Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Canucks Playoffs Preview; Quarterfinals

Time to dig into that California roll.

It wasn’t their prettiest - nor the most dominant - victory of the Northwest Division, but the Canucks found a way to do it for the fifth straight year. Who that matters to in this city is beyond me. Wake me up when they’re planning the parade down Robson.

After getting this so-called “news” the city of Vancouver collectively sat on pins and needles; anxiously waiting to find out who their first round opponent would be. It’s not the Minnesota Wild, but rather the next “easiest” team, the San Jose Sharks. Easy might not be the appropriate word... maybe they are just the ideal team.

If you’re getting a sense of deja-vu all over again, there is good reason. More or less. The Canucks faced the Sharks in the Western Conference Finals during their 2011 run to the Stanley Cup Finals. In case you couldn’t put two and two together on that one, or maybe you just started cheering for the Canucks last season, that means they won that series. It took five games and one of the luckier bounces in Canucks history to stick a fork in that one.

Enough about the past though. In getting with the now and the two teams it features check out the We’ve Got Twins preview of this series.

Thanks for Keeping my Seat Warm

Said neither coach of these teams. There are similarities aplenty between these two clubs, but none more blatantly obvious than the pressure placed upon the shoulders of each coach. No guarantees here, but the losing coach goes home - literally. There’s already been chatter this season regarding the security of Alain Vigneault’s job and for as long as the Sharks grossly under-achieve Todd McLellan’s on a hot-seat of his own.

The notion that both clubs windows are slowly closing also plays into the likelihood that the losing team loses it’s coach. With aging cores surrounded by great complimentary talent - on both sides - there is little time to waste. If Vigneault can’t get this club out of the first round, for the second year in a row, things don’t look so good for AV. Same thing goes for McLellan. Time is on neither team’s side and as such they’ll waste none in finding the coach that takes their team that extra step closer to the Cup.

Regular Season Familiarity

Taking a look at how the Canucks regular season matches with the Sharks played out, my confidence is a little shook. Not really, but I’m guessing that it should be. The Canucks went 0-2-1 against the Sharks in the regular season and were outscored in those three games 10 - 5. I take some solace in knowing that they last played each other a month ago today, and that the Canucks were injured to the point of having Bill Sweatt, Nicklas Jensen, Jordan Schroeder and Cam Barker all in the lineup for that game. Hopefully the Canucks are more fortunate on the injury front this time around. It’s also worth noting that in that third matchup, where the Canucks roster was riddled with AHLers(and Cam Barker) they played arguably their best game against the Sharks all season. If there are any positives to be drawn from how their regular season games played out, that’s just about it.

Shaky Foundation

Something you hear all too often in hockey commentary is that contending teams are built from the crease out. Based on how Roberto Luongo turned this franchise around, I’d say that’s a relatively accurate statement. Speaking of Luongo, there’s a chance he could be the Canucks goalie in game one. Isn't it ironic?

The sub-header in combination with how the last two sentences of that last paragraph sounds are a bit misleading of how I feel about Luongo; really it’s more indicative of how I feel about Schneider this season. By that same token, Cory Schneider’s infamous “body” injury is a little concerning. Whatever kept Schneider out of the net for the final few games of the regular season is apparently still an issue and raises questions about his availability for Wednesday’s game.

Speaking to the media Tuesday, Cory gave an update on his status saying “Like I said, I’m going to tell him[Vigneault] I’m ready to play”. In keeping confident with his health Schneider went on to add that he “feels as if I[Cory] should be good to go”. Vigneault didn’t necessarily share Cory’s optimism and said that this is definitely “going to be a tomorrow decision”. Oh how badly I wanted an answer today.

How These Teams Match Up

Not as well as I had hoped. I base this of course purely on my interpretation of the more basic statistics that hockey has to offer. For your viewing displeasure I’ll display them below and let you come to your own conclusion.

San Jose Sharks:
Goals Per Game
Goals Against
Power Play
Penalty Kill
2.4
2.3
20.1%
85%

Vancouver Canucks:
Goals Per Game
Goals Against
Power Play
Penalty Kill
2.5
2.4
15.8%
84%

Luckily for the Canucks this isn’t moneyball and furthermore their stats are a little misleading. Those stats were based on a team that played most of the season with one legitimate top nine center. The Canucks now boast three.

More importantly one of those missing pieces was Ryan Kesler. This team’s special teams rely very heavily upon Kesler and suffered greatly without him. They’re not perfect with him in the lineup, but a heck of a lot better.

Top Performers

In this department it’s the usual suspects really. Save for the absence of Kesler on the Canucks. Note how all the Canucks top scorers have a plus rating. Arbitrary stat really, but I’ll take it.

Vancouver

Games Played
Goals
Assists
Points
Plus/Minus
Henrik Sedin
48*
11
34
45
19
Daniel Sedin
47
12
28
40
12
Jannik Hansen
47
10
17
27
8
Alex Burrows
47
13
11
24
15
Dan Hamhuis
47
4
20
24
9

San Jose

Games Played
Goals
Assists
Points
Plus/Minus
Joe Thornton
48
7
33
40
6
Logan Couture
48
21
16
37
7
Patrick Marleau
48
17
14
31
-2
Joe Pavelski
48
16
15
31
2
Brent Burns
30
9
11
20
0


How the Canucks Win

It’s simple really, just stick to the game plan. If you give the Sharks opportunities, they will take them. They made that perfectly clear in their three games against the Canucks this season. If the Canucks can stick to Vigneault’s system, which is predicated on strong defensive play, there is no reason they can’t win this. When healthy, and the Canucks are getting there, they have better depth at nearly every position.

How the Canucks Lose

The opposite of above. In all seriousness though, it’s if they can’t win this game at even strength. If you look above at the “How These Teams Match Up” bit, you’ll notice the Sharks have a pretty good powerplay. Keeping disciplined and subsequently keeping the Sharks off the powerplay will be key. And another thing! Don’t stray from the game plan. It got the Canucks threw a bevy of injuries that could derail any team’s season and it can get them through to the next round.

J.D.’s Prediction: I used to live in California and have been to a few Sharks games at the Pavilion, where I once had pie thrown on me and my family's faces on the jumbo-tron. Fu*k the Sharks and fu*k fake pie in the face. I was traumatized. Canucks in 6.

J.D. @WeveGotTwins

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