The new season begins in the same building that last season ended for the Canucks when they travel to the Saddledome tonight in search of revenge against the Calgary Flames.
When the Canucks hit the ice in Calgary tonight, they will look drastically different from the team that was eliminated by the Flames in last spring's post-season. While a large part of the core does remain, there are up to seven newcomers (eight including recalled goaltender Richard Bachman) to the team who could potentially make their Canuck debuts tonight. Most of the attention will undoubtedly be focused on Jake Virtanen, Jared McCann, and Ben Hutton – the rookie trio who lit it up during pre-season and are part of an invigorating new youth movement for the club.
Based on yesterday's practice lines, however, it appears as though Virtanen, along with defenceman Yannick Weber, could be the healthy scratches for opening night. Look for newcomer Brandon Sutter, a natural centre, to skate as a winger on the top line with the Sedin twins. Ryan Miller is expected to get the call between the pipes for Vancouver going up against Karri Ramo, who is part of Calgary's three-headed monster in the crease. Among the new faces expected to debut for the Flames include ex-Jet Michael Frolik and ex-Bruin Dougie Hamilton.
Puck drop at 7 pm PT – Live on Sportsnet, TSN 1040, or online at tsn1040.ca.
Regular Season Record
2015.16 Season Series
Last 10 games
Last 10 head-to-head
The Flames' pre-season, if you judge it just by results, was a decent success as they finished with four wins and four losses despite ending the exhibition campaign with consecutive defeats at the hands of the Jets. The game losses won't be as much a concern for the Flames compared to the loss of bodies, however. The Flames begin the regular season missing two of their top blue-liners in TJ Brodie and Ladislav Smid. Brodie, in particular, will be greatly missed on a Flames blue-line that otherwise looks to be one of the most intimidating in the league offensively although Brodie's missing offensive output should be offset by newcomer Dougie Hamilton. As for who gets a chance to slot into the top-six as a result of Brodie's injury, that job looks to go to 21-year-old Brett Kulak. A former Vancouver Giant and Abbotsford Heat, Kulak split last season between the AHL and ECHL although he did make his NHL debut back on April 11 in Winnipeg.
Up front, the Flames are also dealing with the absence of Joe Colborne, who was injured in Calgary's second-to-last pre-season affair. Though the Flames might not necessarily be devastated in terms of the lost offence that Colborne would have brought (he had a career-high 28 points last season), his absence could have some ripple effects in the lineup. Head coach Bob Hartley had talked about the potential of shifting rookie Sam Bennett from his natural centre position to the wing, but the injury of Colborne may put a kibosh on those plans. Regardless of where Bennett finds himself in the lineup, the Flames will be counting on him to be a big part of their offence. The Flames were tied for the sixth highest scoring team in the league last season with 237 goals. Their back end accounted for 19 percent, or 45, of those goals.
Keys to the Game
Exorcise the demons of April. Revenge is often a great motivating factor and, after last season's disappointing playoff ouster, there's no better way for the Canucks to kick start a brand new season than with an inspired performance against the team that ended their Stanley Cup aspirations last season.
The rookies maintain. You can't argue that three rookies who have made the opening night roster deserve to be here for the way they performed during pre-season. Now the real test is whether they can continue to produce when the games matter. Here's where Virtanen, McCann, and Hutton can really show they belong.
Ramo makes a statement. In a weird way, Ramo can thank the Canucks for his number one gig. It was Vancouver that chased Hiller from the net in the ultimately ill-fated Game 6 last spring allowing Ramo to step in and play hero. Ramo's now the man in Calgary and he has to show it starting in game one.
Canucks Gameday Road Report, Presented by Toyota
By the Numbers
All-time win percentage for the Canucks in road openers (18-19-7).
All-time win percentage for the Canucks in season openers (22-17-5).
Goals needed for Brandon Sutter to reach 100 for his NHL career.
Points for Calgary's Jiri Hudler in the 2014.15 regular season series to lead all players.
Time in team history the Canucks have opened their road schedule in Calgary (4-2-2).
Games played by Brandon Prust as a member of the Calgary Flames.