April 20 2012 10:42AM
The Canucks played a near-perfect road game on Wednesday night in Los Angeles. That they received stellar goaltending from Cory Schneider certainly helped, as did all-world performances from Daniel and Henrik. However, the Kings were the better team through forty minutes, and the Canucks will be hard-pressed to win another three straight against them. To sound cliché, taking it “one game at a time” is exactly how this situation must be looked at. With that in mind, how can the Canucks improve on their performance for game five on Sunday night?
Stay out of the box.
The Canucks were successful on the penalty kill in game four for one reason – Cory Schneider. The team allowed six scoring chances in six minutes of Los Angeles power play time. Allowing one scoring chance per minute against any team isn’t good, let alone a club that is as airtight defensively as the Kings are. Spot the Kings a lead, and a comeback is awfully tough.
And, as we all know (thanks to Jim Hughson), the Sedins don’t kill penalties. The way they were going in game four, Alain Vigneault will want to double or triple shift them on Sunday. They made the Kings look foolish every single time they were in the offensive zone. Having them stapled to the bench while the likes of Manny Malhotra and Max Lapierre are blocking shots and clearing the puck down the ice isn’t exactly conducive to winning.
The Canucks have the clear speed advantage over the Kings, but this advantage is negated when they are down a man. They need to keep the numbers either even or in their favor if they want to exploit Los Angeles’s lack of mobility.
Avoid Willie Mitchell
Mitchell has been the best Kings defender this series. The Drew Doughty – Rob Scuderi pairing were feasted upon by the Sedins in game four, while Mitchell and rookie Slava Voynov controlled the play at even strength. Mitchell knows the tendencies of the Sedins and Kesler, and he has used that to his advantage through four games. He uses every inch of that big stick to defend against the rush and in one-on-one battles in the defensive zone, something we are all too familiar with.
I also take full responsibility for his goal in game one (yes, Jannik, it isn’t your fault). No more than 30 seconds after I had texted a buddy “by the time Mitchell winds up for a slap shot this game will be over,” he ripped one past Luongo. Sorry guys and gals, that ones on me.
Edler, please play better.
No player (non-Sedin category) has the opportunity to change this series in Vancouver’s favor more than Edler. Through the first three games, his play ranged from bad to Eric Weinrich-like. Edler had a better game four, creating scoring chances and even finishing one of them on the power play. I still think Sami Salo should be on the first power play unit, but the Canucks obviously feel his lack of foot speed creates a problem against the penalty killers like Justin Williams and Dustin Brown.
Edler has been a physical beast in previous playoff performances. At this point, that would be gravy. The Canucks simply need him to get some shots on net on the power play, and to play 22+ minutes of reliable defensive hockey. He is especially important against the Kings big, strong wingers who can physically overmatch Kevin Bieksa, Keith Ballard, and Chris Tanev.
End the power outage.
Above all else, the Canucks need to build on their strong power play performance from Wednesday. The Kings were the more physical and aggressive team through the first three games, both during play and after the whistle. They took a page from the Bruins, committing too many infractions for the referees to call. The Kings were successful in goading the Canucks into taking stupid, retaliatory penalties, while continuing to win the physical battle. If the power play is as lethal as it should/could/has to be, the Kings will be much more reluctant to engage in any type of activity that will get them in trouble.
Exhibit A of said importance – Colin Fraser taking a late run at Keith Ballard during game four and delivering a ridiculous knee-on-knee hit. It was a stupid, dangerous, unnecessary hit. The result? A power play goal scored by the Canucks. You can bet Fraser had an interesting chat with Darryl Sutter upon returning to the Kings bench.
It takes a lot to win a playoff game, let alone a playoff series. Special teams and goaltending are two of the most important battles. The Canucks have the odds stacked against them, but if they can get more sensational goaltending from Schneider, and more power play wizardry from the Sedins, there is reason to believe in the unlikely.