Game #77 Preview – Flawless Victory

There has been a WHOLE lot of this in Canucks/Avs games over the last 3 years.
But don’t expect much tonight. The Canucks have changed their game plan.
(Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Game Day Recon: Game #77 – Avalanche @ Canucks

The big question (well, really the ONLY question) is: "Are the Canucks ‘going for it’?" Are they gunning for first in the conference and the league? It is certainly in reach and the possibility is there. But with second place firmly in their grasp and their best winger out with a concussion, is there really much point in going pedal to the medal over the balance of the regular season?

Or, at this point, should they simply be worried about making sure their game is in order for the playoffs with a full complement of healthy players?

I vote for the latter, but tonight the Colorado Avalanche will have much to say about that, since they ACTUALLY have something for which to play.

Broadcast Info

Game Time: 7:00 PM PT

TV: Sportsnet Pacific
Radio: Team 1040

The Setup

The Colorado Avalanche are fighting for their playoff lives, sitting one point back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. Unfortunately they have two factors weighing heavily against them for tonight’s game. The first is that they have only 4 games remaining to make up that extra point and leapfrog two teams, both of whom have at least 1 game in hand.

The second factor is that they face the Vancouver Canucks. Oh yeah… there’s that. The Canucks are 5-0-0 against the Avalanche this year, with only one of those 5 wins coming in a shootout. The Avs have taken only 2 points out of a possible 10 from their meetings with the Canucks so far this season (0-3-2). Vancouver has outscored Colorado 17-5 in regulation and overtime. Of course, this isn’t a new trend.

The Canucks last lost to the Avalanche in regulation on October 3, 2009. Since then, the Canucks have gone 14-0-2 against the Avalanche, outscoring them 62-29. In short the Canucks have utterly dominated the Avalanche over the past three years. In fact, this year could shape up as the most-lopsided season series of the last three, and it will certainly be the Canucks best season defensively against the Avs in their history. It’s quite a change from the late 90’s/early 2000’s when the Avalanche pwned the Canucks. Not owned… they PWNED them. Don’t believe me, go back and see how many of those Avs are considered Canucks Killers.

Now you could look at their goal scoring as the main reason for the Canucks success over the Avs over the last three years. Out of their 14 wins, the Canucks scored 3 goals or more in 13 of them. 3 goals or more. That seems to be gold-standard for offensive success. That being said, even in the two OT/SO losses that the Avs have handed the Canucks in their last 16 games, the Canucks still scored 3 goals. So I submit to you that goal scoring is not the KEY to their success. The REAL reason the Canucks have been success has been defense. In their 14 victories, only twice did the Canucks allow more than 2 goals.

As the Canucks appear to have shifted their game strategy from offence to defence, coach Alain Vigneault is implementing a game plan that he hopes will finally takes the Canucks to the top of the NHL pyramid in mid-June. Over the last five games, the Canucks have been on lock-down. And with the final 6 games clearly being used to fine-tune this strategy, and facing several opponents who are fighting for their playoffs lives, the Canucks have a real opportunity to see if this is going to work for the next two and a half months. And if they’re going to be without Daniel Sedin for a considerable stretch, this strategty may be their best shot.

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).

  Canucks Avalanche
Record 46-21-9 40-32-6
Venue Record (Home/Away) 22-10-4 18-17-4
Last 10 5-4-1 5-3-2
PP% 20.6% 18.7%
PK% 85.9% 83.1%
Goal Differential +43 -6
5-on-5 Goals F/A 1.17 0.95
Shots % 50.2% 51.1%
Fenwick % 51.5% 50.3%
Shots Tied % 50.5% 48.2%
Fenwick Tied % 52.2% 48.1%
PDO 101.2 99.7

Game Notes

Cory Schneider gets the start tonight. Aaron Rome and Daniel Sedin remain out, while Keith Ballard nears a return but won’t be in the lineup yet. Kevin Bieksa took a maintenance day yesterday and did not take the morning skate today. When asked about Bieksa, coach Vigneault said that Bieksa was not hurt, but just taking a maintenance to receover from play tough hockey. Interesting comment, but it does mean that Bieksa should be considered a game-time decision now.

Semyon Varlamov is expected to get the start against the Canucks. Varlamov is 0-3-1 against the Canucks this year. As for the rest of the roster, Chuck Kobasew is out and Peter Mueller is in, while rookie D and BC boy Tyson Barrie is a game-time decision.

The Three Keys

Here are the three keys for the Vancouver Canucks tonight:

  1. As mentioned extensively above… the defence. Colorado is having trouble scoring goals lately and the Canucks have found their defensive mojo. So we’ll definitely see some clogged up neutral zones, tight checking and stalwart goaltending, all of which should neutralize the Avs offence.
  2. ZOMG CORY! STAY IN DA NETZ! Cory Schneider handed away his own shutout in his last start in Dallas, thanks to his comedically awful stickhandling. Cory, sweetheart, stay out of the damn trapezoid and let your defence take the puck. Just don’t go there.
  3. Get the even-strength game working. This needs to be considered pre-season for the playoffs, where 5-on-5 play is going to have to win games. Refs are proving that they aren’t calling penalties anymore (or at least, they’re not calling logical penalties in any sort of predictable fashion), so the Canucks need to get their even-strength house in order. The Avs are a sub-par even-strength team, so this will be good practice.

The Links

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

  1. Tale of the Tape (Vancouver Canucks)
  2. Leave Daniel alone – Ballard (The Province)
  3. Goaltending audition: Schneider or Luongo (Vancouver Sun)
  4. Canucks vs. Avalanche Gameday (The Province)
  5. Canucks prove major obstacle for Avalanche (CBC Sports)