January 31 2014 03:35PM
It's been nearly 18 years since the Canucks last touched down in Winnipeg to play an NHL game, and the last time they did, they faced off against a Winnipeg team that included a young Teemu Selanne, Nikolai Khabibulin and Shane Doan. Suffice to say that a lot (read: everything) has changed since then, except for the fact that the Jets are still painfully mediocre. Then again, so are the Canucks.
Speaking of mediocrity, Vancouver is 7-9-4 in the past 20 games and just 3 points up on Phoenix for the final Wild Card spot. They need a win tonight, and they'll have to do it against some old acquaintances: Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, and Dustin Byfuglien's ass.
Puck Drop: 5:30 PM PST
The big lineup news ahead of tonight's game is that Kevin Bieksa will be out until after the Olympic break with an undisclosed injury. Frank Corrado has been called up from Utica to take his place on the blueline, presumably not next to Yannick Weber though. In his first go-around with Vancouver this year, Corrado was absolutely awful. He started the vast majority of his shifts in the offensive zone against the softest competition Torts could give him, and he was crushed in terms of possession, carrying just over 40% of the Fenwicks. That is... less than ideal to say the least, and probably means that Dan Hamhuis will be playing over 30 minutes tonight.
With Jason Garrison's struggles this year and Chris Tanev's broken thumb, Bieksa's injury leaves Vancouver with approximately one and a half reliable defensemen; two if Alex Edler is ALEX EDLER. This coupled with having just one average or better NHL centreman on the roster could be absolutely cataclysmic for a Canucks team that's struggling to tread water right now, and really exposes what we all knew all summer: Utica is devoid of NHL-quality fill-ins, there's a gaping hole behind Ryan Kesler in the depth chart and hoping that Brad Richardson and Jordan Schroeder can be a solution is extremely wishful thinking.
The good news is that David Booth and Zack Kassian are coming off a monster night against the Blackhawks. Starting just 30% of his shifts in the offensive zone, Kassian led all skaters on both teams with a 74% Corsi, while Booth was second on Vancouver at 69.2%. This has been a bit of a quiet trend all year too, as Kassian and Booth have played quite well together:
52.1% Corsi For isn't lighting the world on fire by any stretch of the imagination, but it's still significantly above average, and comparable to how well the 3rd lines of elite possession teams perform. As much as we've fallen for Tom Sestito here at the Army, there is absolutely no good reason why Booth+Kassian on the 3rd line shouldn't be a fixture in the lineup. Depth on the wings is the one area where the Canucks shouldn't struggle, so there's no need to ever move Sestito or Weise up the lineup over Booth or Kassian, no matter how much either is struggling. Now just imagine if they had a legitimate NHL centre playing with them.
|Corsi Close %||51.8% (10th)|
|5v5 GF/60||2.33 (T-13th)|
|5v5 GA/60||2.11 (T-8th)|
|5v4 GF/60||4.21 (29th)|
|5v4 SF/60||58.5 (3rd)|
|4v5 GA/60||4.01 (3rd)|
|4v5 SA/60||39.9 (1st)|
After last night's 4-3 loss to the Nashville Predators, the Jets fell to a very respectable 6-2-0 under new head coach Paul Maurice. As you can see from the graph, they're also playing worse than they did at any point under Claude Noel. Long in short, Winnipeg's recent success is a mirage and they'll return to a middling team in short order, when Ondrej Pavelec starts doing Ondrej Pavelec things once again.
Maurice is also continuing to do the things that drove the Jets fans I follow on Twitter insane, like playing Chris "probably a downgrade on Tom Sestito" Thorburn on the 2nd line:
You'll also notice that Dustin Byfuglien is a winger again for the first time since his halcyon days in Chicago, where he rode shotgun with Kane and Toews. Unfortunately, he and Roberto Luongo won't get the chance to renew their old feud this evening, as Eddie Lack gets the start. Still, it'll be interesting to see how much of an impact that Byfuglien has tonight, especially considering that the impact a 3rd line winger can make on a given game is probably smaller than that of a 25+ min/night defenseman. It's an odder decision still when you consider that Dustin Byfuglien made nearly everyone on Winnipeg better when he was on the ice, but hey, that's the Jets' problem.
Former Vancouver Giant ("nice job not drafting him, Gillis. Wait, he was a top-5 pick? #Shouldof traded up!") Evander Kane is out with a hand infection. It looks pretty swollen and ugly, so that's a big blow to the Jets' attack. Kane has been among their best players, leading all regular skaters on Winnipeg in CorsiFor%, placing 2nd in shots, and 3rd in goals with 15 on the year through 42 games.
As you can probably guess, Winnipeg's fancystats are, uh, bad:
|Corsi Close %||48.5% (23rd)|
|5v5 GF/60||2.33 (T-13th)|
|5v5 GA/60||2.57 (26th)|
|5v4 GF/60||4.63 (25th)|
|5v4 SF/60||48.0 (24th)|
|4v5 GA/60||6.29 (15th)|
|4v5 SA/60||46.3 (5th)|
The Jets penalty kill actually isn't bad, but I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that Ondrej Pavelec is just so painfully awful that he single-handedly drags an elite PK unit to a slightly above average one. Pavelec is 53rd in the NHL in short-handed save percentage this year at 0.863. By comparison, Luongo and Lack are tied for 22nd, but are 6th among goalies with 100 or more shots against at 0.897.
It's a couple of days old, but Justin Bourne does a good job at examining the perceptions of what "toughness" really is in hockey. I think this is especially relevant in the Canucks' case, considering all the talk about their "mindset" recently. It worries me that the game against L.A. was seen as one of the best of the season because the players "stuck up for one another" and started to become "tougher to play against" along with all the other buzzwords thrown around for lazy narratives.
If the Canucks were easy to play against in the past, then they shouldn't have won so many games. Well, they've won a ton of games with this core group so whatever was happening before seemed to be awfully difficult for other teams to play against. Real toughness is forechecking like hell, taking a hit to make a play, and being able to play fast, attacking hockey. Vancouver was doing that at the start of the year just fine. There wasn't a problem with the "mindset" until someone insisted that there was.