Preview: Game #1 Ducks @ Canucks

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It has been nearly ten months since Jarrett Stoll stripped a falling Dan Hamhuis of the puck and wired a money wrister past Cory Schneider to eliminate the Canucks in the 2012 postseason. Ten months since Canucks fans bought beer, gathered around the tube with friends and got all histrionic regarding the performance of Vancouver’s consistently top-shelf hockey team.

That changes tonight, as the Canucks will face the Anaheim "don’t call us Mighty" Ducks at 7 PM PST on Hockey Night in Canada. Say it with me, now: fuck yeah.

The Ducks were a woeful club by the underlying metrics in the 2010-11 season but snuck into the playoffs on the strength of a hot run from Corey Perry (that season’s Hart Trophy winner) late in the season. Unsurprisingly they came hurtling back to Earth in 2011-12, at least during the first half of the season, which led to the firing of Randy Carlyle and the hiring of Bruce Boudreau. Bruce Boudreau promptly helped the club make a u-turn toward respectability. With Boudreau in tow for the full 48 games this year and continued development from the likes of Cam Fowler, the Ducks could well be a significantly better club this season.

Speaking of Boudreau, I might add that it amuses to no end that the club that once employed goaltender Martin Gerber, now employs as their headcoach the adult human who most closely resembles the Gerber Baby.

Read on past the jump for the game preview.

Broadcast Info:

Puck Drop: 7 PM PST


Radio: Team1040


Because of their star-power, the Ducks are something of a known quantity to fans across the NHL. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry (probably the best two-way winger in the game) and Bobby Ryan combined are one of the best lines in the league, but the caliber of the team falls off significantly after that. Beyond that top-line the Ducks rely on oldsters Saku Koivu and Canucks killer Teemu Selanne to provide them with secondary scoring, though watch out for young Swedish sniper Richard Rakell who made the team our of training camp and will presumably start the campaign in Anaheim’s top-six.

Over the past few years Anaheim’s bottom-six forward group has been something of a mess, though I must say I really do like Andrew Cogliano as a third line centre and big left-winger Daniel Winnik is a possession beast (even though he’s got hands of stone). If young players like Peter Holland and Devante Smith-Pelly can stick in the NHL this season, this could be the first Ducks team in years that can’t accurately be described as "Dolly Parton top-heavy".

On defense the Ducks traded Lubomir Visnovsky this offseason (that’s look like a good move at the moment), and will probably count on Francois Beauchemin and Cam Fowler to match-up against the Sedin twins tonight. Anaheim’s blue-liner quality falls off significantly after that, and faster skaters like Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen should be able to find some room on the rush on Saturday night against the likes of Sheldon Souray and our old pal Bryan Allen. Toni Lydman and Lucas Sbisa round out a pretty average blue-line group.

In net the Ducks will count on Jonas Hiller to provide stability and bail out their suspect defense-corps. I’m very high on Hiller as an NHL goaltender and I really hope that he’s over his battle with vertigo that has submarined his performance the past couple of years.

Last season the Canucks struggled mightily against the Ducks and lost the season series. While the record will show that the Canucks went 2-2-0 against the Ducks in their four meetings in 2011-12, one of those wins was a shootout win (or, essentially a draw) while both losses came in regulation and were signifcantly more decisive. The Ducks also chased Roberto Luongo twice in four games, including on Luongo’s birthday, so while the Canucks haven’t named their opening night starter officially yet, I think it’s a safe bet that Cory Schneider will get the nod.

The Canucks on the other hand will open the season without Ryan Kesler or David Booth, and it looks like they’ll roll a second line featuring Andrew Ebbett, Mason Raymond and Zack Kassian. Expect Alain Vigneault to work his tail off to protect that line in terms of its situational deployment and matchups. Actually this could be an interesting chess match between two quality head coaches because I’d also expect Alain Vigneault will look to get the Maxim Lapierre, Hansen, Chris Higgins line out against the Getzlaf line, while Boudreau looks to play strength-on-strength as much as possible.

Update: it appears the chess match has begun early, as Bruce Boudreau will roll out some very disimilar lineups to the ones he used a season ago. Per Eric Stephens, Ducks beat writer for the Orange County Register, the Beachemin and Fowler pairing has been split up for tonight’s game. Lydman will skate with Beauchemin instead, and I’d expect them to get the bulk of the minutes against the twins, while Fowler skates with Allen on the Ducks ostensible second pairing.

Meanwhile Kyle Palmieri will skate with Getzlaf and Perry, while Ryan drops down to the second line to skate with Selanne and young centreman Nick Bonino. Saku Koivu will center an interesting looking third line with Cogliano and Winnik and Rickard Rakell will center a fourth line, rather than playing in a top six as I speculated he might earlier in this piece. 

Looks to me like Boudreau is going to try and take advantage of Vancouver’s short-handed second line with a more balanced lineup approach. It’s a good play, I reckon.

Tonight’s contest will also mark hometown kid Jason Garrison’s Canucks debut, and Alex Edler’s debut on the right-side. The performance of Vancouver’s second pairing will have a big say on how far this team can go this season and we’ll be closely watching to see how they fare. 

Game on!

Numbers Game:

This table includes what we believe to be the best "predictive" team metrics in hockey. Beyond the self-explanatory stats like record, power-play percentage and goal differential, this table includes: 5-on-5 Goals For and Against Rate to serve as a check on goal differential. It also includes Corsi%,  an indicator of possession and shows us which team is better at controlling play and Fenwick Tied% which is the gold standard for measuring "real" team quality. We also include PDO (the sum of a team’s on-ice save% and shooting%) to qualify a team’s record – and to try and isolate whether or not a particular opponent (or the Canucks) is as good as their record indicates. For the first ten games or so of the 2013 season we’ll use last season’s "fancy stats" and then switch over to stats from the 2013 season when the sample gets big enough to provide you with some value.

2011-12 Stats Ducks Canucks
Record 34-36-12 51-22-9
Goal Differential -27 +51
5on5 G F/A 0.9 1.19
PP% 16.6% 19.8%
PK% 82% 86%
Corsi% 48.6% 52.9%
Fenwick% Tied 48.3 53.1%
PDO 99.6 101.2

Game Day Notes