Greetings, Pred Nation!
As promised, today we will be breaking down the matchup between our next potential playoff opponent and our Predators. Yesterday we looked at the Phoenix Coyotes in the 4/5 battle, today we'll look at how we stack up to the Vancouver Canucks, if we fall into sixth place.
The Canucks powered through the Blues in the first round of the 08/09 playoffs, breaking out the brooms for a four-game sweep. They then met a disappointing end, getting sent home in six games by the Chicago Blackhawks. Heading back to the drawing board, the Canucks brought in former Red Wing grinder Mikael Samuelsson, who has rewarded Vancouver with a career year of 30 goals, to date. Perhaps the biggest move they made this offseason was the last minute retention of the Sedin twins. Plagued by high expectations and intense media scrutiny early in their careers, the Sedins had struggled with consistency for much of their early careers. However, in the past few seasons, the twins had started to show glimmers of their dangerous potential, and it appeared unlikely that the Canucks would be able to retain their services. Fortunately for Vancouver, a deal was done after midnight on July 1, and Henrik and Daniel were staying in town on new, long-term deals(much to the chagrin of Brian Burke and the Maple Leafs!). Henrik has rewarded Canucks fans with a season that sees him as the Art Ross leader to this point, with 29g, 77a for 106 points. Mattias Ohlund did leave for Tampa Bay, but has been more than replaced by former Sharks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. The personnel moves(and non-moves) have helped the Canucks to a spot atop the Northwest Division, which they have officially clinched.
WHY WE WANT TO PLAY THE CANUCKS
While Roberto Luongo is recognized as one of the top netminders in the world, he has struggled with inconsistent play this season, particularly post-Olympics. Some speculate that this could be due to the workload he's faced, as he was already a workhorse for the Canucks, but added in an Olympic tournament as well. Whatever the case may be, he's fighting the puck at the moment, and this could be a weak point for Vancouver. A butterfly goaltender, he's prone to rebounds, which would be something for the Preds to key in on. Luongo's numbers for the season are actually subordinate to backup Andrew Raycroft's, though over a smaller sample. In addition, in 9 NHL seasons, Luongo has only won 2 playoff series.
WHY WE DON'T WANT TO PLAY THE CANUCKS
The Canucks play the same sort of puck-possession style that the Sharks used so effectively against us in previous playoff series. The Sedin\Sedin\Burrows line features three guys that have not only earned "Pred-Killer" labels over the past few seasons, but can also keep the puck off opposing sticks with dynamic ease. Even if you manage to contain that line, you have to contend with strong secondary scoring from guys like Samuelsson, Kesler, and Demitra. In addition, the Canucks have some of the best special teams in the league. In terms of sheer 1 to 1 matchup, the Canucks are behind only the Sharks as the team I would least like to see us play. The travel between Nashville and Vancouver is another factor to consider.
Keys to defeating the Canucks:
* Keep it 5 on 5.
Special teams have not been the Preds' forte this year, and the Canucks have a notable advantage on both the PK and PP. If Nashville is to win a series versus Vancouver, it's imperative to limit the time spent shorthanded.
*Contain the Sedin line.
This is our "duh" statement of the day. Of course, if it were that simple, Henrik wouldn't be leading the league in points, and Alex Burrows (my mother-in-law's most despised player, by the way) wouldn't be approaching 40 goals. Nonetheless, I would expect Legwand to be reunited with Ward and Smithers to play the shutdown role.
*Get in Luongo's head
The easiest way to do that is to pepper him early, provide the "Hornqvist Special" of heavy screenings, and score early. He has a reputation for losing his cool if things don't go his way, so exploit that!
Assorted other news...
@BlakeGeoffrion and the Wisconsin Badgers take on the Cinderella RIT Tigers on Thursday afternoon. ESPN breaks down this game for us.
@NHLPredsInsider reports that Captain Arnie is skating with the team, and looks to be on track to get back into the lineup tomorrow against the Coyotes. It's noteworthy that Arnott's streak of 10 seasons above the 20 goal mark is on the line. He currently has 18, so let's hope he can pot one in each of the next two contests...or...even better, maybe he nails it down with a hat trick at the Fangtastic Finale? :)
Grebeshkov is ramping up his workouts, but Coach Trotz doesn't expect to see him in the lineup before the playoffs. In the meantime, young Cody Franson has been filling in admirably. You can definitely see that he's on track for a full-time role next season. This is big, since thus far Alex Sulzer hasn't lived up to expectations.
Thanks to Buddy Oakes of Preds on the Glass for the shoutout in his latest blog\podcast. Be sure to check that out, he and his son Jackson are always a good read\listen. We hope to hook up to chat Preds hockey for a future podcast, so watch out for that.
One last note...check out our poll! Going back to the Coyotes and the will they\won't they relocation saga, something that strikes close to home, I wondered if you guys would continue to support the Preds if they were to move to another city, or would you find a new team to cheer for? I personally would still have to support our guys, but I don't think I could follow the Hamilton Predators with the same zeal. It would be too painful to see Shea Weber playing for another city, I think...even if the fangs are still on the front of his jersey. What do you guys think?
Check back tomorrow as we preview the San Jose Sharks\Nashville Predators matchup in part 3 of our playoff preview, and also a gameday preview for the Preds at Coyotes!