Game 18 Preview: Canucks @ Red Wings

Photo Credit: Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press

Early on Sunday evening, the Canucks will conclude a heartland road swing that has taken them through Chicago, Dallas and Nashville over the past five days  with a visit to MoTown to face the winged wheel. The Canucks have performed relatively well on the trip, and have played some pretty respectable hockey with the exception of two really rough periods (the 2nd period in Chicago, and the 1st in Nashville). Ultimately the team has come away with points in every game to go with two regulations wins (albeit none of the "clear" variety).

The Red Wings aren’t quite the team they used to be, with the loss of Nicklas Lidstrom being felt acutely in every game state. But their top-six forward group remains nearly as dangerous as any in the game (outside of Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh and maybe Vancouver and New York). The Red Wings and the Canucks have played a handful of memorable, high-scoring contests over the past few years, both puck possession teams seeming to bring out the best in one another, so Sunday’s matinée (for West Coast viewers at least) should be fun. Or at least more fun than the relatively eventless Friday night contest against the Predators was, but that’s a low bar.

Read on past the jump.

Broadcast Info:

Puck Drop: 2PM PST

Television: Sportsnet

Radio: Team 1040


Life without Lidstrom has been a tough go for the Red Wings, what with Jonathan Ericsson playing top-pairing minutes, and their special teams play being – to put it mildly – a complete disaster. At even-strength the Red Wings remain a top-10 possession team (by Fenwick close, or tied), and they play a high-event game in an effort to outscore their opponents rather than relying on Jimmy Howard and a top-four that includes names like Ian White, Brian Lashoff and, once again, Jonathan Ericsson. In fact, Detroit’s pace so far this season has resulted in three more shot events per sxity minutes than the Canucks have played to, and ten and a half more shot events per sixty than the Predators. Thank goodness for that!

The Red Wings, however, are giving it all back on special teams. They’re bottom-five in the league in power-play percentage (tied with the toothless Minnesota Wild) and that’s not just bad luck: they’re bottom five in terms of power-play shot rate as well. Ian White is a polished professional but without a true power-play quarterback, the Red Wings once vaunted unit with the man-advantage is beyong underwhelming, it’s cataclysmic.

It’s the same story short-handed where the Red Wings are again one of the most permissive teams in the league. They’re killing penalties at a bottom-five clip and that woeful efficiency is backed up by the shot record as well. Frankly the perennial juggernaut in MoTown are a complete mess on special teams, so expect the Canucks bring their jerk-puck A-game and play on the edge this afternoon. 

Here’s a spot of bad news for the Canucks, the player, and those of us who like goals, Jonas Gustavsson – who was scheduled to start today but aggravated his groin – will be replaced by Jimmy Howard in this one. In Vancouver’s net Roberto Luongo will be rewarded for his solid play on Friday, and he’ll get the start in Detroit this afternoon.

Other lineup changes for the Canucks? It looks like David Booth will draw out of the lineup for reasons of illness, while Kevin Bieksa – who hurt his groin during Friday night’s contest – is listed as day-to-day and will sit this one out as well. The Canucks are likely to double shift Dan Hamhuis especially throughout the contest but he’ll skate with Chris Tanev to begin with (I’d expect to see him take shifts with Keith Ballard as well though), while Jason Garrison and Alex Edler are reunited. Andrew Alberts will see his first action of the season playing with Keith Ballard.

I’ll be curious to see how Alain Vigneault and Rick Bowness manage their blue-liner’s minutes without Bieksa who leads the team in even-strenght minutes per game this season. With Alberts as the club’s sixth defenseman instead of Chris Tanev: do the Canucks continue to dole out blue-line minutes in a rigorously balanced fashion? Probably not and I’d be mildly surprised if Edler and Hamhuis play fewer than twenty-minutes at even-strength on Sunday.

Up front, Aaron Volpatti draws back into the lineup as a result of Booth’s ailment and Zack Kassian finds himself bumped back up to the top-9 where he’ll skate alongside Jordan Schroeder and Mason Raymond for the most part on Sunday. It’s something of a homecoming for Zack Kassian (being from Windsor Ontario, which is just across the water) so hopefully he’s fired up and makes a strong case to remain in the top-9 once Booth returns. Of late Kassian has skated with the fourth-line, while taking second-unit power-play shifts and the occassional skate with the top-line following successful penalty-kills. No matter how you slice it – and Canucks fans and Vancouver media love to slice it in a way that makes it appear like Alain Vigneault can’t develop young players, which is indefensibly stupid – Zack Kassian hasn’t done enough of that on this roadtrip.

Numbers Game:

  Red Wings Canucks
Record 8 – 7 – 3 10 – 3 – 4
Goal Differential -2 9
PP% 13.8% 18.7%
PK% 76.3% 82.4%
Corsi % 53.2% 52.7%
Fenwick Close % 52.5% 54.5%
PDO 101.3 102.1