Heading into tonight's Game 1, the Canucks are sporting a new-look lineup, although it's perhaps closer to what most pundits expected after the trade deadline.
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alex Burrows
Chris Higgins - Ryan Kesler - Zack Kassian
Mason Raymond - Derek Roy - Jannik Hansen
Andrew Ebbett - Max Lapierre - Dale Weise
Dan Hamhuis - Jason Garrison
Alex Edler - Kevin Bieksa
Andrew Alberts - Frank Corrado
Up front, the Sedin line is unchanged. No point messing with success.
It appears that San Jose might try to match up Joe Thornton's line up against the Sedins in a power-on-power matchup. Given the Sedins' ability to control the puck, and past experience in schooling Thornton in a similar matchup in 2011, this might be the best situation for the Canucks.
Far better at least than having the Sedins face the Sharks' checking line and have to worry about Raffi Torres being on the ice with them every shift.
In terms of deployment and matchups, I'd expect to see Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault continue his zone-based deployment and give the Sedins the lion's share of the offensive-zone starts, while Lapierre will do the heavy lifting and take most of the defensive zone faceoffs. Having Ebbett to back him up on faceoffs will be nice insurance, although perhaps a more physical winger might be inserted into that spot.
Ryan Kesler moves back to center and Derek Roy drops down to the third line to space out the depth and allow Alain Vigneault to roll four lines.
Kesler picks up new linemates in Chris Higgins and Zack Kassian. Higgins is a solid two-way player who can chip in offence and work the boards, and he meshed well with Kesler during the 2011 playoffs. Kassian is a wild card, but with two dependable veterans to lead the way, his job will be to simplify his game, hit hard on the forecheck and be alert for scoring opportunities.
Kesler's role is usually to shut down the top players on the other team, and in that case, it would likely be the line of Patrick Marleau (17 goals), Logan Couture (21 goals) and Martin Havlat (eight goals). The Sharks are top-heavy when it comes to goal scoring, with 49 percent of the goals (46 of 94) scored by their forwards coming from this line.
If Kesler can work his Selke magic and shut down this line at even strength, as he did to shut down the Sharks' top line in the 2011 playoffs, then the Canucks will be in good shape.
Here, Kassian's physical play, along with Kesler's relentless forechecking, could be key, as we know from past experience that Marleau can be taken off his game. Havlat is also injury prone and is just returning from a lower-body injury for Game 1 and may not be able to stand up to repeated hits.
Roy gets speedsters and defensively responsible wingers in Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen in a very fast third line.
Both wingers play on the penalty kill but also possess respectable offensive capabilities, having potted 10 goals apiece this season. Roy has playoff experience but not as a third-line guy. It will be interesting to see if he can take advantage of being under the radar instead of being focused on as part of the top line.
If this line can take advantage of the defensive pylons that man the third defence pairing for the Sharks, that could be a difference-maker in the series.
On defence, the only real change is Frank Corrado coming in for the injured Chris Tanev. Tanev is expected to be out for another week or so but should return during the series.
Corrado's third pairing should get relatively sheltered ice time, perhaps 10 or 12 minutes total.
The shutdown top pairing of Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison should be out for 25-28 minutes, largely against Couture's line.
Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa will form the second pairing and should be slightly behind the shutdown pairing in ice time, perhaps in the 22- to 25-minute range. Vigneault won't be afraid to throw out this pairing against the Sharks' top line if necessary, but this pairing is more likely to be looking for offence off the rush.
In goal, it appears that Cory Schneider is over his mysterious "body injury" and will be starting in net, with Roberto Luongo as a more-than-capable insurance policy on the bench.
UPDATE: In a surprising plot twist (although perhaps not that surprising given the goalie drama in Vancouver over the last 18 months), it has just been announced that Roberto Luongo will start tonight.
This is despite Schneider practicing the last three days and declaring himself ready to play earlier in the week.
But no fear for Canucks fans. Luongo is money in home openers, winning four of the last five series openers at Roger's Arena in the last two years, including three shutouts.
In the 2011 series between the Sharks and Canucks, Luongo was the better goalie by far. He posted a 0.931 save percentage versus Niemi's 0.869 save percentage.
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