Canucks vs Flames 1st Round Playoff Series Preview

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For the first time in 11 years, the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks will face each other in a playoff series. If past results are any indication, we could be in for a treat. The Flames and Canucks have combined for some of the best playoff hockey we have ever seen in Vancouver.

But that was then and this is now. Daniel and Henrik Sedin are the only holdovers from the last series played between the Flames and Canucks in 2004, so it makes a lot more sense to focus our attention to recent form.

 

Head-to-Head

 

The Canucks and Flames won two games a piece in their season series, with their last meeting coming two months ago.

Date
Opponent
Result
VAN Goalie
CGY Goalie
SF-SA
PP
PK
Wed, Oct 8 VAN @ CGY W 4-2 Miller Hiller 33-25  1-3  4-4
Sat, Dec 20 CGY @ VAN W 3-2 OT Miller Hiller 32-28  1-4  3-3
Sat, Jan 10 CGY @ VAN L 1-0 Lack Ortio 36-23  0-0  2-2
Sat, Feb 14 VAN @ CGY L 3-2 Miller Ramo 30-34  0-1  2-2

It is interesting to note that the expected starting goalies for each team were used sparingly during the season series. Eddie Lack played just one game against the Flames, while Jonas Hiller played the Canucks only twice.

Calgary is also without their best defenceman, Mark Giordano, who played over 25 minutes in every game against the Canucks this season.

The Flames displayed their discipline in the last two games, giving up just one power play, which eliminated Vancouver’s special teams advantage.

 

By the Numbers

 

Here is how the Canucks and Flames compare, by the numbers (NHL ranking in parenthesis):

Vancouver
Calgary
Record 48-29-5 (8th) 45-30-7 (16th)
Power Play 19.3% (9th) 18.8% (13th)
Penalty Kill 85.7% (2nd) 80.6% (20th)
Times Shorthanded 266 (11th) 186 (30th)
Goal Differential  +20 (12th)  +25 (8th)
Goals For 2.88 (8th) 2.89 (7th)
Goals Against 2.68 (19th) 2.60 (17th)
Shots For 29.9 (16th) 27.5 (28th)
Shots Against 29.8 (17th) 29.2 (12th)
Faceoffs 46.7% (29th) 47.4% (26th)
Corsi (5-on-5) 49.5% (19th) 44.5% (28th)

The Canucks have been much maligned for their power play and faceoff production this season, but that isn’t likely to be a hot button issue going into the series against the Flames. The Canucks power play was extremely productive in the final weeks of the season, vaulting Vancouver to 9th in the NHL with the man advantage.

Meanwhile, the Canucks haven’t improved in the faceoff dot, although the return of Brad Richardson will help. The Canucks are too left-handed up the middle, forcing their centres to take far too many draws on their weak side (their only right-handed centre is Linden Vey, who struggles at faceoffs). They sorely miss right-shot centres Ryan Kesler and Mike Santorelli this season for that reason, but it may not matter against the Flames. Calgary is almost as woeful on the draws, ranking three spots lower than Vancouver at 26th in the league.

The Canucks have a huge advantage on the penalty kill, though that may not matter, as Calgary is the most disciplined team in the league. The Canucks should be able to hold the shot differential and Corsi advantage, though that didn’t seem to matter to the Flames this season.

 

Leading Scorers

 

No surprise here, as the Canucks are led by the Sedins and Radim Vrbata. After that, it is goal scoring by committee, as the Canucks have a four line attack.

Player
POS
GP
G
A
PTS
Daniel Sedin LW 82 20 56 76
Henrik Sedin C 82 18 55 73
Radim Vrbata RW 79 31 32 63
Nick Bonino C 75 15 24 39
Chris Higgins LW 77 12 24 36
Alexandre Burrows RW 70 18 15 33
Jannik Hansen RW 81 16 17 33
Alexander Edler D 74 8 23 31
Shawn Matthias C 78 18 9 27
Bo Horvat C 68 13 12 25
Derek Dorsett RW 79 7 18 25
Linden Vey C 75 10 14 24
Dan Hamhuis D 59 1 22 23
Yannick Weber D 65 11 10 21
Brad Richardson C 45 8 13 21
Christopher Tanev D 70 2 18 20
Zack Kassian RW 42 10 6 16
Kevin Bieksa D 60 4 10 14
Ronalds Kenins LW 30 4 8 12
Luca Sbisa D 76 3 8 11
Ryan Stanton D 54 3 8 11

The Flames are led by veteran Jiri Hudler and a couple of fresh faced youngsters, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Calgary’s real advantage is the push from the blue line, which is one of the most productive defensive corps in the NHL. Not including Mark Giordano, the Flames have three defencemen that finished with more points than the Canucks highest scoring d-man.

Player
POS
GP
G
A
PTS
Jiri Hudler LW 78 31 45 76
Johnny Gaudreau LW 80 24 40 64
Sean Monahan C 81 31 31 62
Dennis Wideman D 80 15 41 56
Mark Giordano D 61 11 37 48
TJ Brodie D 81 11 30 41
Lance Bouma C 78 16 18 34
Kris Russell D 79 4 30 34
David Jones RW 67 14 16 30
Curtis Glencross LW 53 9 19 28
Joe Colborne C 64 8 20 28
Mikael Backlund C 52 10 17 27
Josh Jooris C 60 12 12 24
Mason Raymond LW 57 12 11 23
Paul Byron C 57 6 13 19
Markus Granlund C 48 8 10 18
Matt Stajan C 59 7 10 17
Deryk Engelland D 76 2 9 11

Breakdown

Forwards

 

The biggest key to the series for Calgary stopping Henrik and Daniel Sedin. They play unlike any other two players in the NHL and not everyone can figure them out. If the Flames do, then the Canucks will need to rely on their impressive forward depth to get the job done.

For the Flames, they rely heavily on their first line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler. At just 21 and 20 years old respectively, Gaudreau and Monahan will be getting their first taste of playoff hockey and it remains to be seen how they will react. Youth can be advantage at this time of year and it can also be a detriment.

The Canucks’ forwards are deeper and more experienced than the Flames. Will veteran savvy overcome youthful energy? We will see.

 

Defence

 

The Flames will miss Mark Giordano in this series. Their best d-man was having a Norris Trophy-caliber season before his injury in late February. Against all odds, the Flames carried on admirably without him and went on to secure a playoff spot.

The Flames lean heavily on their top-4 defencemen, which now includes Deryk Engelland. In their biggest game of the season against the LA Kings on Thursday, Engelland, T.J. Brodie, Dennis Wideman and Kris Russell all received more than 25 minutes of ice time. Meanwhile, David Schlemko played 6:58 and Correy Potter played just 2:26. John Tortorella would be proud of that distribution of ice time.

The Canucks distribute ice time much more evenly among their defencemen, though Alex Edler and Chris Tanev will be vitally important for Vancouver. Edler and Tanev will likely see a lot of the Monahan line and they should be well equipped to handle them. The Canucks’ best shutdown pairing is mobile and smart and can keep up with the speedy Flames’ first line.

 

Goalies

Though he has not officially named his starting goalie yet, Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins would be well advised to start Eddie Lack for the series against the Flames, given he has consistently outperformed Ryan Miller this season.

By the numbers, the Canucks have the advantage in goal, given Eddie Lack’s sparkling .921 SV% this season (Jonas Hiller finished the year with a .918 SV%). By experience, the advantage goes to the veteran Jonas Hiller, who will be playing in his fourth playoffs. Eddie Lack, of course, will be making his first appearance in the pressure packed postseason.

 

Prediction

If the Flames are to beat the Canucks, it will likely be with the speed and creativity of their first line, coupled with their push from the back-end. If the Canucks are to win, it will likely be because of their depth at forward and on defence.

In the end, I think the Canucks can better the Flames’ top-end talent and they have better depth as well. Add to that the experience of the veteran-laden Canucks and I believe the Canucks will take this series in 6 games.

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Rob Williams Sports Editor at Vancity Buzz covering all sports in Vancouver.
@robthehockeyguy

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