The Canucks play the first of two games on consecutive days tonight when they host the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks at Rogers Arena.
Home has never looked as sweet for the Canucks as they return to familiar digs following a less-than-stellar seven-game trip that saw them post just one victory (1-4-2). If they expect being at home will make things easier, however, they would be mistaken. Tonight's opponent is certainly no pushover. In fact, the Blackhawks might be the toughest test the Canucks have encountered all season. This contest features a game between two teams clearly trending in opposite directions. The Canucks, after their trip-ending 4-1 loss to Winnipeg, are on a season-high four-game winless skid. The Blackhawks, despite losing 2-1 in overtime last night in Calgary and seeing their three-game win streak come to an end, have earned points in four straight outings.
As far as tonight's line-up is concerned, the Canucks get some good news and some bad news on the injury front. Brandon Prust, after missing the last 11 games with an ankle injury, is expected back. Luca Sbisa, who left Wednesday's game with a hand injury, is also expected to be good to go while Radim Vrbata is possibility to return after sitting out the loss against the Jets with a groin injury. On the negative side, Ben Hutton is the latest to join the list of walking wounded as he will sit out with a lower-body injury while Brandon Sutter remains unavailable due to his lower-body injury. Expect to see Ryan Miller get the start in this contest for the Canucks, while the Blackhawks will likely counter with Corey Crawford after back-up Scott Darling got the call last night in Calgary.
Puck drop at 7 pm PT – Live on CBC & Sportsnet, TSN 1040, or online at tsn1040.ca.
Regular Season Record
2015.16 Season Series
Last 10 games
Last 10 head-to-head
Championships come at a cost and the Blackhawks, fresh off their third Stanley Cup win in six seasons, know that better than most. Last season's championship run cost the Blackhawks the likes of Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg, Brad Richards, Antoine Vermette, and Johnny Oduya among others. Still, the Blackhawks don't seem to have lost a step coming into this season. Their offence is certainly rolling which is no surprise considering their core, led by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, remains intact. They're also getting some key contributions from newcomers and youngsters as well. Artem Anisimov, acquired from the Blue Jackets as part of the Saad trade, has been very productive although that probably can be expected since he's been teamed with Kane. Another newcomer who has also been skating with Kane is former KHLer Artemi Panarin, a 24-year-old who has burst onto the scene to become a frontrunner for the Rookie of the Year award. Tuevo Teravainen, another offensively-gifted youngster, is on the verge of setting a new career-high in points although he is currently out due to injury.
Where the Blackhawks have dipped in their performance, albeit only slightly compared to last season, has been in the goals against category. It's not a complete shock considering the turnover they've had on defence and having to fit new guys such as Trevor Daley (acquired from Dallas) and rookie Viktor Svedberg (currently back in AHL) into the system. That's in addition to injuries to the dependable Michal Rozsival (fractured left ankle suffered in playoffs last season) and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Duncan Keith (meniscus tear in right knee) that made them unavailable for a good portion of the early part of this season. The scary part is that the Blackhawks are now as healthy as they have been all season and when they are, there are very few holes to be found in this team.
Keys to the Game
Play inspired, not intimidated. A visit from the defending Cup champs usually brings out the best in a team wanting to use the game as a measuring stick. The Canucks might not be feeling too confident lately but they still should be fired up and wanting to show they can be competitive against the league's best.
Prust brings some life. Brandon Prust may not be the guy you're counting on for goals and points, but when it comes to energy he brings it every night. The Canucks have sorely missed the veteran winger and his expected return tonight should galvanize a team that desperately needs something positive right now.
Ride the Kane train. Few players in the league, if any, are on a hotter roll than the Blackhawks superstar who leads the NHL in points heading into this game and is riding a 15-game point streak (10-15-25). The game plan for Chicago is simple. Give Patrick Kane the puck and let him do the rest.
Canucks Game Preview
By the Numbers
Goal differential in third periods for the Canucks during their current four-game winless skid (2 goals for; 6 goals allowed).
All-time win percentage for the Blackhawks on their "Circus Trip" under Coach Quenneville (26-10-3; 1-0-1 this season on 6-game trip).
Point needed by Daniel Sedin to reach 900 for his NHL career.
Points for Bo Horvat in three games against the Blackhawks last season, leading all players in the season series.
Penalty minutes for Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews this season. He had 36 all of last season.
Shots on goal for Patrick Kane this season, most among the Blackhawks. (Next closest is Hossa/Panarin with 49 each).