Hockey Night: Canucks host Oilers to begin most demanding schedule so far

Updated: November 28, 2009 at 3:51 pm by Patrick Davey


.500 just won’t cut it for the Vancouver Canucks, but that’s what they have been for most of this season. Though it could also be said that they have been a victim of NHL scheduling, with just three games in 12 days since November 15, with five days rest at one point. In October the Canucks had four days rest in the middle of the schedule and then played five in seven days, as they will do this week, beginning with a game against the Edmonton Oilers tonight.

Though this run of five games is even more important for Vancouver. After Edmonton they will play some of the league’s best teams- San Jose, Philadelphia, and New Jersey before finishing up in Carolina- and the games against the Flyers and the Devils will be a back-to-back. So, we are now well into the season, it’s still early to be thinking of the playoffs, but for teams on the outside the time is now. A successful trip could put the Canucks right back into contention, whereas an average one could drop them down even further. Though it is close, the Western Conference isn’t quite as gridlocked as the East, and if these teams like Vancouver really want it they will get there, with it being questionable whether teams like Nashville, Phoenix, Dallas… can remain there.

That applies to the Edmonton Oilers too, but now with the news of Ales Hemsky’s season-ending injury, it’s a more desperate situation.

You definitely can’t accuse the Oilers of being boring, but little support for their goaltender whoever it is, is clearly hurting the team, and often is the difference between winning and losing. That being the amount of shots that Edmonton allows, which has consistently been amongst the league’s highest this season, asking heroics of Nikolai Khabibulin again and again. Now Khabibulin is injured and Jeff Deslauriers has played since then, but he has no NHL experience starting for an extended period. The Oilers are two points back on the Canucks with two more played, and will now embark on a six-game road trip.

Canucks Fantasy Breakdown

Vancouver and Edmonton have played twice already, both low-scoring affairs with the Oilers taking the first 2-1 and the Canucks took the most recent meeting 2-0 on October 25. That could be different this time with both teams coming off four-goal outings. Fantasy owners, myself included, were happy to see Daniel Sedin back- he has 1 assist in two games back but hasn’t looked 100%. Alex Burrows production should increase consistently being back on the top line that took Vancouver to the Northwest title last year. Though with Sedin’s return some guys value could drop further. Mikael Samuelsson has only 1 goal in his last 8 games, Mason Raymond hasn’t scored in his last four, and Ryan Kesler has gone dry of goals in his last 9 and has just 1 in 14 games. Kesler has been strong all season but if the slowdown continues, look around for better options.

On defense, Christian Ehrhoff is the one strong link on an under-performing group in terms of production, it’s so hard to say who will chip-in, no-one has been consistent reflected in the average plus-minus ratings. Ehrhoff is the only exception with an impressive +11. However even he has only points in 1 of the past 7. The Canucks on defense are an overly offensive group and this causes problems because there is no Chara or Boyle who fantasy owners expect to represent the team’s output from defense. Ehrhoff leads with 15 points, and he plays on the third unit. Alexander Edler has 3 assists in the last 4 games but overall production from defense is still low, considering how Vancouver has had quite a lot of high-scoring games this season.

Here are some other teams who could have it tough the next week or two, and some teams that maybe will look at the schedule and see an opportunity to motor ahead or gain some ground:

A rough ride? For…

Ottawa Senators (3rd East)
Next 5: @BOS, @SJS, @LAK, @PHX, @ANA
Verdict: Tough. The Sens are still surprising everyone, but things could get a little hairy on this lengthy pacific road trip. Brian Elliot’s goaltending will be key, and Anaheim could be back in the picture by the time the Sens come calling if Gigeure’s resurgence continues.

New York Rangers (10th East)
Next 5: :@PIT, PIT, @BUF, DET, @CHI
Verdict: Tougher. This will be a really tough test for the Rangers, who were looking like they’d got back on track before falling to Tampa last night. They will need to at least take 1 from the Pens, but will need to rely heavily on Lundqvist for support, especially against Chicago. New York is a few games ahead of everyone else too.

Carolina Hurricanes (15th East)
Next 5: @BUF, @WSH, VAN, @PIT, @NJD
Verdict: Toughest. There could be some ugly scorelines here, though I hope the Canes can contend again. They’ve had some bad luck with the injuries to Staal and Ward, but even when these guys were in the lineup things were tough. Staal and Carolina will need to get aggressive and protect Michael Leighton, who likely won’t steal a game for them.

Maybe a streak? For…

Atlanta Thrashers (7th East)
Next 5: PHI, FLA, NYI, @FLA, TOR
Verdict: Ilya Kovalchuk is a fantasy juggernaut, Evander Kane is having a great season, Maxim Afinogenov has already matched his goal total for the last two seasons, and Ondrej Pavelec is this year’s Steve Mason. Atlanta will play teams below them for a while including two against Florida, and their offense should give them a chance to win all these games. The race between the Thrashers and Lightning for 2nd in the Southeast is hotting up.

Buffalo Sabres (6th East)
Next 5: CAR, @TOR, MTL, NYR, NJD
Verdict: With the exception of the Devils, Buffalo will also plays teams below them in the next 5, though everything can easily change in the East. The Sabres have the ability to beat the league’s best, and have one of the league’s best in Ryan Miller.

Anaheim Ducks (14th West)
Next 5: PHX, LAK, @DAL, @MIN, OTT
Verdict: It all hangs on goaltending. If Gigeure can continue to give the team confidence in the crease then things could get interesting. Though the underwhelming performances of Jonas Hiller as well as the Ducks top line have put them in this position, and they are still some way back. However the opportunity of three straight divisional games should be enough incentive.

Obviously no-one can predict how teams will play and just because a schedule looks easier doesn’t mean it will be that way. However if you know you’re looking for someone from the waiver wire for short-term use and can’t decide between guys it might be something to consider.

To conclude, I like reading articles from CBC and many many Canadians have been commenting at how annoyed they are that the Maple Leafs have been getting so much live coverage when they haven’t been doing too well. Last week for example, there was a original six matchup with Detroit playing Montreal but Toronto hosting Washington was the game that was shown nationally. Well, no controversy tonight! Toronto is idle as Hockey Night in Canada will be covering all Canadian teams tonight.

Anaheim Ducks, Atlanta Thrashers, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Vancouver Canucks