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Scenes from morning skate: Andrei Kuzmenko sits, DeSmith starts as Canucks two-step into Nashville

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
2 months ago
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Two of the hottest teams in hockey square off tonight when the Vancouver Canucks (21-9-2) take on the Nashville Predators (18-13) at Bridgestone Arena in Music City, USA. The Canucks are 5-0-1 in their last six games while the Preds have won four straight and seven of their last eight.
The Canucks have already defeated the Predators twice this season – 3-2 on October 24th in Nashville and 5-2 a week later in Vancouver. Tonight they shoot for the three-game season series sweep and they’ll do it without Andrei Kuzmenko.

What we saw

Based on the team’s morning skate, it looks like Andrei Kuzmenko will be a healthy scratch for the third time this season and the first since back to back nights in Seattle and San Jose in late November (he also missed an earlier November game after taking a puck to the face). While he scored in consecutive games last week against Tampa Bay and Florida, those are Kuzmenko’s only points in his last eight outings. On Sunday in Chicago, he played just 11:09 and only 7:20 at even strength. With so much focus on his diminished goal total this season (6G in 29 games), Kuzmenko’s playmaking has vanished too with his last assist coming on November 15th against the New York Islanders.
With Kuzmenko out, Phil Di Giuseppe draws back into the line-up. One of PDG’s three goals on the season came in the Canucks last visit to Nashville.
On Monday, Thatcher Demko was named NHL 2nd star of the week. He has won his last four starts. However, he will back-up Casey DeSmith who gets the start in goal tonight. DeSmith stopped 31 of 32 shots in a 2-1 shootout loss in Minnesota on Saturday. DeSmith is 5-2-2 on the season with a 2.48 GAA and a .923 save percentage. He has given up one goal in his last two starts (both against the Wild).
Brock Boeser has 10 goals in his last 11 games after scoring his 23rd goal of the season in Chicago on Sunday. He enters play tonight tied with Auston Matthews for the NHL goal scoring lead.
Ilya Mikheyev scored his 10th goal of the season against the Blackhawks. It gave the Canucks a 4-2 second period lead and stood up as the game winner making Mikheyev the 10th Vancouver skater to register a game-winning goal this season. Dakota Joshua also scored on Sunday and has 3+2=5 in his last six games and over that time his line with Teddy Blueger and Conor Garland has recorded 5+8=13. All three of those players carry three-game point streaks into action tonight.
The club is having success despite the fact that Quinn Hughes has been held off the scoresheet in five of his last six games. The one night the captain figured in the scoring he had three assists in the Canucks 4-1 win over Tampa Bay last week.
Canucks have feasted on Central Division opponents this season going 6-1-1 in their first eight games.
The Predators return to action following a 3-1 win over Washington on Saturday. Colton Sissons, Peter Tomasino and Yakov Trenin scored the goals and Juuse Saros made 21 saves in net. After opening the season with a 5-10 record, Nashville has caught fire winning 13 of its last 16 games. Since November 18th, the Predators lead the NHL in wins and points gained in the standings and are second only to Colorado in goals scored.
During that span, Juuse Saros leads all NHL goalies with 10 victories and over the past month he has posted a 2.12 GAA and ,930 save percentage. He is currently riding a personal six-game win streak – the longest of his NHL career.
On the season, Filip Forsberg is leading the team with 16 goals and 36 points followed by Roman Josi with 27 points and Ryan O’Reilly with 26. Forsberg and O’Reilly form two-thirds of Nashville’s top line along with Gustav Nyquist.
It’s worth mentioning every time he plays the Canucks, Ryan O’Reilly has faced Vancouver 45 times in the regular season in his NHL career and has scored just one goal (1+18=19). North Vancouver’s Colton Sissons has 10 goals in 31 games after scoring 12 goals all of last season. His career high is 15 back in 2018-19.
The Canucks will need to have their heads up when Jeremy Lauzon is on the ice. The Preds blueliner is fourth in the NHL with 104 hits this season and leads all other defencemen by a whopping 26 hits. As a team, Nashville leads the NHL with 682 hits. Vegas is second with 630 and the Canucks are third at 623.
The Predators currently occupy the first wild card spot in the Western Conference, however with 36 points they are just three points out of third spot in the Central Division and only four points out of the division lead.
Tonight’s referees: TJ Luxmore & Kevin Pollock

What we heard

Rick Tocchet on parking Kuzmenko again: “Just trying to win a game tonight. I felt this was the best line-up for tonight. We’ll re-evalute for the Dallas game, but I think for tonight this is what we’re going to go with.”
Tocchet on facing a Predators team on a tear these days: “Hottest team in the league. They start fast. We shouldn’t have to warn the players they’ve got be ready to play from the drop of the puck. That’s what I’m looking for.”

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