Game #52 Preview - Downhill Slide

Thomas Drance
February 04 2012 07:16AM


It has been nearly three months since Avs Winger Daniel Winnick "hadouken'd" Alex Edler.

 Game Day Recon: Game #52 - Canucks @ Avalanche

Early this afternoon the "slumping" Canucks visit the Mile High City for another Saturday day-game that won't be televised, or covered, by Hockey Night in Canada. It's the Canucks third non-HNIC, Saturday day-game in 2012, with the memorable affairs in Boston, and in Vancouver against San Jose, being the other recent examples.

Are all of these early starts responsible for the breakdown in the Canucks once-vaunted possession game over the past four weeks? Probably not, but they're getting to be a bit frustrating! The CBC may not produce my favorite hockey broadcast anymore, but damn-it, seeing les boys on Hockey Night still means something! 

A longer recap, underlying numbers from both teams, and more after the jump!

Broadcast Info.

Game Time: 1200 hours PST

TV: Snet-P Radio: The Team

The Setup

Today's game will be the third meeting between the two teams this campaign, and the first since Kevin Porter stuck his knee out on David Booth in early December. That dirty hit temporarily derailed Booth's first season in Vancouver, and cost Porter four games and a nice chunk of change.

Will we see retribution from the Canucks for Porter's dirty hit? With the recently called up Byron Bitz playing his first game with the team, and probably eager to make an impression, don't rule it out. Then again this will be Byron Bitz's first big league game since March 27th, 2010. Bitz is still coming back from multiple surgeries, and so far, seems to be easing himself back into it. He has put up 9 PIM in 10 AHL games since returning from injury, a far cry from his last prolonged stint of AHL duty in Providence, when he racked up 68 PIM in 37 games played in 2008-09.

I'm more worried about payback for the Hadouken Daniel Winnick laid out on Edler in the two team's November 23 meeting earlier this year. If David Booth pulls out his vaunted Sonic Boom attack, he's sure to pick up a shanaban.

So will the Canucks feast on cupcakes again this afternoon? Probably, but don't be fooled by the way the Canucks handed it to them in two previous meetings this season, this years Avs team is not a push-over. If the injured Matt Duschene can get back quickly, they're my pick to claim the 8th spot in the West.

In addition to noted Canucks killer Milan Hejduk, the Avs possess a surplus of good 2-way forwards in Jay McClement, Ryan O'Riley, Daniel Winnick and Gabriel Landeskog. Colorado's blue-line group has been a pleasant surprise as well this year. Jan Hejda is an extremely effective tough-minutes blueliner, and the development of Ryan O'Byrne into the same has been a boon for the Avs. Vigneault's old favorite, the legendary Shane O'Brien, is turning in another solid post-Canucks campaign as well.

In net, oldster J.S. Giguerre gets the start for Colorado. He's been a rock this season for the Avs, and is sporting a .935% even-strength save percentage. 

Meanwhile the Canucks have been struggling over the past month. They're not getting calls, and their 5-on-5 game has sputtered. Luckily the team has been shielded from poor results, mostly because their goaltending tandem has been superb. While there's cause for concern, the Canucks have the pedigree to turn it around, and perhaps some Northwest Division competition is exactly what the doctor ordered!

Numbers Game

This table includes what we believe to be the best "predictive" team metrics in hockey. Beyond the self-explanatory stats like record, power-play 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. Check out the league leaders in this category for a clear idea of why we trust it. Shot% and Fenwick% are indicators of possession and show us which team is better at controlling play. Shot Tied% and especially Fenwick Tied% have proven to be the gold standard for measuring "real" team quality. We also include PDO (the sum of a team's on-ice save% and shooting%) to qualify a team's record - and to try and isolate whether or not a particular opponent (or the Canucks) is as good as their record indicates.

  Avalanche Canucks
Record 26-25-2 31-15-5
Venue Record (Home/Away) 14-13-0 16-9-1
Last 10 3-6-1 6-2-2
PP% 18.8% 22.9%
PK% 81.2% 85.9%
Goal Differential -15 +36
5-on-5 Goals F/A 0.81 1.17
Shots % 51.6% 50.2%
Fenwick % 51% 51.6%
Shots Tied % 49.6% 48.6%
Fenwick Tied % 50% 50.6%
PDO 98.6 101.5

The Three Keys

  1. Draw a penalty. As Gordon Macintyre points out: the power-play opportunities have dried up since the Bruins game. I suspect the Canucks are doing too much "crumpling."
  2. Control more on-ice "events" than Colorado does. The Canucks haven't been themselves the past month, and I don't think it's unreasonable to point that out. I'm not a sky-is falling type, but Vancouver's club is being dramatically out-shot and out-chanced over an increasingly large sample.
  3. Win the Landeskog matchup. While Duschene (when healthy) is their most dangerous player, Landeskog is the guy who really drives play for the Avalanche. I suspect we'll see Landeskog's line (he usually skates with O'Riley and Winnick) play against Vancouver's best even-strength unit (Kesler-Booth and whomever). With the Canucks struggling mightily at 5-on-5, if their most reliable 5-on-5 group is neutralized (or beaten), the team could be in for a long-afternoon.
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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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