February 13 2012 12:04PM
Oh, look, the start of a Hockey Hug!
(Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
Game Day Recon: Game #56 - Coyotes @ Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks return home after an incredibly successful four-game road trip, where they claimed 7 of a possible 8 points. The Canucks haven't exactly been slouches at home either, and 16 of their remaining 27 games are in the friendly confines of Rogers Arena, starting tonight.
The Canucks don't exactly open up this home stretch against a cupcake either. The Phoenix Coyotes have been on fire of late, winning five in a row, including a 3-0 shutout win against the high-flying, high-scoring Chicago Blackhawks. The Canucks will be out to feast on some Hot Dogs, and some home cookin' might just do the trick.
Game Time: 5:00 PM PT
The Phoenix Coyotes thrive at even strength and it has been their key to success this season. Tied for 7th in 5-on-5 GF/A ratio, the Coyotes are a tough, opportunistic team that will expose their opponent's mistakes time and time again. They aren't a good face-off team, they're roundly terrible at special teams (especially on the power-play), and their offense is average at best. But they are winning games a la Nashville - relying on sound defense and excellent goaltending.
Mike Smith, once a punchline in this league, has been a saviour of sorts in Phoenix. He's ranked in the top 10 for Wins, and Sv% (for goalies with 20+ GP) and falls just outside the top 10 in TOI and GAA (for goalies with 20+ GP). If you don't understand why Smith is so important to the Coyotes, this should finally convince you - the Phoenix Coyotes are ranked 28th in Shots Against, but are in the top-10 teams for fewest goals against! The bottom line is that Smith gets pelted with pucks every game, and he's doing his damnedest to stop them. Without Smith, the Coyotes would be in a heap of trouble. As it is, he's the main reason why the Coyotes are on a 5-game winning streak, and are currently sitting in the final playoff spot in the West. His success was recognized today, when the NHL named him the "first star" of this past week.
The Canucks have been escaping games by the hairs on their collective chinny chin chins lately, playing poorly but stealing points and wins out of thin air. Things seem to be turning around as the Canucks won the even-strength battle in Nashville, then continuing on in Minnesota and Calgary. The Sedins (reunited with Alex Burrows) caught a spark on Saturday against the Flames and showed several shifts, as the game went on, that they were on the verge of returning to their typical dominant selves. They've got their work cut out for them tonight, as the Coyotes offer a definite challenge to the Canucks top line, especially at even strength. A strong game for our favourite twin ginger freaks might just be the difference for the home club tonight.
This table includes what we believe to be the best "predictive" team metrics in hockey. Beyond the self-explanatory stats like record, powerplay percentage and goal differential, this table includes: 5-on-5 Goals For and Against Rate, which measures a team's even-strength goal differential on a per game basis. Shot% and Fenwick% are indicators of possession and show us which team is better at controlling play. Shot% and Fenwick% in a tied game state have been proven to be the gold standard for measuring "real" team quality. We'll also include PDO to qualify a team's record - and try to isolate whether or not a particular opponent (or the Canucks) are actually as good as their record indicates, or whether or not they've just been lucky (or unlucky).
|Venue Record (Home/Away)||15-6-4||13-11-4|
|5-on-5 Goals F/A||1.18||1.07|
|Shots Tied %||48.4%||49.1%|
|Fenwick Tied %||50.5%||50.1%|
With Phoenix capitalizing on less than 13% of their power-plays, Duco could well run wild tonight!
For the goalies tonight, it will be Luongo vs ... LA BARBERA. This is a bit of a curious move. Smith was named NHL Player of the Week, with five straight wins. However, LaBarbera is 4-1 in his last 5 games against Vancouver. The former Canucks back-up has played really well against Vancouver since he left as a free agent three years ago.
Chris Higgins is close to returning to the lineup but isn't expected to play. Henrik is showing no ill effects of a shot block to the ankle. Ballard is still out with neck pains and concussion like symptoms. It sounds like Ballard mght be out for a while too, as medical powers-that-be still haven't narrowed down the source of Ballard's pain. The Coyotes are without defencemen Kurt Sauer and Dave Schlemko, both out with significant injuries.
Tonight is the first time this season the Canucks have hosted the Coyotes. The Canucks lost both home games to the Coyotes last season.The last time the Canucks beat the Coyotes at home was March 30, 2010.
The Three Keys
Here are the three keys for the Vancouver Canucks tonight:
- Wonder Twin Powers Activate! The Canucks survived the last 4 weeks with the Sedins being passengers, mostly on luck and stellar goaltending. However, they also played the last several games against teams that are MUCH weaker than the Canucks at even strength. Tonight, playing a strong even strength side like the Coyotes, it is imperative that the Sedins (and Burrows, of course) get their mojo back for a full 60 minutes. With the Sedins puck possession skills, keeping the puck away from the opportunistic Coyotes is key. The more the Sedins hold the puck, the greater the chance of victory.
- Special teams MUST be special. The Canucks have a massive edge in PP and PK numbers, so they will have to burn the Coyotes when they're given the chance. The Coyotes, as you would expect with a Tippett-coached team, are disciplined, so the Canucks probably won't get a ton of chances with a man advantage. Let's hope that the Roxy Flu bit the players this weekend. As for the Canucks PK, just hold the fort and get back on track. The Coyotes are ranked 30th in goals-scored with the man-advantage.
- The second period. Yet again. The Canucks are woeful defensively in the second period. We all know this. But so are the Coyotes! The middle frame is far and away the Coyotes worst defensively. In fact, the Coyotes are almost identically bad in the second period at the Canucks are. So the Canucks need to use the second period to turn the tide of the game.
Here are your top 5 links for today's game: