Caylie King

May 012013
 

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.

Apr 272013
 

Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks scores against the Edmonton Oilers.

Photo credit: CBC.ca

In their last regular season game, which Canucks team will we see?

Your guess is as good as mine. Going into the playoffs, I know we’d all love to see a complete effort like they put together against the Chicago Blackhawks a couple of games ago. Certainly, we’d like to forget the uninspired performance against the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday. But tonight, against the golf course-bound Edmonton Oilers in a game that means nothing, the Canucks simply want to get out of the regular season (mostly) intact and healthy, and are resting some key players.

Daniel Sedin, Alex Burrows, Jason Garrison, Alex Edler and Dan Hamhuis will all be munching on some popcorn watching from the press box. Henrik Sedin will be in the lineup, but only to keep his ironman streak alive, and will start between Dale Weise and Steve Pinizzotto. Kevin Bieksa will make his return to the lineup after suffering from a mysterious “lower-body” injury. Roberto Luongo gets the call between the pipes as Cory Schneider sits out his second game with the dreaded “body injury”.

After a promising start, the Oilers will miss the playoffs for a 7th straight season. With a team full of all sorts of young stars and firepower, they should be a force to be reckoned with. Instead, tonight will cap yet another disappointing finish to the season, one that’s already lead to GM Steve Tambellini being fired and replaced with Craig Mactavish.

Canucks Record

26-14-7, 59 points (1st in the Northwest Division, 3rd in the Western Conference)

Season Series

The Canucks and Oilers have met 4 times this season already with each team winning 2 games each.

Taylor Hall torched the Canucks for a hat trick just 7:53 into the Oilers’ 4-0 win on March 30th, but the Canucks showed some pride and fought back with a 4-0 decision of their own in the two teams’ most recent meeting on April 4th.

Who’s Hot

Taylor Hall is coming off a 3-point game (1G-2A) against the Minnesota Wild last night. He’s had a solid campaign this year, sitting 9th in the NHL in overall scoring (48 points) and 10th in assists (32).

Who’s Not

Chris Higgins has gone pointless in his last 4 games, which, because of injury, is a stretch that dates back to the Canucks’ last game against the Oilers on April 4th.

Apr 222013
 

Photo credit: The Vancouver Sun (Jeff Vinnick photo)

The word “rivalry” has been overused so much in the NHL. Just because you’re playing on an NBC “Rivalry Wednesday” broadcast, it doesn’t mean you have a rivalry.

The Canucks and Blackhawks are the epitome of a true rivalry. They have a recent history of having some heated playoff battles. They hit each other, legally and illegally. They hate each other. The fanbases hate each other. Even Chicago’s professional media throw all journalistic integrity and professionalism out the door when these two teams meet.

And as much as Patrick Kane denies it, tonight’s game shouldn’t be any different.

After all, there are still seedings and regular season titles at stake. The Blackhawks are on an historic run, not having lost a game in regulation in a zillion days (okay that might be an exaggeration, but they are 9-0-2 in their last 11 games), and is a win away from clinching the Presidents’ Trophy. Meanwhile, 44 games into a 48-game season, the Canucks are still trying to find their way, though they’re somehow 1 point in 3 games away from winning their 5th straight Northwest Division title anyway.

20-year old Frankie Corrado will make his NHL debut tonight – on a top-4 pairing with Alex Edler, no less – in place of the injured Keith Ballard. What better way to get acquainted to the NHL than playing your first ever NHL game against a heated rival and the best team in the league, eh?

After missing 5 games, Chris Higgins will also make his return to the lineup. He practiced on a line with Derek Roy and Ryan Kesler this morning so here’s hoping his return somehow gets the Canucks offense going (again).

Canucks Record

25-13-7, 57 points (1st in the Northwest Division, 3rd in the Western Conference)

Season Series

This will be the 3rd and final meeting between these two teams this regular season. They split the first 2 meetings; both previous games went to a shootout.

Who’s Hot

Jonathan Toews has had a Hart Trophy caliber season and many believe he deserves to be in the running. He has 14 points (5G-9A) in his last 11 games. He’s also tied with Kane for the team lead in goals (21) and is second on the team in scoring with 46 points.

Overall, he’s 5th in the NHL in goals, 10th in points, and 3rd in plus/minus with an impressive plus-27 rating.

What’s Not

After a stretch of scoring 23 goals in 6 games earlier this month, the Canucks offense has hit a bit of a rough patch. In their last 3 games, they’ve been outshot 108-66 and have just 3 goals in that span. If Henrik Sedin thought last Saturday’s game against the Wings, in which the Wings carried much of the play and outshot the Canucks by a 34-14 margin, was “one of our best games in a few weeks”, then they have a way to go yet to be able to truly contend when the real season begins next week.

Apr 202013
 

Vancouver Canucks vs Detroit Red Wings

Photo credit: Vancouver Sun

It’s hard to remember a time when the Detroit Red Wings were fighting for a playoff spot. Heck, the last time the Wings missed the playoffs, Alannah Myles’ Black Velvet was no. 1 on the Billboard charts. Yet here they are now, 2 points out of the playoff picture – behind the 8th place Columbus Blue Jackets – with only 5 games left in their regular season.

The good news for the Wings is, they still very much control their destiny. They have 2 games in hand on the Jackets, and so as long as they take care of their own business, they’ll extend their 21-year streak of making the NHL postseason.

However, the Wings have been struggling lately. They’re a rather mediocre 3-5-2 in their last 10 games, having only scored 18 goals in that span.

On the other hand, the Canucks have only lost 5 of their last 16 games. (Though you can’t really tell from the way they’ve been playing.)

Canucks Record

24-13-7, 55 points (1st in the Northwest Division, 3rd in the Western Conference)

Season Series

Tonight is the 3rd and final meeting between the Canucks and Wings this season.

To say the Canucks were outplayed in the first 2 games would be too kind. They weren’t just outclassed by the Wings, they got their asses handed to them, losing 8-3 back in February and 5-2 about a month ago.

Henrik Zetterberg, Damien Brunner and Pavel Datsyuk all have 5 points each against the Canucks this season. Jimmy Howard, who the Wings recently signed to a 6-year/$31.8 million contract extension, was in net for both Detroit wins, and will be in net again tonight.

Who’s Hot

Johan Franzen is riding a 4-game point streak (3G-1A-4P).

Who’s Not

Niklas Kronwall is pointless in his last 5 games.

Quickies

Apr 182013
 

Jason Garrison and Derek Roy are on the same team this time (photo by Jeff Vinnick from Canucks.com)

While the Canucks’ performance on Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues was admirable – they certainly held their own against a much more physical Blues team – they certainly have some more work to do before the playoffs begin. For starters, regardless of their injury list, they need to be able to generate more offense. They need to dictate more of the play instead of just absorbing hit after hit after hit, and giving up as many scoring opportunities as they did. The point was nice, but let’s face it – Cory Schneider was the reason they got that point. I doubt they win a seven-game series while playing mostly on their heels. With four more practice runs before the playoffs begin – and three of those against potential playoff dance partners – it’s as good as time as any for the Canucks to work on their systems, and get in an offensive groove.

First on tap tonight are the Dallas Stars.

Looking back at the trade deadline, it sure seemed like the Stars were already starting to rebuild for next season. They shipped out team captain Brenden Morrow, star forward Jaromir Jagr, and another top-6 forward, Derek Roy. Yet instead of “not winning for Mackinnon”, they went on a bit of a run, and now find themselves just 4 points out of a playoff spot with 6 games remaining. And they have 2 games in hand over the Columbus Blue Jackets, who currently hold the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Go figure.

Canucks Record

24-12-7, 55 points (1st in the Northwest Division, 3rd in the Western Conference)

Season Series

Both the Canucks and the Stars have won a game apiece in the season series.

Before the Stars’ 5-2 loss against the Blackhawks in their last game, they were riding a 5-game win streak. They are 5-3-0 in the month of April.

Who’s Hot

Ray Whitney has been the hottest Dallas Star of late. Currently riding a 5 -game point streak (3G-6A-9P), he is tied for the team lead in goals (10) with Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson.

Who’s Not

Kari Lehtonen has been out with groin issues, but will make is return tonight against the Canucks. Prior to the injury, Lehtonen had won just 2 of his last 6 starts.

Apr 152013
 

Even after the departure of Ryan Suter, the Nashville Predators stayed true to their identity. They don’t score a lot, but play their defense-first system to a tee, especially because their only true superstars, Pekka Rinne and Shea Weber, are back there, and this has, at least in recent years, allowed them to keep pace with the rest of the West.

But right now, with only a handful of games left in the regular season, here the Preds sit in 13th place in the Western Conference and 9 points out of a playoff spot. They’re decimated by injuries – with the likes of Colin Wilson and Mike Fisher out – and with youngsters like Filip Forsberg and Daniel Bang in the lineup, just getting their feet wet in the National Hockey League.

Strap in, Canucks fans. This game should be a doozy.

With the Canucks playing a set of back-to-back games today and tomorrow, Roberto Luongo will get his 18th start of the season. As we near the homestretch before the playoffs, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the last start for “Numero Uno” during the regular season. Or maybe ever.

After a lackluster perfomance against the last place Colorado Avalanche on Saturday – I believe Ryan Kesler eloquently called their performance “shit” – the Canucks are looking for a much better effort.

Here’s hoping.

Canucks Record

23-12-6, 52 points (1st in the Northwest Division, 3rd in the Western Conference)

Season Series

The Canucks will be looking for the season sweep tonight in Music City. The Canucks won 1-0 back on February 22, and as well, a high-scoring 7-4 affair back on March 14.

The Predators are on the end of their own back-to-back set; the Detroit Red Wings shut them out 3-0 last night. They are currently on a 6-game skid and have gone just 1-7-2 in their last 10 games.

Who’s Hot

Dan “The Hammer” Hamhuis is currently riding a 5-game point streak (5 GP, 2G-3A-5P). @lyteforce may like to go streaking when Chris Tanev scores; personally, I’m hoping to put on my moon pants and scream “STOP, it’s Hammer time” when Hamhuis does something noteworthy.

Quickies

  • Ryan Kesler will start the game as a right wing, playing along side Derek Roy and Alex Burrows. After the Roy signing, many believed that Kesler moving to the wing would be the next step in order to utilize our top 6 forwards. Let the experiment begin. (Vancouver Sun)
Apr 082013
 

Alex Edler of the Vancouver Canucks crunches Phoenix Coyotes goaltender, Mike Smith

Photo credit: Globe and Mail

Only 3 points back of the 8th place Detroit Red Wings and with a game in hand on them, the Desert Dogs are hungry for a win – Hehe. See what I did there? – and still fighting for the last and final playoff spot in the West. The Coyotes may not be one of the most exciting teams to watch, but give them credit, they’ve found a way in recent years to stay relevant in the wild, wild, West. Heading into tonight’s game, they’ve won 3 straight games and have points in 6 straight games (4-0-2).

But enough about the Coyotes, tonight could see the return of a player that has been missing in the Canucks lineup for quite some time. He’s suffered a few injuries in his last couple of years here, but yes, Keith Ballard could return tonight. I can feel AV’s heart filling with pride and joy. (Though that he’s coming into the lineup in place of the injured Chris Tanev probably tempers that joy a bit.)

But in all seriousness, Ryan Kesler seems to be healed and ready to get a few games under his belt before the real season starts. After leading the stretches at this morning’s game-day skate, the Canucks announced he would be back tonight and playing on a line with Mason Raymond and Zack Kassian.

My gosh, do the Canucks actually have 3 scoring lines now?

Canucks Record

21-11-6, 48 points (1st in the Northwest Division, 3rd in the Western Conference)

Season Series

The Canucks and the Coyotes split their first 2 games against each other this season. The Coyotes won the first meeting in February by a 4-2 score. The Canucks won the most recent meeting on March 21 by a 2-1 score.

Who’s Hot

For all the angst in Vancouver over the last few weeks, they’re actually 8-2-0 in their last 10 games. Despite some low-scoring – and no-scoring – efforts in some of those games, they’ve held in – thanks in large part to the play of Cory Schneider – and taken points anyway.

The first line of Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows had great games against the two Alberta teams and combined for 11 points. Hank had 5 points (2G-3A), Dank had 4 points (0G-4A) and Burr had 2 points (1G-1A).

Mikkel Boedker is currently on a 3-game point streak (1G-3A) and has recorded at least a point in 4 of his last 5 games. Despite the shortened schedule, he’s only 4 points away from matching his career-high in points (28 points in 2008/2009, his first season in the league). He’s currently tied for the team lead with 24 points (7G-17A).

Who’s Not

Alex Edler scored against the Flames on Saturday, but prior to that, he had just 1 assist in 9 games.

The Coyotes have won just 1 or their 7 road games since the beginning of March, and are a woeful 4-8-5 away from Jobing.com Arena this season. So of course, while they’re chasing a playoff spot, 7 of their last 10 games are on the road.

Apr 062013
 

Chris Higgins of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates a goal he scored with teammate Derek Roy.

Photo credit: AP

For GM Jay Feaster and the Calgary Flames, the NHL trade deadline resembled more of a fire sale than anything. In a span of a week, they dealt their long-time captain, Jarome Iginla, to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and their no. 1 defenseman, Jay Bouwmeester, to the St. Louis Blues. In return, the Flames received nothing more than some depth prospects, a couple of first round picks, and perhaps some hockey tape and a used water bottle. But don’t fret, Calgarians, this is all part of the rebuild, right? RIGHT?!

If Flames fans can take comfort in anything, it’s that the team has finally admitted it needs to gut its aging core and move forward. After years of denying it needed to rebuild – even Feaster admitted he should have started this process earlier – it finally made the moves to start stockpiling younger assets. And in today’s NHL, where 19 of the top 25 scorers are under 30 years old, that’s a good thing.

Of course, the Flames will experience some growing pains. Since Iginla was traded on March 27, they’ve lost all 4 games and have been outscored 20-8. Against the Edmonton Oilers on trade deadline day, they blew a 2-0 lead and ended up losing 8-2. Last night against the San Jose Sharks, they took a 1-0 into the second intermission only to let the Sharks score twice in the third period – one a couple of minutes in and the other with a couple of minutes left – en route to a 2-1 loss.

And it doesn’t get any easier for the Flames the rest of the way. 7 of their remaining 12 games are on the road, where they’ve won just 3 times all season (3-12-3). They’re a dismal 0-11-1 in their last 12 games away from the Saddledome, including 10 straight losses.

Canucks Record

20-11-6, 46 points (1st in the Northwest Division, 3rd in the Western Conference)

Season Series

The Canucks are 16 points ahead of the Flames in the standings, but the Flames did win the last meeting between the two teams. In that game, Alain Vigneault took a questionable abuse of official penalty in the third period, and while the Canucks technically killed the penalty, the Flames scored 2 seconds after it expired to break what was a 2-2 tie at that point.

Cory Schneider and company have won 4 straight games at Rogers Arena, outscoring their opponents 11-3. Schneider posted shutouts in 2 of those games.

Who’s Hot

The only things “hot” about Calgary right now are the flames coming out of their logo.

Chris Higgins has a 4-game point streak that includes scoring in 3 of those 4 games. Fresh from signing a 4-year/$10 million contract extension, he had a particularly good game on Thursday against the Oilers, and if that game is any indication, his line with Derek Roy and Jannik Hansen could be the perfect tonic to the Canucks’ scoring woes.

What’s Not

The Canucks finally connected on the powerplay on Thursday – they scored during a lengthy two-man advantage – but they still rank 28th in the NHL in powerplay efficiency (13.1%).

Likewise, their penalty kill has been better (81.7%), but ranked 15th in the league, it’s still quite average.

With just 11 games left in the season, the Canucks may want to start getting their special teams in order, especially if they want to make a deep run in the playoffs.

Quickies

  • After a quick cup of tea with the big boys, Nicklas Jensen is going back to the Chicago Wolves. (Vancouver Province)
  • Mason Raymond and Dale Weise have recovered from their respective injuries and will return to the lineup tonight. (Vancouver Sun)
Apr 042013
 

Taylor Hall scores a hat trick against the Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: The Globe and Mail

After last night’s 8-2 whooping of the Calgary Flames, the Edmonton Oilers woke up this morning to find themselves in a playoff spot – in 8th place in the Western Conference. After falling out of the playoff picture with a 3-6-3 stretch in the beginning of March, the Oilers have clawed their way back and are now one of several teams fighting for the last couple of playoff spots in the West. With most teams having only 11-14 games left in their schedule, the difference between 8th and 13th place in the West is just 4 points and the difference between 3rd and 10th place is just 6 points.

While the Oilers are on the second game of a back-to-back, the Canucks have had two days of rest, or for some, two days to think about their long weekend no-shows against these same Oilers (a 4-0 loss on Saturday) and the San Jose Sharks (a 3-2 loss on Monday). Not that the Canucks should need any more motivation, but I hope atoning for giving Taylor Hall a hat trick just 8 minutes into the game on Saturday and allowing the Sharks to score 3 goals in under 3 minutes on Monday would be on their agenda tonight.

The addition of Derek Roy should help. Cory Schneider is getting the start tonight – on Roberto Luongo’s birthday.

Canucks Record

19-11-6, 44 points (2nd in the Northwest Division, 4th in the Western Conference)

Season Series

Offensively, the Canucks and Oilers are going in opposite directions. The Canucks have lost 2 straight games, and dating back to the Vancouver Millionaires night against the Detroit Red Wings, have only scored 15 goals (plus 2 empty-net goals) in 10 games. The Oilers, on the other hand, have won 5 straight games and have outscored their opponents 25-7 in that span.

Who’s Hot

2010 1st overall pick, Taylor Hall, has been exceptional. Currently on a 6-game point streak (7G-8A-15P), Hall leads the Oilers in scoring and sits 5th in the NHL in assists (28) and 7th in overall scoring (41).

Who’s Not

Daniel Sedin has just 2 points in his last 7 games.

Quickies

  • Zack Kassian is back with the Canucks after a brief demotion to the Chicago Wolves. (CKNW)
Apr 012013
 

Ryane Clowe, San Jose Sharks parks himself in front of Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks.

Photo credit: sharks.nhl.com

The Canucks suffered their first loss in 6 games in a lackluster 4-0 defeat to the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. It’s easy to spin the loss – one in which they allowed 3 goals in the Oilers’ first 3 shots in the first 3 minutes of the game and then couldn’t generate any sort of offensive momentum to try and at least claw their way back into the game – as “just one of those games”. But the truth of the matter is, the Canucks right now are struggling to score.

Only two seasons ago, the Canucks’ offense – their 3.15 goals per game average and 24.3% efficiency on the powerplay – was the best in the NHL. And despite a slight dip last season, their 2.94 goals per game average and 19.8% powerplay percentage – were still 5th and 4th best in the league, respectively. This season, the Canucks’ are averaging just 2.51 goals per game (19th in the NHL) and converting on just 12.8% of their powerplay opportunities (30th – yes LAST place – in the league).

With no clear sign of a breakthrough, with Ryan Kesler and David Booth still injured, and with Zack Kassian still bothered by an injured back (and re-assigned to the Chicago Wolves yesterday), something has to give. In a desperate attempt to find some sort of offensive spark, the Canucks recalled wingers Nicklas Jensen and Bill Sweatt from the Chicago Wolves on Sunday.

Drafted in the first round in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, tonight with be Jensen’s first career NHL game, and it sounds like he will be lining up next to the Sedins. A big body with good wheels and good hands, Jensen can score. In two seasons in the OHL with the Oshawa Generals, he potted 54 goals, plus another 8 goals in 16 playoff games. In his first stint with the Wolves, he had 6 goals in 8 games, including 2 goals in 2 playoff games. He started this season with AIK in the Swedish Elite League, where he scored 40 points (17G-23A) in 50 games, before coming back to North America to play with Chicago (11GP, 2G-2A-4P).

Billy Sweatt has had to cope with injuries this season, but has been decent season with the Wolves, recording 12 goals (5th on the team) and 29 points (4th on the team) in 56 games.

With Wednesday’s trade deadline looming – tonight’s game against the San Jose Sharks is the Canucks’ last game before the deadline – there is hope the Canucks can find another top-6 forward (preferably a center) to help them in the postseason. GM Mike Gillis apparently took in the Sharks’ game against Phoenix over the weekend, and the Canucks are among the teams rumored to be interested in Sharks winger, Ryane Clowe. Clowe hasn’t scored in 28 games this season, but he does have 5 assists in his last 8 games. At this point, it seems anyone who can help ignite the Canucks’ offense would be a welcome sight.

Canucks Record

19-10-6, 44 points (2nd in the Northwest Division, 4th in the Western Conference)

Season Series

This is the third and final meeting between the Canucks and Sharks this season; the Sharks won both earlier meetings.

The Canucks cannot afford to the come out flat and lose the game within the first 8 minutes again, like they did in Edmonton. The Sharks are beginning to find their groove and have won 4 straight games and 5 of their last 6. They’ve allowed a total of just 10 goals against in their last 6 games, and have moved to 6th in the NHL in GAA (2.68) and 3rd on the penalty kill (86.8%) – this isn’t good news for the offensively-challenged Canucks. If the Canucks fall behind early, it’ll be a tough task to try and catch up later.

Who’s Hot

Antti Niemi has won his last 4 starts. He has 2 shutouts and has allowed just 5 goals in that span.

Now in his 3rd season as the Sharks’ starting goaltender, Niemi is having a great season so far. He’s won 16 games (4th in NHL) and has a 2.13 GAA (7th in NHL) and a 0.925 save percentage (3rd in NHL).

Who’s Not

Jannik Hansen has gone pointless in his last 4 games.

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