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Scenes from morning skate: Big challenge for Casey DeSmith as Canucks host Avs and NHL’s top scorer Nathan MacKinnon

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
30 days ago
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After three full days between games, the Vancouver Canucks (42-17-7) return to action tonight when they host the Colorado Avalanche (41-20-5). Both teams enter tonight on four-game win streaks.
Casey DeSmith steps into the spotlight with Thatcher Demko out 2-3 weeks with a knee injury suffered in Saturday’s 5-0 win over the Winnipeg Jets. DeSmith will begin his tenure as the interim starter by facing the National Hockey League’s highest scoring team and the league’s leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon.

What we saw

With a lineup that has won four straight and given up just three goals in the process, Rick Tocchet will stick with the same 18 skaters he’s used for the past three games. Tyler Myers skated with the group for a second straight day this morning, but will not return from a lower body injury that has kept him out of the past four games. Casey DeSmith in goal will be the only change from Saturday with Arturs Silovs up from AHL Abbotsford to serve as the back-up.
DeSmith stopped all 10 shots he faced in 33 minutes of relief duty on Saturday, entering the game at 3-0 and combining with Demko for a 26 save shutout. The 32-year-old has allowed one goal in his last 93 minutes of game action dating back to a 2-1 victory in Anaheim in his last start on March 3rd. DeSmith is 8-4-5 on the season delivering at least a point in 13 of his 17 starts.
JT Miller, Nils Höglander, Phil Di Giuseppe, Elias Pettersson and Pius Suter scored the Canuck goals against the Jets. For Höglander, it was his 20th of the season. Di Giuseppe has now scored in back-to-back games after going 29 games without a goal. While Suter snapped a 17-game drought of his own scoring for the first time since a hattrick against St. Louis on January 24th.
Quinn Hughes matched his career-high in points with a pair of assists on Saturday. The Canuck captain is now up to 13+63=76 on the season with 16 games still to play.
The Avalanche arrive after smoking the Flames 6-2 in Calgary last night. Colorado exploded for five second period goals en route to the win. Mikko Rantanen led the way with 2+2=4 giving him his second 10-game point streak of the season.
Nathan MacKinnon had a goal and a helper boosting his totals to 41 goals and 72 assists for a league-leading – and career best – 113 points.That’s good for a six point edge on Nikita Kucherov and 10 points ahead of Connor McDavid. With his team comfortably in front last night, MacKinnon played just 3:09 of the third period and a season-low 17:57 to stay fresh for the second game of back to backs.
Cale Makar, who will play his 300th NHL game tonight, had an assist last night pushing his season total to 71 points. He is five points back of Quinn Hughes in the race to be the league’s highest scoring defenceman. Colorado (196 points) has the highest-scoring blueline in the NHL this season, while the Canucks (174) are second.
The Avs have won four straight and six of seven. They added four pieces to an already strong lineup ahead of last week’s NHL trade deadline: Casey Mittelstadt, Brandon Duhaime, Yakov Trenin and Sean Walker.
Alexandar Georgiev is expected to get the start in goal as he backed up Justus Annunen at the Saddledome last night. Georgiev is 33-15-3 on the season and leads all NHL netminders in time on ice this season, logging 3053:10.
The Avs have defeated the Canucks in their two previous meetings this season – 5-2 and 3-1 – both played in Denver. Tonight’s game wraps up the season series. Colorado is 15-3-1 against Pacific Division teams this season.
Tonight’s referees: Kyle Rehman & Mitch Dunning

What we heard

Rick Tocchet on tough test with Avs rolling into town: “Obviously Colorado’s a great team, but I don’t care who we’re playing tonight. I like the way we’re playing. Can we keep trending in that direction? MacKinnon’s a handful, but I do like the way we played against him in Colorado. We should have some confidence because of that and because of the way we’re playing.”
JT Miller on matching up against Nathan MacKinnon: “Guys like that, you can very rarely give them nothing. But if we play the way we’re supposed to we should limit the number of chances he gets because we’re playing within our structure. He’s got the ability to go end to end through everybody. When that happens, you tip your cap but we can’t give him any freebies. We got to make him earn it. Play defence to offence and go 200 feet.”
Nikita Zadorov on his former Colorado teammate MacKinnon: “He’s the best player in the world. He’s humming right now. If I were to build a team, I would build it around him because he’s a winner. He’s won the Stanley Cup.”
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