Let’s do this! (Photo – Reuters)
Game Day Recon #61 – Canadiens @ Canucks
THE CAVALRY IS COMING!!! RELIEF IS ON ITS WAY!! The Canucks get a double-dose of great news with 22 games to play. As the Canucks host the ever-popular Habs tonight, we learn that both Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard will return to the Canucks lineup.
While the rookie defensemen held their own during the Canucks injury woes on the blueline, Canucks brass have to be breathing a little easier as their two big off-season acquisitions come back.
Game Time: 7:00 PM PT
The Canucks entire organization, from upper management to the few black aces that they employ, must be breating a huge sigh of relief today. Yesterday, the Canucks re-assigned Evan Oberg to the Manitoba Moose, knowing that Dan Hamhuis was set to return to the lineup after suffering a concussion, courtesy a crushing Ryan Getzlaf hit. Today, the team also re-assigned Yann Sauve to the Moose, which means that Keith Ballard is ready to go as well. While he was rumoured to be very close to returning, the Sauve assignment all but guarantees that Ballard will suit up against the Canadiens tonight at Rogers Arena. In fact, Ben Kuzma of the Province tweeted this morning that Ballard himself indicated that he was ready to go tonight.
Almost a bigger story though is the Habs’ drought on the Canadian West Coast. The Canadiens have not won in Vancouver since November 30th, 2000, a span of 10 years, 2 months and 23 days. Looking a little more recently at Habs/Canucks matchups in Vancouver, Roberto Luongo has been net against Carey Price in their two most recent meetings here, with the Canucks winning both games, 7-1 and 4-2. Before that, the last Canucks goalie to beat the Habs in Vancouver was Alex Auld, who now backs up Price for the Canadiens.
It’s not looking good for the Habs to break this 10+ year slump. Montreal is 4-4-2 in its last 10 games overall, but are a paltry 12-15-1 on the road, and have lost three straight on the road. Their biggest problem… they aren’t scoring goals! The Canadiens have a mere 62 goals away from Centre Bell, putting them 29th in the NHL in road goals. That said, they are pretty stingy with the goals against when on the road, so that is helping getting a few wins. The Habs have allowed 77 goals on the road, good for 8th.
Meanwhile the Canucks are #1 in goals-for at home with 108, and are 3rd in goals against. So this will be a proper test fo the Canucks, who have struggled against teams that can lock down a game defensively. This will be a great game for the Canucks to exert their force as the league’s best team and beat a team that is faltering lately, especially on the road.
The Canucks also welcome back Cody Hodgson, who was recalled yesterday as well. Vigneault has made it clear that Hodgson is here to try out for a permanent spot as 4th line centre for the rest of the year. You have to think that if Canucks brass and coaching staff isn’t impressed enough with Hodgson on the 4th line, they will make a move in the next 6 days (before the trade deadline) to pick up someone who will fill that role. So really, the job is Cody’s to lose but he’ll have to wow the socks off Gillis, Vigneault and the rest to stick with the Canucks for the rest of the year.
With Hamhuis and Ballard returning from injury and Hodgson coming back to win a spot, you can expect the Canucks to get a huge lift emotionally and physically tonight. While Oberg and Sauve did as asked, Hamhuis and Ballard are top 3 defensemen on ANY NHL team. To have both of them return to an ailing Canucks blueline shows the huge depth that the team has and how well managed and coached they are. That they were able to absorb this huge list of injuries without missing a beat is truly remarkable.
The Three Keys
Here are the three keys for the Vancouver Canucks tonight:
1. Win the second period. The middle frame has been notoriously bad for the Canucks, and statistically is the Habs best in goals-for vs. goals-against. If the Canucks can get their legs moving after a few days off and turn up the energy in the 2nd period, they need to be able to press hard and score. Most importantly, they need to keep the puck out of the net in the 2nd, which is BY FAR their worst period for goals-against.
2. Force giveaways with pressure. The Canucks are +89 in takeaway/giveaways at home, while the Habs are -31 on the road. Tough forecheck, keep the pressure up through three full periods.
3. Watch the slmuping players. No matter how well the Canucks play, they seem to have a knack for allowing players to bust slumps against them. Andrei Kostitsyn has no points in his last 9 games, Gomez and Gionta are pointless in 3 games, and Yannick Weber and PK Subban both haven’t registered a point in 5 games. So watch out, Canucks fans. One of them will bump a slump tonight. Hopefully not all of them.
Here are your top 5 links for today’s game:
1. Tale of the Tape: Canadiens @ Canucks (canucks.com)
2. Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard back to lead Canucks cavalry charge (Vancouver Sun)
3. Canucks Gameday, Hamhuis back vs Habs (The Province)
4. Canucks/Canadiens Preview (Yahoo! Sports)
5. Tough one tonight (Habs Inside Out) << GO READ WHAT THE ENEMY HAS TO SAY!