Photo: NHL

You remember the Vancouver Canucks, right? Colors are green, blue and white; big funny-looking whale on their jersey; coach keeps whining about other teams not playing fair? Not ringing a bell?

Well, in the playoffs last year they blew a 3 games to none lead against the Blackhawks before FINALLY squeaking by in overtime of game 7? And we had to serve up a giveaway on a silver platter with nobody between them and the goalie for them to win?

No? Nothing?

Their goalie’s an overrated head case, fans have a massive inferiority complex, and the entire province of British Columbia wanted to lynch me after I called Daniel and Henrik Sedin “The Tampon Twins?”

Okay, you got it now. Good. Well, they’re in town tonight. And it’s a great time for them to visit.

The trouble really got rolling during the Canucks’ October 25 loss to Edmonton. Roberto Luongo, the Canucks’ much ballyhooed but still Championship-free starting goaltender, let in 3 goals on just 14 shots before getting yanked in the second period. The normally-potent Canucks offense pumped a whopping 37 shots on goal, but only dented the twine twice, resulting in a 3-2 loss to the division rival Oilers.

The Canucks lost 3 of the next 5, allowing 16 goals against during that stretch that were spread pretty evenly between Luongo and backup Cory Schneider, who isn’t playing particularly well either. Adding insult to injury, 2 of those 3 losses were against lowly St. Louis.

So outside of their goaltender troubles, who is sucking wind? The Tampon Twins do sit atop the points list for Vancouver, with 9 goals and 20 assists between them. But the plus/minus numbers elsewhere on the roster tell the story: defensemen Kevin Bieksa and Keith Ballard, -8 and -9 respectively; wingers Jannik Hansen and David Booth, same story; and bringing up the rear, Manny Malhotra at -10. Clearly there are defensive lapses of a Thursday-night-beer-league variety happening with great regularity.

The Canucks’ special teams are still strong: the PP and PK are both in the top 10 in the league. This is not a measurably different Canucks team on paper from the riot-inducing chokers of last year. But at the rate they are currently playing, there is some question as to whether they will actually make the playoffs. With a 6-7-1 record, if the playoffs started today, they would be out.

As an aside, the rarely-quotable and largely unreliable rumor sources in the blogosphere are passing around the suggestion that Roberto Luongo has hit the radar screen of former Blackhawks’ GM Dale Tallon, now running the show in Florida. He is in need of a “franchise” goaltender (HA!) after letting Tomas Vokoun fly the coop this past summer. Could LuLu Belle be headed back to the swamp from whence he came? Stay tuned…

The Blackhawks on the other hand, after taking 3 out of 4 points on the Panthers/Lightning Fathers’ Road Trip sponsored by Tropicana, are leading the Western Conference with an 8-2-3 record. Their 19 points puts them tied for second in the league, they are in the top 10 in most offensive categories, and if their positively flaccid power play ever gets on track, they have the potential to start running roughshod over most opponents.

We learned some things on the Florida road trip. We learned that Daniel Carcillo needs an oxygen tent after skating 120 feet down the ice, but also that he can put the biscuit in the basket given the chance. We learned that we have only begun to see the arguably infinite possibilities that Patrick Kane offers playing center, with him tallying 3 assists on the night with some more jaw-dropping setups to Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. We learned that Ray Emery plays best when facing 10 or fewer shots per period, and has trouble withstanding the kind of offensive pressure a team like Tampa Bay can bring.

And we learned that Nick Leddy is not, repeat not, ready for prime time. Paired with Sean O’Donnell for the Florida trip, he managed one assist against the Panthers, but went -4 against the Lightning and was directly responsible for both their 3rd goal, and the winning goal in OT. The kid has a lot of upside, and matching him with O’Donnell is probably smart — if you’re only going to give him O’Donnell’s minutes. Leddy needs more work on his defensive game; be looking for more on this during the upcoming week.

Tonight we’re at home against the Canucks, and the Blackhawks are undefeated in regulation at the United Center. CarBomb has some of the Canucks’ players looking to settle scores after his ill-advised trash talking during his meet-the-new-guy press conference in July, so expect some fireworks there. The ‘Hawks are doing a great job of staying out of the penalty box, they will need to be particularly careful with that tonight.

Injury report: Sami Salo and Alex Burrows are out tonight for the Canucks; Blackhawks Defenseman Duncan Keith is out tonight, so we should be seeing the same defensive crew as the last two games — though perhaps different pairings. Corey Crawford will start for the ‘Hawks, and Luongo is the confirmed starter for Vancouver. He’s been trying to exorcise his United Center demons for almost 4 years now; maybe tonight’s the… Naaaaaahhhhh…

6:00pm start time tonight at the U.C. WGN has Pat & Eddie with the call on television, and WGN AM-720 has the game on broadcast radio. XM subscribers will find the game on channel 212, Sirius Premiere customers should scroll to channel 211. Why those services (both owned by the same company) can’t manage to coordinate the same channel for the same game is really a friggin’ mystery.

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