Preview - Game 5: Canucks @ Sharks

Thomas Drance
January 27 2013 03:42PM


A classic.
Photo via Matthew Bleadsdale

It took a hurculean effort from Cory Schneider, Aaron Volpatti and the club's special teams unit, but Vancouver recorded their first regulation victory of the season on Friday night in Anaheim. Defensively the Canucks are a work in progress and it's clear that the club misses the play-driving ability of David Booth and Ryan Kesler, but at least a clear game plan has emerged over the course of the team's first four games. 

The Canucks are doing well to control the territorial play and generate shots on net from the blue-line while playing a physical brand of hokkey that has frustrated opponents, and led to copious power-play opportunities for the club's polished first unit and the red-hot Mason Raymond (what?). Unfortunately, Vancouver has struggled to limit quality chances against at even-strength and their usual "ace" shutdown pairing of Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa has looked, well, extremely ordinary.

Read on past the jump for a more elaborate preview.

Broadcast Info:

Puck Drop: 5PM PST

Radio: Team1040

Television: Rogers Sportsnet

Setup:

The Sharks have begun the season in dominant fashion, posting a +12 goal differential and scoring a ridiculous nineteen goals in their first four games. Unsurprisingly San Jose has won every one of those contests.

For all of their brilliance, especially on the man-advantage, the Sharks are due to regress somewhat (surprise, surprsie). PDO, a stat which combines shooting and save percentage and regresses towards 100 over a large enough sample, is a metric that allows us to measure "puck luck" over small samples (read a lengthier explanation here). Basically if a team or player has a PDO well above 100, then the "bounces" are likely to begin to against them in earnest. Well San Jose has a 107.2 PDO, and Patrick Marleau, who has eight goals in four games, has a personal 112.9 PDO. In contrast, Vancouver has a 99 PDO and a 5.7% even-strength on-ice shooting percentage...

So far the Canucks have faced three clubs in Anaheim, Calgary and Edmonton that were mediocre possession teams a year ago. The Canucks have done alright to come away with five points in their first four games even without Kesler and Booth, but the Sharks are a whole different animal. With quality possession teams like the Sharks, Kings, Avalanche and Blackhawks on deck, we're going to learn a lot about the Canucks over the next week.

Franklly, if the Canucks can win two of their upcoming four contests, that would be a solid accomplishment in my view. To achieve it, they'll need Luongo and Schneider to continue to stymie opponents in net; but they're also going to need Bieksa and Hamhuis to iron out the early season kinks. The Bieksa and Hamhuis pairing has been among the NHL's best for two seasons, but they're getting their asses handed to them so far this season in terms of both the possession battle and the quality chance battle. 

In addition to improvement from the team's shutdown pairing, the steady play and faceoff winning prowess flashed by Jordan Schroeder in his first two games at the NHL level will be key. Schroeder hasn't looked like a dynamic offensive force in his two outings so far, but he doesn't have to be to be valuable. Far more important for the Canucks right now is that he play competent enough hockey and continue to soak up even-strength ice-time and provide the club with some stability down the middle. If that sounds like massaging expectations, it's really not, it's still a tall order for a rookie in Alain Vigneault's system. But Schroeder has been up to the task thus far, though Sunday's game against the Sharks will be by far his most difficult task yet.

Vancouver will "wood" with the same lineup they used on Friday (Alain Vigneault's juggled lines appear to have done the trick, huh?) and I figure I might as well quickly note a deployment change that the Canucks appear to be experimenting with in the early going this season. A year ago, Alain Vigneault absolutely buried his fourth line and his third pairing in the defensive zone. In fact, the three lowest offensive zone-start rates in the league belonged to a variety of Vancouver forwards. So far this season, however, players like Aaron Volpatti, Manny Malhotra (who won't dress this evening), Dale Weise, Andrew Ebbett, Chris Tanev and Keith Ballard appear to be starting a way higher percentage of shifts in the offensive end of the rink...

Four games isn't much of a sample, for example, currently Vancouver's only forward with a sub-50% offensive zone start rate is Maxim Lapierre, so take this with a grain of salt. I'm merely "noting" the beginning of a possible trend rather than saying anything definitive about it yet, but I'll be curious to see if the pattern continues as the sample size increases.

The Sharks are a very serious four line team, and here's the lineup they'll be deploying tonight according to our friends at Fear the Fin:

Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski

Ryane Clowe - Logan Couture - Martin Havlat

T.J. Galiardi - Michal Handzus - Tommy Wingels

Andrew Desjardins- Scott Gomez - Adam Burish

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Brad Stuart

Matt Irwin - Dan Boyle

Douglas Murray - Justin Braun

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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