Canucks Army GDT #4: Canucks vs. Lightning

In years past, tonight’s showdown against Steven Stamkos and the high-powered Tampa Bay Lightning would have been one of the marquee games on the Canucks’ schedule and the hottest ticket in town. It’s a sign of the times then – an alarming one at that, if you’re involved with the Canucks’ business operations – when the team can’t sell every ticket in the house to see one of the genuinely most exciting young teams in the NHL with legitimate superstar talent.

And oh yeah, about that superstar talent. The Bolts are looking pretty damn good this year too. Read past the jump for more.

Broadcast Info

Puck Drop: 7:00 PM PST

TV: CBC

Radio: TSN 1040

Lineup

Yannick Weber will draw in on the bottom defensive pairing for Ryan Stanton, and while Stanton was quite steady last season, he and Kevin Bieksa have struggled in the defensive end of the rink through an admittedly tiny sample this season. Stanton has a team-low 39.7% Corsi according to David Johnson’s (he of stats.hockeyanalysis.com fame) new site puckalytics.com, and his on-ice Corsi Against/60 is atrocious. He and Bieksa are allowing shot attempts against in the mid-60’s per 60 minutes played, which is quite a bit more permissive than the rest of the Canucks have been, but it’s still too early to say whether this is a result of Stanton and Bieksa forgetting how to play hockey over the offseason, or if it’s just a short run of poor performance that will be balanced out in the long run. I tend to think the latter is more likely. After all, Corsi is susceptible to massive short-run variance too.

The other change of note is that Eddie Lack will most likely get the start in goal, even after Ryan Miller pitched a shutout against Edmonton. Though it may be tempting to “go with the hot hand,” playing Lack tonight is absolutely the right move. Playing a rested goalie in the second half of a back-to-back situation tends to be far more successful than playing one who was in goal the night before, and the difference is roughly equivalent to having Cory Schneider in net rather than Karri Ramo. Ramo will still outplay Schneider from time to time, but it’s a better bet to play Schneider (or, as it pertains to Vancouver tonight, Eddie Lack).

The Canucks will be in tough against a quality Tampa Bay Lightning team that’s playing some very good hockey to start the year. They come to town with a 2-1-1 record, but lead the Atlantic division in goal differential, and have a 54.4% Corsi through 4 games. Victor Hedman has been on fire to start the year too, with 7 points in 4 games while being Tampa’s main defensive zone faceoff option on D. There may very well be a Norris trophy in his future.

And oh yeah, that Stamkos guy is pretty good too. He’s been held goalless in 3 of his first 4 games, but registered a hat trick against Montreal. He’s also registering nearly 6 shots on goal per game, and sits second in the NHL with 23 shots in 4 games, just one shot behind Alex Ovechkin. Stamkos is also second on the Bolts in Corsi%, behind only dynamic 21-year old Nikita Kucherov. He is surely as dangerous as ever.

After three games against the Alberta, uh, “teams,” this is Vancouver’s first real test of the season. They’ve owned the Eastern Conference in the recent past, but lost both decisions to Tampa Bay last season, and were also beaten in overtime in Stamkos’ last visit to Rogers Arena in 2010. A win tonight would keep the dream of the 82-0 season alive for another day, but it’s going to be Vancouver’s toughest assignment yet.