Game #73 Preview - Listless In the Madhouse

Thomas Drance
March 21 2012 11:13AM


Dave Bolland has a history of frustrating the Sedins.
Tonight, the Canucks should look to flip the script and generously deploy their Jerk-Puck tactics.

The Canucks, playing for nothing at this late point in the season, have been dogging it of late - possibly by design. As a result, the team has lost five of their last seven and Vancouverites are becoming typically restless. "Vigneault should be fired for putting that figure-skater Mason Raymond in the top-six, and why exactly is Roberto Luongo (the bum!) - who, by the way, is the team's real backup goaltender - starting tonight?"

Yep. You know the drill.

Tonight the Canucks face one of the West's hottest teams in their old arch-nemesis the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks have been supplanted as the central preoccupation of Canucks fans by the Boston Bruins; while the Blues are steadily climbing up the list of teams Blackhawks fans hate, and are certainly in the same league as the Canucks now. Even if the bloom is off the rivalry rose to some extent - tonight's tilt still promises to be a spirited affair, which would be awesome, since we've only seen the Canucks play a couple of those (the win to snap Detroit's home-ice winning streak, and the 2-0 win over St. Louis) since the All-Star break.

Click past the jump for a more detailed preview, underlying numbers and the three keys to the game.

Broadcast Info

Gametime: 5 PM PST

TV: TSN, Radio: The Team

The Setup

The Blackhawks are 8-1-1 in their last ten games and  have put their pre-trade deadline skid squarely in the rearview mirror. Their goaltending is still an issue, and their defensive play down low can occasionally be of the "weak" variety - but whatever, the Blackhawks are filling the net and winning games again. They'll be a dangerous opponent tonight.

Since the two teams last played, Chicago has added former Vancouver Canuck centreman Brendan Morrison, and they acquired Johnny Oduya from the Winnipeg Jets while jettisoning John Scott to the Rangers. Bowman the Younger hasn't been a General Manager for long, but we learned a lot about him by his refusal to panic during the Hawks losing skid. It's a credit to Bowman's intelligence, and steadfastness that the team has turned it around without significant augmentation, and that Oduya especially has meshed extremely well in Chicago.

The Hawks will be without Jonathan Toews again. Toews is one of the NHL's premiere skaters, and it's the worst when a guy like that is on the shelf with something as frightening as a concussion. On the bright side, he resumed skating today so hopefully he'll be healthy and able to return soon. 

The Blackhawks are playing in their second game of a back-to-back tonight, as they routed Columbus yesterday evening. In three previous meetings this season, each team has recorded a "clear victory," and the Canucks won the the third contest despite being massively outshot. In terms of controlling play, the Canucks have been the better squad twice.

The Canucks have scrambled up their lines again somewhat, as Mason Raymond draws back into the lineup and into the top-six. He'll skate with Kesler and Booth while Higgins drops down to the third line. Zack Kassian, who had a brutal game in Minnesota on Monday will watch tonight's proceedings from the Press Box as Ritch Winter watches on TV and does his best Nelson from the Simpsons laugh "HA HA."

If Vancouver can show up tonight, this could be an entertaining game. Certainly without Toews in the Chicago lineup, this is a game you'd really like to see the Canucks handle and win.

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).

 

Blackhawks

Canucks
Record 41-25-8 43-21-8
Venue Record (Home/Away) 25-7-5 22-11-4
Last 10 8-1-1 3-5-2
PP% 16.1% 21.5%
PK% 78.8% 85.7%
Goal Differential +14 +41
5-on-5 Goals F/A 1.02 1.14
Shots % 52.3% 50.5%
Fenwick % 52.4% 51.7%
Shots Tied % 51.6% 50.4%
Fenwick Tied % 52.1% 52.3%
PDO 99 101

The Hawks are a dangerous possession team at five-on-five, though their special teams are inexplicably weak. Their real achilles heal however doesn't show up in the above table. Blackhawks goaltenders are only stopping .909% of shots faced at even-strength this season, and .904% with the score tied. In contrast, Schneider and Luongo have combined to stop .928% of all shots faced, and .938% of shots-faced with the score tied. That's a massive advantage for the Canucks.

The Three Keys

  1. Draw some penalties. The Canucks went 5/6 on the power-play, putting on a clinic in the November 6th meeting between these two clubs. In the two meetings since Chicago has successfully executed a disciplined game-plan -   they haven't ceded the Canucks a single power-play opportunity in well over 120 minutes worth of hockey. The Blackhawks are a below average special teams side, while the Canucks are among the best, if they can play some jerk-puck and muck this game up a bit, it could work in their favour.

  2. Target Jonathan Toews' injured hand. Oh he's out of the lineup? Tinfoiltuque will be so, so disappointed.

  3. Win the Bolland matchup. The Sedins aren't scoring like they have over the past two seasons, and have taken some flack in this market as a result. If they can light up Dave "Sedin kryptonite" Bolland tonight, perhaps they'll earn themselves some good will that might even last through the balance of the regular season.

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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