February 26 2014 01:16PM
The NHL is back, which is very cool. While the Olympics were a blast - I most certainly enjoyed watching many of the world's best players play together, under different circumstances than we're used to seeing here in North America, not to mention the patriotic feelings I had when Team Canada got the job done - it's good to be back on the daily grind.
And when it comes to the Vancouver Canucks, "grind" is a pretty good operative term, because that's exactly what this season has been thanks to all of the injuries and turmoil. Yet despite all of that, they enter this final 6 week stretch of play with the potential for something of a clean slate; they're on the periphery of the playoffs at the moment, and plenty of the questions we have about which direction they'll go in moving forward should be answered soon enough (particularly at/around the Trade Deadline).
Despite the fact that the Canucks haven't played a game in over two weeks, things are status quo. It's fitting that their first opponent back from the break is the professional hockey team from St.Louis, because a lot of people in these parts are currently singing the Bluuuuuuues. (sorry, couldn't resist).
Puck Drop: 7:30 PM PST
TV: Rogers Sportsnet Pacific
“Kesler is out, day-to-day.” - Torts— Vancouver Canucks (@VanCanucks) February 26, 2014
This is a weird situation. I mean, it's totally not weird at all that Ryan Kesler is injured because that seemed like an inevitable outcome that was just looming over everyone's heads in Vancouver like a big rain cloud. Given the laundry list of injuries that the Canucks have dealt with this season, it's kind of amazing that Kesler was the one guy that managed to hold up for as long as he did.
Unfortunately, his stretch of good health ran out in Sochi when he hurt his hand blocking a shot. During the semi final against Canada CBC showed Kesler arriving to the rink with a massive bandage covering it, and reportedly, he was telling people following the tournament that it was broken.
If it is in fact broken, I suspect he'd be out for somewhere in the range of 4-6 weeks which would effectively end his season. He leads the league in ice-time for forwards, and plays in every situation for this team, so suffice it to say that if he missed any period of time at all they'd be totally boned.
I'm not in the business of spreading rumours - I'll leave that to E5 and HockeyyInsiderr - but there's some rumblings out there that the team was awfully close to moving Kesler to Pittsburgh before the break, with Brandon Sutter and Simon Despres coming back in return. I have no idea if it's true, and I don't want to spend time at this exact moment breaking that situation down, but it just goes to show that the team and player are in a weird spot.
This morning Jason Botchford asked the question of whether Kesler had himself asked for a trade (which would seem like one of the only reasons the team would be willing to move a guy that is the heart and soul of this team, and an ideal fit for the coach they brought in just last summer).
Botch also went on to wonder why definitive news re: the extent of his injury has taken so long to come out. Given the technology and quick turnaround we have for these things, we should in theory know by now. My guess: they're working the phones feverishly trying to come up with some sort of trade, and if news breaks that Kesler will be out for a while, that could change the leverage situation (and in turn, the asking price on whatever deals they're trying to strike). But that's just one man's guess.
“Henrik is landing this morning. We hope he’ll play tonight.” - Torts— Vancouver Canucks (@VanCanucks) February 26, 2014
In case you missed it, Henrik had flown back to Sweden to attend some sort of personal matter. It's impossible to know just how much good the 3 weeks off did for his injured ribs until we see him in action, but I figure he'll look much closer to the 'HENRIK SEDIN we've come to know and love' than the 'henrik sedin that's in visible pain' from the most recent time we saw him on the ice.
It's a little bit mind-boggling that, were he to miss this game, the Canucks would trot out the murderer's row of Jordan Schroeder, Zac Dalpe, Brad Richardson, and Kellan Lain down the middle. On the one hand I want to see Henrik Sedin play because he's a joy and because he could potentially stop this thing from getting embarassing, but then again, I kind of want to see how this turns out..
Luongo - "I haven't given up a goal in two and a half weeks so feeling pretty good." #canucks— Hosea Cheung (@hosea24hours) February 25, 2014
And that streak will continue, as Roberto Luongo finds himself riding some pine in favour of Eddie Lack tonight. That shouldn't come as a surprise, seeing as most teams are using their back-ups in their first game back from the break as the goaltenders who were overseas try to get over the jet lag. I know that the Kings (Jonathan Quick), Bruins (Tuukka Rask), Avs (Semyon Varlamov), and Rangers (Henrik Lundqvist) are all employing this strategy.
Luongo should get plenty of work down the stretch as the team only has 3 back-to-back situations down the stretch.
Let's get to their underlying numbers:
|Corsi Close %||51.7% (10th)|
|5v5 GF/60||2.21 (18th)|
|5v5 GA/60||2.19 (13th)|
|5v4 GF/60||4.36 (27th)|
|5v4 SF/60||58.0 (4th)|
|4v5 GA/60||4.33 (3rd)|
|4v5 SA/60||40.2 (1st)|
The St.Louis Blues are 39-12-6. While I do still continue to think that they're overrated by many people - they're deep, tough, gritty, and defensive-minded so in theory they're the perfect playoff team, right? - who aren't paying close enough attention, there's no doubt that there's a massive cliff standing between them and the Canucks at the moment.
But one thing I do want to point out is their possession data, which has been slipping for a while now (as shown below). Luckily for them, they continue to ride the high of the ever-so-potent PDO drug, and as a result they haven't stopped racking up wins and points.
They're a very good hockey team and there's no doubt about it, but they're not quite *as good* as they appear to be on the surface, and I'd wager that we'll be hearing a lot about how them sending so many players over the Sochi (8 by my count?) did them in once they slip up and lose in the playoffs. It's going to happen, and when it does, I want you to remember that there's a deeper, more legitimate reason to it than that.
But you keep on keeping on, Talking Head Guy.
Anyways, here are their full season underlying numbers:
|Corsi Close %||52.0% (8th)|
|5v5 GF/60||2.80 (3rd)|
|5v5 GA/60||2.02 (7th)|
|5v4 GF/60||7.71 (4th)|
|5v4 SF/60||49.7 (18th)|
|4v5 GA/60||4.65 (5th)|
|4v5 SA/60||43.7 (3rd)|
[Stats via extraskater.com]