Previewing the Abbotsford Canucks’ Halloween spooktacular road trip finale and week 4 doubleheader
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It couldn’t be a more fitting evening for the Abbotsford Canucks to close their first Cali road trip of the season than HALLOWEEN!
Credit to the Junior Canucks. Despite the nonstop cavalcade of injuries suffered by the club through just three weeks of play, they keep finding ways to pick up points! Danila Klimovich, Tristen Nielsen, Matt Irwin, Vasily Podkolzin, and Chase Wouters — all critical pieces to the success of the club — have all been dropped from the regular rotation game by game due to injuries as though they were on a tour of Wonka’s chocolate factory. Key figures missing from the lineup, suspect goaltending from Arturs Silovs, and slightly above-average special teams have not gotten in this team’s way. They sit 3rd in the AHL by total points and 9th by points percentage on the backs of hard work and an elite shooting clip.
On Tuesday night, Abbotsford finishes their first California road trip with a spooktacular match-up at the Acrisure Arena in Palm Springs on Halloween Eve!
Before we preview their most terrifying opponent of the season yet, let’s review last week’s predictions!
End of week 3 predictions reviewGiven that I just suggested the Canucks’ power play could use a confidence booster from the Reign’s 3rd-worst penalty kill in the AHL, I predict that Abbotsford wins the goaltending duel in San Diego in regulation, then gets shut out in Ontario on Sunday.
100% on the results!
50/50 on the details!
On Friday’s game against the Gulls, Arturs Silovs gave up two softies but rallied to make 26 saves across all situations to secure the regulation win. Silovs has not looked as quiet, composed, and poised in the net as last season. Through five starts, Silovs has managed a 5v5 save percentage above 0.900 just twice this season. Last season, Silovs’ first five games saw him post a 5v5 save percentage above 0.930 four times. There is still plenty of runway left on the season, and this could just be early rust being shaken off. Still, a little concerning, given the lofty expectations fans had of Silovs heading into this season! Remember, some were pegging him as Demko’s de facto backup!
I gave my “jinxing ability” too much credit during last week’s predictions. Abbotsford was on their way toward their first shutout loss of the season, but the club rallied back from an early two-goal first-period deficit, scoring three goals over the final 40 minutes to get within arms reach of their division rival.
The injury bug has tested Abbotsford early and often this season. Late in the first period of the team’s 5-2 defeat of the San Diego Gulls, Chase Wouters was on the receiving end of a brutal hit from Nick Wolff that saw him leave the game and miss Sunday’s 5-3 loss to Ontario due to an unspecified injury.
Game 9 @ Coachella Valley Firebirds
It’s been a slow start for the 2023 Calder Cup runners-up. Not to say they’re playing poorly, but that they’re barely playing at all! As the Canucks are en route to crest double-digit games played by the start of this weekend, the Firebirds are one of five teams in the AHL who haven’t played more than five!
Despite the lack of action, the Firebirds have started their sophomore season, having not missed a beat from their dominant run to game 7 of the Calder Cup Finals. They’re presently 3rd in the AHL by goals scored per game, 3rd in shots generated per game, 13th in shooting percentage, 9th in fewest shots conceded per game, and 3rd by team save percentage, with the 7th-best power play and 3rd-best penalty kill in the league. Big surprise: the team that took the eventual Champions to overtime in game 7 of the Calder Finals is still good!
The timing is pretty rough for Abbotsford. The boys in blue & green limp into Palm Springs, down two of their top six forwards in Vasily Podkolzin and Tristen Nielsen, a credible top-4 defenceman in Matt Irwin, an integral penalty-killing bottom six center in Chase Wouters, and bottom six wing prospect Danila Klimovich. Meanwhile, the Firebirds return to their home arena after two dominant wins against San Jose, outscoring the Barracuda by an aggregate score of 13-6.
Games 10 and 11 versus Henderson Silver Knights
After this final game against the Firebirds, the Canucks return home for a four-game homestand that begins with a Friday/Saturday doubleheader against the Henderson Silver Knights.
To start 2023-24, the Henderson Silver Knights have appeared to do a total 180° from last season. They were downright awful last season. They finished the season 9th in the Pacific and 2nd-last in the entire AHL with a negative-20 goal differential, despite finishing with league-average special teams! They conceded the 7th-most shots against per game in the AHL, which would typically not be an issue. However, the Golden Knights famously had a nonstop run of goaltending injuries that tested their depth from the NHL all the way down to their affiliate in the ECHL, the Savannah Ghost Pirates!
The Silver Knights went through 7 different starters last season, and the only one to post a winning record was Adin Hill, who only started a game as part of a conditioning stint. Even Hill put up ghastly numbers for Henderson, a 0.857 save percentage and 4.50 goals-against-average. No Silver Knights netminder posted a goals-against-average below 2.00. That test of depth paid off for Vegas last season with a dominant run to the Stanley Cup Finals, and now their AHL affiliate is reaping the rewards of such a difficult season with the shooting, special teams, and goalie luck all falling in their favour!
A veteran-heavy club, the team is led in scoring by ex-Canuck Sheldon Rempal and waiver-pickup Grigori Denisenko. Between the pipes, the Silver Knights are leaning on ex-Vancouver Giant Jesper Vikman as their backup tendy to Jiri Patera. Vikman, who was taken 125th overall by the Golden Knights at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, is undefeated through three starts, with the 33rd-best save percentage (0.910) among all netminders.
The Silver Knights sit atop the AHL by total points and fourth by points percentage, having scored the 3rd-most goals in the AHL while conceding the 9th-most goals per game. On special teams, Henderson sits comfortably close to Abbotsford. The Silver Knights’ power play ranks 12th in the league, and their penalty kill ranks 18th, while Abbotsford’s power play and penalty kill rank 15th.
Despite the lack of available bodies in their lineup, the Canucks found ways to produce at even strength and on the man advantage. That both Henderson and Abbotsford are rocking two of the higher shooting clips in the AHL bodes well for an exciting game. It won’t be a great game for the Vancouver goalie guild, but it’s shaping up to be a weekend of high-flying, high-scoring action!
Week 4 Predictions
The Coachella Valley Firebirds are, pardon the pun, firing on all cylinders. I predict the Firebirds to run up the score at home. Arshdeep Bains and Christian Wolanin’s point streaks will stay alive, but it will be the first time we see a goaltender hook this season.
The Henderson Silver Knights series will be infinitely more competitive. I will return to my positive ways and predict that Abbotsford will win both.
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