On the heels of a 4-3 regulation loss at the hands of the Dallas Stars on Friday, the Canucks will look to get back on track against Ken Hitchcock, David Backes and the St. Louis Blues on Sunday night. The Blues are off to a slow start this season relative to expectations, but make no mistake: this is a very, very good possession team and they’ll represent a stiff test for the Canucks. That is if their goaltending holds…
Read on past the jump.
Puckdrop: 6 PM PST
Radio: The Team
Television: Sportsnet Pacific
The Canucks will end a four game homestand on Sunday against the Blues. Though they coughed up a two-goal lead against the Dallas Stars in a memorable game on Friday night, the homestand has been mostly successful with Vancouver defeating two of their opponents in regulation and finding finally their offensive rhythm (they’ve scored ten goals in the past three games).
In the Blues, a club that remains an elite possession team though they’ve struggled somewhat out of the gate this season, the Canucks will face their toughest opponent yet on this homestand. It’ll be an important tuneup game, as Vancouver’s club will set off on a four game roadtrip following tonight’s contest, a roadtrip that will see them face four possible playoff teams in the Predators, Red Wings, Stars and the hated Blackhawks.
Against the Blues the Canucks will roll the same lineup they used against Dallas – with one exception, Roberto Luongo will spell Cory Schneider who had an iffy outing on Friday night. That lineup includes a second line featuring Ryan Kesler, Zack Kassian and Chris Higgins. Kesler’s return to the lineup was mostly impressive on Friday night, though he was limited to under 18 minutes of ice-time overall. I’ll be curious to see if Vigneault continues to manage his minutes in a conservative fashion again this evening.
The St. Louis Blues are a very impressive hockey club, though they play a stultifying defensive style and we should probably expect a low-scoring contest. Upfront the Blues roll a top-line of David Backes, T.J. Oshie and David Perron, a second line featuring young sniper Vladimir Tarasenko, Andy McDonald and noted Canucks killer Alex Steen and a third line of Patrik Berglund, Chris Stewart and whomever else (usually Jaden Schwartz, but sometimes Vladimir "Baltimore docks worker" sobotka). While that top-nine lacks a super-elite offensive talent, they’re capable in all three zones and are adept at controlling proceedings.
The Blues’ blueline group is similarly impressive with all-world defenseman Alex Pietrangelo on the top-pairing alongside Ian Cole, and a killer second pairing featuring the perpetually under-rated Barrett Jackman and a criminally under-appreciated puck mover in Kevin Shattenkirk. Beyond that top four the Blues have Kris Russell, Roman Polak and Wade Redden all of whom are relatively competent. It’s an embarrassment of riches, really, and the backend talent is a major reason why Ken Hitchcock’s club is able to consistently limit scoring chances against.
So far this season, St. Louis’ defensive play has been let down by their rocky play in net. The Blues will start Jake Allen who had a solid outing recently against the Calgary Flames but has been iffy overall and boasts only a .878 even-strenght save percentage through three appearances so far this season. With Luongo in net, the goaltending is Vancouver’s big advantage against the Blues so a key to the game for the Canucks should be to test Allen early and often and hope for a couple of cheesey ones.
|Record||8-5 -1||8-3 -2|
|Fenwick Close %||56.1%||53.8%|