The Canucks kick off a three-game home stand tonight when they host the Nashville Predators in their final game before the All-Star Break.
Under normal circumstances, returning home from a tough six-game swing with a record at .500 or better would be deemed a successfully completed mission. For the Canucks, however, they can't be too pleased with the result considering the way the trip ended – a 5-4 loss to the Penguins in a game they led 3-1 in the third period. The last thing the Canucks want is to be forced to stew about another loss for over a week as, following tonight's contest, they won't be in action again until hosting the Blue Jackets on February 4 with the NHL breaking for the All-Star weekend.
The Canucks will have a different look tonight compared to Saturday afternoon and that has a lot to do with the expected return of Brandon Sutter. Sutter has not played since November 10 in Columbus but will be thrust right away onto the top line in between Daniel Sedin and the red hot Jannik Hansen. Rookie centre Jared McCann will come out as a result while fellow centre Adam Cracknell is also expected back in place of Mike Zalewski, the latter who was returned to Utica (AHL) yesterday. This is the first of three meetings between the Canucks and Predators, and first of two visits by the Preds to Rogers Arena. Nashville has won back-to-back games by the same 4-1 score, most recently in Edmonton on Saturday, and is looking to equal their longest win streak of the season at three games.
Puck drop at 7 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
For as long as they have been in the league, the Predators' reputation has always centered around their defence as opposed to their offence. Nashville's defence, on paper, is still among the most formidable in the league even if their numbers don't necessarily back that up but it's their offence that has been the talk of the league when they pulled off the first real blockbuster move of the season by shipping out stud defenceman Seth Jones in exchange for one of the top young centres in the league in Ryan Johansen. There were a number of reasons why Johansen wore out his welcome in Columbus at such a young age but the change of scenery has clearly benefited the 23-year-old Vancouver-native who was off to a rough start this season. He has nine points (3-6-9) in eight games since coming over from the Blue Jackets and gives the Predators two legitimate scoring lines that opposition defences have to contend with. Johansen has been anchoring a unit with Kevin Fiala and James Neal in recent games, while the Preds also have a very formidable threesome in Filip Forsberg, Mike Ribeiro, and Craig Smith.
It may be a small sample size, but the offence has spiked since the arrival of Johansen. They're averaging 2.63 goals per game since Johansen's arrival, compared to 2.55 goals per game prior to that. However, Nashville's greater concern overall this season has to be their defensive play. The Preds find themselves among the top half of the league when it comes to most goals against averaging 2.67 goals against per game. It's a far cry from a year ago when they were a top-10 team allowing just 2.46 goals against per game. The penalty kill, which is among the worst in the league at 78.2 percent, will take its fair share of blame. Most of the finger pointing, rightly or wrongly, will fall on netminder Pekka Rinne. A year after being named a Vezina Trophy finalist, Rinne has seen his GAA balloon from 2.18 a year ago to 2.50, while his save percentage has dipped from .923 to .904. The most telling stat, however, is in the loss column. A year ago, in 64 games played, Rinne had just 23 non-victories (losses and overtime/shootout decisions combined). This season, through 40 games played, he's already at 22 non-victories.
Keys to the Game
Forget Saturday. The Canucks have had the better part of the last three days to lament their third period collapse against Pittsburgh. The time for regret is over. They have to refocus and be mentally sharp tonight.
Watch Ek. We know how dangerous the Preds are offensively from their back end with the likes of Weber and Josi, but lately it's been Mattias Ekholm who has been the hottest rearguard bringing a three-game point streak (2-2-4) into tonight's game.
Roll with Rinne. To say it's been a rough season for Nashville's number one netminder would be an understatement but the three-time Vezina Trophy finalist is looking like his old self at least over his last two starts stopping 49 of 51 combined shots. A win tonight would equal his personal season-high win streak at a modest three games.
Canucks Game Preview
By the Numbers
Starts by Ryan Miller as a Canuck against Nashville. Eddie Lack played all three games last season.
Win percentage for the Canucks without Brandon Sutter in the line-up (.438 with him in him).
Win percentage for Nashville against the Pacific Division (6-2-2). Vancouver is 2-5-2 (.222) versus the Central Division.
Predators selected to the NHL All-Star Game: Shea Weber, Roman Josi, and Pekka Rinne.
Defencemen among Nashville's top-seven point scorers this season: Josi, Weber, Ellis, and Ekholm.
Points (3-2-5) in three games for Nashville's Colin Wilson in last year's season series, leading all players.