Tonight the Canucks will conclude another banner regular season against the lowly Oilers. The Canucks are set as either the first or second seed in the Western Conference, and it’s a fifty-fifty proposition as to where exactly they’ll end up in the standings. If they gain a single point, they’ll win the West. If they lose and St. Louis wins, they’ll finish in second place. If they win and the New York Rangers lose, the Canucks will win their second consecutive President’s Trophy. Of course, of late, when the Canucks have played relatively meaningless late season games against the Panzer Tank Oilers, they’ve had a tendency to drop the ball.
Underlying Numbers, the three keys and more thorough preview past the jump!
Puck Drop: 7 PM PST.
Television: CBC (Hockey Night in Canada). Radio: The Team.
When it comes to the Canucks, the team is usually surrounded by negativity and fatalism in general in the Vancouver market. So let’s take a moment to reflect on the memorable, and mostly dominant campaign the Canucks have put together this year.
Dressing tonight will be two players in Manny Malhotra and Mason Raymond whose careers were nearly ended last spring. They’ve both battled back from their devastating injuries and have been reasonably effective in their roles this season. Coming off of an outrageously hard-fought Stanley Cup Final series last season, and dealing with a short turn around last summer, the Canucks have shown heart and testicular fortitude in clawing their way back to the top of the table this season.
Along the way, they’ve gotten career years out of the likes of Chris Higgins, Jannik Hansen, Maxim Lapierre, Alex Edler and Dan Hamhuis. The Sedins continued at a point-per-game pace (a slight fall off over the two seasons previous) but continued to dominate possession and produce offense. Ryan Kesler scored significantly fewer goals than he scored the two seasons previous, but his underlying numbers continue to indicate that he’s as good a two-way player as exists in the league.
Between the pipes, the Canucks are as loaded as they’ve been in franchise history. Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider have both been mostly marvelous this season, stopping well over 93% of all shots faced at even-strength. Between the two of them, they’ve been the team’s MVP this season, and have kept the Canucks afloat through stretches of uninspired play this season.
The team has gone through a fair bit of change, waving good bye to Samuelsson, Sturm, Hodgson, Ellington and Sulzer and saying hello to Marc-Andre Gragnani, Zack Kassian, David Booth and Samme Pahlsson. Some of those moves remain controversial, but overall, the Canucks management team continued to keep a steady-hand on the rudder, exploiting every CBA loop-hole known to man and have done well to guide to the club to another steady season. With the continued development of Kevin Connauton, Chris Tanev, Eddie Lack, Jordan Schroeder, Nicklas Jensen and Frank Corrado – the team executives have also managed to replenish the club’s system, while continuing to ice a legitimate, contending club at the NHL level.
Many media sources in Vancouver believe that this postseason is "do-or-die" for under-appreciated, innovative head coach Alain Vigneault. That may be the case, but Vigneault deserves credit, with his job "on the line" this season, he continued to take a long view approach to the regular season. From resting veterans in the preseason, to trying out new line combinations and defensive pairings all season (even when they didn’t work) to prepare players for the inevitable rash of injuries that will occur if the club manages to go "deep" into the postseason – this Canucks team was never a "game-by-game" club. Will that "long-view" approach to this season pay off going forward? Let’s hope so, there’s a lot of luck involved in the postseason, but I applaud Vigneault assured, conservative confidence this season.
Obviously with the Oilers it’s a different story. They’re positioned yet again to pick in the draft lottery, where they’re likely to take a defenseman who won’t be ready to help the team win games until the Nuge, Hall and Eberle are making a combined 20 million per year. Edmonton’s club is icing an AHL quality defensive group, and has consistently mismanaged several of their blue-chip young assets in Linas Omark and Magnus Paajarvi. Yep, same old Oilers.
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. Also included are the team’s shot% rates, and Fenwick % rates – both overall and in a tied game state. Pay especially close attention to Fenwick % Tied, it’s as good a metric for judging team quality as we’ve got – and was nearly perfect at predicting outcomes in the 2010/11 postseason. Finally, we’ve included PDO to help contextualize team results.
|Venue Record (Home/Away)||26-10-4||12-25-4|
|5-on-5 Goals F/A||1.18||0.91|
|Shots Tied %||51%||48.2%|
|Fenwick Tied %||52.8%||48.5%|
- Don’t get hurt. You know the team will be focussed primarily on this, the difference between first and second in the West doesn’t really matter, and the President’s Trophy (while sadly under-celebrated) isn’t this club’s goal. If the team loses 4-2 but comes out of tonight’s relatively meaningless game unscathed – I’ll consider that a victory.
- Play well in front of Luongo. While the result is secondary tonight, it would be nice to see the team tighten up in front of Luongo, so that he goes into the postseason with a quality start under his belt and gets a boost to his confidence.
- Maybe score a power-play goal? It used to be this club’s bread and butter, but the team’s power-play conversion rate has dipped below 20% now! Big power-play goals helped power the Canucks to the Cup Finals last season, and re-finding some consistency and effectiveness with the man-advantage is going to be key. Hopefully that process can start in earnest tonight.
Game Day Links
- My preseason "goals for" prediction for the Canucks, was frighteningly accurate.
- Breaking down what tonight’s games mean for the Canucks in the postseason.
- Despite various issues, it’s still been a darn good campaign for the Canucks.
- Canucks’ Luongo, Schneider and the Goaltending Situation.
- Canucks closer to winning west after Coyotes beat Blues.