NHL 2011 Playoffs: Vancouver Canucks vs San Jose Sharks Series Preview
Regular Season Series
Take it for what you will, but here are some key stats from the regular season series between the Canucks and Sharks.
The season series was tied with two regulation wins for the Canucks, and a shootout win for each team as well. All in all, the Canucks took seven points from the series, the Sharks got three points.
Nov 26, 2010 in Vancouver: 6-1 Canucks
Jan 3, 2011 in San Jose: 4-3 Canucks
Jan 20, 2011 in Vancouver: 2-1 Sharks (Shootout)
March 10, 2011 in San Jose: 5-4 Canucks (Shootout)
Antti Niemi was in net for all four games and had a 0.896 save percentage.
Roberto Luongo was in net for one win and one shootout loss, and had a 0.975 save percentage.
Cory Schneider was in net for the the other two Vancouver wins and had a 0.916 save percentage.
Daniel Sedin: Two goals, six assists (six points)
Alex Burrows: Three goals, one assist (four points)
Henrik Sedin: One goal, three assists (four points)
Dany Heatley: One goal, three assists (four points)
Dan Hamhuis: Three assists (three points)
Ryan Kesler: Three assists (three points)
Christian Ehrhoff: Three assists (three points)
Joe Thornton: Three assists (three points)
Ryane Clowe: Three assists (three points)
Now we get to the stats that actually matter.
Regular season stats mean nothing in the postseason. What you put on the scoreboard when the games count is all that matters. Just ask Patrick Marleau. Or Henrik Sedin for that matter.
Vancouver's Top Playoff Scorers
Ryan Kesler: Five goals, 10 assists (15 points)
Daniel Sedin: Six goals, four assists (10 points)
Christian Ehrhoff: Two goals, seven assists (nine points)
Henrik Sedin: One goal, eight assists (nine points)
The Canucks have 13 different goal scorers, including three players with a pair of game-winning goals each (Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins).
San Jose's Top Playoff Scorers
Ryane Clowe: Four goals, nine assists (13 points)
Logan Couture: Six goals, six assists (12 points)
Joe Thornton: Two goals, nine assists, (11 points)
Dan Boyle: Two goals, nine assists (11 points)
The Sharks have 14 different goal scorers, including six players with game-winning goals.
This shouldn't be a surprise a month into the playoffs, but the Canucks are the toughest team in the NHL.
The Canucks lead the NHL by a wide margin in playoff hits with 436; however in this series, their opponents might actually give as good as they get. The Sharks are second in the NHL for playoff hits with 363.
Relentless fore-checking usually leads to intimidation and turnovers as a series progresses. So it isn't surprising that the Canucks (123) and Sharks (100) are first and second respectively for playoff takeaways as well.
Ryan Kesler leads the Canucks with 17 takeaways, and Joe Thornton leads the Sharks with 14 takeaways.
Vancouver's Top Playoff Hitters
Maxim Lapierre: 49 hits
Kevin Bieksa: 45 hits
Alex Edler: 43 hits
Ryan Kesler: 42 hits
San Jose's Top Playoff Hitters
Douglas Murray: 51 hits
Devin Setoguchi: 32 hits
Ryane Clowe: 31 hits
Niclas Wallin: 27 hits
Antti Niemi: 3.01 GAA, 0.906 save percentage, seven wins
Roberto Luongo: 2.25 GAA, 0.917 save percentage, eight wins, two shutouts
Luongo looks to have the edge, but his stats are somewhat marred by three goals in the Nashville series that were scored from behind the goal line.
Some bad luck (or good luck if you are a Predator's fan) for Luongo as they were bouncing in off skates and his defencemen, but he needs to work on that, as it almost derailed the series for the Canucks.
Still, Luongo has the better stats, even after the debacle that was Games 4 and 5 in the Chicago series.
I'd give the edge to the Canucks in net, but it isn't necessarily by a wide margin.
Playoff Power Play
Canucks: 22.2 percent (eight goals in 36 opportunities)
Sharks: 13.7 percent (seven goals on 51 opportunities)
This is a clear advantage for the Canucks, even with the three shorthanded goals that they have given up. The Sharks better hope this series doesn't turn into a special teams battle.
Playoff Penalty Kill
Canucks: 86.0 percent (short-handed 50 times, allowed seven goals)
Sharks: 82.7 percent (short-handed 52 times, gave up nine goals)
This is pretty much a draw. Canucks have a slight edge, but nothing significant.
Of note is that the Canucks killed off almost six minutes of five-on-three time in the playoffs without giving up a goal.
The Sharks just finished a hard fought and emotional series that had them flying back and forth across the continent. And now they have just two days of rest before they play in Vancouver.
The Canucks, on the other hand, have been resting up at home and will have had five days off between games. Walking wounded such as Henrik Sedin should greatly benefit from this.
The Canucks will also get a boost emotionally from Manny Malhotra, who has recovered somewhat from his devastating eye injury, and is now practicing (lightly) with the team. It is extremely doubtful he will actually play in the series, but having a leader like Malhotra in the dressing room instead of the press box will help the Canucks.
The Sharks have impressive regular seasons, but they don't seem to strike fear into other teams in the playoffs. They don't have the all-world reputation of Detroit, and they haven't featured in the nightmares of Canucks players like the Blackhawks did until just recently.
The Canucks will treat the Sharks with respect, but this isn't going to be a series where the Sharks get into the Canucks heads.
Of course, the same thing can be said going the other way. Neither team has a reputation as playoff winners. Yet.
Manny Malhotra: Out indefinitely with an eye injury. He is practicing again with the team, but is very doubtful to play in the series.
Mikael Samuelsson: Day to day with a lower body injury. Doubtful for Game 1, but he should play in the series.
Kent Huskins: Upper body, out Indefinitely
Ryane Clowe: He should play in Game 1, but he might still be hurting after missing Game 6 of the second round with an upper body injury after being rocked by Niklas Kronwall. He came back to play Game 7, but that was with the season on the line. Count Clowe as one of the walking wounded, and unlike similar players for the Canucks, he isn't getting time to recover between series.
*Thanks to TSN for their injury reports.
Kyle Wellwood and Christian Ehrhoff
Both players are going up against their old teams. Wellwood signed with the Sharks as a free agent after the Canucks cut him loose. Ehrhoff was picked up by the Canucks for practically nothing two summers ago as the Sharks dumped salary after acquiring Dany Heatley.
As a sidenote, Ehrhoff is outscoring Heatley in the playoffs so far. I wonder if the Sharks regret that trade?
Antti Niemi vs. the Canucks
Niemi was part of the Blackhawks team that tormented the Canucks last year. However, this year he doesn't have the same calibre of defensive forwards and defensemen in front of him.
Expect this storyline to get played up by the media, but it should be a non-factor unless Niemi performs significantly better than he has through the first two rounds.
Can Ryan Kesler continue his Conn Smythe campaign after almost single-handedly beating the Predators?
Will the Sedins start scoring again?
They have been facing some harsh criticism in the face of decreased production, but Henrik and Daniel didn't have any problems scoring on the Sharks in the regular season. Hopefully that trend continues and the twins can get back on the scoreboard in a major way.
The Sharks aren't the Blackhawks. And they don't play defense as well as the Predators. They do have a handful of big star forwards who can be a handful when they feel like playing and a really good coach.
But the Canucks can match them or beat them in every category.
This will be a close series, but the Canucks should be victorious.
Canucks in six games.