Instead of playing up the blood feud between these two teams as has been customary during pieces like this over the years, what is now hot to do is lament how there is neither any sizzle or any steak to these matchups. Realignment and Mike Gillis torpedoing a perennial contender have made these games now just another date on the calendar for the most part. But that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a critical game for both squads tonight.
These Canucks come into the UC tonight barely recognizable from years past, with almost all of the principles either gone or hurt. Ryan Kesler and his supreme douche Superman K tattoo are now fittingly in Orange County, and magically Roberto Luongo is once again a beloved figure in Sunrise. Only the creepy twins really remain among the forward corps, and Shooty and Passy somehow managed to turn Radim Vrbata into an all star this year. Yes, that Radim Vrbata. And as if their weirdo factor needed any further amplification, Henrik and Daniel come into tonight with identical 44 point marks to lead the Canucks, with Vrbata not far behind with 38 points and a team-leading 20 goals. Nick Bonino, who came over in the Kesler deal, started off the year relatively hot, but his pace has tailed off since with only 25 points from the #2C position. With little else behind them these days, the twins still see the opposition’s top pair on a nightly basis and still do a pretty decent job with them, controlling nearly 54% of even strength attempts while not getting nearly the cherry zone starts they used to under the AV regime. Past the twins however is an assortment of youth and assholes, or in the case of Zack Kassian both. Bo Horvat has pretty routinely gotten his skull caved in attempts against, and it’s not hard to imagine why with the likes of Tom Sestito and Derek Dorsett populating the Nucks’ bottom six. Jannik Hansen can fly and has skill, but will never hesitate to take a cheap shot provided the other player isn’t looking.
On the Canucks’ blue line, awful quote machine and Nick Lachey look-alike Kevin Bieksa remains out with a hand injury just as Dan “I’ve Got This” Hamhuis finally returned to the lineup. The de facto top pairing of Alex Edler and Chris Tanev has actually been pretty productive with nearly 54% shares themselves. Adam Clendening has a lone assist since being traded to the Canucks and did not play on Monday in Minnesota.
But of course it wouldn’t be a Canucks game without a controversy in net. Ryan Miller and his Joy Division bootlegs were brought into Vancouver for $6 million per season, and he’s been as decidedly average as he was in Buffalo and St. Louis since his Vezina campaign five years ago. But because the Canucks give up just about as many shots and attempts as they take (29.5 shots for, 28.7 against; 53.5CF60, 53.7CA60), that’s landed the Canucks squarely on the bubble of the playoff picture, particularly in the hyper competitive West. So after giving up 5 goals on 18 shots on Monday, Miller is getting the boot for the equally average Eddie Lack tonight, he of the n.916 save percentage, .919 at evens.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, Goddamnit Versteeg has been activated for the game tonight, with Tuevo predictably taking a seat as Joakim Nordstrom is sent back to the land of Beef A Roo. While it’s frustrating to see Dan Carcillo remain in the lineup because of his “element”, it’s nothing to get too bent out of shape over. YET. Of bigger concern is just how married Quenneville is to Andrew Shaw remaining at center, with Versteeg now to his right. On a deeper team that could spell multiple neutral ice boners headed back the other way, and it still might against the Canucks this evening.
Things on the blue line will remain static as Joel Quenneville continues to passively tell his general manager that he needs “more” for that unit while David Rundblad will likely play less than 10 minutes if this game is at all close. Johnny Oduya continues to be an adventure after a solid game against a deep Blues team preceded a team-worst -7 Corsi against the dog-ass Coyotes (GET IT). Corey Crawford gets the start in net tonight and appears to have finally leveled off to his generally above-average gameplay after likely rushing back from his injury.
Given the last change, it figures to be the Toews line and Seabrook-Hjalmarsson seeing the Sedins and Vrbata, and the rest of the matchups should fall into place where they will as there aren’t that many to chase. But if the Hawks are sloppy in their own zone and don’t limit the opportunities there, there won’t be enough at the other end to make Lack earn every bit of his .916 save percentage. And since St. Louis and Nashville are never going to lose again, it’d be nice to at least keep pace. Let’s go Hawks.
If you’re heading to the United Center tonight, make sure to pick up a copy of our gameday program we sell outside the arena. We have two sellers on Madison, one on Damen and one on Wood st. If you’re not going, you can get the digital edition right here.