The Canucks look to enter the holiday break on a high note when they conclude their six-game road trip tonight against the defending Eastern Conference champion, Tampa Bay Lightning.
After starting out this trip with three straight regulation losses, the Canucks are actually on a roll of sorts even though they're coming off a 5-4 shootout loss to the Panthers on Sunday. Vancouver has earned three out of a possible four points in their last two outings even though they might feel like they let a point slip away after squandering a pair of leads in the defeat in Florida. With that said the Canucks are probably counting their lucky stars they didn't lose more than just the game two nights ago. Ryan Miller left Sunday's contest midway through the shootout session after suffering from an apparent injury but it was downplayed by Coach Desjardins after the game as just a case of minor cramping.
The Canucks might actually get some good news on the injury front for tonight's game as Henrik Sedin, who has missed the last two games with a lower-body injury, could potentially make his return. Chris Higgins took a maintenance day yesterday but, assuming he is good to go, will be appearing in his 700th career regular season game. Ryan Miller also sat out yesterday's session but will be available for tonight's tilt even though it's likely the Canucks will give Jacob Markstrom the start. Markstrom has yet to record a victory since his season debut on November 10 and officially brings a six-game winless skid into tonight's contest.
Puck drop at 4:30 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's always high expectations when you're coming off a Stanley Cup Final appearance the year before, and even higher pressure when you were the runner-up as the Lightning were back in June. So the fact that the Lightning are in a battle for their playoff lives and, as of this writing, not even in a playoff position is certainly a cause for concern. Tampa Bay, for the most part, kept their team intact this past off-season allowing their youngsters like Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov to build on strong campaigns from last season. But while the youngsters are making steady strides, the team as a whole has slumped offensively and a lot of the finger pointing has been towards the veterans led by captain Steven Stamkos and includes others such as Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Ryan Callahan although, to be fair, both Johnson and Palat have missed significant time this season dealing with injuries. The Lightning were the top scoring team in the NHL a year ago averaging 3.16 goals per game. Right now, they're sitting near the bottom of the pack averaging just 2.50 goals per game. (Vancouver is averaging 2.49 goals per game this season).
It's hard to imagine where the Lightning would be this season if they didn't have Ben Bishop playing as well as he has for them between the pipes. Although he certainly would like his win-loss record to be much better, Bishop is putting up career-bests in goals-against-average (2.00) and in save percentage (.927). Tampa Bay, as a team, has dropped their goals-against-average from 2.51 a year ago to 2.29 this season where they're among the league's best in that category. But the success of this team really depends on them firing on all cylinders offensively and that begins with their captain. A year ago, Stamkos went into the NHL's holiday break with 19 goals and 36 points in 35 games played. Tonight marks the 35th game of the season for Tampa Bay and their last before Christmas. The Lightning captain would need to amass five goals and 11 points tonight just to equal his pace from a year ago heading into the holiday break. In other words, he's well behind where anyone imagined he would be and trending towards having his worst statistical season in a full campaign since his rookie year.
Keys to the Game
Four lines rolling. Though they didn't get the win on Sunday, the Canucks had to be happy with the fact three of their four lines got involved in the scoring. Regardless of whether the line-up is boosted tonight with the return of Henrik or not, they need to continue getting balanced production.
Watch the shot count. The Canucks have a bad habit of making it open season on their goalies in recent games including surrendering 40+ shots in a game on two occasions during this trip. The Lightning, though they don't average many shots per game, have the weapons to make you pay if you give them chance after chance.
Be more special. The Lightning find themselves in the same boat as the Canucks with a slumping power play and penalty kill. That said, Tampa is coming off a two-goal power play and perfect penalty kill performance on Sunday, while Vancouver's special teams has struggled all trip long. Tampa will want special teams to be a turning point in their favour.
Canucks Gameday Road Report, Presented by Toyota
By the Numbers
Win percentage for the Canucks this season when scoring three-or-more goals (10-1-4).
Straight games the Canucks have scored more three-or-more goals, first time since November 8 - 10.
Points for Steven Stamkos (2-2-4) against the Canucks last season, leading all players in the season series.
Game active point streaks for Tampa's Alex Killorn (2-3-5) and Jon Marchessault (2-2-4).
Times Jacob Markstrom has faced the Lightning in his career, most out of all NHL teams (career record 2-3-1).
Straight games without a regulation loss by the Lightning against the Canucks (6-0-1; 4 straight wins).