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Scenes from morning skate: Canucks can end November atop the West with win over defending champion Golden Knights

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
6 months ago
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First place in the National Hockey League’s Western Conference is on the line tonight when the Vancouver Canucks (15-7-1) host the Vegas Golden Knights (14-5-4). The defending Stanley Cup champs arrive in town a point ahead of the Canucks, but a regulation win by the home team will leave the Canucks with the most points in the Conference to conclude the month of November.
This is the first of four meetings between these teams, however, they won’t see each other again until March 7th in Sin City.

What we saw

It was a lightly attended optional skate at Rogers Arena this morning. In fact, only backup Casey DeSmith and healthy scratches Matt Irwin and Linus Karlsson took to the ice. Sam Lafferty made a brief appearance at the Canucks bench in workout gear and stick-handled for a short while without stepping on the ice. Hopefully the small group of fans permitted in the building for the skate enjoyed watching Irwin and Karlsson shoot pucks at DeSmith.
Earlier today, the Canucks returned Cole McWard to Abbotsford after he logged 9:05 in Tuesday’s win against Anaheim. Rick Tocchet noted that Christian Wolanin is cleared from injury and set to return to the Abbotsford line-up this weekend. The coach suggested that Wolanin could be a call-up option at some point for the big league team. In the meantime, Mark Friedman will draw back in on defence tonight against Vegas. 
Thatcher Demko gets the start in goal looking to pick up where he left off with a solid 30 save performance against the Ducks. Demko is 8-1 on home ice this season with a 1.59 GAA, a .946 save percentage and a pair of shutouts against St. Louis and Dallas.
The Canucks will wrap a busy November tonight, looking to go 10-5 for the month after a 6-2-1 October to start the season.
Brock Boeser is coming off back-to-back two-goal games and now leads the NHL with 17 goals on the season. He is one shy of his season total of all of last year. The 26-year-old has accounted for four of the last five goals the Canucks have scored dating back to the second period in San Jose on Saturday.
Tonight will mark Teddy Blueger’s first game against his former team. Blueger was acquired by Vegas late last season and played in 18 regular season games and six post-season games en route to the Stanley Cup.
Not only is this a battle between two of the top teams in the division and conference, it’s also a clash of two of the top teams in the league when it comes to hits. The Canucks rank second in the NHL with 445 on the season while the Golden Knights are just one behind. Individually, Keegan Kolesar of the Knights sits third in the NHL with 72 hits this season and teammate Paul Cotter is fifth with 65 while Canucks forward Dakota Joshua ranks sixth with 63.
The defending champs limp into town having lost three straight (0-1-2) and with just one win in their last six (1-2-3). Tonight marks the end of a stretch of their schedule that has seen the Knights play eight of nine games on the road.
Vegas will be without two of its top defencemen in Shea Theodore and Alec Martinez both of whom are injured. Theodore has missed the past three games while Martinez has been out for four.
The Golden Knights have been involved in 10 one-goal games and remarkably have picked up points in all of them (6-0-4). Speaking of zeroes in that middle column, Vegas has never left Vancouver without something in the standings going 7-0-2 in nine games at Rogers Arena.
Jack Eichel is playing his 500th NHL game tonight. The second overall pick in the 2015 draft played his first 375 games in Buffalo and has suited up for 124 since being traded to Vegas. Eichel and WIlliam Karlsson lead the Golden Knights in scoring with 21 points apiece.
Tonight’s referees: Michael Markovic and Jean Hebert

What we heard

Rick Tocchet on importance of playing with speed against the Golden Knights: “You’ve got to skate. I call it the good ice. If you stand around against Vegas, you’re in trouble. You’ve got to skate. You’ve got to make them work.”
Tocchet on Nils Höglander taking strides in his game: “On the forecheck, we want him to be at a certain place and sometimes he goes a little too wide and that’s why we get odd man rushes against. He corrected himself last game – twice. He wanted to do the old habit, then he said ‘whoops’ and he put the brakes on. That’s the next step for him. Now it should be habitual for him where he knows where he has to be. I saw that last game where he corrected himself where before he’d just go wide it would be a three on two against you. Where now I’m watching him (and he knows) I have to be here. If he can get to that level, he’s a damn good player.”
Teddy Blueger on any nerves facing his former team: “Yeah, probably a little bit. Since I left Pittsburgh last year, I haven’t played against Pittsburgh so this will be the first time playing against a former team. So it will probably be a little weird. But I’m sure I’ll get over it pretty quickly and hopefully early on in the game.”

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