Game #69 Preview – Habsolutely Hawful

Walking past the rich history of horrendous Vancouver sweaters, Roberto Luongo
takes on his hometown Habs tonight – a team with an ACTUAL history of winning.
Just, uh, not lately.
(Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Game Day Recon: Game #69 – Canadiens @ Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks are mired in the doldrums of their regular season. With so little on the line right now for the team (the Northwest Division crown is all but guaranteed, and they’ve got a sizable lead on whoever wins the Pacific) they’re playing for pride. Which, they finally showed some of on Thursday, though it doesn’t mean this slump is in the rearview mirror. After all, even when they handily outplayed Winnipeg at home on Thursday, they were still only able to escape with a one-goal win.

Then along comes the woeful Montreal Canadiens. Injured, unlucky, but most awful, the Habs limp into Rogers Arena just trying to play out this regrettable and forgettable season while dreams of Nail Yakupov dance in their head.

With so many Canucks looking to break out of slumps… is THIS finally the game the team finally retrieves their offensive panache?

Broadcast Info

Game Time: 7:00 PM PT

TV: CBC Radio: Team1040

The Setup

The Montreal Canadiens are having a season to forget, that’s for sure. Turmoil from the head office all the way down to the bench has beleagered the storied franchise all year long. But it’s a really funny thing about the Canadiens – their numbers tell a whole different story.

With the exception of their dismal powerplay, the Montreal Canadiens aren’t nearly as bad as their record would indicate. By the numbers, the Habs should be a bubble playoff team in the east. The big problem for the Canadiens has been getting goals at the right time. They can score, but just not enough and not at opportune moments. And they can keep the puck out of their own net, but just not enough to swing games in their favour. In games decided by either 1 or 2 goals, the Habs are 16-23-10 and have allowed 10 empty-net goals. Their total goal differential, despite their abyssmal record, is only -13. That means that if you take away the empty net goals they’ve allowed, they’re effectively an even team, goal-wise. There is, of course, no way to track this, but the Habs just can’t seem to keep that one goal out of their net, or score that one goal they need to turn the game in their direction.

They are indeed woefully unlucky. Don’t get me wrong. You have to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good. Good teams make their own luck. And when you’re this unlucky, there is always some poor play behind it. Of all players who’ve played 30+ games for the Canadiens this season, only 6 players have a Corsi number in the black, and two of them are injured right now. Their highest rated possession player is Scott Gomez at 8.89. That would place Gomez 9th on the Canucks, just behind the super-infected zombie Chris Higgins.

The source of a lot of the Habs problems can be found in their weak defence corps. After trading away the behemoth Hall Gill, the Canadiens have only one blueliner whose keeping his head above water, and that’s PK Subban who is also playing the toughest minutes of any of his fellow Habs defencemen. Without Subban, the Canadiens blueline would be an unmitigated disaster. As it is now, it’s merely a train wreck.

The Habs do have a couple of players that are having breakthrough seasons but, unfortunately for them, only one of them is playing in Vancouver tonight. Max Pacioretty is the first American to score 30 goals in a Canadiens sweater, and given the devastating injury he suffered a year ago, his play this season is nothing short of remarkable. The other player having a great season for the Habs will not see action tonight, due to injury and that David Desharnais. The diminutive forward leads Montreal with 38 assists and a +9 and has been a terrific complement to Pacioretty and his scoring ability. Without Desharnais tonight, along with a long list of other injured players (Gionta, Darche, Moen, Markov and more) the Habs will be hard pressed to offer much in the way of offense in tonight’s.

With an injured, beleagered and generally terrible Habs team in town (after crossing the continent over the past four days), this has all the makings of an absolute blow out tonight. In their last five home meetings against the Habs, the Canucks are 4-1-0 and scored 4 goals or more in all of their victories. Granted, their last meeting in Vancouver saw the Canadiens come away with the victory. In that game, the Canucks were without Kevin Bieksa, and saw Mikael Samuelsson involved in every single goal (1G 1A, -3). The Canucks lineup has arguably improved greatly since that game, while the lineup that the Habs will ice tonight is a shell of what last came to Vancouver. All three Habs goal scorers from that game one year ago are either gone or hurt, along with many more key players either traded, released or sitting out with injuries.

This game and this team is exactly what the Canucks need to break out of ALL of their slumps. Anything short of a demolition should be a disappointment for the Canucks.

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).

  Canucks Habs
Record 42-18-8 26-32-10
Venue Record (Home/Away) 20-8-4 14-17-2
Last 10 5-3-2 3-7-0
PP% 20.7% 15.2%
PK% 86.8% 89.1%
Goal Differential +46 -13
5-on-5 Goals F/A 1.19 0.92
Shots % 50.3% 48.4%
Fenwick % 51.5% 48.6%
Shots Tied % 50% 46.1%
Fenwick Tied % 51.8% 46.4%
PDO 101.4 99.8

Game Notes

It will be honetown boy vs hometown boy tonight, as Roberto Luongo faces BC’s Carey Price. The Canucks will go with the same lineup as they did on Thursday, meaning Chris Tanev and Marc-Andre Gragnani will again be paired together. And for good reason, the young duo were fantastic Thursday, allowing only scoring chance against COMBINED.

The Three Keys

Here are the three keys for the Vancouver Canucks tonight:

  1. Pressure the Habs defence. Forecheck, forecheck, forecheck. The Habs defence does not drive possession and, with the exception of Subban, is not strong offensively. The Canucks need to keep the puck in the Canadiens’ zone and pressure the primary puck-mover all game long.
  2. It’s time for the Sedins to wake up. There is no better time for Henrik and Daniel to awake from their slumber and put up some beastly points tonight. The Habs defense should be no match for the Sedins’ cycle and possession game, but now it is on the Sedins to CONVERT. A marquee opponent on a marquee night provides a great opportunity for the twins to hit their stride again.
  3. Keep calm in the defensive zone. This is for the other five defensemen not named Chris Tanev. Even on Thursday, when the Canucks were dominating the Jets, the Canucks looked skittish and uneasy in their own zone. It was the biggest reason why the game never really seemed out of reach for the Jets. The Jets always looked like they COULD have held their lead or maybe come back to tie the game. The Canucks HAVE to regain that composure in their defensive zone. It can’t always be a total firedrill whenever there is a modicum of pressure from the opposition. Just calm the f**k down. Be cool! We’re gonna be like five little Fonzies here. And what’s Fonzie like? Correctomundo, we’re gonna be cool.

The Links

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

  1. Tale of the Tape (Vancouver Canucks)
  2. Habs-Canucks a special contest for many players‎ (CTV)
  3. Chris Higgins finally feels normal again (The Province)
  4. Canucks seek a power surge, make changes (Vancouver Sun)
  5. Canucks look to continue dominance vs. Habs (CBC Sports)
  • Markov will actually be making his season debut tonight. Not that we should expect much from a guy that hasn’t played NHL hockey for 1 1/2 years.

    There is a strong suspecion in the Habs analytical community that Desharnais’ break out has been driven by too excellent wingers in Pacioretty and Cole. Plekanec will look to line up between the two of them tonight which should be the one dangerous two-way line Montreal can assemble.

    Don’t let Plekanec’s negative possession numbers fool you, he’s an excellent two-way center on the tier below Kesler. He’s just been trapped with minimal support and brutal minutes since game 20. Last season and the first quarter of this one showed how good he matches up to top opponents when given real support.

    Vancouver should be able to blow Montreal out of the water right now but its a parity league where anyone can beat anyone.