Scenes from morning skate: DeSmith starts and Kuzmenko drops to 4th line against Wild

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
6 months ago
The Vancouver Canucks (16-9-1) host the resurgent Minnesota Wild (9-10-4) in the second game of a five-game homestand tonight. The Canucks are looking to bounce back from a turbulent 6-5 loss to New Jersey on Tuesday while the Wild shoot for their fifth straight victory under new head coach John Hynes. 
The Canucks will go with Casey DeSmith in goal and Andrei Kuzmenko, after being benched for most of the third period on Tuesday, will drop to a new look fourth line. The Canucks will be out to snap an eight-game losing skid against the Wild. They have not defeated Minnesota since January 2020.

What we saw

The Canucks continue to take one step forward and one step back alternating wins and losses over their last nine games. They have not dropped two straight since the start of this stretch when they lost 5-2 in Calgary on November 16th and 4-3 at home to Seattle in their next game on November 18th.
JT Miller was a straggler this morning and joined the group late. So Linus Karlsson served as a placeholder until Miller’s arrival. Miller will play tonight while Karlsson will come out of the line-up to make room for the return of Phil Di Giuseppe who has been a healthy scratch the past two games.
Casey DeSmith makes his first start since November 25th in San Jose. He has a perfect 4-0 record against the Wild, posting a 2.22 GAA and .931 save percentage in those games. The Canucks need to tighten up defensively in front of their netminder. Tuesday night was the first time this season the Canucks have surrendered more than five goals in a game, and it was also the first time they’ve allowed more than four goals on home ice.
Sam Lafferty has scored in consecutive contests and has five goals in his last 10 games while Nils Höglander, who briefly tied Tuesday’s game at 5-5 late in the third period, has four goals in his last eight. Burnsville, MN native Brock Boeser scored his league-leading 18th goal of the season on Tuesday. Boeser scored his first NHL goal in his NHL debut against Minnesota, but has just one goal in 12 games since then against his home state team.
The Wild arrive here after a 5-2 victory in Calgary. Matt Boldy scored twice and added an assist while Kirill Kaprizov scored once, set up another, and had five shots on goal on 16 attempts. The team’s fourth straight win came on the heels of a seven game losing streak which led to the dismissal of head coach Dean Evason on November 28th.
Since the coaching change, the Wild have outscored their four opponents 18-5. 
The Wild are led in goal-scoring by Joel Erikson-Ek. With 12 goals, he is the only player on the team in double figures. Mats Zuccarello leads the club in scoring with 27 points. The Norwegian veteran carries a 10-game point streak into action tonight recording three goals and 14 points over that span.
A big part of Minnesota’s early season struggle was a penalty kill that is tied for last in the NHL at 71.1%. It has surrendered 24 goals on 83 attempts this season. However, since John Hynes took over the Wild have killed off 13 of 14 penalties.
The Minnesota line-up boasts two of the top rookies in the league this season. Marco Rossi is tied for second among all NHL freshmen with eight goals and 15 points while Brock Faber leads this year’s rookie class in average ice time logging 23:17 per night.
Filip Gustavsson gets the start in goal tonight. He is 5-6-2 on the season, but has sharpened his game of late going 3-2-1 with a 1.82 GAA and a .931 save percentage in his last six starts. He recorded his first NHL shutout at Rogers Arena in a 3-0 win last December.
For the second straight game, a former member of the Canucks coaching staff returns to Rogers Arena. Jason King, who was an assistant on the Canucks staff up until last season, is in his first year behind the Wild bench.
These teams will meet again on December 16th at Xcel Energy Center.
Tonight’s referees: Jordan Samuels-Thomas and Kendrick Nicholson
Canadian soccer legend Christine Sinclair, fresh off her final appearance with the national team on Tuesday night at BC Place, will be saluted by the Canucks at tonight’s game.

What we heard

Andrei Kuzmenko responds to Rick Tocchet’s pointed post-game comments about the need to forecheck: “I understand. I need to forecheck, I go to forecheck it’s okay. This is work. It doesn’t matter if it’s first line or fourth line. It doesn’t matter what players play with me. I need to stay positive and keep going.”
Sam Lafferty on embracing the way the coach’s style of straight ahead hockey: “It’s been a really good fit. It feels familiar. I like the way we’re trying to play. Every line is trying to play the same way. I think it suits my style. Play to my strengths — speed and physicality — and hunt the puck, get to the net. It’s a pretty simple formula for me.”
Rick Tocchet on what he’s seen from his team of late over a 4-6 stretch: “What has crept into our game is we’re playing slower. It’s kind of like when I first got here. It’s a lot of regroups, a lot of people holding on to pucks. When we play faster — and mentally too — is that’s the mindset when we’re playing well.”
Rick Tocchet on what he’s looking for from Andrei Kuzmenko tonight in a different role: “There’s too many times when he should be the first guy on the forecheck and for whatever reason he always ends up behind everybody. And you can’t play that way. It makes the other guys on your line player slower. ”
Rick Tocchet on inserting Phil Di Giuseppe after a two-game reset: “He has to play like he did at the beginning of the year and like he did last year. I hate to use the word survival, but a little bit more his style of play. First on the forecheck, coming up with loose pucks, blocking shots. That’s his style of play that made him stick with us, not in Abbotsford. I think he has to get back to that a little bit more.”

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