After losing against the Nashville Predators in regulation for the first time since January 15th against the Anaheim Ducks, the Canucks are definitely going to be pedaling to the metal, especially against a strong Red Wings team, who also lost their last game at a score of 2-1 against the Chicago Blackhawks in regulation. The puck drops at 4:30pm at Joe Louis Arena on Sportsnet Pacific and the Team 1040. The Red Wings and Canucks last met on February 2nd, where the Canucks lost 4-3 in the shootout. With both teams being so close to each other in the standings (84 points for the Red Wings and 82 points for the Canucks), the game is sure to be a nail-biting thriller, especially if it’s anything like the 4-2 win the Canucks had on December 21st. And considering both teams lost in regulation in their last outing, both will be equally motivated to get those two points for the regulation win.
Even with Roberto Luongo losing his last game in Nashville, only the most critical analyst would state that he could have saved any of the goals. Rather, he was one of the sole reasons the team did not get blown out in the third period, especially after some very nerve-wracking turnovers. Luongo’s numbers have been solid in the recent month with a 2.32 GAA and .921 save percentage, and his play in the last month has been indicative of the Luongo seen in the Western Conference Final last year against the San Jose Sharks. Jimmy Howard played against Chicago on Tuesday after sitting it out for nearly three weeks after breaking his right index finger in the February 2nd game against the Canucks. Howard has always been a large reason the Canucks are stymied on golden opportunities, and this game could be no different. Though still recovering after not playing for such a long time, Howard could most certainly be lights out, no matter what the Canucks offense throws his way. With a 2.03 GAA and .924 save percentage, it’s quite evident that getting a puck by him will be just as hard as getting it by the veteran defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom.
There’s only one way to describe the offensive matchup in this game, and that would be loads of firepower. Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Jiri Hudler and even Todd Bertuzzi have been racking up points together for a long time, and have been a very large part of Detroit’s recent success. And while the Sedin twins were not quite as visible in the Nashville game, their combined 18-point total in two games against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers shows that they’ve been able to rekindle their passion, and will hopefully play with that same desire in the game. The fourth line of Manny Malhotra, Maxim Lapierre and Dale Weise has also been playing some of their best hockey of the season, and this fourth line will need to be as effective possible to counter the possibility of the second and third lines being shut down by Detroit’s excellent defensive core.
Detroit and Vancouver have always been historically matched well (at least since 2009 or so) in terms of their defense. With the likes of veterans Sami Salo and Nicklas Lidstrom, the game is played thoughtfully well, and each puck movement is made with a clear purpose. Nonetheless, both teams’ defense plays quite aggressively, with deep pinches being made in the offensive zone, albeit at the possible expense of creating an odd-man rush. With Ian White and Nicklas Lidstrom having a +/- rating of +27 and +26 respectively, there’s no doubt that the Red Wings defense will make sure to capitalize on any turnovers by the Canucks, even if it is deep in the offensive zone. Recently, the Salo-Edler pairing has been playing very well, and have used the long passes through the neutral zone to feed the first line of Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Alexandre Burrows. However, this method will most certainly be quite a challenge against a Detroit team that plays every inch of the boards effectively.
Vancouver currently boasts the top powerplay unit in the league with a 22.1% conversion rate, while the Red Wings are 18th in the league in terms of penalty killing with a 81.6% kill rate. On the other hand, the Red Wings are 14th in the league in terms of the powerplay with a 17.7% conversion rate while Vancouver has a penalty kill rate of 86.2%, which is sixth in the league. While it may seem clear on numbers which team has the upper hand, Detroit’s special teams cannot be overlooked. They have the ability to be able to capitalize on the smallest of errors, and with Vancouver’s often-pinching defense (especially on the powerplay), a turnover could be costly. Considering Nashville did indeed score a shorthanded goal against the Canucks on Tuesday, one would hope that they can hopefully tighten up the powerplay unit in order for it to be successful. Vancouver’s penalty kill has also not been too great in the last few games, which also slightly skewers the number that is presented.
Keys to winning the game (Canucks)
- Try to get control of the game as quickly as possible, and to keep it in control. Not only is Joe Louis arena full of rambunctious fans, it is also a place where the Red Wings have not lost a game for 23 straight games. Conversely, the Canucks are one of the best road teams in the NHL, and thus an excellent matchup is formed.
- No more drop passes! This one should seem simple enough, but the Canucks’ drop passes are almost always intercepted, and this is usually in one of the most dangerous areas – the neutral zone. This could be especially costly if it occurs in the neutral zone, as you then have one of the league’s best scorers on the breakaway – Pavel Datsyuk – on the loose.
- Convert on the powerplay as quickly as possible, if the opportunity is afforded. The Canucks continue to be one of the stronger teams on the powerplay, and if this is met with success against a hot Red Wings team, it could be a long night for the Red Wings penalty killers.
- Crash the net as hard as possible to screen Jimmy Howard while avoiding a goaltender interference call. Jimmy Howard is one of the premier goalies in the NHL, and almost never gives up a rebound, which significantly diminishes the effectiveness of point shots. This means that one of Vancouver’s best skills – cycling the puck in the offensive zone – will be an important asset. Additionally, if Howard can see the puck in even the smallest opening, he will almost always make the save. Thus, the forwards must make life as miserable as possible for him in terms of being able to see the puck.
Indeed, this is going to be one of the better games of the season, and it’s a matchup that cannot be missed. PVR it if you have to and watch it later, but the skill that will be exhibited throughout the game is not something you want to miss. Here are the starting lineups for the game, which may be subject to change.
Starting Lineup (Vancouver)
1st line: Daniel Sedin (LW) / Henrik Sedin (C) / Alexandre Burrows (RW)
2nd line: David Booth (LW) / Ryan Kesler (C) / Mason Raymond (RW)
3rd line: Christopher Higgins (LW) / Cody Hodgson (C) / Jannik Hansen (RW)
4th line: Manny Malhotra (LW) / Maxim Lapierre (C) / Dale Weise (RW)
1st pair: Dan Hamhuis (L) / Kevin Bieksa (R)
2nd pair: Alexander Edler (L) / Sami Salo (R)
3rd pair: Aaron Rome (L) / Chris Tanev (R)
Starting: Roberto Luongo (1)
Backup: Cory Schneider (35)