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Canucks game day: Shooting for five straight wins as they face the Sabres in an early start in Buffalo

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Photo credit:© Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
5 months ago
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The Vancouver Canucks (28-11-3) shuffle into Buffalo to face the Sabres (18-20-4) in an early start at Key Bank Arena.
This will not be the featured sporting event in the city this weekend, with the Buffalo Bills hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers in an NFL wild card match-up originally scheduled for tomorrow, but now bumped to Monday due to a winter storm set to hit the area. However, with the way the Canucks are playing these days — particularly with the hottest line in hockey — they should garner attention wherever they go.

What we saw

With the 4pm local time (1 pm Pacific) puck drop, neither team held a morning skate. The Canucks held a brief practice on Friday and skated in the same line combinations and defensive pairs they used to beat Pittsburgh 4-3 in overtime on Thursday. The expectation is that they will roll out the same lineup for today’s game against the Sabres.
Elias Pettersson scored the OT winner capping off a two goal and two assist effort against the Penguins. EP40 is red-hot and now has 7+5=12 on the team’s four-game win streak, having netted the winner in all four outings. In six games in January, he has 9+5=14. Along with JT Miller and Brock Boeser, the Lotto Line has combined for 13+14=27 in four games since being reunited in New Jersey last Saturday. 
Filip Hronek collected a pair of assists against the Penguins and has 1+6=7 in the last four games. Hronek has 3+33=36 in 42 games and is now just two points from matching his career high for points in a season accomplished in each of the past two seasons in Detroit.
Thatcher Demko was sensational over the final two periods in Pittsburgh improving to 9-1-1 in his last 11 starts. Rick Tocchet has now confirmed he’ll get the nod in net for today’s game.
The Canucks will be looking to match their season high for consecutive victories established with five straight wins from October 31st to November 9th. During that stretch they beat Nashville, San Jose, Dallas, Edmonton and Ottawa. They are currently on a 12-2-2 run that started with a 2-0 victory over Minnesota on December 7th.
The Sabres return to action following a 5-3 win over Ottawa on Thursday. Tage Thompson scored twice 2:04 apart late in the first period to lead the way. Buffalo has won three of four and four of its last six games.
However, the win may have come at a cost as the Sabres have run into injury issues. Thompson missed practice on Friday with a lower body injury and is questionable for today’s game. If he can’t play, he’ll join Jeff Skinner (upper body injury) who was nicked up earlier in the week. Skinner leads the Sabres with 17 goals while Thompson is second with 14. If neither are available, second-year forward JJ Peterka would be the team’s leading goal scorer against the Canucks after netting his 13th of the season against the Senators. The German winger will celebrate his 22nd birthday tomorrow.
Casey Mittlestadt is the team’s top scorer with 35 points followed by Rasmus Dahlin with 34. Rookie and Chilliwack native Zach Benson has 4+10=14 in his first 32 NHL games. He could see time on the Sabres top power play unit in the absence of Skinner and Thompson.
Ukko-Pekka Luukonen picked up the win on Thursday to move into the team lead with nine victories on the season. He is 9-8-2 with a 3.01 GAA and an .899 save percentage while Devon Levi has nearly identical numbers at 8-7-2 with a 3.32 GAA and .899 save percentage. UPL is expected to be between the pipes to face the Canucks.
The Sabres are 9-10-1 on home ice this season and have not won consecutive games in front of their home fans.
This game features the top two goal-scoring defencemen in the league. Rasmus Dahlin has a dozen goals while Quinn Hughes has 11. They are the only two blueliners in double-digits across the NHL. Dahlin is second to Nashville’s Roman Josi for shots by a defenceman with 122.
The opening 20 minutes of this game will be worth monitoring. The Canucks lead the NHL with 54 first period goals while the Sabres have allowed a league-high 54 goals in the opening period. The Canucks have a +21 goal differential in first periods while the Sabres goal differential is -22.
These teams will meet again in Vancouver on March 19th. That will be the fourth game of a nine-game homestand for the Canucks.

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