Joey Kenward: Sharks or Wings?
Who do you think the best opponent is for the Canucks to face in the Western Conference Finals?
By knocking out the Nashville Predators Monday night in Game 6 of their Western Conference Semi Final, the Canucks now have to play the waiting game to see who they’ll face in the third round.
They know the days they’ll play. They also know the start times for the puck drop. All that remains is their opponent.
The San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings are winding down their series, fighting for a chance to meet the reigning Presidents' Trophy winners. Vancouver had success against both teams during the regular season and there are plenty of interesting match-ups to consider, no matter who they meet.
Take a look at some of the comparisons and decide for yourself who the most ideal opponent is for the Canucks.
Let’s start with the Sharks, who the Canucks have never met in the playoffs.
In four regular season games this season, Vancouver took points in every meeting going 3-0-1. For two teams with plenty of fire power, special teams were not a major factor as the Canucks went a combined 3-for-15 on the power play while the Sharks went 2-for-12.
Last year, Daniel Sedin was held to just one goal and one assist in four games against the Sharks. This year, he responded in a big way by leading all Canucks in head-to-head scoring with two goals and four helpers. Henrik Sedin, with only three assists against San Jose in the 2009.10 season, collected one goal and four assists this year.
Roberto Luongo started two of the four games against San Jose this season, both at Rogers Arena. He allowed two goals against on a combined 79 shots, giving him a sparkling .975 save percentage. Lifetime against the Sharks, Luongo has gone 7-10-3 and he has yet to record a shut-out against his Bay Area rivals.
Ryan Kesler, who is the current NHL playoff scoring leader with five goals and ten assists, had just three assists in four meetings with San Jose. In 21 career games against the Sharks, Kesler has two goals and seven assists. Keep in mind, Kesler had only scored two career goals against the Predators prior to putting up 11 points in his last four games of the Nashville series.
Entering this season, the Canucks were 19-19-6 lifetime in games played at the HP Pavilion. It had also been a while since they won a game at the Shark Tank (Apr.07.07). All that changed this year though, as the Canucks took both games in San Jose.
The last meeting with the Sharks was arguably the most entertaining regular season road game the Canucks have had in years. Back and forth action was on display from both teams as the two sides combined for 76 shots. Cory Schneider made 44 saves while Alex Burrows had the opening goal of the night and the winner in the shoot-out to lead the Canucks to a 5-4 win.
The lone Canucks player who has played for the Sharks is defenceman Christian Ehrhoff, who is currently tied for top spot in the playoffs for points by a blue-liner (2-7-9). In seven career meetings against his former club, Ehrhoff has just four assists, three of which came this season.
San Jose finished atop the Pacific Division this season with a record of 48-25-9. Only the Canucks had a better power play than the Sharks who scored on 23.5% of their man advantages. San Jose did have the best power play on home ice of any team in the league, scoring 41 PPG in 41 games at the Tank.
For the first time in many years, the Sharks did not have a player finish in the Top 10 in NHL scoring. However the likes of Patrick Marleau (37-36-73), Joe Thorton (21-49-70), and Dany Heatley (26-38-64) are all capable of getting the job done on any given night.
They also have a Stanley Cup winning goaltender in the mix with Antti Niemi manning the crease. His numbers against the Canucks weren’t great during the season putting up a 3.64 GAA and .896 save percentage.
There’s only one player on San Jose’s line-up that at one time wore a Canucks uniform and that’s Kyle Wellwood. He only played twice against Vancouver this season after joining the Sharks midway through the year from the KHL. In 35 games this season, he scored five goals and eight assists and was +10.
Let’s switch gears to Detroit, who the Canucks have met only once in a playoff series. Many will remember the 2002 1st round match-up the Canucks had with the Red Wings, who that year were the NHL’s regular season champs. The 8th-seeded Canucks took the opening two games at Joe Louis Arena before losing the next four straight.
This year, Vancouver won twice against Detroit while dropping the other two meetings in overtime and a shoot-out. Each team scored only one first period goal in the four games. Both teams had 16 combined power plays against each other, with Vancouver scoring on six opportunities while Detroit cashed in four times.
Luongo appeared in every game against Detroit this season, registering a 2.66 goals against average and .925 save percentage. His career record against Detroit is 9-10-5. Luongo has never shut-out the Wings. In fact, Detroit and San Jose are the only two teams in the Western Conference that Luongo has not held off the scoreboard.
Mikael Samuelsson is the only Canuck who has played for Detroit in his career. He won a Stanley Cup with the Wings in 2008. In 10 career meetings against the Red Wings, Samuelsson has three goals and one assist.
The Red Wings captured yet another Central Division title this season by posting a 47-25-10 record. Only Vancouver had a better road record in the NHL than Detroit did this season (26-11-4). Of all the teams in the Western Conference who qualified for the playoffs, Detroit had allowed the most goals against during the year (241).
Detroit had 12 players finish off the season with 30+ points. Henrik Zetterberg (24-56-80), Nicklas Lidstrom (16-46-62) and Pavel Datsyuk (23-36-59) were the top performers for the Wings this year and all have played valuable roles in their post season appearances to this point this spring.
Jimmy Howard was one victory behind Luongo for the most of any goalie in the league this season (37). He appeared in all four games against the Canucks this year, combining for a 3.17 GAA and .908 Sv%.
The only player on Detroit’s roster who has played for the Canucks is Todd Bertuzzi. This season marked Bertuzzi’s 1000th career game in the league. It was also his best season points-wise since he left the Canucks in 2006. In 81 games this year, Bertuzzi scored 16 goals and added 29 assists. He appeared in only three meetings with Vancouver this year, chipping in just one assist.
So, who do you think the best opponent is for the Canucks to face in the Western Conference Finals?