Because these games don't mean nearly enough for teams to leave the time zone unless they absolutely have to, the Vancouver Canucks met the San Jose Sharks Tuesday for the third bloody time in eight days. If the preseason is for tune-ups, I think it's safe to say the Canucks will begin the regular season fully ready to play the Sharks.
They're always making strides out there, and not just because hockey is played on ice skates. In game three, they scored a regulation goal! That's a marked improvement over last week, when they scored zero goals. And, speaking of one goal, that's what I had when I woke up this morning: it was to watch this game. And I watched this game.
- By the second week of training camp, storylines begin to emerge, and this year we've got a doozy: the play of Jared McCann, who is pushing for a seat on the team bus, and the play of Linden Vey, who appears to be all too willing to surrender his. This game did nothing to change the narrative. McCann was excellent once again, with six shot attempts, the most among forwards. He was noticeable all over the ice, which is why I found it so strange that the Sharks centered the puck right to him on Vancouver's lone goal. How did they not see him? He was so noticeable.
- You had to feel for Vey, watching McCann get that gift of a setup. Meanwhile, he has to work for every inch out there. It'd be nice if, just once, the universe handed him something he barely had to work for. Oh.
- I guess there was also that time, late in the game, when McCann set up Vey for a point-blank shot. He was stopped, though. Plus when Vey got onto the ice in the dying seconds, as the Canucks pressed for the game-tying goal, despite being invisible all night. But still. McCann got a friggin' gift. He knew what to do with it, mind you. Alone in front for a split-second, McCann roofed it like a newly-built, single-family dwelling nearing its possession date.
- McCann wasn't the only prospect who played well, though. Ben Hutton continues to make the case for himself, although it should be noted that the counterargument -- too many defenceman that can't be sent to the minors -- is pretty strong, especially it's vital for NHL teams to manage their bodies on the back-end. Plus Hutton can go to the minors. It may not seem fair, but consider how often the Canucks have wound up dressing four or five AHL defenders because everyone else got hurt. You can't be frivolous with defenders. Unless they're pawns, and you're playing a very aggressive game of chess.
- Plus, Hutton wasn't even the best defenceman tonight. That award goes to Alex Biega, who's been somewhat forgotten, because he's small and 27 and not new to us. But Biega had a game-high seven shots on goal on just eight attempts, and after watching Alex Edler fire three point shots in a row into the penalty-killer up high, I found myself thinking the Canucks could use a guy who gets his pucks to the net. That does seem to be the point of this game.
- Speaking of dudes who aren't getting enough press, I've been impressived with Adam Cracknell, and I suspect the coaching staff is too. He's been noticeable on the wing and at centre, and when he replaced Vey between Brandon Prust and Derek Dorsett, the line actually generated some chances. I'd say Vey should be equally worried about Cracknell, but when Jim Benning suggested at the intermission that the fourth-line centre would likely see some second-unit powerplay time, it seemed clear that McCann still had the inside track. Cracknell's probably not a powerplay option. Still, one wonders how far down the depth chart Vey could fall here if he doesn't find a way to show something in a hurry.
- We should probably applaud Brendan Gaunce for his toughness, after taking a puck to the face, leaving the ice with a busted mug, then returning before the medical staff could even clean off all the blood. Way to be tough, kid. Of course, this has nothing to do with his hockey ability, and one hopes the team doesn't make decisions on who can most convincingly pretend a puck to the face doesn't hurt. If that's all it takes to make the team, expect more players to take puck to the face. Then expect some players to become specialized face-puckers, offering up their faces for the good of their teammates, and working more on their puck-to-the-face skills than their actual hockey. And then eventually, someone will die from too many pucks to the face, but everyone will claim there isn't enough evidence that he didn't die of something else, and that hockey needs pucks to the face to protect its players.
- Finally, Ryan Miller still doesn't look very good. If the team really wants to avoid a goaltending controversy, they should probably go without a backup this season.