The Canucks look for their first win on their seven-game road trip tonight when they face former head coach John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
In previous seasons, a mid-week game against the Blue Jackets would not have exactly been a marquee match-up. Tonight's game, however, figures to be an exception. Vancouver has two big reasons for why they will want to bring their A-game to the Nationwide Arena for this tilt. For starters the Canucks, following a disappointing 4-3 overtime loss on Sunday to New Jersey, are looking to avoid going winless in four straight games which would equal their longest such streak of the season. The other motivating factor, even if they might not admit it, is a chance to knock off their fiery former bench boss, John Tortorella, who was recently hired to take over an underachieving Blue Jackets squad not unlike back in the summer of 2013 when he came to Vancouver to take over from Alain Vigneault.
The Canucks had a team day off yesterday so any line-up changes won't be revealed until the morning skate at the earliest. One player we could potentially see in action tonight is netminder Jacob Markstrom, who has returned to the team following a two-game conditioning stint in Utica (AHL). Markstrom, who has yet to appear in an NHL game this season after suffering a hamstring injury on the eve of the regular season, could be asked to give Ryan Miller a breather after the latter made back-to-back starts over the weekend. Columbus, looking to bounce back from a 4-2 loss to Anaheim in their last outing on Friday, is still seeking their first home win after going 0-for-5 to begin the season in front of their fans. The Blue Jackets are the only team in the NHL that has yet to win on home ice this season.
Puck drop at 4 pm PT – Live on Sportsnet Pacific, TSN 1040, or online at tsn1040.ca.
Regular Season Record
2015.16 Season Series
Last 10 games
Last 10 head-to-head
There was plenty of optimism heading into this season in Columbus and for good reason. Despite the Blue Jackets finishing nine points outside the playoff picture last year, their finish down the stretch – recording a club-record 13 straight games (12-0-1) with a point to end the season, and going 15-1-1 in their final 17 games – was enough to convince management to keep their group mostly intact. Their biggest move was bringing in Brandon Saad, fresh off a championship with Chicago, to provide a boost to an offence that was already one of the more potent forces in the league. Of course, as has been well-documented, things have not worked out quite the way the Jackets envisioned. A seven-game losing streak to begin the season cost Coach Todd Richards his job (it would reach eight straight before it would be snapped), and in his place they brought in John Tortorella, the ex-Canuck bench boss who had not been heard from much since his unceremonious departure from Vancouver.
Judging just by the numbers, the change behind the bench has had a positive impact. In seven games under Richards, the Blue Jackets averaged just 1.86 goals for, while they surrendered four-or-more goals in all seven of those outings averaging an astounding 4.86 goals against. In eight games under Tortorella, Columbus has averaged 2.75 goals for, while significantly cutting their goals against down to an average of 2.50. They've only allowed more than three goals in a game once since the coaching change – that came in their most recent loss to Anaheim albeit the fourth goal was an empty-netter. Although Torts would love to see more out of his struggling scorers – namely guys like Nick Foligno (1 goal, 6 points), Ryan Johansen (1 goal, 8 points), and Matt Calvert (2 goals) – he knows the key to his team's success depends on netminder Sergei Bobrovsky. Just two seasons removed from being named the best goaltender in the league, Bobrovsky's dreadful start led him to admit earlier this season that he had "zero confidence." He's been looking more like the Bobrovsky of old lately and will be looking for a personal season-high third straight win tonight.
Keys to the Game
Bury your chances. In the two games to start this road trip, the Canucks had ample opportunity early in the each contest to open the flood gates offensively. They couldn't find a way to take advantage of their scoring opportunities and their opponent in both cases found a way to take over the game. The Canucks can't keep squandering their chances.
First unit gets back to basics. Vancouver's power play woes are starting to cost the team wins. The first unit, given all its struggles, needs to simplify its approach. Forget the fancy moves and perfect shots. It's all about gaining zone entry, point shots, and jamming at the rebounds.
Show no mercy. He might not publicly admit it but you can bet Torts wants this win more than anything. Extending the Canucks' misery would be just icing on the cake. Expect his team to put out an energetic effort to try and impress their new boss.
Canucks Gameday Road Report, Presented by Toyota
By the Numbers
Win percentage for the Canucks under John Tortorella in 2013.14 (36-35-11).
Win percentage for the Canucks in their last 10 visits to Columbus (7-1-2).
Game point streak for Columbus F Brandon Dubinsky (1-4-5) entering play tonight.
Overtime losses for the Canucks this season, most in the NHL.
Games without a goal for Radim Vrbata. His longest drought as a Canuck is 6 games (twice, including this season).
Straight personal games without a goal for Columbus F Ryan Johansen. He hasn't scored in exactly one month.