The Vancouver Canucks got off to a surprisingly positive start in 2017. Whatever hope that created is quickly dissolving and a visit from the St Louis Blues could prove to be Hope’s Last Stand.
The Canucks have had trouble handling some of the NHL’s middling teams, most recently in a loss to the otherwise faltering Golden Knights. As far as we know, the Knights sent out Mr Seive as their goaltender and still came away with a win in Vancouver.
Meanwhile, the Blues are on cruise control, 14 wins into what looks to be another strong regular season for St Louis. Will they get out of the first round of the playoffs? Oh probably not. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be one of the Western Conference heavyweights between now and April.
If the Canucks stand a chance, they will need to bring their best uptempo game, they will need active D making crisp passes, and they will need more Jake Virtanen and less of the Brandon Sutter ‘shutdown’ line.
Vancouver Canucks (9-8-2)
Ok, ok, Vegas didn’t actually dress Mr Seive. It was their number 4 goalie, Maxime Lagace, who got the start and managed to hold the Canucks to just two goals. That doesn’t bode well for a team that has historically struggled to score over the past few seasons.
Questions were asked about head coach Travis Green’s decision to scratch Jake Virtanen for a third-straight game, evidently he is supposed to be learning a lesson of some kind right now, and the absence of Chris Tanev was again very prominent.
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Without Tanev to draw forecheckers to him, his defensive partners have less time and space and, as a result, have been making more mistakes.
Meanwhile, Jacob Markstrom had another five goal game. He certainly hasn’t been the Vancouver Canucks worst player, and you can’t fault him on most of Vegas’ goals. But he has been far from its best player too, and you sure can fault him on the fourth goal. Indeed, Markstrom’s signature move seems to be the one softie he lets in each night. It’s not a good look.
It seems like Nilsson should get the nod against St Louis. With one exception, Anders Nilsson has played very well in every game he’s got this season. There’s not much to choose between the two goaltenders, and no reason Markstrom should be the number one except that he’s been around Vancouver longer. If Nilsson starts putting together a good run, he could conceivably steal the net.
St Louis Blues (14-5-1)
The Blues are on a roll. The addition of Braydon Schenn has proved a win for both parties – Schenn is having a career year and St Louis have 29 points and lead the Western Conference. Schenn’s place on the Blues’ top line has him tied for fourth in the league in scored, sharing that spot with linemate Jaden Schwartz. Their third is arguably one of the NHL’s elite, Vladimir Tarasenko. Tough company indeed.
What’s worse, from the Vancouver Canucks standpoint, is that the Blues are not a one-line team. Head coach Mike Yeo has three lines that can score, with talents like Vladimir Sobotka, Alex Steen, and Magnus Paajarvi scattered through the middle six.
On the back end, Alex Pietrangelo continues to be a horse, posting over 20 minutes a game in all situations and anchoring the Blues blueline.
In case that wasn’t enough, Jake Allen is in a groove. He’s been keeping the Blues in games they didn’t deserve, and staying steady in games they have in hand. Fresh off his 100th win, Allen will be tough to beat. The Canucks will need to put shots on him from all over the ice, and will need to generate decent chances from more than just the Boeser line.
3-2 Blues. Vancouver has to get its scoring and defensive woes down. Not sure they’ll do that against the top team in the west.
2-1 Blues. The Canucks will be better against the Blues, but they aren’t winning at home. Virtanen gets to finally play, but I’m willing to bet he rides the bench in the third period. Once again, the Canucks will only get offence from the Horvat line. I think Baertschi gets the goal. Tarasenko and Schenn should have goals for St Louis.
4-1 Canucks. After a humiliating defeat to a third rate team, the Canucks will bounce back against a first rate team in St Louis. Virtanen will have himself a heck of a game after being called out by the coach, and Loui Eriksson will score his first goal of the season.
4-2 Blues. Hope had to die eventually and this will be that moment. The Canucks unlikely strong start gave everyone the false expectation that this might be a playoff team when, in fact, this is a basement dweller. One that is starting to put some better hockey together, yes. But not enough to beat the Blues. Loui gets his first goal set up by the Sedins, but there won’t be much other good news.