Of late the Canucks are reeling. Or, more accurately, they’re mired in a minor losing streak punctuated by defensive breakdowns, and general indifference. Results aside, the team has played a much better possession game since the trade deadline, and I’d argue that they’ve been better over the past two weeks than they were in January for example (when they were winning every game, but playing really brutal hockey).
If the Canucks can stop giving up odd-man rushes by the dozen, they’ll be fine, and a game against the league’s worst team on Hockey Night in Canada should be a good opportunity to turn things around. Though the defensive play has been spotty, Roberto Luongo’s McSofty coupon book (2-for-1 special!) has also been wide open over the past couple of weeks. He’ll be on the bench tonight, as the Canucks look to get off the Schneid with Schneider between the pipes.
For a more detailed preview, underlying numbers and the three keys to the game click past the jump!
Game time: 7 PM PST
TV: Hockey Night in Canada (CBC). Radio: The Team.
The Bluejackets continue to fail for Nail, and have done remarkably well on this front. In the mostly sordid history of the Bluejackets franchise, they’ve gambled several times on Russian forwards with top-10 picks, and in Filatov and Zherdev (neither of whom is in the league any longer) they’ve struck out twice. With three Russian forwards at the top of this season’s draft (Yakupov, Grigorenko and Galchenyuk – though Galchenyuk is actually an American citizen), you wonder if they might be better off trading the pick!
Rick Nash has taken a few days off of practice, though he returned to the ice yesterday and is probable for tonight’s game. Personal favorite Derek Dorsett has been battling illness this week as well, but he’s also likely to dress tonight. The Bluejackets dismantled their roster at the trade-deadline, losing two of their best "tough-minutes" forward options (Vermette to Phoenix and Pahlsson to Vancouver) and also dealt Jeff Carter for the sieve known as Jack Johnson.
The Bluejackets have won a few games of late, but earlier in the year they were a good possession team who was betrayed by their blue cheese goaltending. Now, they’re a much less formidable possession side, though the situation between the pipes seems to have stabilized somewhat.
British Columbia native Ryan Johansen has been one of the few bright spots for the Bluejackets, and when he plays (he’s been a healthy scratch way too many times this season) he certainly looks like the real deal. The last time Columbus played in Vancouver, he had an especially solid game posting a positive chance differential and handing the Canucks third line at the time their lunch. He’ll be one to watch tonight!
On the Canucks end of things, Vigneault has clearly been trying some new things on the back-end and the results have been – let’s just say "mixed." The Hamhuis-Tanev pairing has been rock solid, and the pairing of Gragnani and Salo has impressed. Bieksa and Edler, however, have been an inexplicable mess in their own end when they’re on the ice together. That pairing has been deployed as the "Sedin caddy" pairing, it’s a deployment pattern very similar to the one Vigneault used last year with Ehrhoff-Edler. I really like the potential of a Bieksa-Edler offensive pairing, and remain convinced it could work – but the early returns have undeniably been ugly.
Upfront, the reunited Amex line has driven play, and the third line of Pahlsson, Burrows and Hansen had a very solid game against the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday. The Sedins broke out of their slumps, Daniel notched an assist and Henrik managed two, but their line with Mason Raymond didn’t get much going offensively to the surprise of no one. Raymond has been frustrating to watch, and his lack of production is something of a total mystery. I have to think he’s on the top-line in an effort to buoy his confidence headed into the postseason, where he may be relied on to play a top-6 role if the injury bug hits.
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).
|Venue Record (Home/Away)||20-10-4||9-22-4|
|5-on-5 Goals F/A||1.16||0.74|
|Shots Tied %||50.2%||46.4%|
|Fenwick Tied %||52.2%||47.3%|
The Canucks will roll with the same lines tonight as they used on Thursday. On defense, newcomer Marc-Andre Gragnani draws out of the lineup and will be replaced by Aaron Rome. Manny Malhotra will miss another game for personal reasons and Cory Schneider gets the start.
The Three Keys
- Draw penalties and capitalize on the power-play. It’s a testament to how effective the Canucks new third line was on Thursday that Hansen, Burrows and Pahlsson combined to draw three penalties. The Canucks managed to capitalize twice with the man-advantage, and it was the most punch the team’s power-play has shown since early January. Columbus’ penalty-killing is atrocious, and without Vermette and Pahlsson – I have to imagine it has gotten significantly worse. Columbus is extraordinary vulnerable when they’re short-handed so if the Canucks can earn a few power-play opportunities they could put on a show, which, is something the too quiet Rogers Arena faithful haven’t seen in a while!
- Bieksa and Edler need figure it out. Bieksa and Edler are both quality offensive defenseman, who can also play a physical game and move the puck. Edler sometimes battles with inconsistency, and Bieksa can demonstrate some haphazard decision making on occasion – but this is a partnership that should work better than it has over the past week. If this pairing is "on" tonight, Columbus doesn’t stand a chance, while if they play like they did on Thursday, the Canucks will be hard-pressed to win.
- Cut down on the unforced errors. The Canucks defenders and fourth line were an unmitigated disaster on Thursday. The fourth line, even without Malhotra, needs to play a low-event, responsible game. They didn’t on Thursday and the Coyotes burned them twice. For the team’s defenders: it’s the same story. Stop giving away the puck, dot your i’s and cross your t’s and show some pride. Up until the last week of February, the Canucks had been an extremely effective defensive club, and hopefully they begin to get back on track tonight.
Game Day Links
- Canucks look to fight off Columbus (CBC)
- Sedins, Raymond look more like the Canucks Third Line. (The Province)
- Reinprecht Hopeful that he’ll be with the Canucks for the Postseason. (The Province)
- Shift Change (Columbus Dispatch)
- Canucks Faith Re-Ignites Booth (The Province)