Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gameday - Canucks at Wild

Big Game

A battle for the Northwest Division lead features what should be a tired Canuck team facing the Minnesota Wild. The Canucks flew out from New York after the game last night and ended up hitting their beds around 2:30 local time.

Sami Salo is out with a combination of the "flu" and a hamstring problem. Nolan Baumgartner has been called up and may replace Salo's right handed shot. Not sure which defensemen are going to play, Nycholat in my eyes wasn't good last night so Davison may draw back in. Expect the forwards to remain the same.

Curtis Sanford gets the call between the pipes. This is a huge game for Sanford which will have significant ramifications on how the Canucks manage Luongo the rest of the season. Like Sabourin two years ago, Sanford failed to gain the confidence of the players and coaching staff last season and it forced the Canucks to go with Luongo on nights they would have preferred to give him a rest.

Meanwhile, Minnesota is coming off three straight wins since their 2-0 loss at the hands of the Canucks. Minnesota's bread and butter is their special teams play (more on that below) as they are one of the lowest scoring teams 5 on 5. That's likely to continue as Marion Gaborik is still out of the lineup. Vancouver has the 2nd best 5 on 5 goals for/against ratio at 1.46, while Minnesota ranks 16th at 0.96.

Keys to the Game

Scoring First
This one should be no surprise to anyone. Minnesota is perfect when leading after one period and has won 85.7% of their games when leading after two periods. For the sake of entertainment value alone, who scores first will be very important.
Curtis Sanford
Curtis Sanford needs to shut the door early and gain some confidence, both for himself and the team. Sanford was beat early and often in his lone start this season against Buffalo. He needs to give his team a chance to take the lead. Most importantly he has to show the Canucks that they can go to him in big games.
Discipline & Special Teams
Minnesota is the least penalized team in the league, taking 46 fewer minor penalties than the Canucks. Minnesota also has the best special teams in the league. They rank third on the power play at 23.2% and their penalty kill is the best in the league at 93.8% (only 4 goals against, and only 1 on home ice). On the other hand the Canucks special teams have struggled, the power play is at an anemic 16.7% and the penalty kill is at 79.8%. One of the ways the Canucks can win the special teams battle is to use their statistical advantage in the faceoff circle, 51.4% vs 48.1%.

You would expect the Canucks to be out of gas tonight, but hey you never know... sometimes teams surprise you when you think they should have nothing in the tank.

Game time 5:00pm pst.

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