Game #59 Preview: Children of the Corn

And then bam! Stanley Cup. via thewonderofafairytale.

The Oilers are not a particularly good hockey team, which is largely the result of brutal management. After a hot and totally unsustainable start to the season, they’ve plummeted like a stone to the bottom of the standings, which, is where they belong. They don’t belong there because I have any particular dislike for the Oilers – though I do – they belong there because the Oilers "brain trust" is composed of unserious, snake-oil salesman who’ve mastered the art of marketing false hope, and failing to back it up with any substance.

The Oilers sit 10 points clear of Columbus at the bottom of the Western Conference, so it’s in their best interest to just lay down tonight, and dream of Nail Yakupov. Of course, the Oilers always get up to play the Canucks, especially when Vancouver’s club visits their North Albertan barn. The Canucks are coming off of a clinical dismantling of the Maple Leafs last night, and this will mark the first game of a relatively difficult six game road-trip – the teams last extended road-trip of the season. Hopefully the Canucks can start their trip off on a winning note, which they’ll do so long as they feel comfortable pummeling the hell out of some children.

A more detailed recap and underlying numbers after the jump!

Broadcast Info

Game time: 6 PM PST

Radio: The Team 1040 TV: Sportsnet Pacific

The Setup

The Canucks limped through January while inexplicably piling up wins – but of late they’ve begun to control games with their usual panache. Starting in the Byron Bitz game about 12 days ago in Music City, the Canucks have consistently out-shot, out-possessed and out-chanced their opponents at even-strength. They’ve even won their last two games in regulation! Since managing to halt the bleeding at five-on-five the Canucks have yet to play a quality possession opponent, and that won’t change tonight. Still, I’d like to see the Canucks sustain this recent run.

I think it’s safe to assume that the Canucks will go with the exact same line-up that they used last night, except that Cory Schneider will get the start. The Canucks were up by two goals against the Leafs only 10 minutes into last night’s game, and Vigneault managed his team’s minutes closely as a result. Kesler played 15:15 for example. This is good news because the club should have some jump tonight – even if it is the second game of a back-to-back.

Chris Tanev was impressive again last night, and even saw some time on the power-play when the game was well out of reach. He skated with Aaron Rome yesterday, and that pairing looked solid. But I still want to see Tanev get an opportunity to play top-4 minutes for a stretch of four or five games. It’s a dirty little secret, but Salo and Edler have increasingly become something of a liability defensively at even-strength – and I suspect that Tanev can help improve the defensive play of the second pairing.

Luckily for the Canucks, Bieksa and Hamhuis are the guys who eat up most of the tough minutes and they’ve been particularly steady of late. They had a big game last night against Toronto, and will probably be tasked with shutting down the Hall-Gagner-Eberle line tonight. Honestly, while Hall-Gagner and Eberle can burn you – especially on the power-play – they play three-ply soft minutes. If Vigneault can limit the amount of time those three spend against Edler and Salo – they shouldn’t  be too big of an issue.

It looks like Nikolai Khabibulin will get the start for the Oilers, and that a now fully healthy Theo Peckham will replace Cam Barker in the line-up. While Theo Peckham is still a prime candidate to produce some comic Sedin-fodder, I really wanted to watch Cam "turnstile" Barker get burned, so I’m somewhat disappointed from a "humour" perspective. Thankfully, the "clown" quotient will be filled tonight with Darcy Hordichuk likely to get back into the lineup for the Oilers, and the fact that the Oilers continue to employ that jack-ass Ben Eager.

B.C. born wonderkid Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been practicing with the team, but is unlikely to return to the line-up tonight. He’s been bothered by shoulder injuries down the stretch and it’s a situation, which, really was entirely predictable back in October. Nugent-Hopkins has the skill to play in this league, there’s no doubt about that, but he’s 160 pounds soaking wet! He just wasn’t ready for the physical play, and the day-to-day grind of the NHL – few teenagers are!

When the Oilers decided to keep him past the 9 game limit, the team made a marketing decision as opposed to a hockey decision. As a result they’ve burned a year of his ELC, and the injuries he’s suffered have potentially set back his development. Just truly and absolutely pathetic. It’s sad that the best Vancouver area hockey prospect of the past decade had to get drafted by a joke organization like the Edmonton Islers.

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. Today the table is somewhat modified because timeontheice scripts are faulty, so I’ve dropped shot% from the table. However, Fenwick% close is an indicator of possession and shows us which team is better at controlling play. 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).

  Oilers Canucks
Record 17-35-6 37-15-6
Venue Record (Home/Away) 15-9-4 19-9-2
Last 10 5-3-2 8-0-2
PP% 21% 22.4%
PK% 82.6% 86.4%
Goal Differential 21 47
5-on-5 Goals F/A 0.85 1.21
Fenwick (Close) % 47.4% 50.7%
Fenwick Tied % 48% 49.3
PDO 99.7 101.5

The Three Keys

  1. Discipline. The Oilers are a feeble five-on-five team, but their special teams are respectable and their power-play in particular is deadly. While at some point I’ll expect that Bitz will answer the bell against Hordichuk, the Canucks should look to spend as much time as possible tonight 5-on-5. That’s where they are the far superior side.
  2. Get Bieksa and Hamhuis out against the Taylor Hall line. Despite his penchant for whining, falling down and diving – Taylor Hall is an extremely good young player, and is an absolute beast along the walls. Hall can take advantage of the likes of Aaron Rome and Sami Salo with his speed, and over-power guys like Chris Tanev with his strength. Bieksa and Hamhuis are the antidote, and against any other Canucks pairing, I suspect Hall will successfully cause some havoc tonight.
  3. Exploit the Oilers defense. Taylor Hall is one Oilers player who causes the Canucks some match-up issues, but on the other side of the coin, the back-end possessed by the OIlers can’t hold the Canucks forward’s jock. Injuries have left Ryan Whitney with no foot speed, Andy Sutton is an iceberg, and Theo Peckham is too green to keep up with the cerebral cycle game the Sedins play. Smid, Potter and Gilbert are solid, but that brings the tally of "quality Oilers defenseman" to three. The number of quality scoring lines possessed by the Canucks, is coincidentally also three. It’s a pretty serious mismatch in Vancouver’s favour.

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