Sunday, March 14, 2010

Game day musings: Are the Canucks a contender?

After somewhat of a slow start to the season, much has been made of the Vancouver Canucks' 8-5-1 record on their recent fourteen game road trip. Combine that with the fact that they have one of the best goaltenders in the league, Henrik Sedin is second behind only Alex Ovechkin with ninety-one points on the season, and they currently sit second in the league in goal scoring, some are predicting a lengthy playoff run for the Vancouverites, perhaps even culminating in a championship. Inspired by Robert's game thread post at M&G, I've decided to take a magnifying glass to tonight's opposition.

Lack of scoring depth has been this team's downfall in the past, and shutting down the Sedin line was once a guaranteed route to victory. With Alex Burrows playing so well on a line with the twins and Mikael Samuelsson having a career season, the Canucks are already blessed with two thirty-goal scorers, with Henrik Sedin not too far off. They're not exactly defensive liabilities either. The Sedins are both +34 on the season while Burrows checks in at +31 and Samuelsson at +14. This is an especially bitter pill to swallow for Flames fans, since only Jarome Iginla has reached and exceeded the thirty-goal plateau and it's unlikely that any other Flames player will reach that total. On top of that, Samuelsson and Burrow's combined cap hit is $6.5 million. Ouch.

Speedster Mason Raymond has twenty-two goals on the season while shutdown king and agitator extraordinaire Ryan Kesler has nineteen goals and sixty-three points, all while facing some of the league's best game after game. Two very good forward lines can be awfully hard to shut down, but four is even harder. After Pavol Demitra and Steve Bernier, who have seen limited game action this season due to injury, things start to get a little murky. Aside from Wellwood and Hansen, the Canucks' bottom six is likely their biggest weakness and could potentially be exposed by an opposing team in the playoffs, despite Vigneault's strategic line matching.

When it comes to defence, Vancouver's blueline flies under the radar somewhat. The only two big names are Sami Salo and Christian Ehrhoff, and that may even be pushing it. Ehrhoff has 13-24-37 and is a +28; Salo: 8-16-24 and a +19. Both of which are better than Jay Bouwmeester's numbers. All three play against top quality competition for the most part, so the only real concession is the rotating nature of JBo's defence partners throughout the season and maybe the switch the Western conference, different opposition and style of play, and higher expectations.

Here's how a look at some of the Canucks' basic stats shakes down:
  • 2nd in the league in scoring
  • 2nd in team +/-
  • 8th in goals against
  • 5th ranked powerplay
  • 19th ranked penalty kill (fourth most penalized team in the league)
  • Avg. 30.6 shots for per game
  • 51.3 faceoff winning %
Do these factors make Vancouver a Cup favourite? Probably not, but they do make them an able contender and a team I certainly wouldn't want the Flames to face, should they make the playoffs. This year's team remains relatively unchanged from the one that lost to the Blackhawks in six games last spring. It remains to be seen whether the changes that were made will be enough to vault the Canucks past a team like Chicago once again. It is widely believed that Roberto Luongo's performance at the Olympics, in particular the gold medal game, has quieted the critics who say he is incapable of winning the "big game," which also remains to be seen. Dependable goaltending, timely scoring, and a good powerplay, all mixed in with a pinch of luck, can work wonders in the playoffs. Worse teams have won the Stanley Cup.

I just hope for the sake of my ears and those of my fellow Flames fans that they bail out in the second round.

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