Vancouver Canucks face early test with upcoming road trip

VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 3: Nikolay Goldobin #77 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates with teammate Elias Pettersson #40 after scoring a goal against the Calgary Flames in NHL action on October, 3, 2018 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 3: Nikolay Goldobin #77 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates with teammate Elias Pettersson #40 after scoring a goal against the Calgary Flames in NHL action on October, 3, 2018 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images) /

The Vancouver Canucks get to face the ugly part of the schedule early, embarking on a six-game road trip after their home opener.

The Vancouver Canucks had a near-perfect night to open the season. Elias Pettersson captured the hearts of the Canuck faithful. Rogers Arena was not full, but the volume was amazing and perhaps best of all, the Canucks brought back Holiday for their goal song. The Canucks had control, their penalty kill did not undo them despite the parade to the sin bin. Erik Gudbranson was not horrible, although his fight seemed to overshadow the penalties he took and mistakes made.

At the end of it, the game was fun and Pettersson only played nine minutes of it. Imagine what happens when he plays 14 or 15 minutes. Which brings me to upcoming schedule. Starting tomorrow, the Canucks begin their six-game road trip in Calgary. With these games in mind, we can look at any applicable storylines on their way. Let’s get to it!

Calgary Flames—October 5th

Hockey Night in Canada could get ugly. The Flames are mad. On paper, the Canucks had no business winning that game. Nobody expresses the sentiment better than Dennis Green. For those to young to remember, this is a legendary sports quote when a team can’t pull off an easy win.

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On top of that, Calgary is not happy with Erik Gudbranson. He took a run at rookie Dillon Dube. Travis Hamonic answered the bell were he was throttled by the Canucks blue liner. If you watch that fight again, Gudbranson got away with a punch to the back of the head after getting a good shot to Hamonic’s mouth. That second punch went uncalled and even though Hamonic returned with a full face shield, he is listed day-to-day now.

Physicality is great at the appropriate time. Gudbranson didn’t just put a target on himself; he put a bullseye on any Canuck in the lineup. That includes Elias Pettersson. Do you really think someone with the last name Tkachuk won’t do anything about that?

Lastly, Mike Smith was embarrassed. Aside from the loss, he was so mystified by Pettersson’s shot that he actually thought he got a piece of it. Bill Peters and his team will want to even the standings between the two teams. The Canucks were not punished by the number of penalties that they took, but I wouldn’t rely on the PK for the whole game. At least it’s not a liability now.

Carolina Hurricanes—October 9th

This game against the Carolina Hurricanes is very winnable. In terms of shot generation, Carolina is going to test Jacob Markstrom. But the Hurricanes just can’t the goaltending they need to stay in games. They should have beat the Islanders, but their netminder cost them.

Vancouver has an odd history with Carolina. There are wild swings where the Canucks play incredibly well and then horrendously poor. A lot of variables are in play, so this could be an exciting one on the trip.

Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi perform quite well against the Hurricanes. Their line was not very good in the home opener, so if nothing materializes on Saturday, hopefully they can get going on Tuesday.

Tampa Bay Lightning—October 11th

I won’t sugar-coat it. This one won’t be pretty. Vancouver may have their small group of exciting, offensive forwards, but Tampa Bay has four lines ready to attack. We haven’t even talked about their defence or goaltending yet and you can see why they are early Stanley Cup favourites.

It’s too bad Olli Juolevi couldn’t make the team. Facing off against Mikhail Sergachev would have been something to watch, especially since the last time they met was in the OHL playoffs where Juolevi eliminated Sergachev’s team.

One other story to watch is if Ben Hutton is still in the press box by then. I’m sure his representation isn’t happy that he’s being scratched to start the season, especially since he was no worse than Derrick Pouliot or Michael Del Zotto in preseason. Low bar to clear, but the point still stands.

Florida Panthers—October 13th

The Canucks get to see Roberto Luongo again in Sunrise. I wrote about this last month, but the Canucks will get to be there to celebrate 1000 games played by the best goalie in franchise history.

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These Panthers are no slouches, at least on paper. They have a lot of firepower in that forward group and for once, all are healthy as of right now. Luongo proved to be very stingy on allowing goals last season and I expect nothing but the best from him.

Elias Pettersson will have his work cut out for him trying to beat one incredible netminder. Playing Florida always revisits my favourite storyline: the Gudbranson trade. This will always be held over his head, so it may be in his best interest to mirror what he did in the home opener if his game has already dropped by then.

Jared McCann has solidified himself as the Panthers third line centre. Imagine having that in the Canucks lineup; there would be no need to bring in Jay Beagle. That’s another player that better show something defensively. It’s not enough to kill penalties for that price tag.

Pittsburgh Penguins—October 16th

Whoever is in charge of scheduling, sucks. Having to face the Penguins and the Jets at the end of the road trip is a cruel twist of fate, but that’s how it goes. You get incredibly nervous when you see Pittsburgh dropping a touchdown on the reigning Stanley Cup champs.

This is a similar situation to the Tampa Bay game. The Penguins are loaded from top to bottom at forward. With that said, Brock Boeser has Matt Murray’s number. I would love to see Pettersson Murray, but if Boeser can get him to give one of his famous excuses in the post-game, it’ll all be worth it, win or lose.

Winnipeg Jets—October 18th

It’s one thing to lose to a good team, but the Winnipeg Jets are going to physically beat down the Canucks too. Maybe this is where Gudbranson earns that $12 million deal. Or it’s where Dustin Byfuglien seperates Guddy’s shoulder. If I’m placing a bet on Byfuglien vs Gudbranson, put that money down on Big Buff. He is going to destroy Gudbranson.

Playing the Jets also brings up one of our favourite conversations: Nikolaj Ehlers vs Jake Virtanen. This is a good opportunity for Jake to be a pest in that game. Keep driving the net and using that incredible speed to his advantage. I don’t expect him to best Ehlers on the scoresheet, but I hope he doesn’t disappear in that game.

Last, but not least is Patrik Laine. The Canucks may still hold a grudge after Laine dunked on the Canucks over their video game ban. How funny would it be if Laine scores a hat trick against the Canucks? Then again, he did promise if he played as bad as Vancouver, he would stop bringing video games on the road. I would say that should motivate Michael Del Zotto, but let’s be honest. That doesn’t mean a damn thing.

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The road trip will begin shortly and it’s hard to say how the Canucks will look coming out of it. There are a couple games that seem primed for injuries, so if you were waiting for call ups from Utica, we may get that treat when the Canucks face the Boston Bruins back home.