Preview: Game #3 Flames @ Canucks

Thomas Drance
January 23 2013 12:12PM


Image uncredited via Northwest Sports Beat.

With two games already in the books, the Canucks remain winless on the season. While the Canucks technically "tied" the Oilers (and lost the shootout gimmick), they also gave up a two goal lead that they'd held with twenty minutes and four second to play in the game. So that kind of tarnishes any "bounce back" or "moral victory" narrative the media might otherwise spin. 

The fact of the matter remains that the Canucks are without their two best five-on-five forwards (David Booth and Ryan Kesler), which has left them short-handed up front and mostly ineffective at even-strength. In Vancouver's two games so far this season, Anaheim and Edmonton have managed to exploit the club's lack of forward depth and take advantage of favourable matchups. There's really no obvious sollution to the Canucks' woes on this front. 

Meanwhile on the back-end, Alex Edler's performance on the right-side of the club's second defensive pairing has been mixed and Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis have yet to hit their stride. Factor in Cory Schneider's porous goaltending in the season opener and Luongo's uneven third period on Sunday, and you've got a team still looking for their first win.

The Canucks are well aware of their issues. Mike Gillis, in a telling quote, told Cam Cole that "the way [our team is] constituted to start this year, we just needed to get through this first 2-3 weeks." To do so they'll need Cory Schneider to rebound, their defense to hit their stride and their forward group to find some secondary scoring behind the Sedin line. It's a tall order, even against a moribund club like the Calgary Flames.

Read on past the jump.

Broadcast Info

Puck Drop: 10 PM PST

TV: Rogers Sportsnet Pacific, Radio: The Team 1040

Setup

Like the Canucks the Calgary Flames are still in search of their first win of the season. Unlike the Canucks, no one is saying things like "they've got too much talent, they'll figure it out eventually," for obvious reason.

But maybe they should be. Quality top-six scorer Jiri Hudler is currently out of the lineup attending to a death in his family (we wish him all the best), while Roman Cervenka has recently been okayed to stop taking blood-thinners and will rejoin the team at practice later this week. Those two players look likely to be back in Calgary's line-up sooner than Kesler and Booth will return to Vancouver's.

Meanwhile the Flames have been defeated largely because their goaltending has been woeful in two games so far this season. Miika Kipprusoff's save percentage sits at .830% through two games, while Cory Schneider posted a .643% save percentage in roughly 26 minutes of action in his only start this season (also, for those who get a kick out of what a small sample can do to analytically useless metrics: a whopping 11.27 GAA).

Despite Kipprusoff's struggles, the Flames have actually managed to control their two contests in terms of the scoring chance battle. According to Kent Wilson of FlamesNation, the Flames have managed a +6 scoring chance differential (34 chances for, and only 28 against) in their two games this season. That's a much better number than the 24 chances for and 31 against (-7) that the Canucks have managed to open their season (source: here, and here). 

Obviously we shouldn't read too much into those stats a mere one-hundred and twenty minutes into the 2013 season, but I think it's fair to say that the Flames have been better overall than Vancouver has (despite their 0-2-0 record) in the very early going.

Like the Canucks, however, the Flames are thin in the middle and will play a winger out of position at second line pivot in tonight's contest (Alex Burrows for Vancouver, Alex Tanguay for Calgary). Meanwhile, they'll have a scapegoat eating up at least 15 minutes tonight in the top-9 in Alex Stajan, similar to what I'd expect to see from Vancouver with under-appreciated fourth line grinder Dale Weise...

Here's the full lineup for the Calgary Flames tonight (per FlamesNation.ca):

Cammalleri-Backlund-Iginla

Glencross-Tanguay-Stempniak

Baertschi-Stajan-Comeau

Begin-Horak-Jackman

Bouwmeester-Giordano

Wideman-Brodie

Smith-Sarich

Looking at some anticipated matchups, I'd expect Bouwmeester and Giordano to do the bulk of the heavy-lifting against the Sedin twins and Zack Kassian. I'd also mention that with Tanguay playing center and the top-heavy alignment of Calgary's defensive pairings, Alain Vigneault's decision to split up the Sedins/Alex Burrows line makes even more sense. I'll be curious to see which Calgary forward line draws the Sedin twin matchup, but I'd expect the Flames will look to play power-on-power and hard-match the Backlund line against the twins and Zack Kassian.

Finally, Vancouver's faster skaters should be able to find some space on the rush when the Wideman or Sarich pairings are on the ice. If I'm Alain Vigneault, for example, I'm looking to get the Schroeder-Raymond line on the ice every time Sarich and Smith jump over the boards.

Which brings us naturally to Jordan Schroeder, who will make his well-deserved and long awaited NHL debut this evening. He'll be skating inbetween Dale Weise and Mason Raymond (who, for all of his warts, always brings it against his hometown team) and will look to make a good first impression.

It's tough to imagine that Schroeder will have a long-term place on this season's Canucks roster when Kesler returns from injury. While that's probably frustrating for the "youth movement!" crowd, it both makes sense and makes it imperative for Schroeder to impress the coaching staff early and often.

Schroeder's stature and meagre AHL production are somewhat suggestive of a career AHLer (frankly), but he's got wheels, skill and his defensive coverage is pretty damn good too (which could earn him more rope from Alain "stickler for back-checking" Vigneault than, say, Cody Hodgson ever got). I tend to think Schroeder will at least be able to be productive in sheltered minutes and on the man-advantage at the NHL level, that is if he's given sufficient opportunity. I suppose we'll see!

Numbers Game

This table includes what we believe to be the best "predictive" team metrics in hockey, but we're also trying out some different things to account for how weird the post-lockout schedule is. So we've included some self-explanatory stats like team record, power-play percentage, penalty-killing percentage and goal differential. We've also included some #fancystats from 2011-12 including Corsi%, an indicator of possession that shows us which team is better at controlling play and Fenwick Tied% which is the gold standard for measuring "real" team quality. So for the first ten games or so of the 2013 season we'll use last season's "fancy stats" and then switch over to stats from the 2013 season when the sample gets big enough to provide you with some value and for now we'll also include the number of players who were competitively active during the lockout (since that really seems to matter in the early going this season). 

Numbers Game Flames Canucks
Record 0-2-0 0-1-1
Goal Differential -4 -5
2011-12 PP% 17.7% 19.8%
2011-12 PK% 84.3% 86%
2011-12 Corsi% 47.4% 52.9%
2011-12 Fenwick Tied% 47.3% 53.1%
Number of players active during the lockout who will dress on Wednesday 3 6

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 Kent Wilson
January 23 2013, 12:28PM
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Let's see which team can out-suck the other tonight!

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#3 Kent Wilson
January 23 2013, 12:53PM
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@Thomas Drance

I actually expect it to be the other way around: 35+ chances. The Flames have been decent at that so far, it's just the suddenly being dominated for entire periods at a time that has killed them. Plus, you know, the goaltending.

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#4 604YVR
January 23 2013, 05:22PM
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Game's actually at 7pm PST

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