After impressive victories over the Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings, the Vancouver Canucks aim for a third consecutive win over their old Northwest Division foes in the Minnesota Wild.
The Vancouver Canucks and Minnesota Wild have gone in completely different directions since NHL realignment for the 2013-14 season broke up the Northwest Division — and essentially the rivalry between these two.
During their rivalry days, the Canucks won seven the Northwest Division seven times between 2004 and 2013. That included Presidents’ Trophies in 2011 and 2012, and of course a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in the former year.
Meanwhile, the Wild defined mediocrity by making the playoffs just three times between 2004 and 2013. They didn’t win a single postseason series and were quite an afterthought. But realignment has changed everything.
Vancouver has made the playoffs just once since 2014, and they’ve yet to win a series. The Wild have made the playoffs in the last four seasons, including two postseason series victories. Indeed, times have changed.
So the Canucks come into Minnesota looking for their third consecutive game. Meanwhile, the Wild are beaten and battered, desperately trying to move to 3-2-2.
2017-18 Record: 4-3-1
2016-17 Record vs. Wild: 2-1-0
Goals For: 23
Goals Against: 23
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Who’s on offence
Derek Dorsett: This “overpaid” fourth-liner leads the Canucks in goals (five), and is tied for the most points with six. He has four tallies in his last three games, including the game-winner over Detroit on Sunday. No doubt the Canucks will look for more offence from their most physical forward.
Brock Boeser: The State of Hockey will forever bring great memories for Boeser. He scored his first NHL goal here last season. Shall we mention he’s also from Burnsville, Minnesota? It’ll be a happy homecoming.
Who’s on defence
Chris Tanev: With Edler and Stecher out, more responsibilities will be handed to Vancouver’s No. 1 defenceman. He’s had strong puck possession numbers and has played well in his own end. Vancouver needs that against a high-scoring Wild team.
Who’s in net
Anders Nilsson: Surprising to see the Canucks start Nilsson after Markstrom’s strong weekend. Nonetheless, Nilsson needs a bounce-back effort after a forgetful showing in Boston last Thursday.
Daniel Sedin—Henrik Sedin—Jake Virtanen
Sven Baertschi—Bo Hovat—Brock Boeser
Sam Gagner—Alex Burmistrov—Thomas Vanek
Derek Dorsett—Brandon Sutter—Markus Granlund
Ben Hutton—Chris Tanev
Michael Del Zotto—Erik Gudbranson
Derrick Pouliot—Alex Biega
2017-18 Record: 2-2-2
2016-17 Record vs. Canucks: 1-2-0
Goals For: 22
Goals Against: 22
Who’s on offence
Chris Stewart: The career journeyman has fronted the Wild offence, with six goals and two assists thus far. The Wild have been decimated with injuries, but it’s allowed Stewart to accept a more prominent role as a scoring forward.
Mikko Koivu: At age 35, he’s not quite the No. 1 centre he used to be. But Koivu always seems to wreak havoc on the Canucks, so they’ll have to be on their toes.
Who’s on defence
Ryan Suter: This man never stops. Even at age 32, he plays 25-30 minutes a night — at a Norris Trophy level. Suter is among the league’s best game-changing defenceman, and can hurt the Canucks at every end of the ice.
Who’s in net
Devan Dubnyk: No doubt he starts after getting the night off Saturday. Dubnyk has struggled with a 3.80 goals against average and .888 save percentage. We’ll see if the Canucks can catch him while he’s slumping.
Jason Zucker—Mikko Koivu—Chris Stewart
Marcus Foligno—Eric Staal—Luke Kunin
Tyler Ennis—Matt Cullen—Landon Ferraro
Zack Mitchell—Joel Eriksson Ek—Daniel Winnik
Ryan Suter—Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin—Matt Dumba
Kyle Quincey—Mike Reilly
Keys to victory
- Score early. The Canucks usually struggle in Minnesota, and need to take the crowd out of it. Scoring early in the opening frame could be a difference-maker.
- Take the shots. Dubnyk is off to a bad start, so the Canucks need to make him busy early. A couple goals could shake his confidence and help Vancouver pull away. They need to pepper him with shots, instead of looking for perfect plays — something they did a little too much in Detroit.
- Quick transitions. The Wild are a super fast team with depth all over the roster. The Canucks need to move the puck out quickly, and need to get back if they turn it over. Don’t let Minnesota use its speed to burn you.
- Give Koivu as many touches as possible. This guy just knows how to make life hard on the Canucks. The more he touches the puck, the more likely he does something good.
- Play the trap. Vancouver had no problem rushing the puck through the offensive zone in Detroit. Minny needs to use its strong defence to prevent Vancouver from skating the puck through the neutral zone.
- Make Markstrom busy. He’s going to feel good after consecutive wins. Minny has to make Markstrom uncomfortable early by getting the shots and chances on him.
The Canucks have looked solid, but good enough to win three straight road games? The Wild are slowly getting healthier and have found their groove in recent games. Couple in Vancouver’s constant troubles in Minny, and you have a frustrating defeat here.
The third line of the Sedins and Virtanen continue to produce, and Brick Boeser scores a goal in his home state.
The Wild have injuries to Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund and Zach Parise. Devan Dubnyk has also not had the best the start to the season. Brock Boeser made an incredible debut in his home state last year and is poised to repeat his performance. Jake Virtanen will be a physical force, scoring off the rush. And why, not? Dorsett gets another goal.
Brock will score in his home state again but that’s the only good news Vancouver will get. They’re due for a flat start, and even an injured Minnesota is a better opponent than Buffalo or Detroit. Reality will kick in hard, especially given the Canucks’ depleted defence.