With 7 games left, the Canucks have got to figure it's time for some changes. Sitting 45-26-4 with 7 games to go might not seem that bad, but of all the teams going into the playoffs, Vancouver isn't exactly a favourite. With the Blackhawks limping along and the Sharks back at the top of their game, what better team than to test your playoff-readiness than the Phoenix Coyotes?
The Coyotes need this win if they have any plans of catching San Jose, and that's exactly what the Canucks want. Vancouver will see a playoff atmosphere at GM Place tonight, and will need to channel it into a win. This will be a big test for a struggling team. Luongo, who has been average of late, needs to be near perfect against a Phoenix team that doesn't score often, but has the second best GAA in the league.
Of course, the Canucks need to flex their offensive muscles, which have been looking weak in recent games. Holding a 3.21 G/G is nice, but showcasing it seems to be a rarity for the Canucks when facing good teams. Look for players like Bieksa and Edler to be matched with Stempniak and Wolski. Vancouver's forwards will also need to get to Bryzgalov early, or we'll be watching another slow and defensive game.
There's also something to note about the bigger picture here. If you glance at the standings, you'll see that Detroit will most likely finish in 5th, and that's the last thing the Coyotes want. Right now, the Wings are the team that no one in the West wants to see in the first round. They're easily the most dangerous and experienced side, and the fact that they're red hot means the 'Yotes will want this win so much more.
Vancouver will also be looking to gain ground on Chicago. They don't just want the division, they want home ice for at least the first two rounds.
A lot of questions will be answered in today's game. Is Vancouver ready for the playoffs? Can their forwards find production against a tough goalie? Is their defense up to par? Can Luongo prove that he can carry this team through the tough games?
Time to find out.