Game #72 Preview - Expunging The Xcel Demons

Thomas Drance
March 19 2012 12:19PM

The Canucks, fresh off a win over Columbus on Saturday that was altogether too close for comfort, will look to continue to shake out some cobwebs tonight as they roll into the home-base of the Minnesota Wild. The Canucks are hated in Minnesota, and generally speaking have had some memorably godawful games at the Xcel Energy Center over the past couple of seasons. From the Rypien incident, to the 5-2 shellacking they took in November - the Canucks are occasionally ambushed by their Xcel demons, despite consistently being a far superior side to the one the Wild ice.

Tonight, they'll face Josh Harding, with Mason Raymond in the press-box, Manny Malhotra back in the lineup and Cory Schneider in net. Will the twins be reunited with the Burrows? Is the Edler-Bieksa experiment finally over?

Read past the jump for a more thorough recap, underlying numbers and the three keys to the game!

Broadcast Info

Gametime: 5 PM PST

TV: Rogers Sportsnet Pacific Radio: The Team

Setup

The inevitable has occurred, and Mason Raymond has finally been sent to the Press Box. Last season, despite his lack of production, he was a possession monster. This season - that's fallen off to a large extent, and while he still does well by some metrics (specifically, our scoring chance data) his possession numbers have cratered and his recent slump is clearly getting to him mentally. While Canucks fans will rejoice about Raymond being dispatched from the lineup, his speed remains important to the club and hopefully his stint in the press-box won't be long-lasting. If the Canucks are going to go deep into the postseason - they'll need Raymond to find his game.

After a less than stellar outing on Saturday, Cory Schneider gets the start once again for the Canucks tonight. Xcel Energy Centre has been an occasional house of horrors for Roberto Luongo, and not starting him tonight is possibly an attempt to "protect" the team's first string goaltender. If Schneider plays well, will he start three of four games on the team's current road-trip? It's certainly possible. Rest assured: if Schneider pitches a quality start tonight, the scrutiny to reach a fever pitch this week - especially considering the Canucks play in the Madhouse on Wednesday night.

The Wild have fallen hard this season, something that was completely unsurprising to anyone who pays attention to advanced stats. Just to make any numbers resistant Wild fans who happen to read this post angry, let's explain what happened to the Wild's season with a handy graph courtesy Behindthenet.ca:

Here's what the above graphs mean. In the graph on the left, the green line is the percentage of goals scored by the Wild in the games they play, and the blue line is the percentage of shots the Wild managed to control in those games. When they were in first in the Western Conference, around the thirtieth game of the season, they had scored 55% of all goals in the games they'd played, despite controlling fewer than forty-five percent of totals shots in those games. That gave them a sky-high PDO (the graph on the right) and a winning record that was a total mirage. As the percentages have come back to the Earth (and then some, because the Wild suck) Minnesota's perpetually boring team hasn't been able to buy a win, and have paid for their complete inability to control games.

In conclusion, regression is a cruel mistress!

Numbers Game

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, the table includes: 5-on-5 Goals For and Against Rate, which measures a team's even-strength goal differential on a per game basis. Today the table is somewhat modified because timeontheice's "mplayershots" scripts have been glitchy over the past week, so we've dropped shot% and shot% tied from the table. However, Fenwick% close is a great indicator of possession, and shows us which team is better at controlling play. We'll also include Fenwick% in a tied game state, which, has 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).

  Wild Canucks
Record 29-32-10 43-20-28
Venue Record (Home/Away) 15-15-4 22-10-4
Last 10 2-7-1 4-4-2
PP% 14.8% 21.6%
PK% 82.8% 85.9%
Goal Differential -46 +43
5-on-5 Goals F/A 0.76 1.14
Shots % 45.2% 50.5%
Fenwick % 44.7% 51.7%
Shots Tied % 44.8% 50.4%
Fenwick Tied % 44.9% 52.3%
PDO 99 101.1
Yeah the Wild are terrible.

Game Notes

The twins are reunited with Alex Burrows, Gragnani will get a chance playing in Ehrhoff's old role in Edler's right side. Bieksa and Hamhuis are reunited, Malhotra draws back into the lineup, Mason Raymond is banished to the press-box and Cory Schneider gets the start for Vancouver.

Josh Harding will be in net for the Wild, while their best player and captain Mikko Koivu remains on the shelf.

The Three Keys

  1. Match the Wild's compete level. This is all that matters for the Canucks tonight. The Wild are a bad possession team, they don't score much, and their goaltending is okay, but not superb. Josh Harding is a quality NHL netminder, but consider both the Canucks' firepower, and the Wild's lack of quality blueliners - he should be beatable. So the only thing that the Canucks really need to do to win tonight, is show up and match the Wild's intensity. The Wild are losing constantly, they're losing constantly at home, and will want to win just for the sake of celebrating anything again. The team and their fans consider the Canucks to be their main rival (stop laughing, they really do), and I'd wager they'll want this game so as to give their fan-base something, however meagre, to celebrate

  2. Play responsibly. The Canucks didn't have a great defensive game on Saturday, but they at least stopped giving up a constant flow of two-on-ones against. That said, they had other problems, namely a newfound inability to win a defensive zone faceoff. WIth Malhotra back into the lineup tonight, that problem should be fixed. Minnesota is one of the most offensively challenged squads in the league, and it would be nice to see the Canucks manage to shut their pop-gun offense down completely.

  3. Dominate with the top-line. The Wild have a solid two-way centreman in Kyle Brodziak. He's the sort of player (think Bergeron and Bolland) who can give the Sedin's fits, or would be that sort of player, if he had a stellar top defensive pairing to team-up with. In Minnesota, Brodziak has to do it on his own, and the Wild simply don't possess the personnel to shut down the twins. They had their first really strong game in months on Saturday, and reunited with Alex Burrows tonight, it would be nice to see them dominate like it was 2011. 

Game Day Links

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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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#1 DCR
March 19 2012, 12:45PM
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Looks interesting, but I'd have preferred seeing Edler/Tanev and Grags/Rome. I don't trust Gragnani on the right side - and Rome can play there on the bottom pairing.

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#3 Cam Charron
March 19 2012, 01:43PM
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I like Gragnani and Edler. Give them 10 offensive zone starts a game with the Sedins and see what happens.

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#4 Joels
March 19 2012, 02:35PM
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Vancouver Canucks are not as good as last year, their defense is weaker. Kesler is not 100%. They recently have been losing games that 1 month ago they were winning by a goal. They are a good team that does not have the ability to turn it on and off at will.

This year will prove how hard it is to go to the Cup.

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