Your Vancouver Canucks are on the road again, this time heading to the U.S. Capital to face D.C.’s aptly named hockey team. It’s the second meeting between these two clubs this season and barring a Stanley Cup Finals match, the last. In the first showdown between these two teams it was the unlikeliest of players who stole the show, with Luca Sbisa playing the role of hero by notching the game-winner.
The final score was 4-2 for Vancouver, who out-shot Washington 34-22 in the process.
Both teams will enter tomorrow night reeling from weekend losses. For Vancouver, it was a closely contested loss to the Red Wings that’s carried them over. Washington, however, was dismantled by the lowly Maple Leafs to the tune of a 6-2 shellacking.
With both clubs looking to get past emotional letdowns, lets take a look at what we can expect on the other side of that fabled jump.
Puck Drop: 4:00pm PST
TV: Sportsnet Pacific
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Courtesy of www.DailyFaceoff.com
Nothing new to speak of. Continuity is key in Vancouver of late, and why not with all the recent success they’ve enjoyed? Sunday’s results aside, of course. I’d been curious how much longer the Canucks would let Linden Vey roam aimlessly at evens, but with his recent two-goal performance in Detroit, I think he’s bought himself some time.
That’s an interesting set of lines you got there, Washington. I can only imagine the outrage in Vancouver if the Canucks had Hunter Shinkaruk, who was selected one spot later than Andre Burakovsky in the same draft class, centering a fourth line. Mike Green is still out with injury, which means that Jack Hillen draws in. Braden Holtby is the confirmed starter, per www.DailyFaceoff.com.
The Capitals aren’t to be taken lightly anymore. While they’ve enjoyed tremendous, if unheralded, play in net from Braden Holtby these last few years, it’s the defensive system of Barry Trotz that will work overtime to clog up the neutral zone and kill offense in its tracks. In just months under Trotz the Caps have transformed into one of the league’s upper echelon possession clubs.
It’s safe to say that if not for a PDO of 98.05, the Caps would fare considerably better in the standings. That’s bound to regress at some point, though, and these Caps could make serious noise as the season picks up steam. Not only are the Caps a vastly better possession squad under Trotz’s tutelage, but they’ve also transformed into an elite shot-suppression club – only four clubs fare better in this regard at even-strength.
As is always the case when the Capitals are involved, keeping Ovi the Great in check will be paramount for Vancouver. Great Eight is back on the left wing this season, and for all the fuss made about how he would gel under Trotz’s coaching, he’s fared quite well this far into the season. His boxcars aren’t reflective of this improvement, but that’s by large due to a commitment to a 200-foot game under the new coaching staff.
The Capitals will be a difficult team to decipher offensively, because so much of their scoring is spread evenly from top-to-bottom in the lineup. Brooks Laich and Burakovsky are hardly fourth-line players and yet there they are to start tomorrow’s game.
Washington’s newly employed neutral zone tactics will do their best to slow Vancouver, and will play a huge role in deciding this game. The Capitals haven’t gone full-Nashville, yet, but the neutral zone should prove to be highly contested ice. I liken their new style to that of the L.A. Kings. Strong, tight neutral zone play with a commitment to banging down-low on dump and chase plays for puck retrieval. Last season, this club’s zone-entries were very carry-in heavy; things got a little less fancy when Trotz came to town.
It’s no insurmountable task for Vancouver, though. The Canucks third-line exhibited great speed throughout the neutral zone last game, as exemplified by the nearly two Shawn Matthias breakaways. Much of the onus will be on the bottom-six to push the pace again in Washington. Gain the zone, then let the Canucks slower, yet more offensively potent lines take over. If they could do it against Detroit, they can do it against Washington.
Of course, all this will be for not if Ryan Miller has another performance like the one he had in Detroit. Miller, who had been exceptional in the games leading up to Sunday’s, was due for a step back after back-to-back shutouts. He got that and more, posting a .862 in that game.
I’d hardly say I expect that, though. Miller was stunning in the Canucks last match with the Caps and if he returns to form, I can’t say I expect lesser results on the team scale.