The Canucks play game six of seven on their home stand tonight when they welcome Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning to Rogers Arena for a Hockey Night in Canada clash.
The Canucks may have been off game action for the past two days but there was certainly no shortage of news and activity during the down time. Since their last-minute 3-2 victory over the Hurricanes on Wednesday – a win that improved Vancouver's record on their current seven-game home stand to 3-2-0 – among the developments that have occurred include Jannik Hansen being put on injured reserve with an upper-body injury sustained in the win over Carolina, Ryan Miller appearing ready to suit up for game action as evidence by the team returning Joe Cannata to Utica (AHL), Jake Virtanen getting set to dress tonight for his first game since returning from the World Juniors, and Emerson Etem becoming the newest Canuck after he was acquired via trade from the New York Rangers yesterday although his debut will likely come on Monday as opposed to tonight.
With all that in mind, the Canucks will look to continue their momentum from Wednesday's win when they face the Lightning for the second and final time this season. The Canucks earned a 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay back on December 22 in a game that saw them successfully kill off nine of 10 Lightning power plays. Despite the fact Miller appears likely to dress tonight, expect Jacob Markstrom to continue to his string of consecutive starts which began, coincidentally, against these same Lightning. Ben Bishop got the start last night for Tampa Bay in their 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Oilers so it's possible the Lightning will give Andrei Vasilevskiy the start tonight. Vasilevskiy has never faced the Canucks before in his career. Tonight's game could potentially mark the final time the Canucks face Steven Stamkos in a Lightning uniform. The Tampa Bay captain is a pending unrestricted free agent and has had his name come up in trade rumours.
Puck drop at 7 pm PT – Live on CBC and Sportsnet, TSN 1040, or online at tsn1040.ca.
Regular Season Record
2015.16 Season Series
Last 10 games
Last 10 head-to-head
Looking back on December 22 when the Canucks escaped Tampa Bay with a 2-1 victory, it's safe to say the outcome would have been much different had the Lightning even had a modicum of success on their power play. They struck once on the power play that night but when you let nine other opportunities go by the wayside, including four in the third period with the game on the line, it qualifies as an unmitigated disaster. The Lightning must have taken that poor power play performance to heart because in their three games coming out of the holiday break, they scored a combined six power play goals on 16 opportunities. Unfortunately, the power play has hit a big of a snag lately as they've gone three in a row now without a marker (0-for-4) but it is a positive sign for them that they're starting to generate some more offence 5-on-5 – an area they've oddly struggled in this season although they had those numbers boosted last night with their three-goal third period explosion against Edmonton. When the Lightning won the scoring title a year ago, they also led the league in 5-on-5 goals with 181.
The Lightning know they face an uphill climb to get back into the playoff picture. The fact they've kept close to a spot so far has been thanks mostly to solid defence and all-star netminding provided by Ben Bishop. Still, this is a team that is at their best when they are firing on all cylinders on offence and they are looking at two guys to lead that charge – Steven Stamkos up front, and Victor Hedman on the back end. Stamkos is slowly starting to heat up even though consistency has been an issue with him this season. If he manages a point tonight, it would be his fourth straight game with a point establishing a new season-high albeit a modest one at that. Hedman, meanwhile, went into last night's game without a point in a season-high six games but broke out in a big way posting a goal and two helpers as part of their third period comeback win. He'll want to use that performance as a springboard for a better second half of the season offensively.
Keys to the Game
Eddie's got to produce. When you are your team's most counted on offensive defenceman, going 11 games without a point is unacceptable. Unfortunately, that's the drought that Alex Edler brings into tonight's tilt. After watching teammate Bo Horvat bump his slump this week, it's time for Edler to do the same.
Jake's redemption. Between a tough World Junior tournament and the impending arrival of Emerson Etem, it's interesting times right now for rookie Jake Virtanen. His return to the line-up will draw a lot of attention but he can't focus on all the chatter. He just needs to do what he does best – bang bodies, create space for his linemates, and maybe chip in a point or two.
Adrenaline trumps fatigue. The Lightning played last night in Edmonton and had to travel so they should be ripe for the picking, right? Not for the Canucks who have had their fair share of struggles with so-called tired teams. The Lightning should expect an early charge from the Canucks and then will want to find a way to dictate the pace to their liking.
Canucks Game Preview
By the Numbers
Win percentage for the Lightning this season when they allow three-or-more goals (4-11-3).
Win percentage for the Canucks this season when they score three-or-more goals (11-1-4).
Lightning players headed to the All-Star game – Steven Stamkos and Ben Bishop.
Game home winless streak (0-2-1) for the Canucks against the Lightning. (Last home win - February 27, 2009).
Blocked shots between Edler (7) and Tanev (4) against the Lightning on December 22. No other player in that game had more than one.
Power play percentage for the Lightning on the road, among the worst in the league (7-for-62).