Dec 08, 2011; Montreal, QC, CAN; Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieska (3), goalie Roberto Luongo (1) and Montreal Canadiens defensemen Alexei Emelin (74) eye the puck during the second period at the Bell Center. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-US PRESSWIRE

The Best Versus The Rest: Canucks & Canadiens Face Off


 

At 10:00 pm tonight, the 15th-in-the-East Montreal Canadiens will face off against the 2nd-in-the-West Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena. With a win tonight, the Canucks can hope to take possession of 1st in the East if it is coupled with a St.Louis loss. The Canucks are coming off a 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday, where Samuel Pahlsson scored the game-winner with only 6 or so minutes left in the third period. The Canadiens are also coming off a win, having beaten the Edmonton Oilers 5-3 off of 3 point nights from both Max Pacioretty and P.K Subban. In nets, it’s expected to be Roberto Luongo, a Montreal native, and Carey Price, a BC native.

On paper, it should be an easy win for the Canucks. After losing in 7 games in the Stanley Cup final to the Boston Bruins last spring, the Canucks had a tough start to the season. They turned it around, around December or so, and have relied on both Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider. They score, they defend and they’re tough. Harder to measure quantitatively is the new attitude they seem to be displaying. Less arrogance, more confidence. You hear less stories about the Canucks supposed diving and their antics, and more about their play. Perhaps that’s the end result of losing the Stanley Cup last spring. Many in the mainstream media have speculated that it’s a culture change.

Regardless of the nature of these changes, the Canucks are one of the best teams right now in the NHL, alongside the Rangers and the Blues. They have a record of 42-18-8 in 68 games. They’ve scored 214 goals and have given up 168. Meaning, they’ve scored the 2nd most (one goal less than Detroit) in the West, and are within the bottom five on goals allowed in the West. Their powerplay is clicking at 20.7%, good for 3rd overall in the League, and specifically it stands at 18.6% at home. Their penalty kill is operating at a 86.8% efficiency rate (84.2% at home), which is good for 6th in the league (notably, the Canadiens are the only team above the Canucks that is not going to make the post-season, while the L.A Kings are currently still in the running). Their team save percentage, a reflection both of their defensive prowess and their goaltending, stands at 5th in the league with 92.2%. All numbers aside, this Canucks team is good. They’re lead by two (arguably) elite net-minders in Luongo and Schneider. They’re quite top heavy, with Henrik Sedin leading the team in points with 66 in 68 gp, and Daniel Sedin leading the team in goals with 28 goals already. The strength of the Canucks lies in their depth, with Alex Burrows (currently with 23 goals) on pace for 27 goals, Ryan Kesler with 20 and whose on pace for 24 goals, and David Booth whose 13 goals leave him on pace for 16. On their bottom 6, they’ve got Chris Higgins, Samuel Pahlsson, Zack Kassian and Maxim Lapierre, providing them with good depth and some grit as well. On D, they’re got more riches – Alex Edler, who currently has 43 points, Kevin Bieksa whose both tough and producing with 38 points thus far, and even defensive d-man Dan Hamhuis putting up 30 points in this campaign so far.

Obviously, this is the makings of an elite team, probably one that will challenge for the Stanley Cup again this season. Obviously, the West is a tough conference, but the Canucks are well-placed to be their representative in the Stanley Cup Final. As for the Habs, their splits are terrible in comparison. Montreal is 26-32-10 on the season, and equally mediocre on the road and at home. They’ve only scored 179 goals but have given up 192. Their powerplay is atrocious, the 5th worst in the league, with a 15.2% rate of effectiveness. They’ve been better of late, but it’s still pretty bad. Their PK is great however, at 89.1% leaving them at 3rd best in the league. Their team save percentage is trending towards the lower-end of the league at a 90.7% effectiveness rate. Their offense is essentially being driven by one line, led by Erik Cole, David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty. Pacioretty leads the team in goals, with 30, being the first American-born player to reach 30 goals in Canadiens history and the first 30 goal scorer in the organization since Alex Kovalev in 2007-2008. Pacioretty leads the team in points with 54 in 65 GP, followed closely by his linemates: Desharnais with 52p in 68 GP and Erik Cole with 47 in 68 GP. Other than these three, only Tomas Plekanec currently has more than 40 points (44) and P.K Subban is next at 30 points. Obviously, offensive depth has been a huge problem. Some rookies have played well, for example Lars Eller has taken a large step in his development, but it hasn’t been a consistent offensive effort quite yet. On D, the Canadiens are led by 3 key players: Subban, Gorges and Emelin, and the rest is filled out with rookies or fringe d-men (including Kaberle and Campoli here). The only one putting up points is Subban, while Gorges is steady on D. Emelin brings good positional play and hard-hitting, the likes of which we haven’t seen in quite some time. In goal, the Canadiens rely on elite netminder Carey Price, meaning that Budaj rarely gets many starts.

So obviously, two teams on very different trajectories. The Canadiens can, and probably will, look very different next year. I would hope that they shed some deadweight salary and go with the youth, where the youth core is quite strong in comparison to some other teams in the league. But as for tonight, I expect the Canucks to take this one easily, but that one player may have something to say about that. Carey Price, who has not had good outings in front of his home team, may be a game-changer tonight.

They have already faced eachother once this season. As you may recall, the Canadiens enjoyed a 3-0 goal lead off goals by Frederic St-Denis, Raphael Diaz and Erik Cole’s goal at 3:20 of the second period. But from then on, all Canucks as Mason Raymond, Cody Hodgson and Sami Salo scored to tie the game. It would be a Canucks win in the shootout, where the recently traded Hodgson was the only goal scorer.

The puck drops at 10pm eastern.

Update (2:59pm): Some speculation that D-man Andrei Markov will lace up for the Canadiens tonight. According to the Canadiens official Twitter, “Andrei Markov was placed on the active roster list this morning. He will be available for tonight’s game”. Obviously, big big news. The Canadiens obviously want to see how he looks, and no doubt him getting back into some games is great for his confidence. Not gonna lie, one of my absolute favorite players. Would be great to see him if he does end up in the lineup tonight.