Little time to exhale: Canucks & Predators Preview

After an emotional and exhausting series against the Blackhawks the Canucks and their fans have little time to exhale. The second round of the march to the Stanley Cup will begin just two days after the epic series against the Hawks, and the Nashville Predators will provide the opposition when the puck drops Thursday evening at Rogers Arena.

Canucks fans may think the toughest task has been conquered with the win over arch rival Chicago, but if they think the Predators will be a cake walk, they should think again.

They may not have the biggest names you’ve heard of, but former Predator and current Canuck Dan Hamhuis warns that the team from the “Music City” should not be taken lightly.

“On paper it may not look like they have as good of a team as others, but they’re a very good team and we don’t want that to surprise us or fool us,” Hamhuis said. “They had 99 points during the regular season, and they’re in the second round for a reason. They’re going to be a very tough opponent.”

The Predators play an aggressive pressure style of hockey and their strength is on defence, led by the duo of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. There is also the matter of solving the goaltending of Pekka Rinne who has quickly established himself as one of the league’s top netminders.

The two teams split their season series, with each team winning 2 games.

Let’s take a look at we feel are the keys to the series for the Canucks to advance.

The Sedins must contribute more:

Daniel and Henrik Sedin didn’t have a horrible series against the Hawks. Daniel did finish the series with 7 points (5-2) while Henrik finished with 5 assists. But clearly if the Canucks are to keep advancing they twins have to more prominent.  None of Henrik’s points came on the power play while just 2 of Daniel’s did. This is where the twins have to be effective. They will also have to more effective 5 on 5. Dave Bolland may be gone but the twins will likely see a lot of Weber and Suter whenever they step over the boards and don’t be surprised to see Jordan Tootoo or Mike Fisher in the twins face whenever possible.

Luongo versus Rinne:

Roberto Luongo got rid of more than a monkey off his back with the win in game 7 against Chicago, it as more like an elephant. After two tough games where he could have sued his teammates for lack of support and surviving the switch to Cory Schneider in game 6, Luongo persevered to have a strong game 7 including a huge save in overtime while the Canucks were shorthanded to give Burrows a chance to get the winner. It will remain to be seen if this lifted weight will allow Roberto to get back in the zone that he enjoyed for much of the regular season, one that saw him named a finalist for the Vezina trophy.

The problem with that is the guy at the other end was just as good. Pekka Rinne is not only a co-finalist with Luongo for the Vezina, he’s also become one of the best young goaltenders in the league and has the ability to steal games all by himself. With the scare the Canucks got going up against Corey Crawford in round one, they will need to find away to get to Rinne who is seldom shaken off his game. That said he didn’t have the greatest series against Anaheim, and some are wondering if he’s feeling the huge workload that many felt Luongo suffered from in playoffs past.

Coaching:

Barry Trotz - Photo: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Barry Trotz - Photo: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Few coaches have had the lifespan of Barry Trotz. He’s survived the lean years in Nashville by always getting the most out of his players and he hasn’t always had the best crop to work with. Trotz’s teams are defined by one thing work ethic and there is no doubt he has the Predators working as hard as ever this year. For a team that wasn’t known for scoring goals during the regular season, they’re also doing that, averaging 3.67 goals per game and 31.67 shots. Both of those totals are better than Vancouver’s

Alain Vigneault will need to find ways to get the Sedin’s free of the tight checking they will face. He’ll need to devise a plan to work the Predators down low and tire out their talented defense, much like they did when they were on their game against Chicago. He’ll also need to keep his team focused and sharp after an emotional first round that no doubt was a tough mental test for his squad. That pressure has been averted, but a slow start in this series will bring it all back again. Vigneault needs to find away to make sure it doesn’t.

Ryan Kesler:

Against the Hawks, Ryan Kesler was given the job of shutting down Jonathon Toews and for the most part he did an outstanding job. That task may have been handed to the injured Manny Malhotra in a perfect world, but Kesler accepted it openly and sacrificed his offense in the process. Kesler will still be used in that role, but there should be chances in this series to contribute more offensively as well and the Canucks will need his offense to help solve Rinne.

Intangibles:

Continue offense from Alex Burrows, more contributions from the third and fourth lines, better power play efficiency and penalty killing. All are important facets to ensure the Canucks advance to the next round. Did they learn a lesson against the Blackhawks? One would have to think so. The quick turnaround will be interesting. The Predators have been sitting waiting, while the Canucks just faced probably the most pressure they have ever faced as an organization. Will they be riding momentum come puck drop, or will they still be exhaling?

Nashville will be getting injured offensive threat Martin Erat back in the lineup. They have just won their first playoff series as a franchise and will be hungry for more. But will they have to face the same learning curve this Canucks team did to get to this point? They have the lineup to make things very difficult for Vancouver, and they’ll need a complete team effort to beat them.

Prediction:

Game one may be a tough one for Vancouver to get going in. They will either be flat from the effort expended Tuesday night, or they will be still riding the momentum and come out strong, knowing that what happened in the last season cannot happen again. Nashville has nothing to lose playing heavily favoured Vancouver and will be loose and rested. In the end the Canucks will draw on their experience from round one. If they stay healthy and play their game this series will be over on 6 games and the Canucks will be on their way to their first conference final since 1994.

Canucks and Hawks Preview and your chance to win Canucks Playoff Posters!

So the Vancouver Canucks will once again face the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup playoffs. This was determined on the final day of the regular season, after the defending champs left their fate in the hands of the Dallas Stars who gave them the equivalent of a Governor’s reprieve when they failed to beat the Minnesota Wild.

And so starting Wednesday at Rogers Arena the Vancouver Canucks will start their quest for the first Stanley Cup in franchise history versus the club that has eliminated them the last two seasons. This time however they should be clearly be favoured to win. They are the Presidents Trophy winners (yes we know the stats on that). They’ll have home ice advantage, and they are better than the Hawks in pretty much every statistical category you can name.

Canuck fans seem split down the middle on the matchup. Some feel it’s best to get rid of the monkey off the back and others are worrying that the Blackhawks hold some sort of psychological edge over Vancouver that could be a huge roadblock for the team to overcome in the first round.

To celebrate the start of the second season and hopefully the start of a long run to the cup, the Vancouver Canucks have supplied us with a set of this year’s 2011 playoff posters to give away to a lucky reader. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post to enter and RT this:

I entered to win a set of 2011 playoff posters from @VanCanucks & @CanucksCorner & you can too! http://canuckscorner.com/?p=1792 #Canucks

So without further delay, let’s get into it…our Canucks and Hawks round one preview!

Goaltending: Advantage Vancouver

Roberto LuongoRoberto Luongo will face the usual questions heading onto the 2011 playoffs. Can he shake off the losses of the last two seasons, and can he get it done in the playoffs. The answers to both of these questions should be yes.

Luongo has just finished his most consistent season as a Canuck and you can attribute that to a few things. The best move Mike Gillis made in the off-season was to resolve the Luongo captaincy issue early on in the process. The decision was ultimately Roberto’s but even he realized his attention to detail was being affected by being the spokesperson for the team. The addition of a full time goaltending coach in Roland Melanson and a reduced workload thanks to the stellar fill in work of Cory Schneider has Luongo entering the playoffs relaxed, confident and on the top of his game. The Hawks will try and disrupt Loungo and it will be up to him to keep composed with the help of his defence which is healthy for the first time all season.

The Blackhawks will go with rookie Corey Crawford over the veteran Marty Turco. One could argue that Crawford is the reason the Hawks are in the playoffs given their sub par performance in other areas this season. Crawford beat the Canucks 7-1 early in the season and the Canucks faced Turco in the three other meetings during the season. It will be Crawford’s first playoff experience and despite how he has played during the season, the playoffs are a different breed. If the Canucks can get some early success the pressure will grow, and Luongo’s experience should be a factor. Likewise, if Chicago can light up Luongo and cast doubts and memories of failures past, it could be a disaster for Vancouver.

We’re giving the nod to Luongo here, as he just seems like a more relaxed an confident player this season. it just seems like he’s focused and ready to rid the demons of the last two seasons. That and Dustin Byfuglien isn’t around to have his large and annoying butt in his crease all  series. Crawford could be one of those great playoff stories, but it’s a tall order for any rookie goaltender to be the saviour for his team.

Defence: Advantage Vancouver

One of the great advantages the Blackhawks had in last year’s playoffs was their depth on defence. This year they are once again very strong on the back end, but the Canucks boast a very experienced and for the first time this season, healthy top 6 defensemen. The return of Alex Edler couldn’t have come at a better time, and he’ll like be paired with Christian Erhoff to form the Canucks top unit. Kevin Bieksa, Sami, Salo, Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard and likely Aaron Rome or Andrew Alberts will round the top six and give the Canucks depth they never had in last year’s series. Hamhuis is the biggest question mark after suffering two fairly close concussions in the second half. The physical nature of the playoffs will surely be a test of his current health.

Duncan KeithChicago is also strong with the likes of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Add in rookie Nick Leddy and Chris Campoli who was a key addition via a trade and the Hawks are well positioned. Duncan Keith has logged a lot of minutes for the Hawks this season, and hasn’t been his Norris trophy winning self, but he’s still dangerous and the Canucks will have to be aware of the crafty d-man at all times.

Both teams can score from the back end, so it may come down to who can keep goals out of their own net, and the Canucks allowed the fewest goals of any team in the league this season.

One through six it’s the Canucks who have more experience, and a little more depth. Slight edge to Vancouver.

Fowards: Even

Daniel & Henrik SedinThe Canucks not only led the league in keeping the puck out of their net, they also filled the opponents net more than any other team. With Art Ross winner Daniel Sedin and brother Henrik leading the way the Canucks possess the ability to score in bunches. Ryan Kesler and Alex Burros have also had strong campaigns to add balanced scoring. If the Canucks are going to succeed their bottom tier forwards need to chip in key goals. Stats-wise Mason Raymond had a disappointing season for the club, and Mikael Samuelsson has had an up and down year. With special attention on the way for the Sedin’s the other forwards are going to have to chip in goals, and the Canucks are better positioned for that to happen this year. Jannik Hansen, along with trade acquisitions Maxim Lapierre and Chris Higgins will look to add grit and scoring respectively in supporting roles.

The Canucks will miss the defensive forward talents of Manny Malhotra but he will be around the team to provide leadership and perhaps inspiration.

Chicago will be no slouches offensively. Jonathon Toews has become one of the greatest leaders in hockey and can take a team on his back. The Hawks also boast the offence of Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp, the latter who has really stepped into the forefront this season after the departures of Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien. Byfuglien won’t be around to get in Luongo’s face, and there is question as to whether Dave Bolland will be ready for game one after missing 14 games with a concussion. A defensive forward who can score big goals, Bolland was was instrumental in containing the Sedin’s last year on the ay to Chicago’s series win over Vancouver.

This one is close and it’s going to come down to who’s second tier forwards can get the job done. We’re saying it’s a toss up.

Special Teams: Advantage Canucks

The Canucks power play has been in no uncertain terms, lethal. They led the league with the man advantage and if the Hawks hope to win their penalty killing needs to be stellar and they have to stay out of the box, or this series could be over quickly. The Canucks penalty killing has laso been strong but did take a dip after the injury to Manny Malhotra. Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows who were both hurt in last years series will be counted on heavily in this role. The Hawks can throw out a lethal power play as well and on the back end have a deadly combo with Keith and Seabrook. If the Canucks can’t stay disciplined, hich they had problems with last year, the Hawks will make them pay.

Because they’ve done it all year, and we feel Luongo has the edge in goal, we’re giving the edge to Vancouver.

Coaching: Even

Both teams posssess great coaching. Alain Vigneault has to get consideration for coach of the year and has kept the Canucks focused and on track all year through some big injuries, especially on defence. Joel Quennville has won the cup and dealt with a big roster turnover this year. Sure they got some help to get in, but they’re in and he’ll have the Hawks ready to compete.

Our prediction:

The Canucks have to get this monkey off their backs. They’ve worked all year to get every advantage they can and have proven to be the most consistent team in the league. I don’t see the Hawks beating them 4 out of 7 games, and we’re picking the Canucks in 6.

Leave your comments/predictions and tweet the message we mentioned above for a chance to win the 2011 Canucks Playoff poster series from the @VanCanucks!