3 lineup changes for the Vancouver Canucks to consider before Game six in Nashville

Photo credit:© Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 month ago
Under most circumstances, a bonus trip to Music City would be a good thing.
Under most circumstances, an opportunity to watch more Vancouver Canucks hockey would be a great thing.
But these are not most circumstances.
Up 3-1 in their Round One series against the Nashville Predators, the Canucks took a 1-0 lead on a Nikita Zadorov solo effort in Game 5, but dropped the next two goals, ultimately falling 2-1. That means there will be a Game 6 on Friday in Nashville, where the Canucks will once again attempt to eliminate the Predators and move on to Round Two.
That the team could not close out the series at home, and that they’ve now got to take another flight to Tennessee is undoubtedly a major disappointment. But that would pale in comparison to the ultimate disappointment that would be fully blowing a 3-1 series lead. The task at hand now is to get over Game 5 as quickly as possible and put all their focus on winning the next one.
To that end, there are three lineup changes that head coach Rick Tocchet and his coaching staff should consider over the next couple days of practice and travel.
The first, and most obvious, is the decision over who starts in net. The Canucks played it fast and loose with their Game 5 starter, keeping it a mystery all the way up to the point at which Arturs Silovs skated off first from the game-day skate. Despite Silovs getting the tap, all indications are that Casey DeSmith has returned to health, and he did indeed dress as Silovs’ backup.
Thus, it’s safe to assume that either is good to go for Game 6. But only one can start.
We’d make a strong argument that Silovs has not done anything to lose the spot he gained through circumstance. His Game 4 performance, a 4-3 overtime victory in which Silovs made 27 saves, many of them sizeable, already captured the hearts and minds of the Canucks faithful. And neither goal scored against him on Tuesday night could be considered his fault. On the first one, Silovs was pushed into the net by what could very well have been a case of goaltender interference had the Canucks challenged it. The second was a perfectly-placed shot from the point past a perfectly-placed screen that Silovs never ever saw.
That said, the job of being Thatcher Demko’s backup wasn’t Silovs’ to lose. It was DeSmith’s. And we would also argue – and already did – that DeSmith hasn’t done anything to justify his ceding the crease, either, aside from getting injured.
DeSmith is the veteran backup that Canucks management sought out for the specific task of ably filling in for Demko when injured. And aside from a shaky Game 2, that’s exactly what DeSmith has done this season, including a stellar Game 3 showing. His 29 saves on 30 shots that night was the best performance of any Canucks’ goalie in the playoffs thus far.
From where we’re sitting, the decision probably looks like this: if DeSmith has any lingering effects from whatever injury kept him out of Game 4, then Silovs should start. If DeSmith is back to relatively-perfect health, then he should start.
The only hesitation might be the thought that Silovs is currently rolling, and that goaltender rolls are not something to be interrupted. But it isn’t so much of a roll that DeSmith doesn’t deserve another shot. If it were Demko returning to health, there’d be little question about getting him back in at this point. For now, DeSmith probably receives the same grace.
The next lineup change to consider is to the forward corps. Offence is still hard to come by in this series, as are shots and scoring chances in general. The Predators have very effectively gummed up the middle of the ice, to the point that the Canucks’ only goal in Game 5 came as a result of Zadorov skating end-to-end and catching Juuse Saros off-guard with a rising shot.
Prior to Game 5, we published an article suggesting putting Vasily Podkolzin into the lineup in place of Phil di Giuseppe.
But then di Giuseppe turned around and had probably his strongest game of the playoffs in Game 5, including some real chances and important contributions on the penalty kill. So, getting Podkolzin in there becomes an extra challenge.
The next on the “to-be-scratched” list might be Sam Lafferty, but he’s had a physical and engaged series, and he’s been taking a lot of faceoffs for Teddy Blueger and winning his fair share of them.
Some will advocate for scratching Mikheyev in favour of Podkolzin. But Mikheyev has looked better and better as the series has wore on, and one can’t help but feel he might be on the verge of putting some points on the board.
As we pointed out in that earlier article, the impetus to get Podkolzin in is clear. Not only does he carry more offensive potential than the average black ace, he specifically plays a power forward style that might be able to break through Nashville’s choked-out middle-of-the-ice. He’s also got a long history of stepping it up for playoff hockey at lower levels.
But it’s not a very easy choice to make, because without another injury, somebody has to be scratched in order to get Podkolzin in there.
The last lineup change worth considering, however, is perhaps even trickier. Noah Juulsen is still sitting in the pressbox. He got into Game 2 as a result of Tyler Myers’ illness, and despite being a -1 in 11:24 of ice-time, Juulsen played well and set a noticeable physical tone.
Game 5 was the most physical of the series since Game 1, with each side recording 36 official hits each for a total of 72. But it was the Preds who more effectively used their physicality to shut down the Canucks, and so there may be an impetus to turn that tide back a little by inserting Juulsen.
But who could you take out of the lineup to accommodate him?
Myers has played great since returning to health. Ian Cole has been a shot-blocking wizard and is proving abundantly capable of playing the right-side when needed. Filip Hronek isn’t going anywhere.
The reality is that the rest of the blueline has probably played too well for Juulsen to bump in for Game 6. It’s good that he’s an option, and it’s a great problem to have to be scratching players you’d rather play in the playoffs.
But either way, it’s just one of the many decisions facing Tocchet and Co. as they prepare to board one last flight to Nashville. One way or another, they’ll be coming back to Vancouver thereafter – either on their way to Round Two, or to a terse Game 7.
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