March 01 2012 11:39AM
The St. Louis Blues HATE goal scoring.
For the Canucks tonight, all they need is LOVE.
(Image courtesy The Beatles/thebeatles.com)
Game Day Recon: Game #65 - Blues @ Canucks
Everyone loves goal scoring in the NHL, right? You always hear that a 6-5 game is much more exciting than a 1-0 game. Heck, even Gary Bettman and the league altered the rules of the game coming out of the lockout to increase scoring, because fans love goals. So goal scoring equals love in the NHL.
The Blue Meanies hated love. And the St. Louis Blues (meanies) HATE goal scoring. Tonight, the Vancouver Canucks have a small challenge ahead of them: Become the Beatles.
Game Time: 7:00 PM PT
The top 2 scorers for the St. Louis Blues are ranked 65th and 70th respectively in league scoring. David Backes (19G 26A 45P) and TJ Oshie (15G 29A 44P) lead their club with modest totals. However, the Blues have 8 players with 10 goals or more. To put that into perspective, the Canucks (who lead the NHL in total goals scored at 204) have 7 players with 10 goals or more. The Blues may not score a lot (ranked 19th in GF/G), but they spread the goals around like a big ol' jar of John Garrett's favourite Kraft smooth peanut butter. So one problem with playing against the Blues is that it's pretty hard to line-match defensively, since their scoring output doesn't from from any one particular player or line.
The other big problem with the playing against the Blues is that it's DAMN hard to score against them. DAMN hard. They ranked 1st in GA/G (1.91) and 1st in goals-against at 5-on-5, having allowed a mere 78 goals at even strength. They are stingey, and they make it really hard for other teams to create chances. They are 1st in the league in SA/G (26.2). It's hard to score when you can't generate shots, right?
Well, the Blues are clearly using that as their methodology for winning games. Of course, it doesn't hurt that they have TWO goalies with 20 wins. Both Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak have a Sv% at .925 or higher, and both goalies have a GAA at 1.94 or lower. That's just insane. So even if you CAN get a shot on net, which is already difficult, you then have to beat one of TWO goalies who are in the top 5 in Sv% and top 10 in GAA. Halak and Elliott truly are the Blue Meanies' Big Blue Glove, stopping goals like they're stopping music and love.
Tonight's game will be a window into whether or not the Canucks can have success come playoff time. The St. Louis Blues are a miserable team to play, and they're tough and big and built for the post-season. With a more balanced roster and a potential upgrade on defence, are the Canucks better prepared to face a team like the Blues? The Canucks got bigger and added more balance throughout their lineup at the deadline - so let's see if it pays off tonight.
Will the Canucks manage to use these new assets to play the right notes and sing a sweet song? Do the Canucks have the necessary transformation magic to defeat the Blue Meanies? The Canucks hope their new lineup will prove that It's All Too Much for St. Louis 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)||18-6-4||13-14-2|
|5-on-5 Goals F/A||1.22||1.43|
|Shots Tied %||%||56.6%|
|Fenwick Tied %||%||56.4%|
Roberto Luongo will likely return to the net, after making way for Cory Schneider in Phoenix. Zack Kassian and Sami Pahlsson will play their first game at home in their new Canucks sweaters. Marc-Andre Gragnani is still a bit of a question mark, as Alain Vigneault stated before that he wanted the young defenceman to get some practice time in with his new club, as he hadn't seen much game action recently in Buffalo. Based on practice lineups, Gragnani may indeed draw in, with Chris Tanev coming out in his place. The Canucks do catch a bit of a break as burgeoning Canuck Killer Alex Steen is out of the lineup for the Blues with concussion-like symptoms.
The big story of tonight's game is that first place in the NHL is on the line. The Blues are a single point back of the Canucks, with both teams sporting near-identical records (Both teams have 64 GP and 40 W). A win of any kind for the Canucks will see them keep their spot at the top of the league standings. A loss of any kind will see them cede top spot to the Blues, by virtue of the Blues having more ROW's.
The Three Keys
Here are the three keys for the Vancouver Canucks tonight:
- Canucks PP vs Blues PK. The Blues don't have too many flaws, but their PK isn't as effective as you'd think it should be (they're still smarting from the loss of Jay McClement). The #1 ranked defence has a #12 ranked PK. It's not as though their PK is bad, but it's not nearly as dominant as you'd think it would be. The Blues also take a load of penalties in the 2nd period, so the success of the Canucks PP in the second period may be the critical turning point of this game.
- Forward! Offfense! With the addition of Sami Pahlsson centering the third line, it's time now for the top two lines, specifically the second line of Kesler, Booth and Raymond to get going. With Kesler freed up from a certain amount of defensive responsibilities and potentially penalty killing duties, it's time for him and his wingers to get their offensive mojo going. The key here is not just for Kesler and his line to provide offence, but to be an offensive FORCE out on the ice tonight.
- Pressure, pressure, pressure. The St. Louis Blues have the fewest giveaways in the league. You have to force them to turn over the puck with pressure and lots of it. If the Canucks can get the Blues to start coughing up pucks, and therefore swing possession back to the home team, they'll get the Blues out of their comfort zone. Force turnovers with pressure. Get some.
Here are your top 5 links for today's game: