Preview: Game #10: Canucks @ Wild

Thomas Drance
February 07 2013 01:23PM


Hopefully Schneider's return to the crease goes better than the above photo might suggest.
Photo Credit: REUTERS

It's an annual tradition. Every year the Wild, despite being bound for a top-10 pick at the NHL draft, soundly defeat the Canucks early in the season at the Xcel energy centre. In 2010-11, it was the Rick Rypien game. In 2011-12 it was the game that defense forgot in early November, when the Canucks surrendered an astounding twenty-nine scoring chances against in a five-two shellacking. 

The Canucks played that awful November game last season in front of Cory Schneider, and let's hope they're a bit tighter in front of their "starting goaltender" tonight. Schneider kind of has a lot to play for, and being hung out to dry would be a poor way to welcome him back to the crease following a ten day absence. 

Read on past the jump.

Broadcast Info:

Puck Drop: 5PM PST

Television: Sportsnet

Radio: The Team 1040

Setup:

Remember before the season, when all of the "experts" were predicting that the Wild were a playoff team who might even challenge the Canucks for first in the Northwest Division? Well, they were right in a sense: the Wild aren't quite as pathetic as they were a year ago. But they were mostly wrong because the Wild are still pretty bad. 

Take any metric you want, and the Minnesota Mild (TM @Socialassassin2) are, if not woeful, than at least below average through ten games this season. They're a bottom-10 offense so far - and their percentages are only a wee bit below normal (7.3%, where anything in between 7.5%-8.5% would be "normal"). They're a bottom-15 defense, despite paying in front of .920 goaltending at even strength. They're a bottom-five possession team in both a score tied and a score close game state.

Minnesota's special teams are a mixed bag. The Wild have been extraordinarily good at killing penalties so far this season, despite the fact that Backstrom and Harding are only posting an .821 save percentage when the Wild are down a man. That number will regress towards the .870 mark over the balance of the season, and it's very possible that the Wild will be the league's best penalty-killing team at seasons end. Bad news for a Canucks power-play that has sputtered since the 5-0 blowout win against Anaheim nearly two weeks ago.

With the man-advantage, however, it's a different story. The Wild are punchless five-on-four, and generate shots at an absurdly low-rate on the power-play. In fact, the only power-play unit in the league that's generating fewer shots than the Wild belongs to the hapless Dallas Stars. So yeah, the Canucks should feel free to play with an edge this evening.

Zach Parise has been as good as advertised for the Wild this season, he's a point per game player and he's taking a touch over three shots per game. Between him and Mikko Koivu, the Wild find themselves with a fearsome top-line for the first time since the Pavol Demitra/Marion Gaborik era. They'll be split up from Dany Heatley, who just isn't very good five-on-five at this point in his career, tonight and will skate with rookie Charlie Coyle. That should be interesting, actually.

Dany Heatley will bump down to a second line with Matt Cullen (very underrated) and Pierre Marc-Bouchard who is finally healthy and has played reasonably well from what I've seen this season. PMB is a quality skater and playmaker, and it's my impression that he's especially good at carrying the puck over the blueline and gaining possession. Anyway, it's good to see him playing well and in good health, he's had some tough luck over the past few years.

Minnesota's third line will consist of Cory Schneider's old friend Torrey Mitchell (remember this beauty), Kyle Brodziak and Cal "haha" Clutterbuck. That third unit has been solid this season from a possession standpoint, though they're not playing the toughs or anything, but man have they been snake bit like crazy. Kyle Brodziak is pointless so far on the season, but that'll change once his 3.6% on-ice shooting percentage normalizes. Seriously: Kyle Brodziak is very good at hockey.

On the backend, Ryan Suter is finding life without Shea Weber to be, uh, suboptimal. Suter's PDO isn't very high (965) so take his -7 with a grain of salt, but beyond his personal on-ice goal differential, Suter's possession numbers are really ugly. He's also being ridden by Mike Yeo like a rented mule: he's playing the third most minutes of any NHL defenseman at even-strength, and is averaging three more miinutes than the next closest Minnesota Wild defenseman. Basically Ryan Suter is finding out what it's like to be Jay Bouwmeester: a solid defenseman, buried on a team that offers him little in the way of help.

Niklas "look ma no C" Backstrom will get the start in net, and he's solid (and in a contract year). He'll need to play like Niklas Backstrom tonight, because even without Ryan Kesler and David Booth, the Canucks outgun the Wild throughout the lineup.

Hopefully Alain Vigneault takes full advantage of Vancouver's superior class, and pushes the pace this evening. It's the right tactical call because, based on their performance so far this season and in the recent past: the Wild really can't hang with the Canucks, when the Canucks are on even their C+ game.

Numbers Game:

  Wild Canucks
Record 4-4-1 5-2-2
Goal Differential -3 +2
PP% 15.2% 15.6%
PK% 82.8% 76.9%
Corsi % 45.2% 53.4%
Fenwick % Tied 44.6% 51%
PDO 99.4 102.7

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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