The Vancouver Canucks are coming off their first outright loss under head coach Bruce Boudreau as they dropped a 5-2 decision to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday. Next up, the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning who just dismantled the Buffalo Sabres 6-1 on the strength of Nikita Kucherov’s first hat trick of the season. By the time they play the Nashville Predators next Tuesday, they will have faced four teams with a combined record of 92-31-21. If that’s not the ultimate litmus test, I don’t know what is.
Getting back to the Lightning, the Canucks have not faced them in a long time. Their last meeting was on Jan. 7, 2020, which was 735 days ago. Since then, the Lightning have won two Stanley Cups and Kucherov has accumulated 66 points in the playoffs. That game also saw one of the worst losses in Canucks history, as they got outclassed 9-2 with now-Panther Carter Verhaeghe posting his first-career hat trick. Brayden Point also had a goal and four points and Steven Stamkos had a goal and three points.
Historically, the Canucks have fared quite well against the Lightning. In 37 meetings, they have a record of 20-13-2-2. They have also outscored them 130-113. Their last win came on Oct. 11, 2018, when Pettersson and Brock Boeser scored in a game that ended 4-1 on the backs of two empty-net goals by Jake Virtanen and Markus Granlund.
So with all that said, here are a few storylines to follow as the Canucks get ready for their 38th meeting against the modern-day dynasty that is the Lightning.
3 Storylines: Tampa Bay Lightning
Kucherov Is Back, And He’s Up To His Old Tricks
Kucherov may have been out of commission since Oct. 6, but he’s back to his old tricks now. With a hat trick in his last outing against the Sabres and five points in his last three games, the superstar winger appears to be in midseason form despite only playing six games so far. The timing couldn’t come at a worse time for the Canucks as they hope to bounce back from a subpar effort against the Panthers. A hot Kucherov won’t make the job any easier.
Similar to last season, the Lightning seem to do just fine without the former Art Ross Trophy winner. His addition to an already stacked roster just makes them even more difficult to defeat. They are currently in a deadlock with the Panthers for the President’s Trophy and they haven’t had Kucherov for 32 of the 38 games they have played.
Perry Has Discovered the Fountain of Youth
Corey Perry is still searching for that elusive second Stanley Cup. He’s been to the Stanley Cup Final twice in the last two years and both times, he’s lost to the Lightning. I guess he finally decided, if you can’t beat them, join them. So far, that decision appears to be the right one as the 36-year-old is posting renaissance-like numbers up to this point. He’s hit double-digits in goals for the first time since the 2017-18 season and is one point away from matching his entire total from last season in 11 fewer games.
Battle of the Norris Trophy Candidates: Hedman vs. Hughes
31-year-old Victor Hedman, meet 22-year-old Quinn Hughes. After being drafted second overall at the 2009 Draft, Hedman took a while to catch fire and become one of the best in the NHL. Hughes is arguably already there. Just take a look at these numbers.
|Year||Victor Hedman||Quinn Hughes|
|1||4 goals, 16 assists, 20 points, 20:51 TOI||8 goals, 45 assists, 53 points, 21:53 TOI|
|2||3 goals, 23 assists, 26 points, 21:01 TOI||3 goals, 38 assists, 41 points, 22:48 TOI|
|3||5 goals, 18 assists, 23 points, 23:06 TOI||2 goals, 26 assists, 28 points, 24:40 TOI (in progress)|
Hedman was 19-years-old when he played his first full NHL season, but that shouldn’t take away from what Hughes did just a year older. After 163 games in the NHL, Hughes has 13 goals and 125 points. After 163 games, Hedman had nine goals and 48 points. It wasn’t until the 2013-14 season (his fifth in the NHL) that he posted his first 50-point campaign. Hughes did that in his first full season.
Hedman won his first Norris Trophy at the end of the 2017-18 season after he posted 17 goals and 63 points in 77 games. He was 27 years old when he accomplished that feat. If Hughes continues on the trajectory he is on right now, he could have his first before he hits the age of 25. Heck, he could challenge for it this season at 22.
3 Storylines: Vancouver Canucks
Will the Canucks Bounce Back Against the Defending Champs?
The Canucks were bound to be sluggish after 10 days off. Beating one of the best teams in the NHL is difficult at the best of times. They deserve some props though for hanging with the Panthers throughout the game. They ended up outshooting them 44-26 and unlike Canucks teams of the past, they worked hard to score until the very end even when the game seemed out of reach.
It won’t be easy to bounce back, but with a more focused lineup and the cobwebs shaken out, they might just be able to give the champs a run for their money. If Demko returns to the form that has him in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy, all bets are off.
Miller vs. the Lightning: Round 2
Due to the modified 2020-21 season, J.T. Miller will be facing his former squad for only the second time despite already playing 157 games for his new team. He played two seasons with the Lightning, where he posted 23 goals and 65 points in 94 games. With the Canucks, he’s been nothing short of amazing. Since joining the team in 2019, he has recorded 53 goals and 154 points, which is only 19 points shy of the entire total he had with the New York Rangers in 341 games.
Miller will be looking to restart the nine-game point streak that was snapped against the Panthers. If not for an uncharacteristic missed shot at the end of the game, he would have stretched it to ten. Regardless, he still has 17 points in his last 13 games and continues to lead the Canucks in scoring with 11 goals and 36 points in 35 games so far. As for how he’s performed against the Lightning, he has two goals and six points in 12 career games against them.
Battle of the Vezina Trophy Candidates: Vasilevskiy vs. Demko
Andrei Vasilevskiy is once again one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. With a 2.19 goals-against average (GAA) and .924 save percentage (SV%) in 29 starts, he’s showing everyone why he won the Conn Smythe Trophy last season. It’s sometimes hard to believe that he already has two Stanley Cups at a rather youthful 27 years old. He’s firmly in his prime and with any luck, he could have a couple more championships before he hits the ripe age of 30.
Vasilevskiy has benefited from an all-star defence core and potent offensive attack that includes the likes of Kucherov, Point and Stamkos. Demko has not been as lucky as he’s had to be his team’s best player more often than not this season. Vasilevskiy can afford to be ordinary sometimes, Demko, unfortunately, cannot.
It’s going to be interesting to see what team shows up in front of Demko this time and whether he can bounce back from a rare mediocre performance against the Panthers. Unlike Vasilevskiy, he probably won’t be a finalist for the Vezina but he deserves to get some votes. That’s how clutch he has been for the Canucks this season.
Projected Lines, Defence Pairings & Starting Goaltenders
Tanner Pearson – Elias Pettersson – Nils Höglander
Vasily Podkolzin – J.T. Miller – Brock Boeser
Jason Dickinson – Bo Horvat – Conor Garland
Tyler Motte – Juho Lammikko – Matthew Highmore
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Tyler Myers
Quinn Hughes – Luke Schenn
Brad Hunt – Tucker Poolman
Thatcher Demko has not started against the Lightning in his career, but he did allow three goals on 16 shots in relief of Jacob Markstrom in the 9-2 loss on Jan. 7, 2020.
*As per Boudreau, the Canucks will be running with the same lineup as they did versus the Panthers on Tuesday.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Mathieu Joseph – Brayden Point – Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn – Anthony Cirelli – Steven Stamkos
Patrick Maroon – Pierre-Édouard Bellemare – Corey Perry
Boris Katchouk – Ross Colton – Taylor Raddysh
Victor Hedman – Jan Rutta
Mikhail Sergachev – Erik Cernak
Zack Bogosian – Callan Foote
Andrei Vasilevskiy is 5-2-0 against the Canucks with a 2.18 GAA and .922 SV%
*Morning skate lines courtesy of @Erik_Erlendsson on Twitter
Canucks Next Game: Jan. 15 vs. Carolina Hurricanes (24-7-2, 50 points)
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.