DETROIT – When the Detroit Red Wings look across the ice during warmup Wednesday night, they’ll be looking at a mirror image. It appears the Vancouver Canucks have grown up and become the Red Wings, minus the Stanley Cups, of course.
The question now is whether grasshopper (the Canucks) can snatch the pebble from Master Kan’s (the Red Wings) hand and win a championship. There’s a chance the Canucks and Red Wings will give a preview of a playoff showdown when they hit the ice in their last regular season meeting. And if the first three games of this season were any indication, we can only hope this won’t be their last of 2010-11.
Western Conference final, anyone?
(By the way, that stuff two paragraphs north is a reference to an old television show named Kung Fu. Anyone under the age of 35 is encouraged to Google it.)
If you subscribe to the theory that the Western Conference is superior to the Eastern Conference, the Canucks and Red Wings are the two best teams in the league. They are the league’s two highest scoring teams, separated by just one goal, and have played three entertaining games this season.
“They’re the best team in the league,” Red Wings GM Ken Holland said of Vancouver.
Whether that’s a tactic to apply pressure to the Canucks or not, the standings don’t lie. But the fact remains the Canucks are full marks for their 103 points and parts of their blueprint have undoubtedly been lifted by the Red Wings. The Canucks are a much more mature and balanced team this season with a solid veteran core that is self motivated.
Sound like anyone you know?
“I think we’ve kind of taken areas of their game and modeled ourselves around that,” said Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa. “(Former Red Wing) Mikael Samuelsson came in and we got some of his leadership and some info on how they go about their business. And the stuff after the whistle, we’ve gotten a lot better at that, a lot smarter, and it has definitely helped us out. I wouldn’t say we play exactly like them. I like to think we’re a little more physical and gritty and I think they have a little more skill.”
In November, the Canucks defeated the Red Wings 6-4, but lost 5-4 in overtime in December and 2-1 in a shootout in January. For the Canucks, the good news is they haven’t lost to the Red Wings in regulation, but the bad news is they haven’t been able to put the Red Wings away in a crucial part of the game.
“You’ve got two teams that don’t mind going on the offensive,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “Both teams love to have their ‘D’ being part of the attack. We’re teams that can go up and down and trade chances and that makes it very entertaining.”
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock looks down the Canucks lineup and acknowledges it’s difficult to locate a soft spot. But they still don’t have the Red Wings playoff or regular season pedigree.
“I think they have good depth, I think they have a good back end, good goaltending, good scoring and guys who are playing well with and without the puck,” Babcock said. “They look like a good team, so now we’re all going to find out who’s a good team.”
Perhaps the biggest compliment you can pay to both squads is they never allow injuries to be a crutch. The Canucks certainly haven’t. They might have the best defense corps Nos. 1 through 6 in the league, but they have not played together for a single game this season.
The Canucks are still getting over the devastating blow of losing Manny Malhotra for (at least) the year with an eye injury and even though Bieksa is expected to return after missing a month with a broken foot, the Canucks will also be without Samuelsson (lower body) and defensemen Andrew Alberts (broken wrist) and Alex Edler (back surgery). The Red Wings will be hit even harder without Pavel Datsyuk (lower body), Johan Franzen (strained groin), Jiri Hudler (flu) and Todd Bertuzzi (back spasms).
NHL scoring leader Daniel Sedin, however, will be in the lineup for the Canucks after he and his wife had their third child Monday night.
When it was brought up to Vigneault that it never seems to matter to the Red Wings how many and which players are missing, he said: “I could say the same thing about us. We’ve been missing quite a few players all year long. We’ve been missing quite a few defensemen all year long and we’ve kept on plugging away. I expect them to keep on chugging away and we’ll do the same thing.”