Canucks game preview: Will travel trouble affect Canucks for early start in Columbus?

Photo credit:© Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
5 months ago
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It’s the end of an eventful road trip for the Vancouver Canucks (29-11-3) as they conclude their season-high seven game sojourn when they face the Columbus Blue Jackets (13-21-9) at Nationwide Arena. The Canucks will be looking to record their sixth straight victory.
It’s the earliest start of the season for the Canucks, with puck drop scheduled for 10 am Pacific time.

What we know

The Canucks finally made it to central Ohio last night after being forced to spend Saturday night in Buffalo due to heavy snow in the area. With no flights leaving the Buffalo area due to the severe weather, the Canucks remained in a holding pattern yesterday morning before finally bussing to Toronto and then flying from there to Columbus, arriving around 9pm local time last night — some 16 hours before puck drop. The travel woes will certainly add a layer of challenge for a team at the end of a seven-game in 12 nights road run. Rick Tocchet will unquestionably appeal to his group’s professionalism to put yesterday’s hardships aside and turn in another quality effort as they have done in each of their last five outings.
The Canucks were not at their best on Saturday afternoon, but still managed to defeat the Sabres 1-0 on the strength of Sam Lafferty’s second period goal and Thatcher Demko’s fourth shutout of the season. The victory matched the club’s season-high for consecutive wins at five. The team is 13-2-2 in its last 17 games.
It was the first 1-0 win for the Canucks since an overtime victory against Carolina in December 2019. It was the first 1-0 regulation win since a game in Minnesota in October 2017. Saturday was also the first Canucks win this season without a point from any of the club’s four All Star skaters – Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, JT Miller or Quinn Hughes.
With the early start, no morning skate and no practice on Sunday due to travel uncertainty, the lineup for the game will not be revealed until closer to game time. Despite Demko’s shutout on Saturday, expect Casey DeSmith to get the start in goal at the tail end of the road trip. He was strong in a 5-2 win over the NY Islanders on Wednesday. DeSmith is 4-0 lifetime against CBJ.
It’s quite possible the Canucks will find a way to work Noah Juulsen in on defence. And in an effort to insert fresh legs, Linus Karlsson, the team’s lone extra healthy forward, could be inserted up front.
Canucks penalty killing has been perfect in each of the last two wins, including a three-for-three performance against the Sabres. Since December 10th, the Canucks’ PK is 87.2% effective and fifth in NHL over that span. Only Seattle and Florida (4 each) have permitted fewer power play goals than the Canucks (5) during that stretch.
Brock Boeser leads the Canucks with 27 goals this season. In his time in the NHL, he has scored at least one goal against 29 of 31 opponents. Columbus and Detroit are the two teams he has yet to record a goal against.
The Blue Jackets are reeling, having dropped three straight and five of six after they fell 7-4 on home ice to Seattle on Saturday. Columbus has two wins in its last 10 (2-4-4) and both of those victories came beyond regulation time, so they have surrendered points in the standings to 10 straight opponents. Their last regulation victory was a 9-4 win over Buffalo on December 19th. They have one win in their last eight on home ice (1-5-2).
Johnny Gaudreau leads the Jackets with 26 points – and is the lowest-scoring top scorer among the 32 NHL teams. The Canucks have two players with more than twice as many points as Johnny Hockey and five players with more points than the Jackets top point producer.
Kirill Marchenko had one of the Columbus goals on Saturday to surge into the team lead with 14 on the season. Ivan Provorov with a pair, and Emil Bemstrom scored the other Jacket goals against the Kraken.
Injuries have certainly taken a bite out of the Jackets’ attack, with Patrik Laine, Zach Werenski, and Boone Jenner all currently on the shelf. The Jackets are getting veteran Sean Kuraly back from injury for the game. To make room for Kuraly on the roster, CBJ sent former Canuck Brendan Gaunce to their AHL affiliate in Cleveland.
Rookie Adam Fantilli is having a fine first season in the NHL with 11+13=24, and the third overall pick in last June’s draft leads the Jackets with 105 shots on goal.
Elvis Merzlikins gets the start in goal for the game. He hasn’t seen any game action since getting the hook after one period in a December 29th outing against Toronto. His last victory came on December 14th. On the season Merzlikins is 7-8-6 with a 3.25 GAA and a .907 save percentage. And in his career, Elvis has had the Canucks all shook up going 3-1 with a 2.48 GAA and a .930 save percentage.
No team in the NHL has played more home games than the Jackets, who will take to the ice for their 25th game in front of their home fans. Only San Jose (4.07) allows more goals on average than the Blue Jackets (3.74).
These teams will meet again on January 27th in Vancouver in the Canucks’ final game before the All Star break.


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