Canucks and Beyond

Canucks/Sharks Series Preview --

05/15/2011 at 4:36pm EDT

The single most important thing to remember about the Canucks? They are a country song, will eventually break your heart, which is why the average Vancouver fan looks a lot like Chicken Little. Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness. The Canucks have spent 41, failing to win a single Stanley Cup since entering the league in 1970. After 40 years of taking slapshots to the nuts, Canucks fans can be forgiven for flinching.

—Jack Knox, Victoria Times Colonist

The third round isn’t entirely unknown territory to Canucks fans who are past their early 20s. But even those of us who remember those bright spots of our hockey team’s history, well, we’ve lived through the rest of it, too. The Dark Years. So when things happen like losing 3-0 series leads, or letting in some soft goals, we’re a bit fragile. And we go for the jugular and blame someone.

You’d think that would be the refs or the other team or Gary Bettman, or something, but no… we usually blame our own team. It’s not that Canucks fans are fickle, it’s that we’re terrorized.

And yet we still live for our Vancouver Canucks.

It’s like the hockey equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome. They’ve held us captive for years, and we no longer realize we’re victims. We bought into this campaign of madness years ago, and now we just want to see our way to the end. Which is why we’re so damn optimistic, too. You can tell us we’re outclassed all you want, but we’ve drank the Kool Aid. We like to believe we’re invincible.

Until we’re not. Which is the only way we know how to live.

SERIES PREVIEW

So, what about these Sharks. Are they beatable? Of course. They’re possibly the only team that’s anywhere near as unfortunate as the Canucks when it comes to playoff pitfalls. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, but the Sharks have a regular season history to be envied.

At the moment, they’re running with no less than seven consecutive 40+ win seasons, which ranks them behind only the Red Wings who’ve done it for an astonishing 13 straight seasons. Further, the Sharks can brag about 5 straight 100-point seasons. Unquestionably, they’re consistently excellent every regular season.

And they come into the post-season this year with a pile of impressive stats, too.

OFFENSE:

Let’s consider the Sharks offense. For example:

  • They’ve led the league in shots/per game (34.5) and shot differential (+5.6)
  • Second in the league for FO % at 53.7
  • With seven 20+ goal scorers on their team, they lead the entire NHL (Marleau, Couture, Heatley, Clowe, Setoguchi, Thornton, Pavelski)

Offensively, there’s nothing much to complain about if you’re a SJ Sharks fan. The much-maligned Patrick Marleau, for example—even before his Game 7 salvation against Detroit—has always been a fearsome opponent. The Sharks media guide notes:

“Patrick Marleau became the first Shark to ever score three overtime goals in one season. Leading the team with nine game‐winners, he now has 68 career game‐winners which is tied for 38th all‐time. He tied for the League lead in home goals (26).”

And of course, he’s just the tip of the iceberg.

But Vancouver is no slouch in offense, either. In fact, they can brag the most goals scored in the NHL last year, at 258. And while the playoffs have presented some difficulties for our Sedins, that might be less of a concern against the Sharks than previous opponents. But we’ll talk about the Sharks defense in a minute.

Meanwhile, when it comes to offense, I’m inclined to give a tiny, slight edge to the Sharks. While one of Vancouver’s greatest assets is their ‘secondary cast’ of players, I think the Sharks’ secondary cast might be even stronger.

But it’s a very close match.

DEFENSE

Well, there’s Dan Boyle. And Dan Boyle is so good I’d take him home to mama. He’s got it all. And he’s surrounded by a solid cast of D, as well. But not nearly as solid as Vancouver’s, when they’re all healthy and on their game. I’d take the Canucks defense all day long. And if you add two-way players like Ryan Kesler into the mix, it’s amazing anyone scores against them at all, sometimes.

But.

The one thing about Vancouver—and this has been going on for a decade of playoff appearances, not just this season—when anyone let’s up focus for a second, makes one tiny damn mistake, the puck always seems to end up in the back of our net.

In other words, when we fail, we fail spectacularly.

Still, edge to the Canucks. Assuming they avoid too many ridiculous lapses.

P.S. The Sharks defensive style might also present new opportunities for the Sedins, who are much more likely to be able to get their down-low game in motion again. This question at yesterday’s media appearance sort of touches on this.

Q. Daniel and Henrik, given the offensive output that Ryan Kesler had in the last series, obviously San Jose is aware of that, they’re going to have to look at trying to shut him down, do you think that can potentially open up some opportunities for your line?

HENRIK SEDIN: We’ll see. Like I said, I don’t know if they really have that shut-down pair. I think they’re more of a team that’s going to roll their lines, roll their D’s. We’re the same kind of team.

GOALIES

Antti Niemi is an old foe, one who badly outplayed us a year ago when standing in for Chicago. But he’s not unbeatable. He has his lapses and soft goals like everyone else, and his playoff GAA of 3.02 would indicate he isn’t going to close the door on us for multiple games. He’s excellent, but he’s not super-worldly. (More on the history between the Canucks and Niemi can be read at TSN.)

Roberto Luongo had a BAD game in the Chicago series, and some mediocre moments elsewhere against that team, but he re-grouped and hasn’t shown any sign of nerves since then. In fact, in spite of getting lit up in that one game, Luongo can still brag a 2.25 GAA and a .917 SV%. That’s pretty impressive.

No edge in goal. I’m calling a draw.

PREDICTIONS

Canucks in 7. But that’s a homer-prediction, to some extent, since I may very well have said “Sharks in 7” if I liked wearing a teal blue hockey jersey. Still, they’re well matched teams who should play some exciting games, and I’d be dead-shocked if the series wasn’t close all the way.

Extra Reading:

I posted the media transcripts of interviews yesterday with Mike Gillis, Alain Vigneualt, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Christian Ehrhoff, Dan Hamhuis and Ryan Kesler. Those Q&A’s can be found here and here.

Today’s transcripts featuring questions to Alain Vigneault, Alex Burrows, Mason Raymond and Alex Edler can be found here.

And lastly, today’s transcripts of questions to the San Jose Sharks—Dany Heatley, Ian White, Coach McLellan—can be found here.

Statistical preview of the series can be found here.

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