Game #64 Preview – A Dandy Desert Duel

Kesler, Hamhuis and the Canucks trounced the Coyotes in their first visit to Glendale this year.
Tonight, the Canucks play their first game with new teammates Pahlsson, Gragnani and Pahlsson.
(Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Image)

Game Day Recon: Game #64 – Canucks @ Coyotes

Did the Vancouver Canucks become a tougher playoff team yesterday? Or did they gamble away their future by trading a potential captain? Canucks fans will have the next few months and then years and years ahead of them to debate Mike Gillis’s 2012 Trade Deadline Day moves.

Today is Day 1 of the Canucks A.C. (After Cody) and Vancouver club gets their first chance to put their new lineup to a pretty hard test tonight as they’ll be hosted the hottest team in the league… the Phoenix Coyotes.

Yes, that’s right. The Coyotes are the hottest team in the NHL.

Broadcast Info

Game Time: 6:00 PM PT

TV: RSN-PAC Radio: Team1040

The Setup

The Vancouver Canucks will see some significant adjustments to their lineup, as they are poised to welcome all three deadline day acquisitions into the locker room for the first time. Sami Pahlsson, Zack Kassian, and Marc-André Gragnani will all suit up for their new club tonight in Glendale, as the Canucks close out a 6-game, cross-continent road trip.

The Canucks are guaranteed a winning record on the road trip, as they have already gone 3-1-1 through the first five games. After tonight’s game in the outskirts of Phoenix, the Canucks will feast on some delicious home cooking, with 13 of their remaining 19 games occurring at Rogers Arena. A win against the hottest club in the league and an opportunity to close out this road trip at 4-1-1 will put the Canucks 4 points clear of their next closest competitor at the top of the league-wide table. A second straight President’s Trophy is a real possibility for the Canucks over the next twenty games. If they can manage a 2nd straight "best regular season record" trophy, hopefully home ice advantage throughout the playoffs will prove more fruitful for them this time around.

Sami Pahlsson will almost assuredly take over for the departed Cody Hodgson (there is a single tear rolling down my cheek as I type this) as the third-line centre. Marc-André Gragnani will likely slot as the fifth or sixth defenceman. The big question is: Where will Zack Kassian go? Certainly, the expectation is that, eventually he’ll be a second line winger… But does he start there now?

Or will he ease his way into the lineup as the fourth line winger? I think it’s reasonable to expect Kassian to start on the fourth line under the tutelage of Malhotra and Lapierre. Kassian, with his huge frame and propensity for big, bruising hits as well as a huge offensive upside, has the potential to be a Canucks fan favourite for years to come. But he has a pretty limited NHL résumé right now, so expecting him to play and produce in the top-six is unfair. He’ll get there (fingers crossed), and possibly sooner than later, but for now, he’s a hulking figure in the bottom six who has the ability to add goals. That could come in very handy tonight, against a team that loves to lock down games.

The Phoenix Coyotes have been on an absolute tear lately. They’re 9-0-1 in their last 10, with their only dropped point coming at the hands of the Canucks in a shootout two weeks ago. Leading the way for the Coyotes has been goaltender Mike Smith. Smith is 6th in Wins (28), 7th in Sv% (.926), and 9th in GAA (2.27) (with a minimum of 20 GP). It has been a banner campaign for the goaltender who was discarded by a Tampa Bay team that could’ve used that sort of competence in net this season.

That being said, it’s not all on Smith. The Coyotes have not lost in regulation in February and their only dropped point (as previously mentioned) came in a shootout loss to the Canucks. In their 10 wins this month, the Coyotes have won 4 games by scoring 4 goals or more, and the other 6 games by scoring 3 goals or less. So they’re winning some of their games with high offensive output and they’re winning some of their game by locking it down defensively.

Basically everything is falling into place for the Coyotes, and they’ve ridden their recent run of success all the way to the 3rd spot in the Western Conference, as they now lead the Pacific Division.

So tonight sees the NHL’s leading club face the league’s hottest team. It should be a dandy duel in the desert.

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, the 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’s "mplayershots" scripts have been glitchy over the past week, so we’ve dropped shot% and shot% tied from the table. However, Fenwick% close is a great indicator of possession, and shows us which team is better at controlling play. We’ll also include Fenwick% in a tied game state, which, has 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).

  Coyotes Canucks
Record 32-21-9 40-16-7
Venue Record (Home/Away) 16-10-4 21-10-3
Last 10 9-0-1 7-1-2
PP% 13.4% 21.4%
PK% 84.2% 86.3%
Goal Differential +9 +49
5-on-5 Goals F/A 1.08 1.23
Fenwick Close % 49.5% 51.3%
Fenwick Tied % 49.8% 50.9%
PDO 101.2 102.1






Game Notes

Luongo gets the start in net tonight. Gragnani (#5), Kassian (#9) and Pahlsson (#26) will all suit up for the Canucks tonight. Byron Bitz was reassigned to the Chicago Wolves, in order to make room in the roster. Dale Weise remains out.

In their other trip to Phoenix this season, the Canucks sandstormed the Coyotes with a 5-0 shutout. Cory Schneider stopped all 21 shots he faced, while 9 different Canucks skaters picked up at least a point, led by Ryan Kesler (1-1-2).

The Three Keys

Here are the three keys for the Vancouver Canucks tonight:

  1. Lock down Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata. Both Whitney (team leading 57 Points) and Vrbata (team-leading 30 goals; T-4 in NHL) are having monster years and have been the two best players not named Mike Smith for the Coyotes this season. Whitney has had a long history of being a Canuck Killer, while Vrbata has been terrible against the Canucks through his career. Needless to say, with the way Vrbata has played this year, he’s due for a breakout game against Vancouver. The Canucks have to shot down those two players. Hey Pahlsson, I’ve got your first assignment.
  2. Expose the Coyotes’ lack of goal scoring depth and turn this game into an Old West Shootout. The Coyotes have only 3 players who have more than 10 goals. The Canucks, even with Hodgson’s lost goals, still have 7 players with more than 10 goals. It’s time for the Canucks to end this road trip with a bang and open it up. They’ve already guaranteed themselves a winning road trip and a spot at the top of the NHL standings. Take some risks and try to go run-and-gun tonight.
  3. Forget about special teams tonight – cuz it ain’t gonna happen. The Coyotes are highly disciplined at home (4th in league in times shorthanded), while the Canucks haven’t been getting ANY power play opportunities lately. So the Canucks had better be prepared to win this game at 5-on-5, because they won’t get any chances on the PP tonight. And even if they did, the Canucks PP has been miserable lately anyway.

The Links

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

  1. Tale of the Tape (Vancouver Canucks)
  2. Canucks Gameday: Vancouver at Phoenix, Feb. 28 (The Province)
  3. Gallagher: Kassian eyed as Lucic-type (The Province)
  4. New Canuck Zack Kassian packs plenty of punch (Vancouver Sun)
  5. Canucks lone blemish in Coyotes’ stellar month (CBC Sports)