Game #53 Preview – Music City Makeover

In their last trip to Nashville, the Canucks did a little do-si-do into the Western Conference Final,
thanks entirely to Ryan Kesler. Does Kes still have some Music City Magic left in him?
(Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Game Day Recon: Game #53 – Canucks @ Predators

The Vancouver Canucks return to Nashville for the first time since dispatching the Predators from the second round of the playoffs. The Predators have gone through a bit of a transformation this year, lighting the lamp like never before. Meanwhile the Canucks have been coasting on minimal effort of late, yet are still managing to win games and pick up points. Will the Predators’ change in philosophy be enough to knock the Canucks down a peg? Or can the Canucks stumble their way to victory again?

Broadcast Info

Game Time: 5:00 PM PT

TV: RSN-PAC Radio: Team1040

The Setup

Can Jannik Hansen change his first name to Chris just for tonight? The Great Dane needs to do SOMETHING to get out of his funk. Or should we call it a twang? Yes, Jannik Hansen has been off-key lately, unable to hit the right notes. Tonight, using his speed and tenacious forecheck, the Canucks have to hope that he can catch a Predator, and hit just the right chord to play that puck into the back of the net. BANJO!

Ok, I promise I’m done with the country music jokes.

With Chris Higgins out with Zombieitis and the healthy Canucks playing like a bunch of rec leaguers, Alain Vigneault has decided to play musical chairs with the lines. It is anyone’s guess what the groupings will be throughout the night, and expect them to change from shift to shift. Do not be surprised if, at some point tonight, you see Henrik Sedin on a line with Alex Edler and Cory Schneider. Or Ryan Kesler flanked by Rick Bowness and Carrie Underwood. I’m pretty sure Keith Ballard with be paired with one of the arena’s hotdog vendors, who will surely get more ice-time than he will.

As for the The Nashville Predators, they have changed their game plan of late. Well, on paper at least. They score goals. No longer the New Jersey Devils of the West (that’s still reserved for the Wild), the Predators are fourth in the West in Goals-For. That’s a pretty drastic change from the Preds teams of the recent past. Despite their new found offense, the Smashvillians still don’t have a bonafide superstar up front. In fact, they only have three guys who are on pace to score 20 goals. However, the Predators lead the league in the number of players with 10 goals or more (9), while their highest goal scorer, Mike Fisher, has a mere 15 goals. They are the absolute definition of a team that scores by committee and that can be dangerous for many teams.

So who do you identify as the Predators’ "top" line? For a team like the Canucks, who don’t have a truly elite #1 defenseman or a lethal shutdown pairing (especially of late), this isn’t the worst matchup in the world. Rick Bowness can deploy his pairings pretty evenly tonight without having to worry too much about matchups. What the Canucks need to worry about is playing for a full 60 minutes, especially in their own zone.

One thing the Predators continue to do well is keep the puck out of their own net. Ranked 9th in the league in GA/G, the Preds rely heavily on Pekka Rinne. Rinne ranks second in wins (30) and sixth in Sv% among goalies with 20+ starts. And when I say that they rely on him, I mean they REALLY rely on him. The epic third period Rinne had against the Blues over the weekend was downright magical! Nashville had zero business taking that game in regulation…

Despite Rinne’s dominance over the past month, Trotz is riding his starting goaltender pretty hard. Rinne ranks second in games played and games started, behind only Ottawa’s Craig Anderson. Could the Predators be riding Rinne too hard and burning him out before the playoffs? Hard to say, but whatever they are doing now is working to a tee.

Numbers Game

This table includes what we believe to be the best "predictive" team metrics in hockey. Beyond the self-explanatory stats like record, powerplay percentage and goal differential, this table includes: 5-on-5 Goals For and Against Rate, which measures a team’s even-strength goal differential on a per game basis. Shot% and Fenwick% are indicators of possession and show us which team is better at controlling play. Shot% and Fenwick% in a tied game state have been proven to be the gold standard for measuring "real" team quality. We’ll also include PDO to qualify a team’s record – and try to isolate whether or not a particular opponent (or the Canucks) are actually as good as their record indicates, or whether or not they’ve just been lucky (or unlucky).

  Predators Canucks
Record 32-17-4 32-15-5
Venue Record (Home/Away) 17-7-3 17-9-1
Last 10 8-2-0 6-2-2
PP% 22.2% 22.3%
PK% 82.6% 85.6%
Goal Differential +13 +37
5-on-5 Goals F/A 0.99 1.18
Shots % 46.9% 50%
Fenwick % 46.5% 51.4%
Shots Tied % 44.3% 48%
Fenwick Tied % 44% 50.2%
PDO 100.6 101.6

Nashville is the Minnesota of the Central, without that pesky inflated PDO. Well, that and they have a great power play and insane goaltending.

Game Notes

Chris Higgins is still out with his zombie virus. Apparently, the antidote that he was taking to reverse the effects of Zombieitis made him quite ill. I fully expect that, in two weeks, we will learn that Higgins has gangrene or leprecy or dyssentry or polio or rickets. Hopefully I’m wrong, but I’m genuinely concerned for Higgins’ health at this point!

Roberto Luongo starts in net for Vancouver. The Predators are a very healthy team right now, with no injuries to report and Pekka Rinne will man the net in Nashville.

The Canucks are 1-1-0 against the Predators this season, with both games taking place in Vancouver. Both games also saw the Canucks score 5 goals, and both games saw Pekka Rinne pulled from the net. However, the second game was easily the most bizarre game the Canucks have played all year. The Canucks lost 6-5 to the Predators in a game where the Canucks were down 3-1, then scored four straight goals, then allowed three straight, finished off with a goal from Mike Fisher, who scored the game winner with 1:16 left in regulation. Basically these two teams have combined to score 17 goals in 120 minutes so far this season, so expect a low-key, 2-1 affair tonight.

The Three Keys

Here are the three keys for the Vancouver Canucks tonight:

  1. Control the puck with faceoff wins. The Predators are a bad faceoff team, ranked 22nd, with only one really good faceoff guy (Jerred Smithson). To beat a team that scores by committee, keep the puck away from them.
  2. Skate. Skate skate skate. Draw penalties. The Predators rank 2nd in times Shorthanded at home, despite playing more than half of their games in Nashville. They’re disciplined, kids. You have to goad them into taking penalties, by using speed and sharp passes and chicken wings. And the Canucks need to do this for a full 60 minutes, something that they have not done in several weeks. The Canucks have had many games lately where they have drawn 2 penalties or less for the entire game. That won’t work against Nashville, because you need to hurt them on the power play. Their Home PK is sub-par at a mere 79.2% – and THAT’S where the Canucks have to attack tonight.
  3. The Canucks penalty kill has to be ON tonight. The Predators have a terrific power play, ranked 2nd at home at 24.2%. The Canucks are equally stellar short-handed, ranked 3rd at 88.0%, so this will be a real battle for Vancouver. If the Canucks aren’t moving their feet tonight and start taking their typical run of penalties, the PK unitwill get a real workout. If the PK isn’t on fire tonight, it could be a long night for the Canucks in Music City.

The Links

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

  1. Tale of the Tape (Vancouver Canucks)
  2. Playing through grief, Kesler is Canucks golden boy again (The Province)
  3. Canucks’ Hansen should ‘hound the puck’ to get out of funk (The Province)
  4. Winning ugly becoming a concern for Canucks (Vancouver Sun)
  5. Canucks may have Rinne’s number (CBC Sports)