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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.Tags: Blues, Canucks, Coyotes, Kings, Red Wings, Sharks, Wild