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Pacific Division notebook

Canucks off to fast start, but in need of sustained offense; Matthew Tkachuk of Flames impresses dad

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

Lightly regarded in many preseason Pacific Division projections, the Vancouver Canucks have done their disagreeing on the ice.

The 4-2-1 Canucks began the season with four wins and points in their first five games (4-0-1), proving a couple of things to themselves.

"I've been around the game a long time and the game is always played on the ice," Canucks president Trevor Linden said. "Our strengths lie in goal and on defense. With our team play, we've focused on better systems play and giving up less.

"Our biggest challenge is going to be scoring goals. Being responsible away from the puck … is something we've done a good job of early and we've found a way a couple of times in overtime and a shootout so far."

The Canucks, coming off a 75-point season and a sixth-place finish in the Pacific, have allowed 17 goals in seven games. Their 2.29 goals-against average is the best in the division.

And with four of their seven games having gone to overtime, Linden figures there's more of that to come.

"Look, in the Western Conference, and not that it's not there in the East, but the balance of power is tough," he said. "If there's a part of your game that's doesn't support what you're doing, if you've got a weakness and you can't mask it, it becomes a problem.

"For us, in the last one, (a 3-0 loss to Ottawa on Tuesday), we didn't score. It might be goaltending or the power play on other teams. It doesn't take a lot sometimes to sway the balance, and that's safe to say about most every team in the Western Conference.

Video: BUF@VAN: D. Sedin sweeps in PPG from tough angle

"There are just no easy games in this League and a lot of nights, it's about how fresh your group is. We started the season with six [games] in nine nights. Every night's it's a battle. Every night it's decided by inches and bounces and goaltending performances and a hot power play."

After seven games, Linden is convinced the key for the Canucks this season will be finding a way to score.

The Canucks forwards already have benefited from the addition of left wing Loui Eriksson, who's playing with Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin, and the return of center Brandon Sutter, limited to 20 games last season because of a sports hernia and a fractured jaw.

"Watch Brandon play and he just does everything well," Linden said of Sutter, who has one goal and four assists in seven games. "The details of his game are so good. He's versatile, he's got a great release to his shot, so having that constant influence and that dependability and predictability and his two-way play has been really good."

Linden also believes 21-year-old center Bo Horvat, the No. 9 pick of the 2013 NHL Draft, is developing into a go-to player, with three goals in seven games.

"Bo, he had a tough start last year and it was only exacerbated when Brandon got hurt early," Linden said. "That pushed Bo into a spot he wasn't quite ready for but he's a tremendous kid, a mature kid, a well-rounded kid and he's at a point in his career in his third year where he's ready to become that dependable guy."

 

A parent's stress

More than six years after he played his last NHL game, left wing Keith Tkachuk watched his son, Matthew, play on the same ice at Scottrade Center in St. Louis on Tuesday.

Matthew Tkachuk and the Calgary Flames defeated the St. Louis Blues, his father's last NHL team, 4-1.

It was the younger Tkachuk's sixth NHL game. The 18-year-old was the No. 6 pick by the Flames in the 2016 NHL Draft.

His father played 1,201 games in the League for the Winnipeg Jets, Phoenix Coyotes, Blues and Atlanta Thrashers and had 1,065 points (538 goals, 527 assists) and 2,219 penalty minutes.

"It was a really special night," Keith Tkachuk said. "It was his first game on the ice he came to watch me play on and where I played my last game. Doing that in his hometown was an incredible experience for us. It was a little stressful, but cool to see.

"Any time you watch your kid, you worry so much. When you played, you just played. But as a parent, I guess we just worry too much about our kids, that's all."

Video: VAN@CGY: Tkachuk jams home rebound for PPG

Keith, 44, reached 50 goals in a season twice in his career, scoring 50 in 1995-96 for the Jets and 52 the next season for the Coyotes.

"This makes me feel pretty darn old," he said after watching Matthew on Tuesday. "We're just trying to enjoy the ride right now. It's kind of strange. I'm the one they came to see play, and now it's a role reversal.

"He's held it together pretty well. It's my wife and I who are off the wall. He's handling it well, really calm. He's got a good head on his shoulders."

 

Stat Pack

The Los Angeles Kings are 3-3-0 to start the season but have excelled in one phase of the game. The Kings are the League's No. 1 team in Shot Attempts Close at 58.7 percent. Los Angeles has the top three skaters in SAT differential and all three are defensemen - Alec Martinez (plus-60), Brayden McNabb (plus-53) and Drew Doughty (plus-48). The Kings have four of the League's top five in this category, if you include D Jake Muzzin (plus-42).

 

Games to Watch

Edmonton Oilers at Vancouver Canucks (Oct. 28, 10 p.m. ET; SN360, SN1, NHL.TV) -- The top two teams in the Pacific Division meet for the first time this season. They occupied the bottom two spots in the division last season but have come out of the gate better than most expected.

Nashville Predators at San Jose Sharks (Oct. 29, 10:30 p.m. ET, CSN-CA, FS-TN, NHL.TV) -- It's a rematch of last season's Western Conference Second Round series, won by the Sharks in seven games. The home team won all seven games.

Anaheim Ducks at Los Angeles Kings (Nov. 1, 10:30 p.m. ET, FS-W, PRIME, NHL.TV) -- This will be the first meeting of the California rivals this season. Neither team got past the Western Conference First Round last season. They last met in the playoffs in 2014, when the Kings prevailed in a Western Conference Second Round series in seven games.

Calgary Flames at San Jose Sharks (Nov. 3, 10:30 p.m. ET; SN360, CSN-CA, NHL.TV) -- The Flames and Sharks each had a light schedule against Pacific Division rivals in the early season. This will be the fourth in-division game of the season for each. Calgary begins a three-games-in-four-nights trip through California.

Edmonton Oilers at Pittsburgh Penguins (Nov. 8, 7 p.m. ET; Root, SNW, NHL.TV) -- It will be the final game of a five-game road trip through the Eastern Conference for the Oilers. It also will mark the first time captain Connor McDavid will play against the Penguins in his NHL career.

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