Game #55 Preview: Hell-Fire

What do the Canucks and Flames have in common? Zombies Left Wingers.

Game Day Recon: Game #55 – Canucks @ Flames

Today there are all sorts of Canucks goodies. It’s hockey day in Canada, Trevor Linden is the featured article on Wikipedia, and the Canucks will face-off against the Flames, in Calgary tonight! Add in the fact that the Bruins and Blackhawks are struggling, and it’s a pretty good moment in time for Canucks fans!

It will be the fourth meeting between the Flames and the Canucks this season. Vancouver dominated the first two games, before the Flames scored a victory in the most recent meeting between the two clubs on December 23rd. The aggregate score mid-way through the season series between is 11-5 in Vancouver’s favour. 

A more detailed preview, underlying numbers and the 3 keys to the game after the break!

Broadcast Info

Game Time: 7pm PST

TV: CBC. Radio: The Team.

Wait… A Canucks game? On Hockey Night in Canada? Whoa.

The Setup

The Canucks have finally turned it around possession-wise over the past week, and managed to control even-strength events in consecutive games for the first time in 2012! Of course, those games were against milquetoast possession teams in the Wild and the Predators, but still, it’s progress!

The Byron Bitz apple show will continue tonight, as the hulking winger with the soft-hands will start the game on the Sedin line again. Shockingly, Byron Bitz has been a point-per-game player over his first three games, and will look to continue his surprising run of production tonight.

The rest of the Canucks lines should remain unchanged from Thursday night in Minnesota. Kesler will center Burrows and Booth, while Hodgson skates with Maxim Lapierre and presumably Mike Duco. Malhotra will play pivot with Raymond and Jannik Hansen on his wings, on the other line.

On defense, Keith Ballard remains out with a "neck injury" that he’s apparently been struggling with for a while. There are several Canucks fans who are suspicious that this "injury" is a really a drawn out cap-maneuver, but regardless: Ballard won’t be in the line-up tonight. As such the third pairing will be Alberts and Rome again, and the top-four will be the usual suspects (Bieksa with Hamhuis, Salo with Edler).

I’ve noticed that, contrary to AV’s strategy over the past 18 months, Edler and Salo are drawing the tougher match-ups and zone-starts on the team’s current road-trip. Will that continue tonight? I hope not, because by the numbers, they’re not really up for it.

While the Canucks are 3-0-0 on their four game road swing (that ends following tonight’s game), one area of their game that has struggled has been the penalty kill. The team has allowed two power-play goals on the road-trip, and Calgary is a team that can hurt you up a man. I’ll be curious to see if Vigneault makes any adjustments to the PK in terms of personnel, because Vancouver’s short-handed unit has been surrendering chances by the bucket-full.

For the Flames, Tanguay is in despite taking a puck in the face on Thursday night. Out for the Flames are: Glencross, Stempniak, Jones and Moss. For some reason, Mikka Kipprusoff will get the start in net tonight, over "future top-5 NHL goaltender" Leland irving. If you’re interested in reading more about what the Flames line-up will look like tonight, I’ll refer you to Pat Steinberg’s game preview over at FlamesNation.

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).

  Flames Canucks
Record 25-22-8 34-15-5
Venue Record (Home/Away) 14-8-2 19-9-1
Last 10 4-3-3 7-1-2
PP% 18% 22.9%
PK% 83.2% 85.7%
Goal Differential -18 +41
5-on-5 Goals F/A 0.86 1.18
Shots % 47.2% 50%
Fenwick % 46.8% 51.4%
Shots Tied % 50% 47.9%
Fenwick Tied % 48.3% 50%
PDO 100.1 101.5

 The Three Keys

  1. Out-chance the Flames and control events at even-strength. This is a truism, if you can out-chance and control even-strength events against any team: you’ll win more often than not. But the Canucks have been struggling to do this over the past six weeks, and only in the past two games did they manage to really turn it around. The Flames are a better possession team than the Wild or the Predators are, so I’ll be curious to see whether or not the Canucks can continue to trend upwards against a moderately more difficult opponent.
  2. Tighten up short-handed. Games between the Canucks and Flames tend to be chippy affairs, with the teams averaging 35 penalty minutes per game in three previous meetings this season. The Canucks have generously given their opponents significant room to work with while on the man-advantage on this road-trip, and it’s essential that they play better 4-on-5. Vancouver hasn’t really paid for the sloppy play of their penalty-killing unit yet on this trip (they’ve killed 10 of 12 penalties), but that mark is unduly flattering. The Canucks don’t want suffer a correction tonight, especially on Hockey Night in Canada against a former bitter rival in the Flames.
  3. Push the tempo. The Flames can’t score with, or match-up defensively with the Canucks top-six. While Bouwmeester is a very good defensive defenseman, the Flames simply don’t have that tough-minutes centerman who can play the Sedins to draw – and give the team a punchers chance. The two games the Canucks won against the Flames this season were high-event track-meet games, with a lot of scoring chances both ways. The game the Flames won was a slow, stuck-in-the-mud affair. The Canucks should look to open it up tonight, so as to best allow their advantage in overall team quality to show.