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GAME DAY PREVIEW: Canucks vs Canadiens

Ok kiddies, Mr. Basky had to step out for his real job and left me to finish his preview. I won't even try to compete with his previews. The guy is a pro. I'll just add my little spin on it as we prep for a marquee matchup with Les Habitants. Career win 300 for Ryan Miller, 2 goals from Brad Richardson and one of the better 'on again' games from Zack Kassian led the Canucks to a 4-1 win over the hapless Hurritanks. And now, they go from worst to first as the league-leading Montreal Canadiens roll into town.

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Time Thursday, 7:00 PST
TV Sportsnet 360
Season Series 0-0
Last Meeting
5-2 Canadiens Feb 6/14
The Enemy Eyes On The Prize Scoring Leaders R. Vrbata 5-6-11
T. Plekanec 5-4-9
Canucks
CATEGORY
Canadiens
6-3-0 SEASON RECORD 8-2-0
12 Points 16
5th Conference Position 1st
Won 2
Streak Won 1
3.33 (6)
Goals For Per 60 (GF60)
2.40 (23)
3.33 (23)
Goals Against Per 60 (GA60)
2.60 (14)
22.2 (12) Power Play % 10.3 (24)
86.1 (8) Penalty Kill % 88.4 (5)
45.7 (28) Faceoff Win % 53.7 (5)
12.6 (19) PIM / GP 11.9 (17)
51.0 (11) Corsi For % 49.5 (21)
100.0 (17) PDO 100.1 (15)

From Kent:

Anyone know how that GF60 happened? Sure it's got the 'small sample size' disclaimer attached to it, but in a season where the Canucks are generally thought to be at best 'retooling', they've moved their offense from last year's franchise history worst to (so far at least) scoring goals at the second best rate in team history, a full goal a game more than last season, a testament to the work done by Willie Desjardins and his coaching staff as well as another sign of how disastrous the marriage of the Canucks and John Tortorella was.

The Habs are off to one of their best starts in years, and a lot of it is due to the play of Carey Price. He's picked up after a bit of a shaky start, and has been lights out over the last few games, including the outright theft he committed in Calgary Tuesday night, helping the Habs get to the shootout to beat the Flames. Add in the dominance Price has shown in the last few years against the Canucks, and this one has me thinking the win streak ends at 2.

While the Canucks have had a few forgettable games so far, it certainly is encouraging to see the results of the team without the defensive shackles slapped on them last season. The defense is certainly still a concern, but with Alex Edler quietly bringing some consistency to his game, and the emergence of Chris Tanev as a legitimate shut down beast on the back end, they've definitely showing signs of improvement over last year. The true tests of how this team stacks up against the genuine contenders haven't gone as well, though in each one there were signs or factors that indicate they may be closer to being competitive than some had thought. A win tonight will be a massive confidence boost for this team, which has it's second 3 games in 4 nights stint in the last two weeks. Remind me again why they had a 5 day hiatus at the start of the season? Ridiculous... [Nick's Note: or another CONSPIRACY]

From Nick:

Here we go. This game is a big one. Or is it? While the Canadiens have certainly gotten off to a great start in the win column, their GF/GA and middling performance in the shot attempt battle (Corsi) tells us they aren't exactly blowing the doors off teams. Might they just have gone on a nice run, had some favorable puck luck when needed, and taken advantage of their opportunities? Yes. No. Maybe so!

I think it is a bit of everything and the truth lies somewhere in the middle. This is a formidable opponent and a team in the upper echelon of a weak Eastern Conference. They have a fantastic starting goaltender. Their top 6 is performing well and their top 9 is fairly well balanced. The first line of Tomas Plekanec, Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher is dynamic. Their 4th line is an utter abomination, but former Canuck Manny Malhotra does serve a purpose (regardless of how minor in impact it is) as a faceoff specialist.

Habs ZS chart

Courtesy of: war-on-ice.com

See those little red dots down there? The third and fourth line of the Canadiens can be exposed. Despite the very defensive zone starts, which generally will hurt a player's 5v5 Corsi because of the increased likelihood of shots against, the Habs fourth line of Malhotra, Moen and one of either Weise or Prust flat stinks. Badly. They don't usually face tough competition and are generally limited to about 11 minutes or so of total TOI per game, only 7 of which is at even strength.

What's great is that it doesn't appear that head coach Michel Therrien has figured this out, instead choosing to ride Malhotra's elite faceoff percentage to utter doom and despair. Sure, the guy wins a lot of faceoffs. But everything after that is ripe for giving up lots and lots of goals.

And over-taxing the top 6 with more TOI against tougher competition. This is good for a team that is on a Western Conference road trip and coming off back to backs at Edmonton and Calgary where they did not perform particularly well. 3 games in 4 nights is tough on any team. The Canucks need to make it tougher by pushing the tempo.

To that end, the Plekanec line is a handful and needs to pinned down a bit. That job will likely fall to the Bonino line, who has been nails at home ice defensive zone deployment against top scoring lines. The Desharnais line has been largely offensively sheltered thus far at evens. Playing at home, the Canucks would be wise to expose them against the Triplets (Sedins and Vrbata...it's a cute nickname, let's make it stick) whenever possible. Those freaks have been on an absolute rampage when getting the benefit of offensive zone starts at home. Let's see if they can dominate a tired team that hasn't faced their combined talent yet on their road trip, yeah? Yes.

I made it through this without mentioning P.K. Subban! Whatever, even he says his younger brother is better. Nothing to see here.

PREGAME BATTLE HYMN

Sorry Kent...no metal today. Just some good old fashioned straight ahead New England Hardcore for this Connecticut boy. Converge's "All We Love We Leave Behind" is one of the best hardcore albums to come out in the last five years or so. Intense and brutal. Give this one a listen...it will kick in for you around 2:30. And you won't look back.

SNACK OF THE GAME

Breck beer

Beer is a snack, ain't it? Whatever. This Breckenridge Autumn Ale is really tasty.

Impromptu Drinking Games Rules

- 1 Drink: Patrick Roy reference.

- 1 Drink: Brad Richardson point streak continues.

- 2 Drinks: Overzealous Canadiens Stanley Cup contender reference (you may be drunk by the end of the 1st)

- 2 Drinks: Prust fights Dorsett (they have...uhm...history)

- 3 Drinks: John Garrett speaks french during the game.

Parting thoughts from Michael Scott:

Basically how you should all feel about Kent leaving the Preview in my hands. What a let down.

SCORE PREDICTION WIZARD UPDATE

I don't know...Kent will update. I am pretty sure I am winning. My dog, Zoe, does all my picks. She's a boxer and she's very inquisitive and thoughtful and awesome at playing fetch:

Zoe the Boxer

7-1 Canucks GWG Sbisa, anyone?! Tack your scores in the comments for Senor Basky.