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Road Trippin'

...A look at the Canucks' first road swing of the season

by Daniel Fung @daniel_fung / Canucks freelance writer

The 2017.18 is barely a week old for the Canucks but already the shine from their thrilling opening night win over the high-flying Oilers is long forgotten. Three straight losses have a way of doing that. Hitting the road couldn't have come at a better time for this group as it will give them a chance to do a little team bonding which, in turn, will hopefully help them find some chemistry on the ice as well.

The road was not a kind place to the Canucks last season with the team managing just 12 wins away from Rogers Arena, second fewest in the league only to Colorado's nine road wins. On four occasions where they went on road trips of five games or more, their record was a combined 6-16-0.

This season's first extended road trip won't be a cakewalk by any means just judging by the quality of their opponents, but it could be an early season momentum swing for the Canucks if they can pick up a few positive results. Here's a look at their five opponents on the trip:

Ottawa Senators - October 17

Last Visit: 0-1 L - November 3, 2016
Last 5 Visits: 2-2-1

Last spring the Sens became Canada's darling after making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final and they've picked up right where they left off. The Sens return home tonight after successfully sweeping their Western Canada road swing. The Canucks were the only team on Ottawa's recent trip that came even remotely close to knocking the Sens off forcing a shootout in a 3-2 loss a week ago. Ottawa went on to demolish both the Flames and the Oilers by a combined 12-1 score. If the Sens don't seem scary enough, this game is expected to mark the much-anticipated season debut of two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson. The good news for the Canucks is they'll get their toughest opponent on this trip out of the way first. The bad news is they'll have to try and win in a building where they haven't done so since November 28, 2013 losing in their last three straight visits there.

Who to watch: Erik Karlsson

He may be coming off surgery without the benefit of any tune-up action but don't expect Karlsson to need much time to get back up to speed. If he's in the lineup as expected, you can bet there won't be much easing him back. He'll see the ice a lot, and he'll be carrying the play a lot. The Canucks will need to find a way to contain him which may be easier said than done against arguably the league's best blue-liner even if he's just coming back off a bad foot.

Boston Bruins - October 19

Last Visit: 3-4 L - February 11, 2017
Last 5 Visits: 3-2-0 LWWLW

We'll refrain from making the obvious 'Game 13' joke here, but even though 2011 is all but a distant fading memory now, the main antagonists are still around giving this game just a little bit of 'the feels.' Zdeno Chara is still going strong at age 40, while Brad Marchand has morphed from talented super pest to MVP-calibre super pest. If there's one advantage the Canucks have in this contest, it's that the Bruins might be a bit rusty. They will have had three full days off after wrapping up a three-game road trip with a loss in Las Vegas on Sunday. And because it's these two teams going at it, expect a chippy affair which means guys like Derek Dorsett, Jake Virtanen and Erik Gudbranson should be especially noticeable. The Canucks will be looking to avoid a third consecutive loss to the Bruins after being swept in the season series last year.

Who to watch: David Pastrnak

The Czech-winger turned a 75-point breakout campaign into a six-year, $40 million deal in the off-season but with added dollars means added pressure for the 21-year-old who is now seen as a go-to-guy offensively in Boston. It's goes with the territory when you have the fourth-highest cap hit on the team, even more than Marchand who led the team with 39 goals and 85 points a year ago versus Pastrnak's 34 goals and 70 points.

Buffalo Sabres - October 20

Last Visit: 4-2 W - February 12, 2017
Last 5 Visits: 2-2-1

The Sabres would have liked the Phil Housely era behind the bench to get off to a better start but it has tough sledding to start off the season. The early part of their season has been marred by an inability to score, an inability to keep pucks out of their own net, and a mediocre power play. Sound familiar? Of course the Sabres do have some bright spots including $80-million man Jack Eichel, the returning fan-favourite Jason Pominville who is back in Buffalo after spending parts of the last five seasons in Minnesota, and the enigmatic Evander Kane, who is off to a strong start offensively. What they really need, though, is one of Robin Lehner or Chad Johnson to steal a game for them. With all due respect to the Sabres, you'd figure this game is a must-win for the Canucks on this trip. A nice side story would be if ex-Sabres goalie Anders Nilsson gets the start against his former mates and perhaps goes on to record a win for his new mates.

Who to watch: Evander Kane

The ex-Vancouver Giant has often found himself making headlines for the wrong reasons but so far to start the 2017.18 campaign he's been in the spotlight for all the right reasons. The Sabres may have gotten off to a rough start but not Kane who jumped out of the gate with four goals in his first three games. A year ago, he didn't reach the four-goal mark until his 17th game played which came on December 13. The 26-year-old is set to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end so it behooves him to have a strong campaign so he can cash in the open market come July.

Detroit Red Wings - October 22

Last Visit: 1-3 L - November 10, 2016
Last 5 Visits: 1-4-0

After missing the playoffs for the first time since 1990 last season, the Red Wings begin this season looking like a team intent on returning to the dance this April. They've enjoyed some early season success despite missing one of their top young offensive players in Andreas Athanasiou, who is currently in Switzerland having failed to come to terms on a contract with Detroit. Scoring hasn't been an issue, though, so far in the early going as players like Martin Frk, Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin have stepped up in Athanasiou's absence. Combine that with a rejuvenated Jimmy Howard between the pipes and Detroit certainly has the makings of a team that should be a lot better than they were a year ago. This game will mark a homecoming of sorts for Thomas Vanek, who faces the Red Wings for the first time since they sent him to Florida at last season's trade deadline. However, Vanek won't be playing in a familiar building as this marks his, and the Canucks', first game at the Little Caesars Arena, the new home of the Red Wings replacing the since-closed Joe Louis Arena.

Who to watch: Martin Frk

No one has benefited more from Athanasiou's absence than Czech forward Martin Frk. A 2012 second round pick of the Red Wings, Frk actually made his NHL debut last season with Carolina after claimed off waivers by the Hurricanes. He was later reclaimed by the Red Wings but spent the rest of the year in the minors. He managed to crack Detroit's opening night roster thanks to a solid preseason. If he can continue to score the way he has to begin the regular season - he had three goals and four points through the first five games - he'll make it impossible for the Red Wings to keep him off the roster even if Athanasiou returns. Frk has been lauded for his improved skating over the off-season.

Minnesota Wild - October 24

Last Visit: 4-2 W - March 25, 2017
Last 5 Visits: 3-2-0

Of the 30 wins the managed last year, one of the most memorable came at the Xcel Energy Center. It had very little to do with the game's significance and everything to do with the debuting Brock Boeser, who just a day prior to the game was still playing in NCAA action as a North Dakota Fighting Hawk. Boeser, a native Minnesotan, and his teammates will be looking for a similar result tonight by taking advantage of a Wild team that has been banged up to begin the season. Among the walking wounded for the Wild include top forwards Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Michael Granlund. Only the latter has a shot at being back by the time the Canucks make their stop here. This game is the start of a season-high six-game home stand for the Wild so you know they'll want to put their best foot forward to get it started off on the right note.

Who to watch: Tyler Ennis

The Wild are hoping a change of scenery for Ennis, the former Buffalo Sabres star, will help bring his offensive touch back. In his final two seasons in Buffalo, the diminutive-yet-shifty forward battled injuries that limited him to just 74 total games played where he recorded only 24 points. It's a far cry from the 212 points he put up in 345 games played over parts of his first six seasons in Buffalo. Ennis rediscovering his scoring touch in a hurry would make the losses of Coyle, Niederreiter and Granlund much easier for the Wild to stomach in the short term.

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