The Vancouver Canucks will play host to the Arizona Coyotes in their most important game of 2019-20 yet. Here is your gameday preview.
Things couldn’t have gone much for the Vancouver Canucks over the past week, and tonight’s tilt against the Arizona Coyotes will say a lot about this team.
The problems began when the Canucks found out that they would be without goalie Jacob Markstrom for at least a couple of weeks with a knee injury. Then they came away with zero points over a four-day span with losses to the Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets.
Worse yet, the Canucks have received almost no outside help in the tight playoff race. The surging Vegas Golden Knights are now eight points clear of Vancouver. The Edmonton Oilers — winners of three straight — have built a six-point cushion.
The Calgary Flames have also jumped ahead of Vancouver by one point, but Elias Pettersson and company have two games in hand. Though they’ve played three extra games, the eighth-seeded Winnipeg Jets are now tied with Vancouver (74 points apiece).
Is that not bad enough? Well, the Minnesota Wild are just one point behind Vancouver. The Coyotes and Nashville Predators each have 72 points. So yes, the injured and slumping Canucks really need to turn it around. Starting tonight.
Players to watch
J.T. Miller: The 26-year-old leads all Canucks in points (68), and he’s tied with Petterson for the team lead in goals (26). Miller has done everything Vancouver could possibly ask for up to this point, but they’ll especially need his strong production over the next month.
Clayton Keller: He only has 43 points on the season, but that’s more than enough to place Keller first among all Coyotes. He’s also third on the team in goals (17).
Thatcher Demko: Demko allowed three goals on 29 shots against Toronto on Saturday, and four on 24 against Ottawa last Thursday. Vancouver’s playoff hopes really come down to Demko’s play during Markstrom’s absence. It’s time for Demko to regain that solid form we saw prior to Markstrom’s injury.
Conor Garland: The second-year forward is quietly having a tremendous season in Arizona. He’s up to 22 goals and 39 points on the year. That said, he’s been held pointless in four of the last five games. Can Vancouver keep him frustrated tonight?
Prediction: 4-2 Canucks
The Canucks have had two days to rest and recover. This is the prime opportunity for them to regroup — on home ice against a desperate Pacific Division foe that’s barely hanging around in the postseason race.
I expect Vancouver’s core players — namely Miller, Pettersson and Quinn Hughes — to rise to the occasion as the Canucks skate away with a potential season-saving 4-2 win.