After such a great win against the Carolina Hurricanes, when Jacob Markstrom tossed a shutout and Elias Pettersson scored in overtime, things looked good for the Vancouver Canucks. Then came the weekend, and the team lost two back-to-back road games against the San Jose Sharks and the Vegas Golden Knights. Now, halfway through December, the Canucks’ record is 3-4 for the month.
The team faces an eight-game stretch where it will play seven of those games at home (the team’s only away game is in Calgary on Dec. 29), and there’s no better time for a run. As the Canucks prepare for this homestand, in this post I want to keep fans up-to-date on the news and rumors emerging from the organization.
Item One: Virtanen Is Likely to Eclipse Previous Career High
Jake Virtanen scored a goal in a 4-2 loss to the Sharks on Saturday and then a power-play goal in Sunday’s 6-3 road loss against the Golden Knights. He now has scored eight goals and eight assists, and he’s sitting on 16 points. That puts him on a personal best pace that should help him surpass his previous career-high of 25 points, which he scored last season.
Although Virtanen has yet to live up to his assumed potential as the eighth overall pick of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, he’s young yet at 23 years old and to me this season he looks like a maturing player. In fact, the Vancouver-area native’s power-play goal was his first point of the season with the man advantage. I believe that says as much about the way the team utilizes its players with the man advantage than it does about Virtanen’s skill. He’s not likely to score many more power-play goals unless his time on special teams increases. Still, he’s growing into a valuable asset for the team.
Item Two: Boeser Is on a Modest Three-Game Point Streak
Brock Boeser’s goal and assist in the team’s 6-3 road loss against the Golden Knights gave him four points in his last three games. In fact, he’s scored two goals and eight points in the six games the team has played in December. His 32 points in 34 games this season has him tinkering with a point-a-game pace, which would be by far his best season to date.
Item Three: Is Markstrom Getting Tired?
It has been a difficult season for Jacob Markstrom. Back from his father’s memorial service, his play has been up and down. He honestly could not have played better than his 1-0 shutout against the Hurricanes. However, in his last two back-to-back games, he came back to earth.
Against the Sharks, he allowed two goals on 25 shots. Given the score was 4-2 for the Sharks, that stat seems odd. However, when the Canucks pulled Markstrom in the game’s dying minutes trying desperately to score, the Sharks scored two empty-net goals themselves.
On Saturday, Markstrom gave up five goals on 39 shots in the loss to the Golden Knights. When head coach Travis Green finally pulled the overworked goalie in the third period, he leveled no blame at Markstrom.
Instead, Green noted: “I just wanted to let him know why I was taking him out. It definitely wasn’t on him tonight. I took him out because he needed a rest.” Young prospect Michael DiPietro filled in and gave up a goal on seven shots during the last 8:23 of the game.
The bottom line is that Markstrom often faces a lot of rubber, but he’s held up well in the Vancouver net this season. His record isn’t indicative of the level of his play. I haven’t heard much about a new contract next season for Markstrom, but I believe he deserves a raise.
Item Four: Edler Is Getting Ready to Return to the Ice
Alexander Edler, who’s been recovering from an upper-body injury, could be back in the next week. He has been sidelined since Nov. 30 with an upper-body injury. It will be good to have the veteran on-ice leader back with the team. He’s missed.
Item Five: Motte Finally Played Again
There’s really no one like Tyler Motte on the Canucks roster. Well, Micheal Ferland is a similar player but perhaps Motte is even more physical than Ferland. In mid-October, Motte made his return to game action after he suffered a season-ending, upper-body injury in March that didn’t heal and he had to miss the first month of this season. Last season, the 24-year-old was a fourth-line banger who dished out 200 hits.
This season, Motte played in seven games but on Oct. 25 suffered another upper-body injury and was out of the lineup until Saturday’s game against the Golden Knights when he was activated from the injured reserve list. It didn’t take him long to make his physical presence known. He had a total of 11 hits in that game, which was more than the rest of the Canucks forwards put together.
In total, Motte played almost 18 minutes, including leading all the Canucks players in penalty-killing ice time. He hasn’t shown much offensively in the NHL, but few players play with the physical edge he shows night-after-night, or until he’s injured again.
Item Six: MacEwen Is Sent to Utica
When the Canucks activated Motte from the injured reserve list, something had to give. That something was Zack MacEwen, who was sent to the minors. He had played seven games with the Canucks this season and had scored a goal and an assist. A betting person might wager that he will be soon back in a Canucks uniform, given that the oft-injured Motte is playing with such reckless abandon. Be ready, Zack.
What Next with the Canucks?
As I had noted, the Canucks have a long homestand between now and Jan. 4. It would be a good time to have a run of wins, and that’s possible. The Canucks face the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night. The Canadiens had won three straight games but then lost to Detroit in a rare Red Wings victory this season.
To this point, I haven’t seen any word on the goalie situation, so it’s likely Markstrom will get another start because, to date, goalie partner Thatcher Demko remains away with a concussion.