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.

May 012013
 

On paper, the Vancouver Canucks probably couldn’t have drawn a better match-up in these first round of the NHL playoffs than the San Jose Sharks.

Or maybe put it another way, at least they don’t have to play a 7-game series against a bigger, more physical St. Louis Blues team.

The Canucks and the Sharks resemble each other in many ways. Both teams have veteran-laden rosters that have experienced a lot of regular season success. But also, save for an extended run or two, both teams have a history of crashing and burning in the postseason.

Since the 2004 lockout, the Canucks have put together 5-100 point seasons and have won 6 playoff rounds. Ditto the Sharks, but they won 1 more playoff round (7) than the Canucks. Of course, both teams met in the Western Conference Finals in 2011. And of course, following that, both teams also flamed out in the first round of the playoffs last year.

With an aging core, a lot of pundits predict that whichever team loses this series will be forced to undergo major changes in the offseason. But then again, with a decreasing salary cap, maybe both will be forced to make changes anyway.

Why the Canucks will win

Except for Chris Tanev, who is expected back sometime in the middle of this round, and David Booth, the Canucks are finally healthy, and what a healthy roster can do to improve how this team looks can’t be understated.

Now, coach Alain Vigneault can roll out 3 potentially potent scoring lines consisting of Sedin-Sedin-Burrows, Higgins-Kesler-Kassian, Raymond-Roy-Hansen. Or, if he wants to load up the top-6, he can roll out Sedin-Sedin-Burrows, Higgins-Roy-Kesler, and roll out a checking line of Raymond-Lapierre-Hansen. Either of these combinations match up well against the Sharks.

On defense, the group of Hamhuis, Garrison, Bieksa and Edler, is deeper than the group of Boyle, Vlasic, Stuart and Irwin.

We’ve seen what a healthy Canucks lineup can do, evidenced by a complete effort against the Chicago Blackhawks just last week. The only question is whether or not they will be motivated enough to do so for the next 2 months.

Why the Sharks will win

Antti Niemi may very well hold the key to a Sharks series victory. He’s been great this year, finishing the regular season with 2.16 GAA and a 0.924 save percentage. Particularly against the Canucks, he was lights out, stopping 82 of 87 shots (0.943 save percentage) in 3 San Jose wins; for those counting at home, that’s 5 goals allowed in 3 games.

Now, this is not an indictment on Cory Schneider because, statistically, Schneider was a shade better (2.11 GAA and a 0.927 save percentage). However, Niemi has much more playoff experience than Schneider does. Schneider has only appeared in 8 playoff games. The last team with a relatively inexperienced goaltender to win the Cup was the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010… with Niemi in net, who at the time had 42 NHL games under his belt and was appearing in the postseason for the first time.

If Niemi shuts the door on the Canucks’ 20th-ranked offense, the Canucks will have to rely on Schneider and hope he’s equally up to the task.

[Update]

Scratch that. It looks like Roberto Luongo is starting tonight.

Quickies

May 012013
 

Vancouver Canucks "This is What We Live For"

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

Is there a more exciting time of year here in beautiful BC than during the Canucks playoffs?

The Canucks are trying to capture your excitement with a microsite – thisiswhatwelivefor.com – where fans can submit photos, videos and other media using Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and use the hashtag #TIWWLF, and then view them in the mosaic on the site.

On the ice, the Canucks will try once again to chase Lord Stanley’s Cup. For those whose disappointing early exit against the Kings are still fresh on their minds, it’s a fresh start and another opportunity to give Canucks fans that elusive Stanley Cup.

Of course, for that to happen, someone has to step up and lead and will this team. Well, everyone has to step up, but someone has to step up higher than everyone else.

And to win a pair of lower bowl tickets to tonight’s playoff Game 1 vs the San Jose Sharks, courtesy of our friends from the Vancouver Canucks, let us know: If a Canucks player were to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, who do you think it will be?

To enter:

  • For one entry: In the comments section of this post, tell us which Canucks player you think will elevate their game the most in these playoffs and win the Conn Smythe Trophy. (Make sure you enter your email address when you log-in so we can contact you if you win.)
  • For a bonus entry – Tweet the following:
    I entered and RT to win #Canucks game 1 playoff tickets at http://nucks.co/6p from @canuckshockey @VanCanucks @lyteforce #TIWWLF #CHB

We will randomly draw the winner at 1:00 PM today so make sure your entries are in before that. The winner will win one (1) pair of lower bowl tickets to tonight’s playoff Game 1 vs. the San Jose Sharks. You must be able to pick up the tickets at Will Call at Rogers Arena.

You don’t have much time. What are you waiting for?

UPDATE: Congratulations to Kurt (@KurtPenner) on winning the pair of tickets to tonight’s game!

Apr 302013
 

Vancouver Canucks beat the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011 NHL playoffs

Photo credit: CBC.ca

As we await the first drop of the puck in the 2013 NHL playoffs, we at CHB put our reputations on the line and make our predictions for the first round. Like last year, we’ll keep a running tally of who makes the most correct predictions. And also like last year, the winner gets nothing but bragging rights.

Western Conference

(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (8) Minnesota Wild

Clay: Chicago in 5. Chicago is simply too strong for Minnesota. There’s a reason why one team won the Presidents’ Trophy and the other got in on the last weekend of the regular season. Chicago has too much high-end talent – this won’t even be close.

Victoria: Chicago in 5. I hate to admit it but Chicago has been a force this short season and I don’t see the Wild taking any of the flame from their fire.

@cherry_grant: Chicago in 5. I hate saying this because I, as a good Canucks fan, hate the ‘Hawks. That said, I feel pretty certain that Minnesota will be decimated by them and I will be sad, but somewhat pleased to be basking in my correctness.

J.J.: Chicago in 4. Maybe I like the Hawks that much. Or maybe I just want to jinx them.

Matt: Chicago in 5. This comes down to simple physics: The Blackhawks are a team with firepower up front, adequate defense, and decent goaltending, while the Wild have a popgun offense that barely got them into the postseason. What happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object?

(2) Anaheim Ducks vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings

Clay: Anaheim in 7. While Detroit has more momentum heading into the playoffs, Anaheim had a better regular season including an amazing February when they won 11 out of 13 games. They’ve faltered a bit since then but I still think they’re a better team.

Victoria: Detroit in 7. If any team can pull off a come-from-behind and out-of-nowhere unexpected victory or 7, it’s Detroit. And as the Capitals have proven time and time again, if any team can perform an epic playoff meltdown, it’s a team coached by Bruce Boudreau.

@cherry_grant: Anaheim in 6. Mainly because they have Reverend Lovejoy on their team. (Note: I don’t actually care if his first name is Reverend or not, it will be to me either way.)

J.J.: Anaheim in 7. Given their roster turnover, both teams probably overachieved this season. Datsyuk and Zetterberg elevated their games at the end of the season, and Jimmy Howard has been tremendous, but Getzlaf, Perry, Bobby Ryan and company aren’t slouches either. Plus, I like the Ducks’ kids (Bonino, Fowler) a tiny bit more than the Wings’ kids (Brunner, DeKeyser).

Matt: Anaheim in 7. To answer the question a lot of people are asking, yes, the Ducks are for real. The team doesn’t have to rely solely on Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Teemu Selanne because their young kids are getting the job done too. But don’t expect the Detroit old boys to go down quietly.

(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (6) San Jose Sharks

Clay: Canucks in 7. Very similar teams: strong goaltending and deep down the middle. Two main differences to me: the Canucks have a deeper blue line and the Sharks are horrible on the road. Game 7 at Rogers Arena may be the difference – stanchion or not.

Victoria: Canucks in 7. To be honest, other than a game against Chicago, the Canucks play hasn’t given me a ton of confidence. But they’ve beaten the Sharks in their sleep before so hopefully they can do it again, even if they’re scoring and defence are sleeping through games.

@cherry_grant: I’m going to say Vancouver, in 6. San Jose’s playoff hockey has been pretty weak in past years. Then there’s the whole “being a staunch fan” thing, which makes me want to say “VANCOUVER IN 4, SUCKAS!”

J.J.: Canucks in 7. If the Canucks team that played the Chicago Blackhawks last Monday shows up, they can beat any team in the league. If the Canucks team that didn’t show up for about 40 of the other games this season suit up against the Sharks, it’s going to be a quick exit and a long summer in Vancouver. I have to believe the Canucks can flip the proverbial switch.

Matt: Canucks in 7. What happens when two teams who have a reputation of being playoff “choke artists” meet in the first round? Both teams find a way to make it hard for themselves. With home ice and a healthy-ish lineup, the Canucks should normally get this done in five or six, but they’ll find a way to mess up a game or two.

(4) St. Louis Blues vs. (5) Los Angeles Kings

Clay: LA in 7. I’m looking forward to these two big teams try to run each other through the boards. I believe that the Kings will prevail in the end: they hammered the Blues on the way to the Stanley Cup last year. It will be closer this year but with the same result.

Victoria: LA in 5. Kings don’t seem to have much of a Stanley Cup hangover, so I’m thinking they’ll at least get through the Blues without a meltdown.

@cherry_grant: Ewwww. St. Louis is my pick for this, in 7. Though really, nobody does as well against St. Louis as Gino Odjick.

J.J.: St. Louis in 7. The Kings have won 8 straight regular season and playoff games against the Blues. So of course, I’m putting my money on St. Loo.

Matt: St. Louis in 7. The last two teams to represent the West in the finals have been bounced in the first round? Coincidence? Probably, but why not keep the trend going? These two teams are strong defensively and physically and will beat the crap out of each other, but the Blues have more incentive to do it.

Eastern Conference

(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (8) New York Islanders

Clay: Pittsburgh in 5. Crosby or not, the Penguins will over-match the Islanders. While New York might be a feel a good story, there’s a reason why the Penguins loaded up at the trade deadline. Fleury won’t have to be awesome for the Penguins to win this series; he just has to be good.

Victoria: Pittsburgh in 6. The last couple of seasons the Penguins have had a way of melting down in the playoffs against teams that they should easily beat. I think it’s time that trend stops. I think they think it too.

@cherry_grant: Pens in 7. Iginla will totally win it for them, single handedly! Right?!

J.J.: Pens in 5. You just know the Islanders will promote Evgeni Nabokov to the front office and bring back Alexei Yashin for some playoff punch, and cause a kerfuffle in what has been a relatively worry-free season in Long Island.

Matt: Pittsburgh in 5. The Penguins are this year’s “sexy” pick to win it all, but the fact the Islanders are in the playoffs for the first time in a gazillion years should provide them a little pep to steal a game. Otherwise, this isn’t a matchup that’s even close.

(2) Montreal Canadiens vs. (7) Ottawa Senators

Clay: Montreal in 7. This is going to be an entertaining season to watch. The Senators will get a lift from the early return of Erik Karlsson but they’ll miss Jason Spezza. Look for Carey Price to find his game just in time to help his team squeak out a narrow victory.

Victoria: Montreal in 7. Ottawa is definitely on it’s way back from near disaster but Montreal is hungry after missing the playoffs last year. Habs want it more and they’re generally better at playoff battles.

@cherry_grant: Ottawa in 7. No reason for this choice at all.

J.J.: Ottawa in 6. Carey Price has owned the Sens recently. But Carey Price also has an 0.871 save percentage and has allowed 32 goals in his last 10 games.

Matt: Ottawa in 7. Montreal started the year on fire but have been mediocre down the stretch, while the Sens have been given a lift with Erik Karlsson — and potentially Jason Spezza’s — return. The Sens have been underdogs all season but won’t go away, why should the first round be any different?

(3) Washington Capitals vs. (6) New York Rangers

Clay: Washington in 6. Washington and New York enter the playoffs as two of the hottest teams in the East and they were separated by only one point in the final standings. Ovechkin is on an amazing run right now and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon.

Victoria: Rangers in 7. Both these teams always seem to struggle to get in and stay in the playoffs. But the Rangers have more fight in them and I predict Ovie will fall into his regularly scheduled playoff coma nap.

@cherry_grant: Washington in 6, which is a purely arbitrary decision because I have unreasonable, baseless dislike of the Rangers.

J.J.: Washington in 7. The Caps are peaking at the right time, losing just twice in April and posting an 11-1-1 record. Ovie is back in beast mode, and Ribeiro, Backstrom, Brouwer and Johansson have played great in support. Defenseman Mike Green is back too, which gives the Caps’ back end a different dynamic.

Matt: Rangers in 6. This might be a bold pick given the Caps were rolling in the second half, but I’ll take a stingy defense and all-world netminder over a vaunted offense. The Rangers have a core group that’s more battle-tested and playoff-ready (Callahan, Stepan, Richards over Ovechkin, Backstrom, Ribeiro).

(4) Boston Bruins vs. (5) Toronto Maple Leafs

Clay: Boston in 6. As much as I dislike both of these teams, I must admit that I’m very interested in seeing how this series pans out. While Toronto is much improved, the Bruins are much more seasoned and playoff-tested. Jagr and Redden add to their experience.

Victoria: Leafs in 7. There is no rational thought process involved in this pick. If Leafs manage to pull this off then pigs really will fly. But I’d rather see pigs fly than Boston win so, oink! oink! Watch out for that jet, Wilbur!

@cherry_grant: Leafs in 7. I’m SHOCKED (and feel more than a little dirty) to say this, but GO LEAFS GO. I like the Bruins even less than the Blackhawks, so the Leafs had better continue being GOOD, for once.

J.J.: Boston in 5. It’s hard enough to tolerate the early media coverage now that the Leafs have made it back to the postseason for the first time in 9 years. I can’t imagine how insufferable things would be if the Leafs won a playoff game, never mind a playoff series.

Matt: Boston in 6. If there was an option to have both teams eliminate each other, I’d be picking it, just for sheer reasons fraught with anger and dislike. But there can only be one winner, and it’ll be the Bruins. The hard-nosed B’s will keep Nazem Kadri and Phil Kessel under wraps, and Patrice Bergeron has established himself as a playoff force.

Apr 292013
 

Vancouver Canucks vs. San Jose Sharks, Stanley Cup playoffs

Photo credit: canucks.nhl.com

After 48 games last season, the Florida Panthers were out of the playoff picture; they ended up winning the Southeast Division. At the Christmas break, the Minnesota Wild were leading the Northwest Division. And on January 1st, after 40 games, the Wild were only 2 points back of the Canucks; they finished the season in 12th place in the Western Conference and 30 points behind the Canucks.

My point is, so many things can happen over the course of 82 games. And then you have to factor in another 20+ games in the postseason. As such, teams usually go through various peaks and valleys during the regular season. And there are some teams who perhaps peak in the regular season and then dip in the playoffs. And vice-versa.

But of course, this season is different. For starters, the regular season is only 48 games long. In other words, when the puck drops for game 1 of the playoffs this week, it’ll really only be game 49 for each of the 16 playoff teams.

For fun, I looked at several teams’ records – including the Canucks’ – from the last 3 seasons in 24-game segments:

2011/2012 season

2011/2012Games 1-24Point %Games 25-48Point %Games 49-72Point %
Canucks14-9-10.60415-6-30.68814-6-40.667
Blackhawks14-7-30.64615-6-30.68810-12-20.458
Kings12-8-40.58311-7-60.58312-10-20.500
Sharks14-9-10.60414-5-50.6888-12-40.417
Blues14-8-20.62515-5-40.70816-6-20.708
Penguins14-6-40.66713-11-00.54218-4-20.792
Bruins16-7-10.68816-7-10.68810-13-10.438
Capitals12-11-10.52114-8-20.62510-11-30.479
Rangers15-6-30.68816-6-20.70814-8-20.625
Leafs14-8-20.62510-11-30.4798-13-30.396

2010/2011 season

2010/2011Games 1-24Point %Games 25-48Point %Games 49-72Point %
Canucks14-7-30.64615-3-60.75018-6-00.750
Blackhawks11-11-20.50015-7-20.66713-7-40.625
Kings14-10-00.58311-12-10.47915-4-50.729
Sharks12-8-40.58312-11-10.52117-4-30.771
Blues12-9-30.56310-10-40.50010-12-20.458
Penguins14-8-20.62515-7-20.66712-8-40.583
Bruins14-8-20.62513-6-50.64613-8-30.604
Capitals16-6-20.70810-8-60.54215-7-20.667
Rangers13-10-10.56314-8-20.62511-12-10.479
Leafs8-12-40.41711-12-10.47912-7-50.604

2009/2010 season

2009/2010Games 1-24Point %Games 25-48Point %Games 49-72Point %
Canucks13-11-00.54215-7-20.66716-6-20.708
Blackhawks16-6-20.70817-5-20.75013-8-30.604
Kings13-9-20.58314-9-10.60415-6-30.688
Sharks15-5-40.70815-5-40.70813-9-20.583
Blues10-9-50.52111-11-20.50013-9-20.583
Penguins16-8-00.66713-10-10.56313-6-50.646
Bruins12-8-40.58311-9-40.54210-10-40.500
Capitals13-5-60.66717-7-00.70818-2-40.833
Rangers13-10-10.5639-9-60.5009-13-20.417
Leafs6-11-70.39610-12-20.45810-11-30.479

My take-away from these?

It’s interesting to note the Canucks have been quite consistent from season-to-season. And not only that, it looked like they got better as the season went on.

In each of the 3 seasons from 2009 to 2012, they won 13-14 of their first 24 games and 15 of their next 24 games. And the next 24 games after (games 49-72)? The Canucks won 14, 18 and 16 games – the highest average of the teams listed above.

Of course, this isn’t intended to be definitive. Whether it’s game 49 or game 83 of the season, the playoffs are still a different beast, and like it or not, the games are officiated according to a different standard. It’s just interesting, that’s all. When the playoffs start on Wednesday, will the Canucks wilt like they did against the Kings last spring? Or will they just be hitting their normal midseason stride?

[Update]

Here are the 24-game stats for the 2013 season. The Canucks won just 11 of their first 24 games, but again, they won 15 of the 24 games after that.

2012/2013 season

2012/2013Games 1-24Point %Games 25-48Point %
Canucks11-7-60.58315-8-10.646
Blackhawks21-0-30.93815-7-20.667
Kings14-8-20.62513-8-30.604
Sharks11-7-60.58314-9-10.604
Blues13-9-20.58316-8-00.667
Penguins16-8-00.66720-4-00.833
Bruins17-4-30.77111-10-30.521
Capitals10-13-10.43817-5-20.750
Rangers13-9-20.58313-9-20.583
Leafs15-9-00.62511-8-50.563
Apr 282013
 

Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks vs. Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks

Photo credit: CBC.ca

Taking a page out of the NCAA’s Selection Sunday, the NHL announced its full playoff schedule tonight during a special playoff scheduling show on the NHL Network.

Here is the Canucks’ full first round schedule against the San Jose Sharks:

  • Game 1 at Rogers Arena: Wednesday, May 1st at 7:30 PM
  • Game 2 at Rogers Arena: Friday, May 3rd at 7:00 PM
  • Game 3 at HP Pavilion in San Jose: Sunday, May 5th at 7:00 PM
  • Game 4 at HP Pavilion in San Jose: Tuesday, May 7th at 7:00 PM
  • Game 5 at Rogers Arena: Thursday, May 9th at 7:00 PM (if necessary)
  • Game 6 at HP Pavilion in San Jose: Saturday, May 11th start time TBD (if necessary)
  • Game 7 at Rogers Arena: Monday, May 13th start time TBD (if necessary)

And yes, all games are on TSN.

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