January 10 2014 02:20PM
The Vancouver Canucks are 0-2-3 in their past 5 games, and have seen their possession numbers crater as the laundry list of injuries continues to take a toll. Meanwhile, their opponent on Friday night, the St.Louis Blues, are 9-0-1 in their past 10 games (and have outscored those opponents by a 46-17 margin).
So things don't exactly look great heading into this one, but I will remind you of the October 25th meeting between these two teams when the Canucks came out on top despite seemingly being in for a world of hurt heading into the contest. And at least this time it's the Blues playing in the 2nd of a back-to-back, while the Canucks have been sitting at home waiting for them. Plus with Brian Elliott in net ANYTHING IS POSSSSIBLLLEEEEEEE!!!
Also, former Canucks Max Lapierre and Derek Roy make their return to the scene of the crime. Let's just say that I don't think they'll be getting a Manny Malhotra-type tribute video. I mean, the team would probably give Roy a video if they could find any footage of him in a Canucks uniform during a meaningful game..
Puck Drop: 7:00 PM PST
TV: Rogers Sportsnet Pacific
Nux having optional skate - 6 forwards, 4 dmen, 2 goalies. Booth on ice, Weise not, so guess is Weise back in. #canucks— Elliott Pap (@ElliottPap) January 10, 2014
That has to be rock bottom for David Booth, no? He's getting benched for Dale Weise, who has pretty much been skating out to center ice, squatting, and dropping a hot steaming pile of poo on the team's logo for a few weeks now. Anyways, with Booth out expect to see more of Tom Sestito in a 3rd line role..
Which begs the question of how long this can actually last before blowing up in the team's face? I can't really complain about what we've seen transpire over the past few games, though, because in reality the revelation Sestito that has been lately has provided one of the more exciting and memorable plot of the entire season to-date (from a Canucks perspective).
Meanwhile, Lack will be in net for the 3rd game in a row, but it sounds like Luongo could be back sometime around the California trip next week. Maybe *after* the Kings game? Along those same lines, Mike Gillis revealed today that Alex Burrows should be cleared by doctors after the 16th, meaning he could be back for the game against the Flames next Saturday.
One final thing before we get to the underlying numbers: I'm calling a Canucks win tonight. I wouldn't put any money on it, but them finally bucking the trend and winning this one lines up perfectly with their slogan this season.. when you think they'll zig, they actually zag. It makes no sense for them to beat the Blues tonight, which is why I totally see them doing just that. Classic.
|Corsi Close%||51.6% (10th)|
|5v5 GF/60||2.41 (10th)|
|5v5 GA/60||2.13 (10th)|
|5v4 GF/60||4.80 (24th)|
|5v4 SF/60||62.1 (2nd)|
|4v5 GA/60||3.27 (1st)|
|4v5 SA/60||40.3 (2nd)|
The St.Louis Blues are a very, very good hockey team. They're definitely of the best 5-6 teams in the league - along with Chicago, San Jose, LA, Boston, and Pittsburgh - but the thing is.. they're not this good. There's no doubt that they're an impressive 5v5 team, and they have a strong penalty kill which does a fine job of suppressing shots, but they've also been quite fortunate, as well.
They're shooting 10.5% at 5v5 as a team, which is tops in the league. It's higher than even that of the Anaheim Ducks, who are universally regarded as having a horseshoe rammed up their collective butts. Meanwhile, they're shooting 18.9% as a team on the power play, which is also the highest rate in the league. When you combine those facts with Brian Elliott stopping 92.6% of the shots he has faced this year - despite not being a good goaltender - it seems like a given that they're due for some regression over the final couple months of the season.
Still, given the nice little cushion they've built themselves, they'll likely finish with a top 2 or 3 seed in the Western Conference, and be poised for a nice run. If their goaltending can hold up (a big "if", which makes the idea of them going out and getting a Ryan Miller as a rental at the deadline a terrifying one), I think they're set up for the playoffs much better this year than last. Sure, their 5v5 shooting % is unsustainably high at the moment, but even if it comes down some over the coming games they'll still finish the season with a significantly higher 5v5 GF/60 rate than the one that had them 21st in the league last year. That's huge, considering my biggest knock on them heading into last year's playoffs was that they probably couldn't score enough to be taken completely seriously as a contender.
There's 2 guys in particular that have really taken them to another level as a team, giving them a dynamic that they were in desperate need of last year: Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz. We'll get to Tarasenko in a moment, but it has been Schwartz who has stepped up in place of the injured Alex Steen to mash on the top line. Look at his month-by-month splits, as he has been rapidly ascending up the lineup:
Let's get to St.Louis' #fancystats:
|Corsi Close %||53.3% (6th)|
|5v5 GF/60||3.11 (2nd)|
|5v5 GA/60||1.89 (5th)|
|5v4 GF/60||8.43 (4th)|
|5v4 SF/60||47.5 (25th)|
|4v5 GA/60||4.16 (4th)|
|4v5 SA/60||43.1 (3rd)|
[Stats via extraskater.com]
"Every player has better possession numbers with Tarasenko on the ice than without. This isn't a fluke. The Russian wing had strong numbers last season as a rookie. He hasn't had nearly the good fortune with team shooting percentage Jaden Schwartz has had, but Tarasenko is a big reason the Blues are so deep and tough to control the puck against."
I'm really curious to see how Ken Hitchcock uses Tarasenko this Spring in the playoffs. If you'll recall, he only dressed the dynamic Russian once in last year's 1st round series v. LA, feeding him just 5:51 of ice-time in Game 4 of the series. There's no doubt Tarasenko is playing a bigger role on the team this year and should be featured in a prominent 2nd line role even when the games slow down and become more important, but then again, that probably should've been the case last year. Just something to keep an eye on.