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Pittsburgh vs. Vancouver Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (12-4-3-27) vs. Vancouver Canucks (12-6-2-26)

Where: Mellon Arena
When: Saturday, November 22, 2:00 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428 and DirecTV 659.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here



Break the Trap: Vancouver plays a very similar system to Minnesota. The Penguins have been frustrated this season with teams that lock down in the neutral zone. The Wild were able to contain Pittsburgh’s offense and Vancouver will try to emulate that success. The initial breakout pass from the Penguins defense is critical. Pittsburgh must make clean passes through the neutral zone to break the trap.

Crash the Net: Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo may be the best goalie in the NHL. He’s a big body that covers a lot of net. There is little room to shoot, even when he drops into the butterfly. The best way to beat him is to get second chances. Luongo gives up some juicy rebounds but the Penguins are going to have to pay the price in front of the net to have a chance at them. 
Last year, Vancouver appeared on the cusp of a division title until it lost seven of its final eight games to fall to last place and out of the postseason. The Canucks have made the playoffs once in the past three seasons. General manager Dave Nonis was relieved of his duties and replaced by attention-grabbing player agent Mike Gillis. In his first major decision, Gillis kept head coach Alain Vigneault at the helm. 

The Canucks play a defensive-first style and are disciplined in their own zone. That approach plus All-Star goaltender Roberto Luongo has been a formula for success. Vancouver hasn’t lost a game in regulation in its past eight games (6-0-2) and is in first place in the Northwest Division.

This will be a clash of two conflicting styles between the two hottest teams in the NHL. The Canucks play a trapping system and don’t press offensively. Pittsburgh also plays sound defensively but likes to push the play and create flow. The Penguins are off to their second-best start (tied) in franchise history and both teams are riding streaks: Pittsburgh (7-0-1), Vancouver (6-0-2).

Vancouver has played admirably during a brutal four-game road stretch that ends in Pittsburgh. On Monday, they fell in a shootout at Long Island (2-1). Then they played back-to-back road games at N.Y. Rangers (Wednesday, 6-3 win) and at Minnesota (Thursday, 3-2 win). Now they’re heading back to the East Coast to play at Mellon Arena.
With Gillis taking over, there were many changes to the Vancouver roster. Markus Naslund, the team’s captain since 2000, left in free agency. Brendan Morrison, who played the past seven-plus seasons in Vancouver, also walked this summer. Longtime Canuck Trevor Linden, the face of the franchise, retired. Gilles added Shane O'Brien (via trade) to the defensive unit. Gilles also traded for youngster Steve Bernier and signed Pavol Demitra and Kyle Wellwood to help bolster his front line.
The Sedin twins (Henrik and Daniel) are still producing at a high level, ranking first and second on the team in scoring, in their seventh season with the Canucks. Henrik, who is more of a play maker, is tops on the team with 18 points and 15 assists. Daniel, a solid finisher, has a team-high (tied) eight goals and eight assists for 16 points. Demitra, who has three 30-plus goal seasons, will be counted on to add some goal-scoring punch to the lineup. He’s been on fire after missing a month with a rib injury. Since Demitra’s return, the Slovakian has recorded seven points (3G-4A) in four games.

Kyle Wellwood, an unheralded offseason signing, is tied for the club lead in goals with eight – the same number of goals he scored all last season. His early success has been a pleasant surprise for the franchise. Third-year pro Alexandre Burrows is on pace to set career highs after posting six goals and seven assists. Ryan Kesler, a strong, power forward, is coming off of his first 20-goal season. Taylor Pyatt is looking to build off of his 16-goal, 21-assist season. Mason Raymond, a second-round pick in 2005, has lightning speed and can create a lot of scoring chances with his skates.
Vancouver has three veteran blueliners in Mattias Ohlund, Willie Mitchell and Sami Salo. The trio is a combined age of 97 and carries with them a lot of experience and ice time in their careers. Kevin Bieksa was off to a great start with three goals and eight assists (11 points) in 13 games until he suffered a fractured right foot. It’s another unfortunate setback for Bieksa, who played only 34 games last season because he lacerated his calf muscle. The Canucks traded for Shane O’Brien in October. O’Brien recorded 21 points in 77 games last year with Tampa Bay. Alexander Edler, 22, is the baby face of the group. He’s entering his second full season after netting 20 points in 75 games last year. Lawrence Nycholat and free agent signee Rob Davison have filled in for the injured Bieksa.
Most of Vancouver’s success can be attributed to No. 1. At 29 years old, Roberto Luongo is entering the prime of his career and is capable of single-handedly carrying this team into the postseason. He is one of the many butterfly-style goaltenders to hail from Quebec. Luongo is a workhorse, playing in 72 games in the past four years. He’s 11-5-2 on the current campaign with a 2.18 goals against average and .928 save percentage. What’s more, his five shutouts are the most in the NHL. And it was only two seasons ago that he posted 47 wins. He even has an assist this season – the man just does it all.

His backup, who doesn’t get to play much, is Curtis Sanford. He is a highly capable backup and understands his role. As long as Luongo is healthy, Sanford will spend most nights on the bench.
The Canucks franchise begins and ends with their netminder. That would be Roberto Luongo, the team’s designated captain. It may seem odd to have a goalie be a captain, but Luongo is no doubt the team’s leader on and off the ice. Luongo has benefited from Vigneault’s defense-first style, but he has proven throughout his career that he is one of the best, if not the best, goalies in the league. He recorded three straight shutouts earlier this month (Nov. 4 to Nov. 8) and can completely cripple opposing offenses. At 6-foot-3, 205-pounds, he covers a lot of net and doesn’t leave much to shoot at. Luongo was awarded the day off on Thursday so he will be ready to face Pittsburgh’s explosive lineup.
“It’s going to be a tight checking game. We’ll have to make sure we take the simple route and force them to play in their own end.”
- Former Canuck Matt Cooke

Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault held the same position for Montreal from 1997-2000. During that time, Michel Therrien served as head coach for Montreal’s AHL affiliate. When Vigneault was fired 20 games into the 2000 season, Therrien was promoted to his first professional coaching job.

Author: Sam Kasan

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