Game Day Recon #16 – Canucks @ Maple Leafs
It’s the biggest show of the evening in Hockey Land. Millions of viewers are poised to tune in to Hockey Night in Canada tonight in what is likely going to be the Canucks most watched regular season game of the year. The Vancouver Canucks travel to the "Centre of the Universe" to face the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight in what is arguably the night’s most marquee matchup.
The Leafs will also have a bona fide saint in their lineup for his first game of the season… NAZEM KADRI. All hail the Saviour. You can’t see it from here, but my tongue is planted firmly in my cheek.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are having a LOT of trouble scoring. A LOT. After a blistering start to the season, their lack of offensive depth has finally broken through and is showing its true colours. They are currently 29th in goals-for per game (2.13), and 25th in goals-for at home.Their dried-up goal production has also translated to their Power Play, where they are also 25th (11.1%). They are slightly better at home, where they rank 22nd at 13.3%, but that’s little consolation, as they have only scored 4 power play goals at home all year.
The real problem for the Leafs this year appears to be their ability to come out firing in the first period. They have scored only 8 goals in the first period for the entire year so far. Compare that to the Canucks who, despite being ranked in the middle of the league, have scored nearly twice that (15) in the opening frame. The good news for the Leafs is that they tend to score more goals as the game goes along, as the third period is easily their most productive period (13 goals, ranked 17th). Take that with a grain of salt though, as the Canucks rank first in the league in 3rd period goals (21).
As a result of their anemic offense, the Leafs have called up Nazem Kadri and Keith Aulie from the Marlies, in hopes of providing a spark for the team. Kadri has been have an effective season so far in the AHL, and the Leafs need something (ANYTHING!) to get them scoring goals again. There is no doubt that Kadri is an electric, exciting player. But it’s likely that a still-developing 20 year-old who has played only 1 NHL game will be the missing piece to the puzzling Leafs’ offense.
The Canucks will likely ice the same lineup as they did against Ottawa, which obviously paid huge dividends. This means that Keith Ballard will be a healthy scratch for the 3rd straight game. While many are griping that the Canucks have benched a $4.2m defenseman, it’s hard to argue that the decision isn’t working. The Canucks defense has looked solid in the two games Ballard has been in the press box. None of the six defensemen currently dressed have played poorly enough in those two games that you could make a case that they should be swapped for Ballard. So until one of the Canucks D royally screws up, you can expect to see the former Panther in a suit high above the rink.
I expect another massive game out of the third line tonight, as both Manny Malhotra and Raffi Torres hail from the Toronto area and will have family and friends in attendance tonight. The third line has been a saving grace for the Canucks, while the 2nd line continues to find its legs. In the meantime, the 3rd line has been picking up the slack offensively.
The Three Keys
Here are the three keys for the Vancouver Canucks tonight:
1. Own the first period. While it is the Leafs worst period for offensive production, it’s also their worst period defensively. It also happens to be the Canucks best period defensively, as they have only let in 9 goals in their first period this season.
2. Skate and draw penalties. The Leafs are actually a pretty disciplined team, and rank in the top 10 in penalty minutes per game. However, their PK is terrible (ranked 26 – 76.5%). If the Canucks can get their legs early, skate circles around the Leafs and draw penalties
3. Luongo needs to avenge his last game in Toronto. The last time Luongo was in Toronto, he was awful and was yanked from the game. Don’t think for a minute that the Canucks goaltender has forgotten about that. He’ll be looking to make amends. He’s played very well on this eastern road trip so far. Look for him to have his best game yet.
Here are your top 5 links for today’s game.
1. Tale of the Tape: Canucks @ Maple Leafs (canucks.com)
2. ‘NAZEM KADRI!’ Canucks have a secret weapon in Toronto — themselves (Vancouver Sun)
3. Burke showing signs of impatience (Bruce Arthur, National Post)
4. Canucks @ Leafs: To The Game You Stay A Slave (Nucks Misconduct)
5. Game Preview: Maple Leafs v. Canucks (The Leafs Nation) >>> SEE WHAT THE ENEMY HAS TO SAY!