The Vancouver Canucks will take on five of the NHL’s top teams in their upcoming road trip. The road trip starts in a matchup against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, followed up with a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday. After their two games in Florida, the Canucks take on the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals in a back-to-back over the weekend. The five gave road trip ends in Nashville, as the club takes on the Predators on Jan 18th.
The Canucks last played on Jan 1st, as they picked up a 5-2 win over the Seattle Kraken. Nonetheless, the upcoming road trip will be a big test for the club, as they’ve seen a lot of success over the past month.
Canucks Hot Under Boudreau
The Canucks have turned their season around since firing general manager (GM) Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green. The Canucks held an 8-15-2 record under the two. Since then, they’ve hired Bruce Boudreau as the new head coach and named Jim Rutherford the team’s president of hockey operations and interim GM. The team has a record of 8-0-1 under the new head coach, bringing their official record to 16-15-3, leaving them four points out of the second wild-card spot.
On top of the team’s success, multiple players have played their best hockey under the new coach. Thatcher Demko stands out the most, as the third star in December has a 7-0-0 record under Boudreau, paired with a .955 save percentage (SV%), a 1.40 goals-against average (GAA) and one shutout. In the first 20 games of the season, Demko held an 8-11-1 record, .908 SV% and a 2.97 GAA.
Upfront, Brock Boeser has noticeably improved under Boudreau, scoring five goals and posting seven points in six games under the new head coach, compared to the four goals and 10 points in 22 games under Green. Captain Bo Horvat has also improved, scoring four goals and posting seven points in nine games compared to the seven goals and 13 points in the first 25 games.
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Meanwhile, J.T. Miller and Quinn Hughes have improved as well despite being productive prior to the coaching change. Miller held a .92 points per game played (P/GP) under Green but has improved to a 1.44 P/GP. Hughes has improved from .83 P/GP to .89 P/GP. The Canucks are still waiting on their top centre, Elias Pettersson, to get going. Boudreau sees the team improving once Pettersson starts to produce (from ‘Canucks: Pettersson’s pluck to improve game now slowed by COVID-19,’The Province, January 6, 2022).
“I have no complaints. I know he hasn’t scored, but when I go home at night and (think) when Pettersson starts to score, and if everybody else can continue to do what they’re doing, we’ll be a real difficult team to beat.”
Boudreau credits the team’s improvement to instilling confidence in the club. The Canucks will need that confidence in their upcoming road trip, which will be their toughest test yet.
Canucks Take On Five Top Teams
All five teams the Canucks are slated to take on are at the top of the NHL’s standings. The club hasn’t played three of the five teams since the 2019-20 season.
On Tuesday, the Canucks will take on the Panthers for the first time since Jan. 9, 2020. The Canucks lost the previous matchup 5-2 as Noel Accari led his team with two goals. They finished fourth in the Atlantic Division that season before losing to the New York Islanders in four games of the Play-In Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Fast forward to the 2021-22 season, the Panthers sit at the top of the league with a 23-7-5 record as of Jan 10th. Florida is led by Jonathan Huberdeau, who has registered 13 goals and 46 points in 35 games, the fourth-best in the NHL. Meanwhile, captain Aleksander Barkov has also been productive, scoring 14 goals and posting 25 points in 22 games while missing games due to a knee injury. The team has had scoring support from Anthony Duclair, Carter Verhaeghe and Sam Reinhart, who was placed on COVID protocol on Jan. 2 but should be back for the game against Vancouver.
On their blue line, Aaron Ekblad is in the prime of his career as his 29 points place him sixth in the league in scoring by a defenceman. Additionally, his .85 P/GP is the best of his career. The team also has MacKenzie Weeger, Canucks 2014 fifth-round pick Gustav Forsling and Brandon Montour on the backend.
In net, Sergei Bobrovsky is having a bounce-back season with a 16-3-3 record, a .917 SV% and 2.57 GAA. They also have Spencer Knight, who has started 11 games, posting a 7-4-2 record with a .917 SV% and a 3.39 GAA.
The Panthers are a well-rounded team similar to the other teams the Canucks will take on during this trip. A win over Florida will be a great way to start the road trip and a confidence boost heading into a matchup against the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The last time the Canucks took on the Lightning, the franchise had one Stanley Cup. Now, the team has three. Their last matchup was on the same road trip as their game against the Panthers. On Jan. 7, 2020, the Canucks lost 9-2 against Tampa Bay.
Despite being without Nikita Kucherov for most of the season, the Lightning are second in the NHL with a 23-9-5 record. The team remains competitive thanks to their captain Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Brayden Point and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, along with the team’s depth pieces helping out. Kucherov’s recent return will provide the team with an additional boost.
The Lightning will likely be the toughest test for the Canucks during this road trip with the return of the Russian forward. The Canucks will hope this matchup is a lot closer than their last game against Tampa Bay.
Following their trip to Florida, the Canucks will take on the Hurricanes in the first half of a back-to-back. Carolina is third in the league standings with a 24-7-2 record but has the best goal differential in the league at plus-42.
The Canucks have played the club once already this season, beating Carolina 2-1 on Dec 12. That was the Canucks fourth win with Boudreau behind the bench. Boeser and Pettersson were the two goal scorers for the club, while Martin Necas scored the lone goal for the Hurricanes. Meanwhile, Demko made 28 saves and posted a .966 SV%.
After the loss, the club went on a five-game win streak before losing to the Panthers. The Hurricanes young core has been impressive the past few seasons. The group is led by Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Tervainen, Andrei Svechnikov and Tony DeAngelo. The Hurricanes, similar to the Panthers and Lightning, have quality depth, a well-rounded core and a good starting goaltender. The last matchup between the two clubs saw Antti Raanta start in net, but if Carolina starts Fredrik Andersen, the Canucks will have a tough time scoring on the Finnish goalie. Andersen has posted an 18-5-0 record, a .929 SV& and a 1.96 GAA in his first season with the club.
The following day, the Canucks take on Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals. The last matchup between the two clubs was on Nov 23, 2019, as the Canucks picked up a 2-1 shootout win.
Jacob Markstrom started for the Canucks, while Braden Holtby was in the crease for the Capitals. A lot has changed since, as both goalies no longer play for their respective clubs. The Capitals now have 24-year-old Ilya Samsonov splitting starts with 26 year Vitek Vanecek. The two goalies have struggled this year as Samsonov has posted a 13-3-3 record with a .903 SV% and a 2.76 GAA, while Vanecek has a record of 6-4-5, a .910SV% and a 2.51 GAA. Recently the team has added Zach Fucale, who has a 1-1-1 record, a 1.75 GAA, a .924 SV% and one shutout. However, he did allow four goals on 16 shots against the Boston Bruins before being pulled. The Canucks will have to take advantage of the Capitals’ shaky goaltending while relying on either Demko or Jaroslav Halak to put together an impressive performance in net.
The Canucks will have to avoid a back and forth shootout against the Capitals as the club is led by Ovechkin and his 24 goals. Along with Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, and John Carlson have provided scoring support. The Capitals’ 20-7-9 record places them fifth in the league standings. The Canucks may be sluggish heading into the game as it takes place on the back end of a back-to-back.
The last game of the road trip takes place in Nashville. The Predators are at the top of the Western Conference and sixth in the NHL.
The two teams have faced off once this season, as the Predators picked up a 3-2 win in Vancouver. The loss came during the Canucks’ struggles earlier in the season as the club’s special teams were causing them a lot of trouble. They went scoreless on five power-play chances and gave up two goals on three penalties. Since the coaching change, the Canucks have converted on the man-advantage at 33.3% and have improved on the penalty kill at 89.5%.
The Predators are having an impressive season, with Roman Josi leading the team with 34 points in 34 games. Additionally, their veteran forwards Markus Grandlund, Matt Duchene, Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen have been productive. Meanwhile, Juuse Saros has been solid in net, posting a 19-8-1 record, a .929 SV% and a 2.21 GAA.
This will be the second of three games between the two clubs this season, and the Canucks will look to even the series up at one apiece.
Canucks Are Itching to Play
The Canucks have been vocal about getting back on the ice. After having two games postponed last week, the team will finally get a chance to play hockey. The club will have Boeser and Pettersson during the road trip, as both players were on the NHL’s COVID protocol.
The Canucks will likely start the road trip with a bit of rust but should get going as the trip continues. The team has been going through a Boudreau minicamp and should now be a bit more familiar with his system. Nonetheless, the five-game road trip will give everyone a better idea of where the club stands.
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Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.