The Canucks begin a four-game road trip tonight in Saint Paul, Minnesota when they take on one of the league's best home teams in the Wild.
It's hard to describe a late-November road trip as being a critical one but that might just be the case for the Canucks. With just two wins in their last 10 games overall, including a disappointing 3-2 loss on Sunday to the Devils on home ice in their last outing, the Canucks desperately need to find a way to turn their momentum around or they could very well find themselves outside the playoff picture by the time this trip wraps up on Tuesday in Los Angeles. After their less-than-stellar seven-game road trip earlier this month, the Canucks are certainly aware of the importance getting off to a good start although they couldn't have been handed a tougher opponent to begin with as they face a Wild team that has lost just once in nine home games so far this season.
The Canucks recalled hulking defenceman Andrey Pedan from Utica (AHL) on Monday but it does not appear the former third-round pick of the Islanders will make his NHL debut tonight. Based on yesterday's practice, the lone potential line-up change from Sunday's game outside of Ryan Miller returning to the net is rookie Jake Virtanen potentially slotting back in at the expense of Sven Baertschi. The Canucks continue to be without Brandon Sutter and Ben Hutton as both of those players have remained behind in Vancouver. The Wild began their four-game home stand with a 4-0 win over Nashville on Saturday but, prior to that, had been winless in three straight to close out a four-game road trip.
Puck drop at 4 pm PT – Live on Sportsnet Pacific/Sportsnet ONE, TSN 1040, or online at tsn1040.ca.
Regular Season Record
2015.16 Season Series
Last 10 games
Last 10 head-to-head
Last season when the Wild made their impressive charge for the post-season, they relied on their play in their own end led by netminder Devan Dubnyk, who did nothing but stand on his head for four straight months after joining Minnesota. This season, it's been their offence that has carried them through the early part of the season. The Wild are one of only a handful of teams that are averaging three-or-more goals per game this season and, perhaps most impressively, they've done so despite not having one of their most gifted offensive players – Zach Parise - in the line-up for a good chunk of the season. It hasn't been just the usual suspects like Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu, and Thomas Vanek carrying the load in Parise's absence. Minnesota. The Wild already have a number of relative youngsters who are trending towards posting career-numbers including blue-liners Jared Spurgeon (14 points from equaling career-high), and forwards Jason Zucker (12 points from equaling career-high) and Nino Niederreiter (28 points from equaling career-high).
As far as the defence goes, Minnesota's season average to date (2.68 goals against per game) is not far off from what they posted a year ago (2.42 goals against per game). But that does not take into account that the Wild, as mentioned earlier, enjoyed an extraordinary run sparked by then-newcomer Dubnyk. Upon joining the Wild last season, Dubnyk posted phenomenal numbers down the stretch with a 1.78 GAA and .936 save percentage to go with five shutouts in 39 appearances. It would have been unrealistic to expect Dubnyk to sustain those numbers over the long term but the Wild probably would have like to see him start a bit stronger. His GAA (2.49) and his save percentage (.911) this season have him near the back of the pack among starting netminders in the league. One category that Dubnyk is near the top, however, is wins. It's not surprising considering the Wild appear intent on rolling with Dubnyk come hell or high water. He has appeared in 18 of the team's 19 games starting 17 of those. He has not had an entire game off since October 16.
Keys to the Game
The PK must be fixed. The Canucks may be without one of their key penalty killers in Brandon Sutter but they can't afford to wait for him to get back to fix it. The PK has surrendered goals in nine of the last 10 outings and is an atrocious 69.4 percent (11 goals allowed on 36 times shorthanded) over that stretch. That trend simply must stop.
Focus on one game at a time. You can't blame the Canucks if they look at this four-game trip as yet another daunting excursion especially given the lack of success on their recent seven-game trip. But if the Canucks look past the Wild tonight, then they're more than likely going to depart the State of Hockey empty-handed.
Bring back the Xcel curse. Although the Canucks have enjoyed a bit more recent success in Saint Paul, historically the Xcel Energy Center has not been kind to the Canucks or their goalies. The Wild got back to their old ways against Vancouver in the lone meeting here last season chasing Ryan Miller from the net in a 5-3 win.
By the Numbers
Win percentage for the Wild this season on home ice (8-1-0). They've won the last 3 in a row at home.
Win for the Canucks in their last four visits to the Xcel Energy Center (1-2-1).
Win for the Canucks in their last seven road outings (1-4-2) since beginning the season 4-0-1 away from home.
Starts in a row for Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk entering play tonight.
Combined points for Daniel & Henrik Sedin over the last five games (7-9-16).
Career games played in by Wild netminder and former Kamloops Blazer, Devan Dubnyk, after he suits up tonight as expected.