The Canucks begin the back half of their pre-season schedule tonight with a date against the Arizona Coyotes at Rogers Arena.
With four pre-season games already in the books and the original 58-player camp roster slowly whittling down to a number close to the 23-player regular season limit, the Canucks' focus in these final four tune-up contests will shift from evaluating talent to preparing for opening night. That would include building chemistry on potential line combinations and defensive pairings, as well as getting the goaltending tandem of Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom in top form by October 7. It also means trying to pick up at least a win or two down the stretch if only to build some confidence. Vancouver has lost three in a row since beginning pre-season with a victory over the Sharks a week ago, most recently falling 4-3 in overtime to the Flames on Saturday.
While the majority of players expected to start the season in the AHL have already been dispatched, the Canucks still have some tough decisions to make regarding some youngsters who have shone so far in pre-season including Ben Hutton, Jared McCann, Brendan Gaunce, and Jake Virtanen. These back-to-back games – Vancouver plays in San Jose tomorrow night – could be the make-or-break for those players.
Puck drop at 7 pm PT – Live on Sportsnet ONE, TSN 1040, or online at tsn1040.ca.
2014.15 Season Series
2014.15 Regular Season Record
2nd Pacific 7th Pacific
All-Time Series (Regular Season)
The Coyotes had a fair bit of turnover over the off-season albeit none were exactly of the blockbuster variety. Perhaps the most surprising move they made was to offload Sam Gagner, a player they had brought in just the summer prior and who finished tied for second on the team in points and first among forwards with 41. They did bring in some offence to help offset the loss of Gagner, however. They welcomed back Antoine Vermette into the fold after previously trading him mid-season to the Chicago Blackhawks where he went on to win the Stanley Cup. They also signed journeyman Steve Downie, a player who has shown flashes of offensive ability over his career.
For the Coyotes to truly improve on their dismal offensive output from last season when they finished with the second fewest goals in the league (only Buffalo had less), they'll be turning to a couple of recent junior graduates in Max Domi and Anthony Duclair. Domi, the 12th overall pick back in 2013, is already at his third NHL training camp and is hoping to stick this time around. Duclair, meanwhile, enjoyed a brief cup of coffee at the NHL level last season with the Rangers before being returned to junior and subsequently traded to the Coyotes. Domi and Duclair were teammates with the gold medal-winning Canadian junior team back in January, and had been skating in camp on a unit alongside the aforementioned Vermette. Duclair is currently nursing a minor injury so he won't be in the lineup tonight.
Keys to the Game
Build on Saturday. Though the final result left something to be desired, the Canucks probably had their best outing of pre-season in terms of carrying the play for a bulk of the game and out-shooting the Flames 43-26. A repeat performance in that regard would be a welcome sight.
The big guns need to start firing. When the regular season rolls around, the Canucks know they'll need to count on getting offence from the likes of the Sedin twins, Vrbata, Sutter, and Burrows. So far, however, those guys have been relatively quiet in pre-season. They'll want to start getting on a roll and putting up a few points leading into the start of the real season.
The goaltending bounces back. Last season was not pretty in the goals-against category for the Coyotes as they gave up the third-most tallies in the NHL. They'll be looking for a better year from incumbent starter Mike Smith, who has yet to appear in the pre-season, and newcomer Anders Lindback.
By the Numbers
Vancouver's all-time pre-season win percentage (160-155-34).
Year deal signed by ex-Canuck Brad Richardson with the Coyotes this summer.
Players remaining on the Coyotes training camp roster (10 D, 18 F, 3 G).
Players remaining on the Canucks training camp roster (10 D, 18 F, 3 G).
Total losses for the Coyotes (regulation plus OT/SO) last season, most in single-season franchise history.
Points in 57 games played by Max Domi last season in his final year in the OHL.