It’ll probably feel like a little bit of a lull after the high that was the butt whooping they gave the Boston Bruins on Saturday night, but Tuesday night’s game against the Minnesota Wild has some things going for it from a "reasons why you should watch" perspective.
They aren’t division rivals any longer, but it hasn’t been that long since they were, and I suspect that there will still be some bad blood on display when they face off for the first time this season (which feels really weird to be saying over 40% of the way into the year, by the way). These games have traditionally been very chippy, with lots of back and forths between the two teams. Never underestimate the pull that a Napoleon Complex can have over someone, as has been evidenced by the Wild and their fans in Minnesota.
The Canucks and the Wild are currently going in completely different directions – Minnesota is 4-6-1 over their past 11 games, while the Canucks as you may’ve heard have won 7 in a row – but only two points separate them at the moment. There’s at least a reasonable chance that they’ll be the two Wild Card teams to make the playoffs in the Western Conference.
If that – along with all of the potential Dany Heatley jokes! – isn’t enough to get you to tune in, that’s a shame, because you’ll be missing out on David Booth going up against former Florida Panthers teammate Keith Ballard. After all, they both enjoyed career seasons back in ’08-’09 for a team that failed to qualify for the playoffs. Now that’s a relationship that runs deep!
Puck Drop: 5:00 PM PST
TV: Sportsnet Pacific
Funny line from Luongo when asked if he’s starting Tuesday night in Minny, where he has struggled. "I think so. You’ll have to ask AV."
— Brad Ziemer (@BradZiemer) December 16, 2013
Roberto Luongo’s struggles in Minnesota – which have been rather inexplicable, and totally random considering the circumstances – are well documented by now. He is 3-9-1, with a 3.56 goals against average and .873 save % in 13 career starts at Xcel Energy. To put that into perspective, it’s his worst save % in a building by quite a bit (with only the buildings in LA, Anaheim, and St.Louis being the only other ones sub-.900).
His last start in that building came all the way back on October 19th, 2010; a game in which he surrendered 6 goals on 18 shots, and was pulled during the 2nd intermission (noted Canuck Killer Andrew Brunette scored, as did Cal Clutterbuck and John Madden.. so you know it was a rough night).
You know that if he gives up a goal or two early, this particular storyline will be getting a lot of play on both the broadcast, and on Twitter. This means something has to give, right? In 5 December starts so far, Luongo has stopped 153 of 159 shots, which is good for a .962 save %. Making his performance even more impressive is the fact that 2 of those 6 goals came in garbage time at the hands of Jamie McGinn and Reilly Smith. Luongo is now sitting at a 2.19 GAA/.921 save %, which would easily be his best since the epic 2.11/.928 ’10-’11 season. So much for him being on the downslope of his career.
In terms of the lineup that’ll be playing in front of him there isn’t really much to discuss. Why change what’s working during this 7-game winning streak? It’s hard to quibble with the 18 guys the team is currently icing these days. Tom Sestito and Andrew Alberts are out, while Yannick Weber and Jeremy Welsh are in. Surprisingly this lack of "jam" hasn’t hindered the Canucks (even though they’ve played a supposedly blood thirsty, vengeful Oilers squad, and the big bad Bruins). All is right in the world.. for now.
Here are some of the more prevalent numbers through 35 games:
|Corsi Close %||52.9% (7th)|
|5v5 GF/60||2.46 (8th)|
|5v5 GA/60||1.53 (2nd)|
|5v4 GF/60||4.97 (24th)|
|5v4 SF/60||65.3 (2nd)|
|4v5 GA/60||3.10 (1st)|
|4v5 SA/60||41.7 (3rd)|
Somehow, someway, the Minnesota Wild have transformed into a team that provides us with a team that’s actually worth talking about. Well, I know exactly how.. It’s a combination of a couple of things coming together:
They broke the bank in an attempt to get better and have people take them seriously. While blowing money in the free agent market is usually a recipe for disaster, at least they used their’s on a couple of sure things in Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, rather dividing it up amongst a bunch of middling guys.
They also traded a couple of young assets and picks for Jason Pomminville last year at the deadline, which may not have been the smartest of moves, but was one they were able to swallow as an organization because of the job they did in the draft in recent years. They hit with their lottery picks of Jonas Brodin and Mikael Granlund (who is still out with a concussion), and shrewdly bought low on Nino Niedereitter after the Islanders did everything in their power to derail his career. They also acquired the impressive looking Charlie Coyle, who was part of a pretty awesome moment recently:
Unfortunately, while the Minnesota Wild have certainly become more interesting from a name and talent perspective, they still clearly favour a low-scoring, low-event game. They give up the 5th fewest shot attempts to their opponents, and are only 22nd in the league in shot attempts themselves. They give up the 2nd fewest goals at 5v5, and can’t buy a goal for themselves on the other end. Those Goals For/Against per 60 rates you’ll see below are pretty darn obscene:
|Corsi Close %||51.2% (11th)|
|5v5 GF/60||1.74 (29th)|
|5v5 GA/60||1.53 (2nd)|
|5v4 GF/60||7.16 (7th)|
|5v4 SF/60||53.8 (13th)|
|4v5 GA/60||7.05 (23rd)|
|4v5 SA/60||49.0 (11th)|
Their best player thus far has been their goaltender Josh Harding, who has miraculously bounced back from his MS struggles from last year to post a league-best 1.49 goals against average (and a .939 save %). His remarkable play has helped them stay somewhat afloat throughout this recent 11-game skid, in which they’ve managed to score just 16 total goals. If he falls off, they could be in some serious trouble. They’re already tumbling down the standings, and if they don’t fix things soon, could be on the outside looking in. Take a look at this downward puck possession spiral they’ve found themselves in:
Ouch. Quite a far cry from the team they were to start the season. To wrap things up, I assume we’ll see a ton of Koivu/Parise + Suter/Brodin. They face the best the opposition has to offer, and in the case of the two forwards, absolutely mash in puck possession. Koivu, the league’s most underrated player in my humble opinion, has helped the Wild control 57.1% of all shot attempts when he’s out there.
The top defensive pairing hasn’t actually fared that well, but they’ll have to be forgiven considering how hard Mike Yeo and Co. ride them. Ryan Suter is playing 29:33/game this year, which is nearly 2 minutes more than anyone else in the NHL. He has played 31:23, 29:54, 32:48, 32:51 in the past 4 games.. which is kind of unfathomable. I guess they’re doing everything they can to make sure they get their money’s worth. $98 million is $98 million, after all.
.. is something which I’ve decided we won’t do here anymore. Just open up your search bar of choice and go check out the work that people have done at The Province, The Vancouver Sun, and all of your other favourite Canucks blogs. The internet is a fun and useful place. Explore it.
I will instead pass along one interesting post from the opposition’s perspective, which this time comes from Michael Russo (who does a fine job covering the Wild as a beat guy). He put together a piece with some relevant notes featuring quotes and observations, which included some members of the Wild telling Keith Ballard to "cut the cord" while he chatted with Ryan Kesler on Monday.
Keith Ballard, for the record, is playing 14:40/game this year.. which is less than his 15:54, 15:33, and 15:28 as a Canuck. Obviously the expectations are different considering he’s making $2.7 million less than he was last season, but still, it’s not exactly like he has thrived now that he got a fresh start. He has 2 more points than he does injuries on the year.
Two specials via PlayNow.com.. [Don’t forget to sign up with the Canucks Army promo code "CANUCKSARMY" to receive $25 worth of free bets!]
- Depth is the Difference: 3.00-to-1 that either Richardson or Higgins score in a Canucks win.
- Wild one in Minny: 4.00-to-1 that the two teams combine for over 5.5 total goals in a W.