it seems like those days when Canucks fans were booing him are long gone. Bobby Lu is back. Vancouver and Boston, last spring’s Cup finalists, are on serious rolls. So much for the Cup finals hangover.

Meanwhile, in Dallas, the pride of Hearst, Ontario, did indeed return in glorious style with a four-point night, although the highlight of the game -- unfortunately -- seems to be the incident between Steve Ott of the Stars and Flyers coach Peter Laviolette. The way I see it, they’re both at fault. Ott went out of his way to step in front of Laviolette (did he know the HBO cameras were in the rink?), but I also think Laviolette should have either waited for the Stars to walk through or walked across the rink like most other visiting coaches usually do.

Either way, I know NHL executive vice president Colin Campbell was investigating the matter this morning. We’ll see if anything comes of it either in the form of fines or at least warnings to both teams. Laviolette declined comment via text this morning when I asked him for his take on it.

Custance: I have a feeling Laviolette's phrase "Typical Montreal" following a couple no-calls against the Canadiens will catch on. Maybe he should follow it up with "Typical Ott."

It's pretty impressive when you can get under the skin of the opposing coach like that, but good for Laviolette for taking the high road after the game rather than digging a deeper hole. I don't think Laviolette left his feet when he gave Ott a shove on the way past him, so I think he's safe.

It's a big win for the Flyers who have been suspect since the Pronger news emerged. They are now back on top in the Eastern Conference, setting up a nice showdown against the Rangers on Friday. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

I wanted to touch on one more game, since the Avalanche are suddenly unstoppable at home, winning again last night against the Blues. I had a good chat with Blues GM Doug Armstrong before the game about St. Louis' success under Ken Hitchcock. The players have completely bought in.

"They understand that if they follow the game plan and responsibilities, they have a good chance to have success," Armstrong said. "They're tired of losing. We're ready to go to a different level."

That's what makes Colorado's win last night over the Blues that much more impressive. The Blues are motivated, playing well, got 39 shots on Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and it still wasn't enough. That's now seven straight wins at home for Colorado, and they're quality wins, beating teams like the Blues, Flyers, Capitals, Red Wings and Sharks. Should we call off the Joe Sacco watch?

LeBrun: The Avs are playing their best hockey since early October, no question. That should definitely buy Sacco some time, although I wonder how he felt the other day when Patrick Roy specifically mentioned Montreal and Colorado as possible landing spots for him next year as an NHL coach. Um, Patrick, you do know that Joe Sacco still coaches there, right? Oh man, Roy is a beauty. But for the Avs, they’ve now won seven straight at home, and that’s key for Sacco.

One thing about GMs and team presidents I’ve talked to over the years in this job, is that they hate when their teams lose at home. They can be terrible on the road, but it’s unacceptable to lose a string of games at home like Colorado did earlier in the season.

You mentioned Giguere getting the win again last night. He’s started three straight games over Semyon Varlamov -- whom the Avs gave up a first-round pick for last summer. But the veteran Giguere, who finally appears healthy, has been the man of late.

"Right now, it's not too much of decision because Giggy is playing so well, we've won games, we're getting results," Sacco told the Denver Post.

Custance: Wouldn't it be something if Giguere ended up saving the Avs from sending a lottery pick to the Capitals in the Varlamov trade?

I remember talking to Giguere earlier this season, and he said he was still adjusting to the role of being a goalie mentor at this point in his career rather than the No. 1 guy. If he keeps playing like this, he'll hold that top spot.

As for tonight's games, we finally get to see the debut of Darryl Sutter as the head coach of the Kings. Dean Lombardi is betting on someone he knows well to turn around the stumbling Kings, saying yesterday that he thinks Sutter is entering the prime of his coaching career.

"I really believe the best is yet to come," Lombardi said.

I'm not so sure, but we'll soon find out. Sutter said he watched the past five Kings games live on television, and that Lombardi sent him seven games on tape going to the start of the season. Perhaps in analyzing those 12 games, Sutter can solve the team's scoring issues. It may be as simple as plugging Mike Richards back into the lineup. Richards has been cleared to play following his own concussion recovery, so if he can pull a Claude Giroux, the Kings should be all set.

But we've learned a couple things this year: One, there's no guarantee of success when you return to the ice following a concussion. And two, despite Hitchcock's success, a new coach doesn't automatically equal wins. The Kings' opponents tonight, the Ducks, are proof of that.

LeBrun: I’m thoroughly in the minority on this one, but I think hiring Sutter in L.A. was brilliant. You look at what he did in maximizing talent in Calgary, San Jose and Chicago as a head coach, and I think it’s exactly what the Kings need to wake up an underachieving roster. There are players on that Kings roster who need a little tough love, and they’re about to get it.

Another great night to sit back and watch some great games, Mr. Custance. So why not do just that?

Have a great holiday, Craig. I’ll be back tomorrow with Scott Burnside.