CanucksArmy.com and PlayNow Sports are proud to launch a new partnership between our humble hockey blog and their fun, legal on-line sports book. Going forward this post will appear every Monday afternoon at CanucksArmy.com, but today to launch the partnership, we’re bringing you a special Wednesday Edition of "This Week Straight Up."
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Read past the jump for special offers to CanucksArmy.com readers from PlayNow Sports, and for a preview of this upcoming week in NHL hockey!
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The Canucks Week Straight Up:
Will we see this Ryan Kesler this week?
Jeff Angus: For all of the pre-series analysis and breakdowns, the matchup between the Canucks and Sharks can be summed up in three words: a coin flip.
Thomas Drance: So you’re saying that I went overboard when I broke down the matchup in about 4000 words yesterday?
Angus: …Yes Drance, you did go overboard. Way overboard.
As I was saying, this is a matchup of two skilled teams with great goaltenders, mobile defensive groups, and past playoff demons still haunting them.
Drance: I’m pretty sure Vancouver’s playoff demon took human form a couple of years ago and now goes by the name Brad Marchand!
Angus: All Canucks-related demons take the human form of Mark Messier, Drance. Smarten up!
From a Canucks perspective, they need to be concerned about a few things. Firstly, Antti Niemi. This isn’t the Niemi that was carried to a Stanley Cup by the powerhouse Chicago Blackhawks of 2009-10. This Niemi has carried the Sharks to the postseason, starting almost every game for them in 2013. He still has the athleticism and flexibility that he was known for earlier on in his career, but he has removed the inconsistencies from his game. If he carries over his stellar play into this series, the Canucks will be in tough to put goals on the board.
Drance: A Vigneault coaches team struggling to manufacture offense? That’s doubtful…
How can the Canucks matchup with Brent Burns: Powerforward?
Image uncredited via minustwentytwo.com
Angus: Another cause for concern for the Canucks? San Jose’s “new” power forward. Converted defenseman Brent Burns has been a monster on the right wing, piling up close to a point-a-game while dominating down low and around the net with his size (6-4, 225 pounds) and skill. The Canucks don’t have a defenseman who can match up physically with Burns, and it is going to take a total team effort to prevent him from having a Dustin Byfuglien-sized impact on this series.
Drance: I actually kind of think Garrison has a chance to matchup well in the slot against Burns. Don’t overlook his possible impact in this series!
Angus: Garrison might be Vancouver’s best bet to battle Burns in the slot, but I still think that’s a mismatch for the Canucks.
Drance: Fair enough. Let’s get to the games!
Angus: Say it don’t spray it Drance.
There is a reason Mr. Drance and I both like the home team in most of the opening three games – this series will be dictated by matchups. The Sharks, with their newfound scoring winger, have split up Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, and can now roll three lines to create offense. They will be doing their best to get Thornton away from the Dan Hamhuis-Jason Garrison pairing, and they will be able to do that at home with the last line change. Without Chris Tanev, the Canucks will do everything they can to shelter their third pairing of Frank Corrado and Andrew Alberts.
Drance: Can I bet the over/under on Corrado and Albert’s offensive-zone start rate in game one?
Angus: I’ll take you up on that, what are you thinking?
Drance: I’m thinking that they won’t start a single shift in the defensive end unless Scott Gomez is on the ice.
Angus: Yeah, I’m not taking you up on that, that’s a pretty safe bet.
The Rivalry between Joe Thornton and Henrik Sedin has been pretty mature in the past.
Moving on, the Canucks will likely want Henrik Sedin out against the Thornton/Burns line and that’ll be a key matchup for Vancouver. I tend to think the Canucks have the edge here and I know I’m tempted to bet on Henrik outscoring Joe Thornton in the series.
But San Jose’s most “dangerous” forward like is centered by Logan Couture (with Martin Havlat and Marleau on the wings). Couture will see a lot of Ryan Kesler this series. Can Kesler outscore Logan Couture in this series? It depends, I think, on which Kesler shows up. The 2011 version, where he hit everything in sight – most notably opposing players and nets? Or the Kesler since then, who has shown flashes of brilliance mixed in with a number of injuries?
This is a toss-up. Up front, the Sharks have better depth, but the Canucks have a slight edge in high-end talent (especially with Derek Roy on line three). Both teams have mobile and skilled defensive groups. San Jose’s defense doesn’t feature many household names, but they have been a very effective unit this season (and the emergence of Victoria’s Matt Irwin is a big reason why Burns has been able to move up front).
Vancouver’s power play absolutely thrashed the Sharks back in 2011, and Roberto Luongo was sensational as well. How’s this for going out on a limb – the team that gets better goaltending and has a more potent power play will win this series. And you can take that to the bank.
Angus: I’m taking the Sharks on Wednesday, the Canucks on Friday and the Sharks at home on Sunday.
Drance: I’m picking all home teams: Canucks on Wednesday night and Friday, before the Sharks get on the board at HP Pavillion.
Got your own prediction? Bet on tonight’s Canucks game at PlayNow Sports!
Every week we’ll pick a prop bet from PlayNow Sports and debate the likelihood of if paying out.
Jeff Angus: I am picking the Montreal Canadiens to be the most successful Canadian team this spring.
Prop: Which Canadian Team Will Advance Furthest?
Montreal: 2.55, Vancouver: 3.05, Toronto: 3.50, Ottawa: 8.00
Why? Defense and goaltending. His recent late-season meltdown aside, Carey Price is the best goalie in hockey. He has the right mental makeup to handle the ups and downs of hockey, especially in the fishbowl environment of Montreal.
And on the back end, Montreal boasts an elite two-way defenseman in PK Subban, and one of the more underrated defensive defensemen in the game in Josh Gorges. Andrei Markov has struggled a bit after a quick start to the season, but the fact that he is still healthy has to be considered a bonus anyway. Up front, this Montreal group is big, gritty, and chalk-full of players who will be willing to score “playoff goals.” What I mean by that – rebounds, deflections, and scrums in front of the net. Brendan Gallagher, in particular, has already established himself as one of the most fearless players in hockey. He’s only 5-8, but he plays as if he is magnetized to the opposing goal crease.
Thomas Drance: Come on Angus, Carey Price the best goalie in hockey? Price isn’t even the best goalie in his own first round series.
Price’s save percentage at even-strength over the past few years falls within “very good” but not “elite” territory. Anderson’s compares pretty well and he’s been a juggernaut in the crease for Ottawa all season.
I love what PK Subban has done this year, and Brendan Gallagher has been an absolute revelation in his rookie season. But take your Vancouver Giants blinders off my man, Ottawa has more experience, a comparable puck possession game and a whole host of tough-minutes forwards who somehow manage to drive play (guys like and Condra and Zack Smith). Those are guys who will make a difference in the postseason.
As will the return of Erik Karlsson, and the boost he’ll provide to Ottawa’s power-play and five-on-five game. Look, Montreal has impressed me this year, but I’m not very confident that Carey Price will put it all back together in time to prevent Paul MacLean from winning his first series as Senators bench boss.
I think I like the Habs to win this series, but I’d be picking them in seven games because I think this will be an extremely close matchup. As such I have to think the Senators represent better value here.
Angus: I can’t really say anything bad about the Senators. They have the best coach in hockey (this season), and the best GM, too. Bryan Murray has drafted and developed extremely well, and MacLean is putting players in the right roles to succeed. Not many/any other teams would have stayed afloat without their starting goalie, best defenseman, and best forward for the bulk of the regular season.
Goaltender statistics are intertwined and dependent on the skaters in front of them. Montreal hasn’t had stellar teams in the past few years, and Price’s numbers have reflected that. Look at his career, though. He has succeeded everywhere he has gone. He was a phenom in the WHL. After turning pro, he led the Hamilton Bulldogs to the Calder Cup as a teenager. And any Canadian hockey fan should remember his impressive exploits back in 2007 during the WJC.
The numbers may not back it up, but Price’s big game moxie, combined with his smooth and technically proficient style of play make Montreal my pick here.
Drance: I’m pretty sceptical about save percentage being intertwined and dependent on the skaters in front of a particular goaltender. Goals against average and win/loss record are definitely team dependent, but save percentage strikes me as the goaltender stat that goalies themselves actually control. In the past Cam Charron has shown that the impact of goalie whisperers, or more accurately two men who exciting hockey forgot, Ken Hitchcock and Dave Tippett on their netminder’s save percentage is negligible.
Anyway, I like Carey Price a lot. He’d be backing up Team Canada if I were picking the roster. But with how inconsistent he’s been the past month, I think Ottawa has a goaltending edge. In a tight series it could be decisive.