Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Gameday - Phoenix at Vancouver

Today is the day.

After 18 months, the puck will finally drop in a game that means something. All 30 NHL teams are in action tonight, a first for the NHL. The Vancouver Canucks are at home to face the Phoenix Coyotes.

There are of course two big stories coming into this game. One is Wayne Gretzky's coaching debut, the other is Todd Bertuzzi's return to the ice. But really we don't care about those stories, the Canucks are back and that's all that matters.

Vancouver (Pre-season: 3-2-2)

Vancouver started the pre-season slowly, but finished strong. Their power-play was outstanding and they adapted quickly to the new rules, taking far fewer penalties than their opponents.

Coming out of the pre-season there were two injury concerns, Mattias Ohlund and Todd Bertuzzi both dealing with back troubles. Both skated this morning and are expected to be in the lineup. The only other injury to report is to Tyler Bouck. Bouck injured his groin in practice yesterday and did not take part in today's morning skate.

It is expected that Crawford will dress Wade Brookbank as the 7th defenseman/12th forward. Brookbank had a strong game against Edmonton on Saturday. His defensive game was much improved from the last time I saw him play. Since Brookbank should be in, that means that Lee Goren will not play.

Judging by the practice lines and pairings, here's what the forward lines and defense pairings will look like:

Bertuzzi - Morrison - Naslund
Sedin - Sedin - Carter
Cooke - Kesler - Park
Ruutu - Linden - Brookbank

Ohlund - Baumgartner
Allen - Jovanovski
McCarthy - Salo

Dan Cloutier will get the start between the pipes.

Phoenix (Pre-season: 2-6-0)

The Phoenix Coyotes are probably a lot different than you remember. The biggest change is obviously behind the bench, but they've also made several changes to their roster...


Phoenix is actually looking pretty good up front. They are strong down the middle with Mike Comrie, Petr Nedved and Mike Ricci. They also have some skill on the wing with Shane Doan, Brett Hull, Mike Leclerc, Ladislav Nagy, Mike Johnson and Oleg Saprykin.

With depth down the middle and skill on the wings Phoenix should be able to put the puck in the net on a consistent basis.


Unfortunately for fans in the desert, they do not have the same depth on the blueline. The defense core will be led by Derek Morris, but after Morris it gets a little thin. Denis Gauthier will add some needed toughness, David Tanabe and Paul Mara add skill, however neither are defensive specialists. They also have two young offensive minded defenseman in Keith Ballard and Zbynek Michalek. Rounding out their defense are veterans Sean O'Donnell and Cale Hulse.

The Phoenix defense has quite a bit of skill, but they have serious questions on the defensive side of the game. Will the new rules help this defense? Perhaps, but this defense is young and tilted too far on the offensive side of the scale. Phoenix will have trouble keeping the puck out of the net.


The Coyotes added former star Curtis Joseph in the off-season. Joseph's best days are behind him, but there is certainly a chance that he can regain is form of old. Cujo has always been a goalie who played better as he received more action. He will likely be very busy this season, it should be interesting to see how he plays.

Joseph will be backed up by rookie David LeNeveu. Brian Boucher is currently on the injured reserve with a groin problem.

Overall the Phoenix Coyotes are a better team than the one we last saw. They have more scoring depth, both up front and on defense and they have a goaltender who could regain is all-star form. On special teams they should have a good power play with plenty of options for the point and good skill up front. The penalty kill could be an issue due to their defense core, but their PK forwards should be solid.

If everything goes right for Phoenix their is no reason why they can't compete for a playoff spot.

Current Injuries: G Brian Boucher, F Jason Chimera, and F Ladislav Nagy.

Keys to the Game

  1. The Phoenix Coyotes must stay out of the penalty box. Vancouver's power play was lethal in the pre-season, Phoenix simply cannot afford to give the Canucks opportunities on the power play.
  2. Vancouver must control their emotions. The atmosphere of this game will be almost like a playoff matchup. The city is jacked, and the building will be jumping. The Canucks must avoid losing their focus.
  3. Curtis Joseph. For Phoenix to win, Joseph will have to be outstanding in his debut.
  4. Special Teams. There will be plenty of penalties in this one and whoever wins the special teams battle will likely come out on top.

TV: TSN 7:30 PM

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