Game #45 Preview – St. Louis Cruisin’

Alex Edler, playing last year in St. Louis against the Blues, was selected today to play in
this year’s All-Star game in Ottawa. Congrats, Alex!
(Photo by Mark Buckner/NHLI via Getty Imagess)

Game Day Recon: Game #45 – Canucks @ Blues

The top two teams in the Western Conference face off tonight in St. Louis, as the Blues and Canucks play for first place in the West.

And the Blues go for their third straight win against the Canucks this season, and a win in the season series. Not too bad for a team that was struggling early but used a coaching change to quickly and swiftly right the ship.

Broadcast Info

Game Time: 5:00 PM PT

TV: RSN-PAC Radio: Team1040

The Setup

When the Blues entered the first week of November, they looked like they were going stumble and struggle their way through the NHL season. Out goes Davis Payne, in comes Ken Hitchcock and the Blues have skyrocketed to the top of the Western Conference. Much of that success has to do with a much stronger focus on defensive play and some stellar play from both the Blues goalies, Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak. The Blues are currently 3rd overall in total goals-against, 1st overall in shots-against and are positively ruthless at home, going 17-3-2 so far this year. Brian Elliott has to be the NHL’s biggest surprise this season. And his recent play has been out of this world. Per Jeff Paterson, in Elliott’s last 10 wins, he’s allowed only 9 goals and had 4 shutouts. That said, he is 2-3-0 in his last 5 games. But it’s not been his play that has resulted in those losses. In those three losses, the Blues have only scored 4 goals.

This team doesn’t have a bunch of superstars. Or flashy players. Leading the charge is the line of David Backes, Chris Stewart and David Perron. These three fast, powerful, relentless players have combined for a pretty impressive line. But for the Blues, that’s their big line… and not much else from a big name. Backes leads the team with a mere 14 goals and 31 points. But they have 6 players with 10 goals or more (compared to the high-scored Canucks, who have 7). So the Blues score by committee and score just enough to win games, allowing their goaltending to lock it down. The Blues, have lead 21 of their 42 games going into the third period, going 19-1-1. A great ratio for sure. But you have to then consider the fact that the third period is BY FAR their best period offensively. So they take leads into the third period with their strong goaltending, then put the game out of reach in the third period. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The Canucks will catch a break if Alex Steen does not return to the ice to play tonight. Steen has 9 goals (2 GWG) in 16 career games against Vancouver, and was having a fantastic season until he suffered a concussion in late December.  But Steen’s absence hasn’t stalled the Blues, winners of four in a row and scoring 4 goals in three of those four wins, and two consecutive shutouts. That said, their last four wins have been against Phoenix, Edmonton, Colorado and Montreal – four teams that aren’t exactly lighting the lamp or the standings on fire. But good teams take advantage of bad teams, a lesson the Canucks should be reminded to learn.

Game Notes

Burdgeoning Canuck killer Alex Steen is doubtful for tonight as he recovers from a concussion. He skated this morning, but no decision has been made yet on his inclusion in the line-up.

For the Canucks, Aaron Rome returns to the lineup after missing 12 games with a broken thumb. Making way for Rome on the sidelines is Keith Ballard. David Booth is still out, but may return when the Canucks return home to play the Ducks on Sunday.

The Three Keys

Here are the three keys for the Vancouver Canucks tonight:

  1. The first period. This will be an interesting battle against the league most potent 1st period offensive team (Vancouver) against the league’s stingiest first period defence (St. Louis). A strong first period for the Canucks will absolutely set the tone for the rest of the game. This is a not a team against whom the Canucks can coast through to the third period and suddenly turn on the afterburners. The Canucks must come out strong in the first period and then…
  2. Play a full sixty minutes. They coasted through the final 40 minutes in Florida. They were outplayed for the final forty minutes in Tampa and escaped with a shootout victory. That won’t fly tonight. The Canucks haven’t had a problem starting well, it’s continuing and finished with that strong start that’s been the problem for the past two games.
  3. Puck possession. The Canucks will beat the Blues tonight if they place THEIR style of play, rather than trying to adapt to the Blues style of play. Faceoffs will be key (St. Louis a terrible faceoff team), as is limiting turnovers against a team that thrives on a great turnover ratio. The Blues do not have big-name defence, nor do they have a defence that is renowned for moving the puck well. If the Canucks keep the pressure up on the forecheck to cause turnovers, they’ll regain possession. Keep the puck away from the Blues and play safe hockey leading into the offensive zone.

The Links

Here are your top 5 links for today’s game:

  1. Tale of the Tape (Vancouver Canucks)
  2. Hitchcock’s stock soars as he finds renewed inspiration for his coaching (The Province)
  3. Canucks vs St. Louis Gameday (The Province)
  4. Canucks Sedins, Edler, Hodgson going to NHL All-Star Game (Vancouver Sun)
  5. Canucks-Blues Preview (CBC Sports)