April 15 2012 01:06PM
It's not too late for the Canucks to become King Slayers.
Image via redditor Social Cocoon
It's one of sports-writing's great hackneyed inaccuracies, the "must win" game.
Regardless of what you may hear on the radio today, tonight's game is not by definition a "must win" and regardless of the outcome of game three, game four will go in Los Angeles on Wednesday. But conventional wisdom isn't all wrong in this case, and if Vancouver's club wants to have a serious shot at getting back into this series, they're going to need a favorable result this evening.
And what better place than Hollywood to flip the script? Vancouver's Stanley Cup aspirations are on life-support, and against a really good defensive team that plays in front of a very good goaltender - that's a especially bleak proposition. But tonight's game is also a tremendous opportunity for the team.
With two days off before game four, and three after that before game five back in Vancouver (if necessary) - the Canucks are well poised to reverse Los Angeles' momentum if they can win tonight. And if the Canucks can play a full sixty minutes, like they have in stretches five-on-five against Los Angeles, there is no doubt that they can play their way back into the series.
Click past the jump for a more detailed preview of Sunday night's game!
Through two games in this series, the Canucks have outperformed our expectations five-on-five, but they've been let down by untimely giveaways and their atrocious special teams play. On Friday, Dustin Brown scored two short-handed goals, one the result of a brutal Alex Edler giveaway and the other caused by an errant Ryan Kesler pass. While the Canucks were short-handed, the Kings have ventilated the Vancouver's club with three goals in the first two games of the series...
So it comes down to: special teams, special teams, special teams. Game 1 it was LA's power play, Game 2 it was the penalty kill. In both cases, the home team's power play was atrocious and that's letting the rest of their game down. Two games in a row now the Canucks have been the better team at even strength, generating more chances and making Roberto Luongo's job relatively easy.
Two crucial turnovers killed the Canucks on Friday. Maybe Lu could've bailed out his mates on at least one of the goals, but that doesn't change the fact the powerplay continues to look inept. It was so inept that it was bleeding goals against. The Kings have kept the pressure on while the Canucks try to establish themselves in the attacking zone. In games 1 and 2, the puck distribution was too slow. The Kings are blitzing the initial foray into the zone, forcing the Canucks to make quick decisions, and for the most part Vancouver's power-play units are, by their own admission, hesitating.
Instead of quickly moving the puck away from pressure, the Canucks are dithering and accepting the pressure foisted upon them. When a defensive team is forcing such extreme pressure, there will be soft areas all over the place. If the Canucks can find those spots, good things will happen, but obviously without Daniel Sedin that's been exceedingly difficult for the club to manage.
At even-strength, however, Vancouver was the superior team. In particular, the reunited Amex line totally dominated the Kings top line, and while there's a lot of doom and gloom in the Vancouver market right now - that's a good sign for the club. If that trend continues, and the Canucks can win the goaltending matchup over the balance of this series, they'll extend this series yet!
Another thing the Canucks improved from Game 1 to Game 2 was their discipline. They took just one penalty before the third period, keeping their focus on winning puck battles and forcing the Kings out of their defensive comfort zone. In opposition to the Canucks' discipline, the Kings took three holding penalties and a tripping penalty in the 1st and 2nd, clear signs that they were chasing the game.
Jonathan Quick really has been a huge story so far. The Canucks fired 48 shots on Friday (although many were from the outside) but rarely has Quick looked flustered or regularly beatable. The strategy of taking so many shots is to generate rebounds and Quick has thrown a few big ones. Indeed three of the Canucks' four goals in the series can be directly attributed to a rebound, however, Vancouver just aren't generating enough off those rebounds. The Kings are locking down the low slot, and making it very difficult for forwards in green and blue to find loose pucks.
In goal, the idea that Corey Schneider should get the start as a way of 'shaking things up' has been kicked around on twitter. There's little to suggest changing your goalie has any influence on the team's ability to score, but there's no denying that Schneider's numbers (albeit in a smaller sample size) this season are better. But really, do we think it matters who is in goal? That hasn't been Vancouver's issue so far in this series.
The Canucks need to get goals from the top of the lineup. Henrik has set up goals in each game, he's facing tough competition but he's managing. Ryan Kesler is creating chances himself, but is it just a question of him needing some 'puck-luck'? Kesler was matched against the Kopitar line and his line controlled the play. and he dominated Drew Doughty and Rob Scuderi, the defencemen who were matched against him the most. If he can get up against them again in LA, expect good things to finally happen.
Jeff Carter and Mike Richards nowhere to be seen on Friday. Matched up mostly against Henrik's line, they were on ice for just 3 even strength chance events. Expect them to be more influential in Game 3.
All is not lost friends, and often the sky is darkest just before sunrise.
Los Angeles Kings
Jonathan Quick - With everything going the Kings way so far in this series, one of the few remaining ways the Canucks can alter the balance, is if whichever goaltender Vancouver does start tonight, can out-battle Quick. So far, Quick has been excellent, but he still has some doubters who look at his playoff numbers and remain unconvinced that he is a true "big game goalie." I think those doubts are preposterous, but Quick can change a few minds in game three, I'd wager, if he stand tall for a third straight game.
Ryan Kesler - Kesler has been secretly really good in this series, and actually outmatched Kopitar on Friday. But the postseason is all about stories, and the story so far of this series is that Mike Richards has outplayed Ryan Kesler - who needs to stop looking for calls - to the point where Vigneault is "protecting Kesler" from that matchup.
That's not what's happening, Kesler has actually been given a tougher assignment. But that's the story line, and it would be helpful if Kesler could step up and change it. Producing some offense, continuing to shutdown Kopitar, and helping the club actually generate scoring chances on the power-play would go a long way on that front.