NHL PLAYOFFS 2013: Vancouver Canucks – last kick at the can?

Henrik Sedin and Roberto Luongo circle the rink during warm-ups.  Image courtesy of the Vancouver Observer.

Henrik Sedin and Roberto Luongo circle the rink during warm-ups. Image courtesy of the Vancouver Observer.

As we get closer to the playoffs, IceNationUK will be taking a look at each team’s roster as they clinch a spot in the postseason.

Next, the Vancouver Canucks.

SEASON LOWDOWN

Luongo and Scheider stay professional despite goalie controversy.  Image courtesy of the Vancouver Sun.

Luongo and Scheider stay professional despite goalie controversy. Image courtesy of the Vancouver Sun.

The start of this season was all about the team’s goalie controversy.  Former-Vezina winner Roberto Luongo had long been rumored to be on the way out, and in fact the team had openly stated they were trying to trade him in the summer of 2012.  The team had just signed Corey Schneider to starting goalie money, so now had a tonne of cash wrapped up in two elite goalies.  Schneider was recognised as the starting goalie out of the gates, but struggled out of the gates whilst Luongo started strong.  Over the course of the season Schneider has gradually regained his grip on the starter’s position, whilst Luongo has remained an effective backup.

The team was slow to start the season, going 3-2-2 in January, but picked it up in February going 7-3-2, including a 6 game winning streak that began on January 30th.  March also saw a six game winning streak, but not before a stretch that only saw three wins in 9 games to start the month, eventually ending the month at 9-5-2.  April has also been good to the team, as they are currently 7-3-1 with 2 games remaining in the season and have locked up the North-West Division Title for the fifth straight year, guaranteeing them home-ice advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs.

Other news for the team during the season included veteran defensive forward Manny Malhotra being shut-down for the season as a result of his eye-injury suffered in 2011 – despite playing all of last season, and 13 games this season, the team was not happy with how the injury continues to affect him.  This is unfortunate as Malhotra is a high-quality two-way player, extremely valuable particularly in the playoffs.  Former Selke Trophy winner Ryan Kesler has also been in and out of the lineup with injury, much like last season, putting a serious dent in both the team’s offensive capability and it’s defensive performance up front.  Injuries have also struck the back end, with top d-man Kevin Bieksa and young standout Chris Tanev both missing time – Tanev in particular may be out for the season, which means the team’s depth has taken a hit.

Henrik Sedin salutes the crowd after becoming the Canucks' all-time leading scorer.  Image courtesy of theprovince.com.

Henrik Sedin salutes the crowd after becoming the Canucks’ all-time leading scorer. Image courtesy of theprovince.com.

One of the highlights for the year was Henrik Sedin taking over from Markus Naslund as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer with 757 points.

2012/13 Season Team Stats (to date):

46 Games – 26 Wins – 13 Losses – 7 OT Losses – 59 Points

Goals For = 124

Goals Against = 111

Goal Differential = +13

Home Record = 15-5-3

Away Record = 11-8-4

CURRENT LINEUP

Forwards:

DANIEL SEDIN – HENRIK SEDIN – ALEX BURROWS

CHRIS HIGGINS – DEREK ROY – RYAN KESLER

MASON RAYMOND – MAXIM LAPIERRE – JANNIK HANSEN

TOM SESTITO – ANDREW EBBETT – ZACK KASSIAN

Defence:

DAN HAMHUIS – JASON GARRISON

ALEX EDLER – FRANK CORRADO

ANDREW ALBERTS – CAM BARKER

Goal:

COREY SCHNEIDER

ROBERTO LUONGO

EXTRA: STEVE PINIZZOTTO, DALE WEISE

INJURED: DAVID BOOTH, MANNY MALHOTRA, KEVIN BIEKSA, CHRIS TANEV, KEITH BALLARD

TOP SCORERS

CANUCKS TOP SCORERS 2013

EVALUATION

The Sedin twins celebrate yet another goal.  Image courtesy of the Vancouver Sun.

The Sedin twins celebrate yet another goal. Image courtesy of the Vancouver Sun.

Up front, obviously the Sedin twins take center stage each and every time.  Whilst arguments can and have been made that they are placed in prime situations, i.e. extreme offensive zonestarts, you can’t argue that they don’t make the most of their opportunities.  At age 32 they are not quite as dominant as they have been since 2005, but they’re still dominant offensive forces and it could simply be that the shortened season is having an effect on their scoring – not that they’re not scoring, but like I said it’s not quite at their previously established level.  They dominate tough competition in shot differential, and as per usual you can’t really ask for much more out of them.  Their usual linemate Alex Burrows is on pace for his usual 20+ goals and 40-50 points in a full season, so is pretty much performing to realistic expectations, though I know many think he’s a 30 goal scorer year in and year out which just isn’t the case.  He’s still a good player though, despite his antics on the ice, and a nice compliment to the pure offensive talent of the Sedins.

Chris Higgins has struggled with injury ever since he left Montreal in 2009, but is always a goal-scoring threat – he’s once again on pace for 20 goals over a full year but once again has missed several games to injury.  When healthy he’s a nice secondary scoring threat, though it would be nice to see him provide better two-way play in terms of shot differential; that said he does face the toughest competition of any forward not on the top line.  Derek Roy has seen his offensive production drop off slightly since being traded to the team from Dallas at the deadline, with 5 points in 10 games, but he’s performing incredibly well defensively whilst taking on tough competition with less than favourable zonestarts.  Definitely a handy player to have around with the playoffs coming up, and if he can start scoring more that’s an added bonus.  Kesler is still returning to form after his long injury layoff, but has performed well offensively and isn’t bad defensively despite his -3 +/- rating – he’s playing against tough competition and whilst he isn’t coming out positive on shot differential, he’s only very slightly in the red.

Maxim Lapierre, probably up to no good.  Image courtesy of 123people.ca.

Maxim Lapierre, probably up to no good. Image courtesy of 123people.ca.

Raymond continues to be a divisive player on the team, not providing the scoring that many thought he would but not exactly being bad on that front either.  The speed-demon isn’t great defensively, but is good enough at everything to be considered an average all-rounder and a decent enough 3rd liner.   Lapierre has been forced to play above his station with the injury to Malhotra, elevated to the 3rd line center role and pretty much drowning at 5v5 play.  That said, it’s somewhat explainable given he starts more than 75% of the time in the defensive zone, much the same as Malhotra, against middling competition, so it’s not surprising he gets outshot especially when he’s clearly not as good as Malhotra at that role.  He provides a little bit of offence, physical agitating play and defensive play, so he’s valuable, just overmatched at the role he’s currently playing.  Jannik Hansen is a quality 3rd line player, providing decent secondary scoring, PK ability and general all-round play, though he does have issues with getting outshot 5v5.

The team’s 4th line consists of Andrew Ebbett, a marginal NHLer who can’t really do much of anything at that level, which might sound harsh but it’s basically true, and he’s been forced into a regular role due to injuries to Kesler and Malhotra; Zack Kassian who’s had his ups and downs since being traded there from Buffalo, but is generally not doing much of anything recently and can’t be trusted to play big minutes yet – there’s still potential but he ain’t there yet; and Tom Sestito, a goon who’s job is basically facepuncher extraordinaire – doesn’t score, doesn’t defend, just hits and fights.  The team needs to get healthy to force these players back down the depth chart.

Jason Garrison skates the puck out of danger.  Image courtesy of sportsoverdose.com.

Jason Garrison skates the puck out of danger. Image courtesy of sportsoverdose.com.

On defence, Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison take on the heavy lifting and as expected perform well.  Hamhuis is a great defenceman, one of the most underrated in the NHL, and this year is adding to his defensive ability – taking on the toughest competition on the team and dominating it – by scoring at a rate he never has before in the NHL.  Great player.  Garrison was brought in for his offence, but it’s his defence that’s doing all the talking this year.  Like Hamhuis, he takes on tough competition and comes out well ahead, much like he has throughout his NHL career, and whilst the offence is a little shy anything he does provide on that end is just a bonus.

Alex Edler is also a top notch player in the same mould as Garrison and Hamhuis, taking on tough competition and coming out ahead, though he does get the benefit of 56%+ offensive zonestarts to aid his scoring, which he’s doing a decent amount of this year.  Kevin Bieksa would usually round out the top 4, but he’s struggled with injuries and form this year, not scoring much or playing particularly well at 5v5.  Still, getting him back will immeasurably improve the lineup.  Frank Corrado has been asked to step in to that role, surprisingly, at least for one game.  The 20 year old rookie played 17:20 in his debut NHL game the other night and reportedly fit right in, making a bang with a crushing hit on just his second shift, and spending much of his time matched up against Patrick Kane and performing well.  This is just one game though and patience will be required to see how Corrado turns out; it’s not unusual for one-game call-ups to play well and then drop-off the map before long.

Rounding out the defence corps is Cam Barker, an awful defenceman who keeps getting chance after chance after chance in this league despite his inability to skate, defend, or score with regularity.  He’s played 13 games for the team this season so far, and has but 2 points to show for it.  His results on the Player Usage Charts aren’t available, but I would bet money they aren’t good.  Andrew Alberts is a keep-it-simple defenceman, a guy who provides OK defensive play in a limited role, and is generally a good 7th defenceman.  For all his deficiencies, Keith Ballard is a better player than either of these two and hopefully he’s back in the lineup soon.  Getting Tanev back is also key to the success of the defence unit.

Corey Schneider makes a glove save.  Image courtesy of the Montreal Gazette.

Corey Schneider makes a glove save. Image courtesy of the Montreal Gazette.

In goal, as mentioned Corey Schneider has taken the reins on the starter’s role despite a tough start to the season, and currently has an impressive 2.11 GAA and .927 SV% in 30 starts, with 17 wins and 5 shutouts.  Luongo meanwhile started out strong and then dropped off a small bit, but is still pretty decent with a .913 SV% and 2.34 GAA with 2 shutouts in 18 games this year.  Schneider clearly has the trust of the coach as we enter the playoffs, and hopefully he can keep up his strong play.  Luongo will be waiting eagerly should he fail.

STAR PLAYOFF PERFORMER

Corey Schneider leaps across the crease to make a save.  Image courtesy of the Globe & Mail.

Corey Schneider leaps across the crease to make a save. Image courtesy of the Globe & Mail.

I can see Corey Schneider being the team’s best player in the postseason this year.  He performed brilliantly in limited action last year in relief of Luongo, and will be looking to further cement his grip on the starter’s job.  When healthy the Canucks are an extremely balanced team, with no one skater often standing out – it almost always comes down to how well their goalie performs, and I think Schneider won’t let the team down.

PREDICTION

Image courtesy of timescolonist.com.

Image courtesy of timescolonist.com.

In my opinion, this is probably the Canucks’ last real chance at a Cup with this current incarnation of the team.  I know people have been saying that for years, but I really think this is it.  Many of their best forwards are slowing down or struggling with form or injuries, and they don’t appear to have any elite forward prospects ready to take over.  This is a team that’s hungry for victory, and I can see them making it to the Conference Finals, but struggle to see them ultimately making the Cup Finals.

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