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The Canucks will need to get big minutes out of big Shawn Matthias against the Kings Thursday.

The Canucks will need to get big minutes out of big Shawn Matthias against the Kings Thursday.

Times have changed and the franchises have gone in different directions since the Kings ousted the Daniel-less Canucks in 5 games en route to their first Stanley Cup.  The Kings are coming off their second Stanley Cup and have, in some ways, a better roster that helped them take the cup in previous seasons and in other ways one which has grown a little stale.  The Canucks, meanwhile, have rebuilt on the fly, and coach Willie Desjardins has them playing an up-tempo forechecking style of play which keeps opponents defense on alert and their forwards pinned in the neutral zone.

Tale of the Tape

Season Overview
LA VAN
Season Record (NHL Rk) 32-21-13 (17) 38-24-4 (13)
Division Rank 4 2
Conference Rank 9 6
Home Record 21-7-7 18-12-1
Away Record 11-14-6 20-12-3
Division Record 10-4-6 12-8-3
Conference Record 19-9-9 19-15-3
Goals For 180 189
Goals Against 170 179
Streak Won 1 Won 2
WHO’S HOT?
Justin Williams LA
3 pts in last 2 GP
Marian Gaborik LA
4 pts in last 4 GP
Kyle Clifford LA
2 pts in last 2 GP
Brayden McNabb LA
3 pts in last 3 GP
Jake Muzzin LA
3 pts in last 3 GP
WHO’S NOT?
Tyler Toffoli LA
0 pts in last 3 GP
WHO’S HOT?
Radim Vrbata VAN
6 pts in last 5 GP
Daniel Sedin VAN
11 pts in last 10 GP
Dan Hamhuis VAN
5 pts in last 6 GP
Jannik Hansen VAN
11 pts in last 13 GP
Eddie Lack VAN
2-0-0, 1.50, .957 in last 2 GPI
WHO’S NOT?
Alexandre Burrows VAN
0 pts in last 3 GP
Canucks fans are hoping the return of Tanev solidifies their playoff bid.

Canucks fans are hoping the return of Tanev solidifies their playoff bid.

Other Intangibles:

LA:  The Kings talismen are not getting it done as a whole.  Other than Jeff Carter and, lately, Gaborik, who missed some games with an injury, the Kings have had some trouble finding regular contributors on offense.  Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, and the all- but-finished Mike Richards have had trouble finding the back of the net this season. Going into the game vs. the Canucks, who do a pretty good job of shutting down other teams top lines, these players will need to produce.

The win against Colorado was a big one, but the Avs started rookie netminder Calvin Pickard who was pulled in favour of Reto Berra.  While Canucks’ Eddie Lack isn’t exactly Patrick Roy, he is a legitimate NHL caliber goalie, so the Kings will have to be accurate.  Although the Kings have been a little up and down this season, they have a tendency of playing well against the Canucks and are not bothered by having their backs up against any wall, ever.  L.A. is also a very good road team, at least when it matters, have a day’s rest and just finished playing in higher elevation.

doughty kopitar vrbata

Kings’ all-stars haven’t been, while Canucks’ Vrbata has been tremendous.

Vancouver:  Rogers Arena hasn’t been indomitable for the Canucks and they haven’t beaten the Kings all season.  Their record against Pacific teams is only 19-15-3 and the Canucks have traditionally struggled against bigger more physical teams, which the Kings are.  Still, the Canucks have shown signs of becoming more “Kings-like” in recent months, adding younger legs and bigger bodies throughout the lineup.

Some of those legs and bodies are playing quite well for the team, as in the case of the Dorsett, Matthias and Horvat line.  They’re not setting the NHL on fire exactly, but Desjardins is getting timely production and using them in big minutes.  As well, the Canucks have assembled a formidable back line of stay-at-home defenders who take no prisoners and make sound hockey plays.  The wins against San Jose and Anaheim in the last week are much bigger character-builders than wins against the Avalanche and Oilers in a two week period which saw the Kings go 3W-4L.

The Canucks would love it if Alex Burrows could find the net again.

The Canucks would love it if Alex Burrows could find the net again.

Advantage Canucks:  Even though the Kings have a tendency of producing big wins when they need them the most, Thursday’s game feels like a Canucks win.  The key scorers for Vancouver have been consistent, while the supporting lines do what they’re supposed to do.  The Canucks are getting healthy at the right time, though they are still missing key D-man Kevin Bieksa.

More importantly the Canucks mental health has improved dramatically since the January 1st loss to Los Angeles while the Kings, say what they will, have been a little shaky.  As the Canucks younger players begin to arrive now, the Kings key pieces are slumping at the wrong time. The traditional size mismatch still favours the Kings but is not as dramatic as before.  This game will be close, but the Canucks should have enough to get their first win of the season vs. the defending champs and all their hubris.

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The Canucks were victims of misfortune last year in the playoffs. They'll play possum to survive in 2011-2012

KEY SUBTRACTIONS

The Canucks will miss Ehrhoff's shot on the powerplay.

Alex Bolduc, C
Christian Ehrhoff, D
Tanner Glass, C/LW
Rick Rypien, C/RW
Lee Sweatt, D
Sergei Shirokov, RW
Jeff Tambellini, LW
Raffi Torres, LW

KEY ADDITIONS

Matt Climie, G
Andrew Ebbett, C
Todd Fedoruk, LW
Marco Sturm, LW
Byron Bitz, RW
Mike Duco, RW
Mark Mancari, RW
Owen Nolan, RW
Alexander Sulzer, D

QUICK PICKS

Henrik could stand to learn how to roof the puck from time to time.

Henrik Sedin, C:  Take him for bolstering assist totals.  He’ll get around 70 assists alone.  If he has anything like his Hart trophy season, Hank could crack 100 points again.  Extremely consistent on a day-to-day basis, but fewer big nights than your Stamkos, or Ovechkins.

Daniel Sedin, LW:  Like his brother Henrik, Daniel shows gifted playmaking but scores more often than does Henrik.  Easily a 30 goal scorer this season, perhaps another 40 again like in ’11.

Alexandre Burrows, RW:  The weirdest complementary player to two bonafide superstars in the NHL.  On any other team, Alex is a legit third liner, maybe second, yet on the Canucks he gets you 60 points and makes the Sedins better.  He missed training camp last year and took a while to get going.  That won’t happen again in 2011/2012.

Roberto Luongo, G:  He is an extremely consistent goaltender and his positional play improved remarkably last season, his first working with Rogie Melanson as his goalie coach.  Expect Roberto to have less of the bad games and more of the good ones as he’s better known for.  Say what you will, Luongo gets it done.  Good for 40 wins this year.


SLEEPERS

Alex Edler, D:  With Ehrhoff out of the picture, expect Edler to pick up the slack and make plays in the departed German’s stead.  He has all the talent to get around 50 points or more next season, and will with a clean bill of health.

BUYER BEWARE

Kesler took a pounding last year in the playoffs. Expect him to sit out about 10 games to begin the year.

Ryan Kesler, C:  You take him because you love his tenacity and grit, and just want to be able to play him in your lineup.  You don’t because he has a nagging hip flexor which he tore against San Jose in the playoffs of 2011.  Probably a down year for Kes.

Mason Raymond, LW:  We’re really not sure in Vancouver what’s going on with the speedster Raymond.  Even if he were healthy he’s usually good for about 50 points.  With a broken back courtesy of a cheap shot by Johnny Boychuk it remains to be seen if he’ll ever lace them up again.

Mikael Samuelsson, RW:  This is another player who injured himself in last season’s Stanley Cup run.  God knows how short this team’s work would have been if everyone stayed healthy.  Avoid drafting.  He’s too old to come back from a sports hernia.

Marco Sturm, LW:  When Sturm still had cartilage in his knees, he was worth a pick because of his ability to finish.  Goodness knows what the Canucks expect out of the 31 year-old who has had successive surgeries and been slowed down to mortal levels.  I am very curious to see where he fits.

Cody Hodgson, C:  This goes out to the most die-hard Canucks newbies who see the second coming of Crosby in this kid.  He’s been given the keys to the Porsche, the Mansion and the bank accounts, and he still hasn’t proven anything in Vancouver.  I still shake my head at anyone who considers drafting him.  His days with this team are numbered.

PREDICTIONS

How Boychuk's snapping of Raymond's spine went unpunished goes well beyond anyone's comprehension.

Hattrick Payne says:  I wish to set the record straight.  After all the hoopla and nonsense surrounding the Canucks coughing up a 2 games to none lead, then later a 3-2 lead to an inferior, albeit healthier, team no one really had a chance to actually have a look at some of the non-calls and silliness that was going both ways, yes, both ways in that series.  The Boston faithful, so quick to point out that poor, innocent little Patrice Bergeron’s finger was chomped on by the malevolent Alex Burrows, and poor innocent Nathan “look at my pass” Horton didn’t deserve an old-time hockey play at the blue-line forget that the Bruins rolled on health, emotion and goaltending towards an improbable upset in the finals.  All things being equal, and I mean that, equal, as in equal punishment for Boychuk’s dirty hit on Raymond, equal health for all players involved, equal and poised officials and not the ones who let things get out of hand, then we’re talking about a parade in Vancouver instead of a pitiful display of fan support in Boston, another American market that only cares when their team actually wins something.  In Canada, you see, when we don’t win there are riots and passionate debate about the sport.  In the good ol’ U S of A, if your team misses the playoffs a couple seasons, there’s apathy and talk of folding the franchise.  The riots were dumb, but the issue is more complicated than many of the simpletons on the internet are making it out to be.

That aside…

Luongo proved that he has what it takes to make the finals. His team will need to respond with big goals.

Next season will be a humbling experience for the Canucks who had everything go their way, except for one or two games in the finals.  The bad luck out of the way in the regular season, with a few bad losses, and players performing sluggishly to start will culminate with a composed and mature run to the playoffs, and a deadly outlook come opening day of 2012’s Stanley Cup chase.  Vancouver will play possum this year while they lick their wounds and rest up.  They’re not dead yet.  They’ll make playoffs, and surprise more than a few teams while Boston struggles to maintain lofty expectations.  As long as Luongo holds up, the team will be fine.

 

Mark Twain says: The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. 

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