The Vancouver Canucks have had a touchy start to the 2011-12 season that has seen a comeback against the Pittsburgh Penguins fall short and a win over the Columbus Blue Jackets that was far too close for comfort.
When the Canucks take on the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday evening, their play must be much improved if they hope to win. The Flyers are potential Stanley Cup contenders in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12 and will be a tougher task than the Blue Jackets were.
The Flyers are sitting at 2-0 with a 5-1 goal margin to start of the season. The Canucks, on the other hand, have an even 6-6 goal ratio resulting in a 1-1 record. The Canucks will have to work very hard to get the puck past new Flyers star goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov who has a 0.50 GAA.
One way to go about this is to get traffic in front, but against defenders like Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, the Canucks size and toughness could hinder them in this game. The lack of size and grit in the Canucks two top lines could mark the end for them in this game.
If they cannot create traffic and stay in front, Bryzgalov will be a very tough test. Furthermore, the talent of the Flyers defense gives them the capabilities to stop the Sedin brothers' cycle game, which makes matters worse for the Canucks.
Besides Bryzgalov, the Canucks number one issue will be getting their top two lines going on all cylinders. The Sedins/Alex Burrows line has shown flashes of brilliance so far in this young season, but they haven't been as consistent as we are used to, and the second line of the Canucks seems to be struggling with its chemistry.
Center Cody Hodgson scored his first goal of the season against Columbus, and it could aid the second line in gelling together, which would be very timely for the game against Philly. The Sedins and Burrows will eventually get it together, so there is not too much concern there.
Other than the top two lines, the bottom two depth lines have been very impressive thus far with some of the Canucks' best shifts coming from the fourth line, Max Lapierre in particular. The depth of the Canucks could be a difference maker in this game.
The Canucks defense has been decent so far with just one minus player on the roster in defenseman Kevin Bieksa. Other than the man they call Juice, there is no real need for concern against the Flyers for the defense. They should be able to contain the likes of right winger Jaromir Jagr, centers Danny Briere and Claude Giroux and left winger James Van Riemsdyk so long as their puck protection is up to par.
The Canucks special teams will need to improve as they are just 1-7 with the man advantage and have already given up a short-handed goal. They are also just 75 percent on the penalty kill, putting them near the basement of the league.
In games like this one, the Canucks must take full advantage on special teams if they want to walk away with the win. The Flyers kill off 90 percent of their penalties but have converted a dismal 8 percent of their power play chances this season. The Canucks need to take advantage of what seems to be the lone struggle for the Flyers early on this season.
When it comes down to goaltending for the Canucks, Roberto Luongo will want to put on a better performance than he did against Pittsburgh opening night. He allowed three goals on 28 shots, including two power play goals and a short-handed marker.
To make matters worse, his performance in the shootout that led to the eventual loss was dismal and almost embarrassing. We all know how much passion Luongo has and he will try to avenge his tough return to play by helping the Canucks win over the Flyers.
If this matchup happened a year ago, we might have been predicting it as a potential Stanley Cup matchup. The Canucks are no longer favorites, but the Flyers are, and the Canucks know that same pressure and should take advantage of any mishaps the Flyers have. The Canucks need to prove that they belong in the Stanley Cup talk for a second year in a row and a win over the Flyers would solidify their contender status early on in this young season.