Who would the Canucks rather face in the playoffs?

With 8 games remaining in the regular season, it seems fairly certain that the Canucks will once again win the Northwest division. The Canucks are trending in the right direction with the addition of Derek Roy and the return of Ryan Kesler and are now six points up on the second place Minnesota Wild, who have lost four of their last five games.

Since the Canucks aren’t likely to catch the Anaheim Ducks, who are seven points ahead, in the standings, the Canucks will finish as the third seed in the Western Conference and face the sixth seed in the first round of the playoffs. At this point, any one of six teams could finish sixth in the West: the Kings, Sharks, Blues, Wild, Red Wings, and Coyotes, with the outside possibility of the Stars or Blue Jackets.

So, which of those teams would the Canucks rather play in the first round? Who would they rather avoid?

Los Angeles Kings

First up, the Los Angeles Kings. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I think the Canucks should avoid the Kings at all costs. Just like last season, the Kings are a dominant puck possession team, leading the league in Fenwick Close, which is even-strength shots on goal and missed shots for and against when the score is within one in the first and second period or tied in the third period and overtime.

Fenwick Close is one of the better predictors for future success in advanced statistics. Teams with a high Fenwick Close tend to do a whole lot better in the playoffs. One of the reasons the advanced statistics community wasn’t overly surprised by the Kings’ success in the playoffs last season is their puck possession statistics were among the best in the league. The only difference this season is that Jonathan Quick hasn’t been particularly good, but he’s still capable of being outstanding and the Kings have the option of bringing in Jonathan Bernier, who has been superb this season, if he falters.

That said, the Canucks have had success against the Kings this season, going 2-0-1 and outscoring them 8-4. With a full complement of Sedins this time around, the Canucks can certainly beat the Kings if they meet up in the first round. It just won’t be easy. Thankfully, they’re far more likely to finish fourth or fifth in the West.

San Jose Sharks

The Sharks are another team that would not be a particularly good match-up for the Canucks. In three meetings this season, the Canucks have picked up one point in a shootout loss and have been outscored 9-5. They are very similar teams from a puck possession standpoint and this would likely be a highly entertaining series, but it’s not one that the Canucks would likely look forward to. The Sharks’ penalty kill is also one of the best in the league, which would be a nightmare for the Canucks’ surprisingly anemic powerplay.

On the other hand, it would be fun for fans, who would likely drive down the coast in droves to support the Canucks in San Jose. The HP Pavilion is electric during the regular season, so I can barely imagine what it would be like during the playoffs.

St. Louis Blues

This might be a good match-up for the Canucks, though the Blues’ defence is terrifying, adding Jay Bouwmeester at the trade deadline to an already impressive defence corps. Their goaltending, however, has been atrocious apart from rookie Jake Allen, who has been decent. The Blues have restricted goalscoring by preventing shots defensively, not by the strength of their goaltending, so the Canucks, who are generally good at getting lots of shots, should have some success.

The Blues are a strong puck possession team and have plenty of physicality, but the Canucks have matched up fairly well in their two meetings, going 1-0-1 against the Blues this season. In the playoffs, the Canucks should be able to win in six games or less.

Minnesota Wild

Yes, please. Although the Wild greatly improved in the off-season with the addition of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, then improved again at the trade deadline with the addition of Jason Pominville, they, like Saturday Night Live, are still not quite ready for prime-time. They’re not as bad by puck possession statistics as they were last season, but they’re still well below-average. The Canucks are the far better team at even-strength, but Minnesota has the advantage in special teams. Considering how penalties are called in the playoffs, however, that may not prove to be an advantage at all.

The Canucks are 2-2-0 against the Wild this season and have tied them in goals 9-9. Over a seven game series, however, the Canucks would come out on top.

Detroit Red Wings

Without Nicklas Lidstrom, the Red Wings just aren’t the same and they may find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture for the first time since 1990. That said, they’re still a good team that controls puck possession, just not quite as well as they have in the past and they’re not a particularly good match-up for the Canucks. The Red Wings have handed the Canucks two big losses this season, outscoring them 13-5.

Although they have struggled this season, I’d rather the Canucks not face the Red Wings in the first round. I’d much rather see the Red Wings finish in eighth, as they would be a tough match-up for the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round and potentially drag out that series to seven games.

Phoenix Coyotes

Of these six teams, the Coyotes would be the best opponent for the Canucks. The Coyotes don’t have a lot of scoring depth, so rely on their systems and goaltending to make the difference. The Canucks have gone 2-1-0 against the Coyotes while badly outshooting them, forcing Mike Smith to be very, very good. Over a seven-game series, the Canucks should be able to break down the Coyotes’ systems and Smith. The Canucks’ potentially more potent offence should prevail.

This would be an excruciatingly boring series, however, as the Coyotes are the death of exciting hockey. The best that fans can hope for is that the Canucks open up the scoring early, forcing the Coyotes to take chances. Unfortunately for the Canucks, but fortunately for the fans, the Coyotes are more likely to just barely squeak into the playoffs in eighth or, maybe, seventh.

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29 comments

  1. kenahora
    April 11, 2013

    Fabulous take on the big picture…

    CANUCKS best bring their A -Game to the table. Crowding the opponent’s goaltender is a start…especially if there is a power-play.
    No player is willing to fill the zone….

    Always an issue….results are very telling.

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  2. Cathylu
    April 11, 2013

    PLEASE not the Kings. I vote for the Wild or Coyotes (even though I know my vote doesn’t mean anything).

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    • The Bookie
      April 12, 2013

      hey you never know, Gary could take your opinion into consideration when he makes his final decision on the Coyotes playoff seeding.

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  3. RicardoB
    April 11, 2013

    BRING ON THE KINGS. trial by fire, like finally beating Chicago on the path to the SCF two years ago.

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  4. JM
    April 11, 2013

    I like high risk/reward – The prospect of retribution for the 1st round ousting last year makes the Kings look like the perfect matchup.

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  5. goat10000
    April 11, 2013

    The Wild’s uniforms always make me think of Mountain Dew. Or Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

    But they’re the team I’d like the Canucks to face in round 1.

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  6. Lenny
    April 11, 2013

    Minny. They are over-achieving.

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  7. NewVanFan
    April 11, 2013

    Anywhere but Phoenix: Where hockey goes to die.

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  8. Mark Ragnar
    April 11, 2013

    Is it so wrong that I gave thumbs up to CathyLu and RicardB, or strange that I agree with both simultaneously?

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    • Cathylu
      April 11, 2013

      Of course I have my own agenda as I live in the Greater Los Angeles area and I’m surrounded by Kings fans who like to heap abuse on me and my team full of “cheaters”.

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  9. Chris the Curmudgeon
    April 11, 2013

    I’d say be careful what you wish for there Daniel. If the Canucks are felled by the Coyotes in the first round I sure hope I won’t return to a “Page Not Found” at this URL afterwards (though really, I agree with you…fingers crossed). The Canucks of 2013 are a puzzling bunch to say the least. What worries me, however, is the general lack of victories against potential playoff opponents. In past years, the common criticism from Canuck-haters was that they were just an average-sized fish but in a really small pond, and that they wouldn’t stack up against any good teams in a better division. Any sideways glance at the facts would suggest otherwise in 2011, where the Canucks’ winning % outside of their division was still President’s Trophy calibre. However, this season, the Canucks are a pedestrian 12-7-5 in the West outside their division, with only 9 regulation wins, and 5 of those are against Phoenix, Dallas, Columbus or Nashville (ie: teams outside the top 8). Translation: 4 regulation victories against likely non-NW playoff teams this season. That’s a scary thought in my mind. Granted, the team is a different one with Roy and Kesler etc, and few teams can stack up with the Canucks in goal, which makes a big difference in the playoffs, but it’s hard to be overly confident in this bunch right now despite the current hot streak.

    As to my preference of opponent I’m very torn. While a Sharks matchup would mean games less than an hour from my house, I think we’d be in tough against that group right now. I am always a fan of rematches and wouldn’t mind seeing the Canucks go right back in and “slay the dragon” again (this time LA being the dragon), however I recognize that LA could be a formidable opponent and would probably be considered the favourite in such a series.

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  10. Chinook
    April 11, 2013

    I think it most likely Vancouver will play San Jose or Minnesota. Whichever, I will grit my teeth and say, “thats exactly who I wanted!”.

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  11. Rob
    April 11, 2013

    I have to agree with Chris on this one, the Canucks have been good but not outstanding against playoff teams, but most of those games were played when the Canucks were basically a one-line team, these last 8 games will tell us more about how they will handle the big guns of the west.

    Its tough to look at any potential first round matchup with much optimism, I find myself seeing more reasons why they will get beat than reasons why they will win because no matter who they face it will be an extremely tough match-up. It actually feels like the Canucks are real under-dogs this year. BUT one area where the Canucks have a BIG advantage is in the crease, if Schnieder and Luongo can keep this up there is no reason why the Canucks can’t beat any team.

    As for who I would like to see them face in the first round…. bring on the Kings, then the Ducks, then the Hawks, then the Bruins. !@#$ it, go through the 3 teams that the internet trolls insist would wipe the floor with the Canucks. It’s the only way the Canucks will get just a hint of respect – to be the best you gotta beat the best, so why not roll through the last three Stanley Cup champs that had to roll through us to get it done.

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  12. Nee
    April 11, 2013

    I’d like to see us play San Jose, for the entertainment factor. Those games are fun to watch.

    I expended all of my optimism and hope for this team in 2011 (with a little residual in 2012) so I can’t say I really see us going to the Cup final. But I’m not speaking from a logical or fact-based place, so…

    /hugs 2011 playoff towel
    /cries

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  13. Dmac in TO
    April 11, 2013

    You are assuming they will finish third, but they have been beating up on non playoff and lower seaded teams of late, but are about to run into a bunch of games against better teams so it is quite possible they could fall out of the third seed if Minnesota got hot again. Anyway you look at it, the road through the West is going to be difficult. No easy outs in the east – Rangers could finish 7th or 8th and give a top seed trouble – but there are a couple of teams that seem vulnerable due to lack of experience – Leafs, Sens, Canadian, Islanders plus the week 3rd seed.

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    • Chinook
      April 11, 2013

      Much more likely Vancouver will finish 2nd, and not less than third. In the low-rent district (aka the “east”) Rangers will be out, 9th or 10th. Thats the view from well outside the centre of the Universe, where perspective is everything.

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    • JDM
      April 12, 2013

      What? They have 8 games left, 4 of which are against non-playoff teams. That’s 16 possible points

      Say they get 10 of 16 points, which seems a bit on the pessimistic side. That would leave them with 62 points. The Wild would need to go 8-0 in their remaining 8 games in that scenario to catch up and win on ROW’s.

      Is it impossible? No. But it’s not very likely.

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  14. Romankol
    April 11, 2013

    Anyone but the BLUES! They are better than people think. If I could choose it would be either the Coyotes, Sharks, or the Wild. Mostly because I think we would beat them.

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  15. akidd
    April 11, 2013

    well, I’m pulling for hockey too so either the wings or sharks is fine with me…by a country mile. could be fun. (bring on the careful what you wish for demons…!)

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  16. kenahora
    April 11, 2013

    Any which way…there will be no cake -walk …regardless the opponent. You need your best olayers bwing your best players…AD Nauseum.

    Fore checking is the key.

    Yes the Canucks can do it all.

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  17. ryley
    April 12, 2013

    ” The HP Pavilion is electric during the regular season, so I can barely imagine what it would be like during the playoffs.” Don’t remember the conference finals 2 years ago? I definitely don’t want to play the blues especially with their improved goaltending of late. Brian Elliot has 3 straight shutouts. To get out of the west the canucks will likely have to beat 2 of these teams and then most likely chicago so they’ll be no easy matchup.

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  18. Tom 1040
    April 12, 2013

    IMO…

    They want the team with the weakest goalie based on the last 5 games of the season.

    But what do I know…?

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  19. J.D.M.
    April 12, 2013

    I had a much longer version of this but the comment system deleted it. Apparently it didn’t like my pessimism.

    Basically my view is this: assuming the Canucks will beat the Blues in 6 games is baffling. If we’re basing our predictions on Fenwick Close, as you’ve done, the Blues are no less terrifying as a team than the Kings are. The difference is that the Blues have not received league-average goaltending this year. Are you really willing to bet that over a 7 game series, they won’t get at least .910? I would expect higher, particularly if Halak is playing. The Blues may be the most dangerous team in the conference after the Hawks and Kings.

    I would prefer to play San Jose – while still a good possession team, and a particularly bad matchup for the Canucks given their quality at centre, which seems to eviscerate our counterparts particularly in the dot, we have beaten that team in the past and it hasn’t changed all that much in terms of personnel. Niemi is as beatable a tender as anyone in the West playoff picture.

    I think everyone agrees that the Wild are a decent matchup, but note that despite their year-long poor numbers possession-wise, they’ve added a big piece in Pominville. The impact of Pominville is much greater than the normal “deadline piece” that gives you additional depth because he doesn’t just add to even strength production – he is a capable penalty killer and acts as a power play QB (he was on the point in Buffalo).

    Basically the long and short of it is the only four realistic opponent candidates are LA, San Jose, St. Louis and Minnesota, and Minnesota is the least likely of the four. There’s not much to choose between the other three; they’re all just different shades of bad.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      April 12, 2013

      The Blues are way, way, way less terrifying than the Kings when it comes to puck possession. The Kings are first in the league by Fenwick Close, with 58.19% of all Fenwick events with the score close. The Blues are tied with the Canucks at 7th at 52.96%. That’s a massive difference.

      Considering the Canucks played the bulk of the season without a legitimate second and third line centre, that Fenwick Close is lower than their true talent with Kesler and Roy in the lineup.

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      • Rob
        April 12, 2013

        I know it would be a very small sample size but is there any way to determine the Canucks Fenwick Close numbers with Roy and Kesler?

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      • J.D.M.
        April 12, 2013

        Fair enough – the Kings are clearly the class of the NHL in terms of this statistic. But I am not convinced that the Blues aren’t “cream of the crop” territory as well. I’m looking at PDO/FC% as of April 8th in Cam Charron’s weekly summary, and seeing the Blues at 53.41% in FC% while being 24th in the league in PDO. That, to me, looks like an excellent possession team team that is situated lower in the standings than they should be by a significant margin, largely due to early season struggles. In other words, it looks a lot like last year’s LA Kings (the difference being that the PDO driver in this case is sv% rather than sh%).

        The Canucks, meanwhile, are only slightly lower on that list in terms of FC%, but are 7th in the league in PDO. That’s a bit scary. And optimism – no matter that there’s a reasonable basis – that Kesler and Roy will result in the Canucks being more of, say, a 55% Fenwick close team strikes me as as rose-coloured analysis. I can only go with the data that’s actually there. Not to mention that my “eye test”, in spite of rocket slapshots over Jake Allen by Danish honey badgers, suggested to me in games I’ve watched this season that the Blues are a pretty scary opponent. I just don’t buy that their goaltending is anywhere near that bad. They’ve won 6 in a row with TJ Oshie on the shelf, who will be back in the lineup soon.

        I maintain that that series would be at best a coin toss, and it’s a team I just don’t want to see.

        Granted, the Sharks are also bottom 10 in PDO and have possession stats above 52%, so as I say I see no good matchups among those three.

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        • Daniel Wagner
          April 12, 2013

          Keep in mind that a team with above-average goaltending is expected to have a PDO above 1000.

          Here are the current Fenwick numbers: http://behindthenet.ca/fenwick_2012.php?sort=6&section=close

          Is it so crazy to think that the Canucks will be that much improved with the addition of two top-six centers? In my mind, a 2% increase in Fenwick Close is probably a bit conservative.

          Don’t get me wrong, the Blues are good, but I think the Canucks can beat them. I’m not sure why you think me saying the Canucks can win in six is some crazy prediction. I’m not saying the Canucks will sweep them by any means, just that I’m pretty sure they’re the better team. You point out that the Blues’ PDO is low and that their goaltending won’t be that bad in the playoffs. Well, I point out that the Canucks’ powerplay percentage is low and that it won’t be that bad in the playoffs, particularly with the addition of Kesler and Roy. Both teams have plenty of reasons that you can give for why they’ll be better or worse in the playoffs.

          Personally, I think that if the Blues are relying on Brian Elliott for goaltending in the playoffs, they’ll be in trouble. He’s absurdly streaky. If they’re relying on Halak, he’s been awful this season. If they’re relying on Allen, he’s an unproven rookie. I think there’s reason to think that the Blues’ goaltending woes aren’t over and will be a problem in the postseason.

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  20. kenahora
    April 12, 2013

    Playoff hockey as with the Original Six was always tight and low scoring games.
    Today’s game will be no less.Teans tighten up…patiently waiting to pounce on mistakes. Good hockey is not a shooting gallery at a carnival.
    I like this hockey….media for the most part complains …it’s boring…??
    PLEASE….these wannabee’s never laced up a pair of skates.

    Goaltending will be the key to this run for the Stanley Cup.

    I like the CANUCKS chances…!

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  21. Tom 1040
    April 13, 2013

    Ummm, kenahora…

    Our hosts don’t like wannabee comments.

    Just so you know.

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