The Vancouver Canucks are off to a lacklustre start to their playoff push and things won’t be getting any easier as the Flames are in town to help celebrate Hockey Day In Canada.
Game Time: 7:00 pm
If you read my intro and thought to yourself: “Wait, the Flames aren’t good! It sounds like things will be getting MUCH easier for the Canucks!”
Well, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong.
From the surface, the Calgary Flames have been a major disappointment this season after surprising the league and reaching the Western Conference Semi-Finals before bowing out to a vastly superior Anaheim Ducks team.
Again, that’s the surface and if you dig a little deeper, the Flames weren’t actually that good last season either and only made it as far as they did because they played Vancouver in the first round. So it shouldn’t be surprising at all that they are competing for Auston Matthews.
You hear a lot of talk about how certain teams have an unsustainable formula for winning games and that luck is the biggest factor when you are consistently being out-shot by opponents. Well, like the Colorado Avalanche and Toronto Maple Leafs have proven over the last couple of years, there is some major truth to that.
That being said, the Flames have weapons. Among the most potent are:
These guys represent the future in Calgary and if they ever fill our the roster with some better players, it will be a bright future. For now though, these four can still burn you in any given game and that’s exactly what the Canucks need to avoid. Since every loss from here on out will affect their dwindling chances of making the playoffs, the Canucks will have to do everything they can to extinguish the Flames offence.
I just made like, two clever Flame references.
It’s about freaking time.
Coach Desjardins confirms Hamhuis is expected to play Saturday. #Canucks
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) February 5, 2016
Much like his face, the Canucks’ defence cratered after Hamhuis took that direct slap shot to the money-maker back in December.
Despite that incredibly insensitive comment I just made, It’s actually incredible how quickly Hamhuis has been able to recover from this horrific injury. I mean, he spent the first month eating goo.
— Dan Murphy (@sportsnetmurph) February 5, 2016
I would imagine that the first few games are going to be a little shaky for the grizzled vet, but hopefully Hamhuis can bring some stability back to the defence beyond the usually stellar pairing of Chris Tanev and Alex Edler.
Dan Hamhuis is going to be in a very interesting position over the next month and how he plays may very well determine where he ends up.
Consider these two scenarios.
One, Hamhuis comes back and stabilizes what is clearly Vancouver’s biggest weakness: defence. The team rallies and (with a lot of luck) jumps back into contention for a playoff spot. If the team is only a couple points out by the deadline, Dan ain’t going nowhere and we can all stop dreaming of an extra first round pick.
Hamhuis struggles to get back up to speed and doesn’t help the defence enough to make some headway in the standings. The Canucks continue to lose and he’s gone, probably to Washington.
It was suggested by WASH beat reporter that the Capitals would be interested in Hamhuis – hopefully they make an offer Benning can't refuse
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) February 4, 2016
That’s right. The NHL player that most resembles a 12-year-old scares the living crap out of me. And no, not just in overtime.
Gaudreau has two skills that usually drive the Canucks crazy. Speed and Skill. Vancouver’s defence is not so great at handling that.
After a pretty stellar rookie season, Gaudreau has only gotten better this year and is currently sitting in 10th place in NHL scoring, tied in total points with Evgeni Malkin. For a player who should theoretically be going through a sophomore slump, that’s pretty damn impressive.
However, there is a catch…
Johnny Gaudreau is SLIGHTLY better at home than he is on the road. So as long as Willie Desjardins controls the matchups, then the Canucks should be okay.
Except Desjardins doesn’t match lines sooooooooo….
How about Linden Vey?
Banished to Utica before the season started, Vey was brought back to the Canucks mainly due to a plethora of injuries down the middle. It was truly fortunate circumstances for Vey as he probably would have been buried for the remainder of his contract as he wasn’t exactly lighting up the American Hockey League.
But here we are at the beginning of February and Linden Vey is still here, anchoring what looks like a legitimate third line with Emerson Etem and Alex Burrows.
I haven’t looked into the advanced stats or anything, but there does seem to be some chemistry there and the trio is getting their chances. However, they are not capitalizing on their chances as much as they could be, especially Emerson Etem who is still looking for his first goal as a Vancouver Canuck.
Anyways, It’s been discussed elsewhere that Linden Vey was miscast as an offensive player last season, which coupled with unrealistic expectations ultimately led to his demise.
However, as a third line center? He’s working it so far which is why Brandon Sutter currently finds himself on the fourth line.
The big change to Vancouver’s lineup is obviously the return of Dan Hamhuis (and the waiving of Yannick Weber). Other than that, Willie Desjardins seems to have settled (at least for now…) on most of his lines and player combinations.
#Canucks mixed Cracknell in with Dorsett-Virtanen and had Tanev-Biega/Hamhuis-Sbisa/Hutton-Bartkowski without Edler McCann was extra forward
— Jon Abbott (@HockeyAbbs) February 5, 2016
After practising on the fourth line, Jake Virtanen was pulled from the lineup last game amidst rumours that he was out of shape after he returned from the All-Star break.
Tonight, Virtanen will get a chance to redeem himself.
|D. Sedin||H. Sedin||Hansen|
The Flames are bad. The Canucks are bad. But not quite as bad.
I’m seriously going to keep it as simple as that. Although I’m always petrified that Johnny Gaudreau or Sam Bennett are going to torch Vancouver, I think the Canucks are going to be ashamed of their performance Thursday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Vancouver Canucks win 4-3 in overtime.