Gameday Preview: Attack of the Clones

VANCOUVER, CANADA - NOVEMBER 24: Daniel Sedin  celebrates with brother Henrik Sedin  and Christian Ehrhoff  of the Vancouver Canucks after scoring against the Colorado Avalanche during the second period in NHL action on November 24, 2010 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)


It’s been a long time coming, but tonight is the Flames first look at the 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks. The divisions putative champions are mostly the same team that ran away with things last year. Although the start of the season hasn’t been quite smooth sailing, they doubtlessly remain at the head of the class.

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The Canucks currently reside behind the Avalanche in the NW with 27 points, mostly because COL has played a couple more games. Even though Vancouver is on a 100 point pace, the fanbase hasn’t been totally satisfied with the club’s opening quarter. Some of the anxiety springs from the rather average play of Roberto Luongo thus far – ‘LOOOUUU’ currently boasts a .913 SV% (.917 ES SV%), which isn’t terrible but still falls below his pay grade. Rookie Cory Schneider has been celebrated as a capable stop-gap during Luongo’s "struggles", but the truth is the kid has been below average at ES so far (.911) but sports an impossibly perfect 1.00 in both special teams areas to boost his overall average to .936. He’s a quality prospect, but that number isn’t for real.

VANCOUVER, CANADA - NOVEMBER 21: Goalie Roberto Luongo  of the Vancouver Canucks gets his stick down on the ice after making a save against the Phoenix Coyotes during the first period in NHL action on November 21, 2010 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)


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Of course, should Schneider develop into anything but a steady back-up, the Canucks face an interesting conundrum: Luongo is signed to a big dollar contract that extends into the shiny of world of tomorrow, forever. If Schneider were to ever usurp Luongo, the Cancuks would be stuck with a difficult to move, boat anchor of a deal. What’s more likely, however, is the Canucks are simply spending time and money developing a capable starter for some other team in the near future. Either they’ll have to deal Schneider for some sort of nominal return or he’ll bolt as a free agent since his opportunities for advancement in the org are obviously capped.

Up front, AV is running his bench in the exact same fashion he worked things last year: privileging the glimmer twins with the best possible circumstances, feeding Ryan Kesler the tougher comp and then simply burying everyone else. The Sedins each have an offensive zone start ratio of 70%+ (!!!), which means of course they are well out in front in terms of possession (+17/+18 corsi per 60). Kesler and Mason are in the 50% range while everyone from Malholtra on down is in the 30-40% range. As a result, the Canucks have one of the widest ranges in terms of possession rates in the NHL, with their top end killing things and their pluggers getting crushed. Malholtra and Torres were brought in to stabilize the Canucks third line, but all that’s done motivate the coach to roast them on the spit with the 4th line.

It’s an interesting strategy to pursue and one I’ve personally considered for the Flames, especially because Calgary’s depth beyond the top six is marginally superior to the Cancuks (who feature the likes of Tanner Glass, Mario Bliznak, Jannik Hansen, Rick Rypien and Joel Perrault at the bottom end of the rotation). Assuming Raitis Ivanans never makes it back into the line-up, the Flames coule probably cobble together a decent enough latter six group that could hold things together well enough to give guys like Iginla, Tanguay, Stajan and whoever else the Sedin-like high ground. Unfortunately, Sutter strikes me as far too conservative and concerned with the defensive end to ever make sucha severe adjustment, but…

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 13: Keith Ballard  of the Vancouver Canucks controls the puck against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on October 13, 2010 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)


Finally, as Robert noted in his recent news and notes article, Vancouver is having issues with it’s "everyone about the same pay and ability" blueline strategy. The Canucks began the year with Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard, Kevin Bieksa, Christian Ehrhoff, Sami Salo and Alex Edler all making north of $3M. That’s a lot of scratch and not enough minutes to go around to justify it. The inevitable Salo injury made things a bit easier in the short-term, but the truth is someone was bound to get squeezed out eventually – when a club has near interchangable depth at a given position, the method for dealing with struggles naturally go from "he’s working his way through it" to "he needs a few nights wathcing things from the press box". Like Cory Sarich and Steve Staios here in town, Keith Ballard has found himself on the outside looking in more often than not, which is a less than ideal situation for an org that gave up a bunch of assets in his acquisition and is commited to paying him $4.2M per year until 2013. We could probably wallow in the schadenfreude a little easier if the Flames themsevles didn’t boast some $5.7M in bad money on the back-end as well. Alas.

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  • BobB

    Good write-up. I hate the Canucks and hate even more being the only one a the table cheering for the Flames, but that’s how it’ll be tonight. (I live where it’s not minus a hundred degrees)

    So, the good rendition of the Flames better show up tonight. Whether we win or win, if Lazy Iggy, InvisiBourque, J Nomuster, and Kiprusoft play, I’m staying home.

    Ahh, in all seriousness. I’m interested to see JBo and Reggie go head to head against the Sedins. We’ve got home ice, so Sutter should be able to get the matches he wants. God, I just so much fear Babchuck and Jokinen being caught out against the Kesler line. Gio better prove he’s worth that 4 million tonight.

    As for “Take THAT Lou.” It’s an interesting conundrum the ‘nucks find themselves in as the better the team gets? the worse Luo’s stats are.

    It’s perplexing. But I can tell you this. I’d never bet against Luongo. Even at his absolute worst, he’s better than 80% of the goalies in the league. Sure, it’s easy to be entranced by the lure of the odd 7 GA game, but seriously, for every one of those ill-timed shellackings he puts together 20 super human efforts. And he rarely sucks against the Flames.

    Jokinen and Hagman have a loooooong history with Luo. Maybe they can share some secrets. Psst. Low blocker side guys and then get him on the belly-flop.

  • dustin642

    I will also be the only one in the area cheering for the flames tonight because everyone in my area are infected with canuck zombie
    syndrome…stupid vancouver island…. I am hoping for a good game out of the good guys, for more reasons than to rub it in my co-workers
    faces, but because the flames have been playing a solid team game of late and really need to get on a run here soon, also closing the gap between vancouver and calgary to just 3 points would do wonders in relieving some of the stress in flame land. Think kotalik or pardy make a return tonight?

  • i’ve been seeing alot of raitis ivanans in the same sentences as ales kotalik lately, meaning he’s on the brink of return. while i hope brent has the sense to leave him in the pressbox (healthy or not), i have to presume that at some point he’ll give the overaged latvian a shot at 3-4 minutes of icetime/night.

  • everton fc

    Here’s hoping our collective hatred of the Canucks telekinetically inplants itself as inspiration for our Flames.

    Fan participation is crucial, and must remain loud the whole game, particularly in the first few minutes. Monday’s opening few minutes had about as much noise as a Sherwood Park Crusaders home game. Our fans need to make some positive noise this evening.

    I see a chippy, physical affair. Jackman could perhaps drop them with someone. That’d be nice to see.

  • everton fc

    I don’t think there is room for Ivanans. How do you break up a fourth line of Kostopolous/Morisson/Jackman, one of the better 4th lines in the Conference?

    The Latvian may end up in Abby. A buyout would, of course, be the better solution.

    • PrairieStew

      Farmout Ivanins not buyout. Buyout counts against the cap – just bury him in the ECHL with the Gwinnett Gladiators or the Elmira Jackals.

      Speaking of that what ever happened to the Macon Whoopees ?

  • A18

    These divisional games are most likely going to be the major factor that will decide the Flames playoff hopes. Let’s see which team shows up and if they can bring it for the entire game.

    Hopefully they beat Vancouver. I don’t have anything against the team but a good chunk of their fan base is a different story.

  • SarahM

    @Lawrence, I’m also in Vancouver, and also going out with Canucks fans to watch the game tonight. You have my sympathies in advance for what I fear will be a painful night for both of us.