The Canucks are favored, but should they be?

It took until the second last day of the regular season to find out that the Canucks would face the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the NHL playoffs. Coming down the stretch, there were a few possible opponents (a rematch against the LA Kings and a battle against the bruising St. Louis Blues among them), but at the end of the day, they drew the Sharks and it sounds like the matchup that everyone wanted.

Game 1 goes tonight in Vancouver, and many expert analysts have favoured the Canucks to win the first round against the Sharks, but should they be?

The most obvious question heading into Game 1 is the Canucks’ goaltender situation, but because this subject has been beaten like a dead horse – chicken, pony (insert any sort of animal) – and because the team announced Roberto Luongo as its starter a couple of hours ago, allow me to talk about something else.

I don’t think I’m the only Canucks fan who doesn’t have the highest of expectations for this postseason. After two seasons of Presidents Trophy wins and expectations as high as Snoop Dog on 4/20, this season is a little different. We can easily count on two hands, maybe even one, how many dominant performances the Canucks out of the 48 regular season games they played. It’s hard to imagine them playing 4 dominant games in a row, considering we haven’t seen that this whole year.

One of the reasons for the Canucks’ lack of dominance this season is that their special teams play and faceoff win percentage has declined. And if you look at recent championship teams like the Kings and the Boston Bruins, they had excellent special teams and faceoff wins so we know those areas were a big part of their success.

Now, circle back to this series and we’ll see the Sharks have the better special teams numbers and the higher faceoff win percentage.

In fact, one of the biggest advantages for the Sharks in this series is their depth down the middle. In the regular season, they were the 2nd-best faceoff team in the league with a 53.4 % efficiency. The Canucks, whose game plan revolves around having the puck, started the play without it more than they did with it, finishing with a 47.6% faceoff win percentage – a woeful 25th in the league.

On special teams, although the Canucks improved their special teams somewhat by the end of the regular season, their numbers are nothing to write home about. Only a couple of seasons ago, they had the best PP and PK in the league. This season, their PP struggled to find consistency – or more specifically, SHOTS! – and converted on just 15.8% of their man-advantages (22nd in the NHL). Not having Ryan Kesler for most of the season most likely played a role in that, but still. On the other hand, the Sharks’ PP converted on 20.1% of their PP opportunities (7th in the league); needless to say, the Canucks can ill-afford to take stupid and unnecessary penalties.

Speaking of Kesler, I’ll give the Canucks’ PK the benefit of the doubt. They’ve been better since Kes’ return and finished 8th in the league with an 85.0% PK rate. But don’t get too excited yet – the Sharks’ PK was actually still a little bit better at 85.0% – good for 6th in the league.

The bottom line is, the numbers favour the Sharks, and the Canucks will have to play near perfect hockey to beat them. Certainly, if they want to be playing past the end of next week, they’ll need to show up more than the handful of times they did during the season. And if they do, I believe they’ll pull through in this series.

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