Covid, the NHL, and the Vancouver Canucks upped the ante. As I pointed out in my big picture preview of the weekend yesterday, this Saturday night game against the Seattle Kraken is a big one. The stakes were increased when the team and league postponed the January 5th match against the New York Islanders at Rogers Arena. It means a full week between games for the Canucks to start the New Year and to continue what has been a bizarre three weeks.
They do not want to be sitting on a loss for seven days.
Starting what will be another elongated break for the BC Boys tied with the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings and four points back of the Edmonton Oilers is way more palpable than starting in seventh place, two to six points behind all of them. A loss would be a crummy way to start 2022.
From a talent and scoring depth standpoint, there’s no way the Canucks shouldn’t take care of business if they quickly jump back into the good work habits and the high pressure hockey head coach Bruce Boudreau has been espousing since his arrival. The diligence factor has slipped a bit in the last two road games, particularly in Thursday night’s 2-1 shoot-out loss in LA.
Thus far the Canucks have managed to earn a point in every single one of Boudreau’s games, seven straight wins followed by that one-pointer. So they’ve pretty much gotten away with any bad habits creeping in and Saturday night they have an opportunity to clean-slate things against a team with less talent.
It will be holiday battle between the team’s top goalies; Thatcher Demko at one end, Philipp Grubauer at the other. As one may have expected, the German’s numbers with the expansion Kraken haven’t kept up with what he established previously in his career with the Colorado Avalanche and Washington Capitals. His goals against average with Seattle is a pedestrian 3.27 and his save percentage a head scratching .882.
Demko meanwhile has been a game changer on a consistent basis. His numbers don’t tell the story because of two inflated losses during the disastrous road trip in mid-November. You have to watch him.
In the Covid department, the Kraken return defenceman Vince Dunn and forward Ryan Donato to the line-up, but as they come off the protocol list, defenceman Jeremy Lauzon has been added to it. The Canucks put sniper Brock Boeser and reserve forward Phil Di Giuseppe on the list at the start of the three-game road trip. Forward Justin Dowling went on the list two days ago.
Forward Jason Dickinson was added to the list Saturday morning and won’t be available. It means the Canucks will dress 11 forwards and 7 defenceman. It’s handy that Brad Hunt can play comfortably as a forward or a rearguard. Also different for this one, the Vancouver Canucks arrived this morning, day of game, rather than the day before which is standard. A bit of a different routine for athletes very much used to them.
Vancouver’s special teams have improved dramatically in the eight games under Boudreau, but the penalty kill remains the worst in the NHL at 68.7 percent. Prevention is the best medicine; the Canucks have been winning when staying out of the box. The Kraken are middle-of-the-pack with an 18.8% power play and 22nd in the NHL with a 78.1% penalty kill.
The Vancouver Canucks sit nine points ahead of the expansion Kraken in the Pacific Division. When the night’s over, for practical purposes and for their mental health, it’s need to be eleven.