May 15 2011 11:14AM
"Hey, Hanky Panky. It's nice to see you back on the scoresheet."
"Yeah, well. I was just saving myself for the REAL playoffs, ya know?"
(Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
Game Day Recon: Western Conference Final Game 1 - Sharks @ Canucks
After getting only one day off between rounds 1 and 2, the Vancouver Canucks got 5 full days between closing out their series agains the Predators, then starting today against the Sharks in the Western Conference Final. The Canucks certainly needed the rest to heal a few bruised bodies.
But will the time off hurt the Canucks game rhythm, or will the rest give them what they need to get everyone healthy again?
Game Time: 5:00 PM PT
The Vancouver Canucks were nursing a few injuries after knocking off the Predators in six games. Chris Higgins was bothered by a sore foot after blocking a shot in game 5. Mikael Samuelsson is hurt and still out of the lineup. And Henrik Sedin was clearly nursing a sore hamstring or groin. All three were noticeably absent from several practices, obviously resting up as much as possible.
The biggest surprise the Canucks got during their time off was the appearance of Manny Malhotra on-ice, skating with his teammates. Malhotra was wearing a full clear cage, and wasn't wearing any pads, but his presence was clearly a massive lift for the Canucks. While it is extremely doubtful, if not impossible, that Malhotra would return to the lineup this spring, speculation began to mount as to the possibilty of Malhotra coming back. It might be a little smoke and mirrors from the Canucks, it might be a little trickery. In fact, we KNOW it is. But this time of year, anything is possible.
The Canucks now face a team with plenty of offense depth, much like they saw when they played the Blackhawks, when Chicago had three full lines with the potential to score. Just like Chicago, these Sharks have that same potential, and are very deep at the center position. It will be an interesting matchup all series long to see how the Canucks defensive depth matches up against the Sharks offensive depth, as the Canucks are able to send out three very competent pairings against the Sharks forwards.
One player who could make a difference for the Sharks is Ryan Clowe, who is having a terrific post-season so far, but was injured in Game 5 against the Red Wings, missed Game 6, then came back for Game 7, but was a noticeable step behind his normal pace. Clowe is a big presence on the ice, so if he is hurt, this could be a big advantage for the Canucks.
Will this be the series where we see the Canucks offense break out? The Sharks defense is the weakest of the three teams that they have faced in the playoffs so far. And Antti Niemi is not playing spectacularly in the post-season, merely playing good enough. With a thinner defense than they have seen against Nashville or Chicago, and a goaltender not playing at the top of his game, the Canucks have an opportunity to showcase their offensive form that got them to the top of the league standings. This series, and tonight, may very well come down to the Sedins' ability to break through. While the Canucks have won two series without having Daniel and Henrik playing to their Art Ross trophy-winning potential, this series against the Sharks could be an old-fashioned gun fight and the Sharks have plenty of weapons. The Canucks had better not show up to a gun fight with only a couple of knives.
Based on the line rushes and speculation from Vancouver media, it looks like Victor Oreskovich may replace Jeff Tambellini on the fourth line. While I like Oreskovich's game, taking Tambellini's speed out of this game is a tactical error, in my opinion. Tamby's speed could go to town on the Sharks slower D, especially when forechecking. Sure the Sharks lineup is more physical, but the one that the Sharks are not is fast. Also expected to miss the game tonight is Mikael Samuelsson, still injured with no timetable yet to return. No word yet on when the Canucks are planning to parachute Manny Malhotra into Rogers Arena while strains of "The Ride of the Valkyries" blare through the crowd as he lands on the ice riding a magical Nordic steed. I suspect that will happen midway through the second period.
The Three Keys
Here are the three keys for the Vancouver Canucks tonight:
1. Get into the game early. With 6 days off, the Canucks need to get engaged early. Hit early, skate early, forecheck early, shoot early and often. Shake off any rust that may have formed from five full days off. The Sharks are coming off an emotional series victory over the Red Wings and may have left a little of their game back in San Jose to close out that series. Take advantage of that early.
2. Use your speed. The Canucks are BY FAR the speedier team of the two. It is imperative that the Canucks forecheck as much as possible on a slower defense and negate any backchecking by the slower Sharks forwards. If the Canucks can outskate the Sharks, they will easily control the puck more often, this keeping it away from the Sharks strong forwards.
3. Smart, safe defense. The Sharks offense is deep and likes to control the puck and set up, much like the Canucks do. The way to counter that is with smart, safe plays. Don't play high-risk in your own zone (save the higher-risk moves when you are on the offense). Keep the Sharks to the outside, and when you get the puck, play it north-south and get the puck out in 1 to 2 passes. There cannot be ANY passes going east-west in your own zone. The Sharks will prey on those types of plays.
Here are your top 5 links for today's game:
1. Tale of the Tape: Sharks @ Canucks (Canucks.com)
2. San Jose focus on Kesler could help Sedins line (The Province)
3. Canucks blueliners poised to repel Shark attack (Vancouver Sun)
4. Canucks/Sharks Preview (Yahoo! Sports)
5. Sharks Gameday: Power vs. Power (Fear The Fin) << SEE WHAT THE ENEMY HAS TO SAY!