It’s once again time for the DtFR Game of the Week. Let’s take a look at our options for these seven days:
|NHL SCHEDULE: November 12-18|
|TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN)||VISITOR||HOST||NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
|Monday, November 12|
|7 p.m.||Vancouver Canucks||New York Rangers||1-2|
|7 p.m.||Chicago||Carolina||2-3 (OT)|
|10 p.m.||Nashville||Anaheim||1-2 (SO)|
|Tuesday, November 13|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||New Jersey||2-4|
|7 p.m.||Vancouver Canucks||New York Islanders||2-5|
|7:30 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Buffalo||1-2|
|10:30 p.m.||Toronto||Los Angeles||5-1|
|10:30 p.m.||Nashville||San Jose||4-5|
|Wednesday, November 14|
|8 p.m.||St. Louis||Chicago||0-1|
|Thursday, November 15|
|7 p.m.||New York Rangers||New York Islanders|
|7 p.m.||New Jersey||Philadelphia|
|7 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Pittsburgh||TVAS|
|9 p.m.||Montréal||Calgary||RDS, TSN2|
|10:30 p.m.||Toronto||San Jose|
|Friday, November 16|
|8:30 p.m.||Los Angeles||Chicago||NHLN|
|10 p.m.||St. Louis||Vegas|
|saturday, November 17|
|1 p.m.||Detroit||New Jersey|
|1 p.m.||Tampa Bay||Philadelphia||NHLN, SN|
|7 p.m.||Montréal||Vancouver||CBC, SN1, TVAS|
|7 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Ottawa||CITY, SN|
|7 p.m.||Florida Panthers||New York Rangers||NHLN|
|8 p.m.||Los Angeles||Nashville|
|10 p.m.||Edmonton||Calgary||CBC, SN, SN1|
|10:30 p.m.||St. Louis||San Jose|
|Sunday, November 18|
|1 p.m.||Dallas Stars||New York Islanders||SN|
|5 p.m.||New Jersey||Carolina|
|8 p.m.||Vegas||Edmonton||SN, TVAS|
As I point out every in every column, there were more than a few superb offerings in this week’s NHL schedule. There were a solid half-dozen rivalries (St. Louis at Chicago, New York at New York, New Jersey at Philadelphia, Los Angeles at Chicago, Edmonton at Calgary and Minnesota at Chicago) to choose from, not to mention a long list of players returning to their former stomping grounds (G Cam Ward heading back to Raleigh – his former team of 13 seasons – headlined that list, though the “homecoming” of D Brooks Orpik to Denver will surely generate at least a few conversations).
However, this week’s selection has nothing to do with any sort of rivalry or player return. Instead, this week’s brightest matchup features two teams having unexpected success to start the season squaring off in what could end up being an important tie-breaking game should they be competing for wild card spots this spring.
We first turn our attention to tonight’s visitors, the 10-8-2 Vancouver Canucks. To the surprise of many, British Columbia’s beloved hockey side finds itself in second place in the Pacific Division, a far cry from last year’s position in the table (second to last in the Western Conference).
In particular, the biggest story coming out of the Canucks so far this season has been the exciting play of their forward corps, specifically that of youngster F Elias Pettersson. In only 14 games played, he’s already hung up 10-7-17 totals to lead all rookies in goals and points (he’s tied with Chicago’s F Dominik Kahun for second in assists behind leader D Henri Jokiharju – also of Chicago).
Led by Pettersson (not to mention C Bo Horvat, who has a matching 17 points to his credit), the Canucks’ offense currently ranks 13th-worst in the NHL, averaging 3.1 goals per game.
13th-worst and 3.1 goals per game may not sound like much, but the smart Canucks fans are excited by the growth they’ve seen from this year’s edition of the team It should be remembered, of course, that last year’s roster only scored 218 goals, or 2.66 goals per game (the Canucks are currently on pace for 254 this season).
Unfortunately for Vancouver, its hot start looks like it could be coming to an end as a result of the disastrous six-game eastern road trip (I suppose all road trips for the Canucks are eastern, aren’t they…) it’s finishing tonight. In their last five games, the Canucks have posted only a 1-2-2 record – posting both regulation losses in their last two outings – and have ceded control of the division to San Jose. That being said, Vancouver could jump back into first place in the Pacific with a win tonight and a regulation loss by the Sharks to Toronto.
While the Canucks might be cooling down, nothing has been able to stop the 11-5-2 Minnesota Wild just yet this season, as they’ve soared all the way into second place in the Central Division after many pegged them to miss the playoffs this season altogether.
Offense is the name of the game for the team in white, but Minnesota has found much of its success in its own zone.
While the defense does deserve some credit (the Wild have allowed 31.6 shots against per game this season, the 14th-highest average in the league), it’s specifically been the play of 8-4-2 G Devan Dubnyk that has made them so dominant. Dubnyk has posted a .927 save percentage and 2.34 GAA in 14 starts this season, both of which are top-six in the NHL among the 25 goalies with at least 10 starts.
The Wild just finished up an extended West Coast road trip of their own, going 5-2-0 (including a 5-2 loss at Vancouver on October 29) before returning home and losing to the Capitals on Tuesday, snapping a three-game win streak.
If tonight’s game becomes a battle of special teams, look for the Wild to take control easily. While both teams have comparable power plays (both convert under 19 percent of their extra-man opportunities), Minnesota boasts a penalty kill far superior to that of Vancouver. The Wild’s penalty kill escapes unscathed a division-leading 85.7 percent of the time, while Vancouver can only make that claim after 80.3 percent of its penalties (14th-worst in the NHL).
Even if this game doesn’t boil down to special team situations, I’m still leaning towards the Wild claiming two points tonight. The Canucks are tired from their long road trip, not to mention the fact that G Richard Bachman making his season debut this evening. Look for the Wild’s offense (led by F Mikael Granlund‘s 10-8-18 totals) to pounce early and put the pressure on Vancouver’s young, tired offense.