March 21 2013 01:05PM
The Canucks have been an inconsistent group this season, to put it mildly, and they've underachieved expectations through the first 29 games of this weird lockout shortened season. While the team continues to handle and outscore their opponents at even-strength, the club's special teams have been pretty mediocre and the goaltending has been surprisingly average too.
Phoenix is in the same boat basically, except even worse. While the Canucks have fallen out of the top-slot in the Northwest, the Coyotes have fallen out of the top-8 in the West and find themselves tied with *gulp* the Columbus Blue Jackets with thirty points in thirty games. Getting quality goaltending has been a staple of Dave Tippett's over-achieving Coyotes teams in the recent past, but so far this season that hasn't showed up for the desert dogs (the Coyotes' 'tenders have an abysmal .909 sv% at even-strength). Worse has been their offensive production as the Coyotes have been shutout in four of their last five games. And you thought the Canucks had a pop gun offense.
Read on past the jump.
Puck Drop: 7 PM PST
Television: Sportsnet Pacific
Radio: The Team 1040
Here's a bit of hard-hitting analysis for you: I am expecting a scrappy, tight-checking game tonight between two teams that desperately need a couple points in the knife fight that is the Western Conference. The Coyotes play some serious "trap it up" hockey when they've got the lead late in games even eschewing the dreaded 1-2-2 for the full on trap the last time these two teams played. That said, generally games between the Canucks and Coyotes have been relatively eventful affairs over the past couple of season. Still, I'd take the under on a line set at about 3.5 for tonight.
Of course that line would've been shredded the last time the Canucks faced the Coyotes this season. In that contest the Coyotes were down several key players and the Canucks still lost in a game remembered mostly for Keith Ballard's defensive miscues. While the Canucks lost that game, even surrendering an even-strength goal against to Phoenix's fourth line, the team did out-chance the under-manned Coyotes in that contest. Even as short-handed as the Canucks, this is pretty much a winnable game and the sort of two points that the Canucks are going to have to bank if they hope to retake the Northwest Division lead.
In lineup notes, the Canucks have called up Steve Pinizzotto's former Hershey Bears teammate Andrew Gordon for this roadtrip and he'll replace Zack Kassian (out with a back injury) or Steve Pinzzotto (who didn't make the trip) in the lineup.
The 27 year old Gordon has been a very competent offensive forward at the AHL level for years, and he's got the ability to flash some skill and some finish. With Vancouver desperate for offense, this could be a golden opportunity for Gordon - whose contract expires after this season - to earn his keep, and perhaps even a look as an organizational depth forward capable of filling in in an offensive role (a la Jeff Tambellini in 2010-11).
I'd imagine that he'll skate on a fourth line alongside Tom Sestito and either Maxim Lapierre or Andrew Ebbett with Dale Weise bumping into the top-nine. Or maybe he'll skate in the top-nine seeing as how Chris Higgins has left the morning skate early with an injury per Brad Ziemer
Higgins left ice early. Vigneault just over to bench to talk with head trainer Mike Burnstein. #Canucks— Brad Ziemer (@BradZiemer) March 21, 2013
So if Higgins is out that means the Canucks are down four top-nine forwards (Kassian, Booth, Kesler, Higgins). That's a tough blow for a team that, even with all of those guys in the lineup, had some depth issues among their forward group. Looks like Jordan Schroeder, Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen are going to need to step up in a big way, but this is now a club that is very short on sandpaper up front...
Cory Schneider will make his second straight start and he was ridiculously good on Tuesday night against St. Louis, especially in the first period. Hopefully Schneider can continue to perform at a near elite level (as he did on Monday) and regress in a favourable direction for the Canucks. With guys like Kesler, Kassian and Booth (and now Higgins too possibly) out of the lineup the Canucks desperately need some stellar goaltending to keep them afloat.