FGD: Back Into the Lion’s Den

Behind Enemy Lines: Canucks Army

The Flames have a chance to go 3-for-3 on this brief road trip tonight on HNIC, but they’ll have to get by the always difficult Vancouver Canucks to do it.

Without David Booth and Ryan Kesler, Vancity isn’t quite as intimidating as they once were. In fact, for the first time since Vancouver started habitually leading the NW division, Calgary has better underlying numbers than their divisional rival. That doesn’t mean the Canucks are now the inferior team just yet gvien how few games we’ve played and the lack of Kesler in Vanouver’s line-up, but at least that suggests the distance between the two clubs is shrinking rather than growing.

Of course, the Flames are now battling significant injury problems of their own. Out of action this evening are Mike Cammalleri, Mikael Backlund and Miikka Kiprusoff – a top-6 PP forward, the team’s best possession center and the number one goaltender. Backlund, in particular, will likely be a particularly bad blow. His +23.87/60 corsi is tops on the team (and 10th best in the league amongst regular forwards). His three goals and 14 or so minutes per night don’t seem like big shoes to fill on first impression, but a good puck possession guy is like a built-n positive feedback loop for a team – it means more shots on the opponents net, less on your own net and makes life easier for the rest of the roster by promoting things like offensive zone faceoffs. Backlund’s line(s) have spent larger portions of almost every game so far this season dominating their counterparts, so it will be interesting to see how the ice shifts in general without him on the active the roster.

The Line-up

The Heat’s leading scorer Ben Street is the guy who got the call once Backund was put on IR and he will probably patrol the second unit with Hudler and Cervenka to satrt. Street is a guy who consistently stuck out as above average when I watched Abbotsford play this year, so even though I thought Horak held his own during his season opening cup of coffee, Street is a pretty good choice to make the trip as well

  • Glencross – Tanguay – Iginla
  • Cervenka – Street – Hudler
  • Comeau – Stajan – Stempniak
  • Begin – Jones – Jackman
  • Bouwmeester – Giordano
  • Brodie – Wideman
  • Butler – Smith
  • Irving

The third line goes from a great streanth to mild weakness in the absence of Backs and Cammalleri. Lee Stempniak has had a really good start to the season, but I’m not sure he can float that trio alone. Stajan is Stajan – the very definition of luke warm. He alternates good shifts where he moves the puck around well, with bad ones where he gets plastered or gives it up in the neutral zone too easily. Blake Comeau, who I went to the mat for a bit in the off-season, has been awful to start the year and has acted as a boat anchor on any line he has skated on so far. I don’t think he has high a ceiling, but he should be better than he has been.

Irving gets his second chance tonight after an okay outing in Columbus. None of the goals against could really be blamed on him that night, nor did he make any noteworthy saves. The competition is going to much stiffer tonight so we’ll get to see if he’s made of sterner stuff.

Cory Sarich is the odd-man out on the back-end again. $2M/year well spent.

The Opposition

As mentioned, two thirds of the Canucks typical second line is on the mend, causing them to scramble a little bit. I have a lot of time for both Mason Raymond and Janik Hansen, but they probably shouldn’t be in a club’s top six – particularly centered by a rookie.

  • Burrows – Sedin – Sedin
  • Raymond – Schroeder – Hansen
  • Higgins – Lapierre – Kassian
  • Volpatti – Malhotra – Weise
  • Hamhuis – Beiksa
  • Garrison – Edler
  • Tanev – Ballard
  • Schneider

Zack Kassian had a big night with the Sedin brothers the last time these two clubs met, but he has since been moved down the rotation in favor of the much more time-tested Alex Burrows. The Canucks first line is far and away their biggest weapon and strength right now and you can bet AV will be looking to get them on in the most favorable circumstances possible.

Obviously the Canucks have the edge in net, despite Schnieder’s really rough start to the season. The former AHL goalie of the year has proven his talent levle at both the AHL and NHL levels so we can safely expect his numbers to improve at some point.

Sum It Up

Neither team is anywhere close to 100% right now, so it’s up to the bodies remaining to make a go of it. Both teams are lacking their best possession centermen and both have second lines staffed by rookie pivots. There’s an odd sort of symmetry to the Flames and Canucks predicament, although that is obviously broken by Vancouver boasting two established, high-level goaltenders to the Flames…well, none at the moment.

That said, Irving came in last year around December and stood on his head to record one of the Flames best "W’s" of 2011-12. Here’s hoping he can do it again.