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Scenes from morning skate: DeSmith starts, Lotto Line likely split up as Canucks seek revenge on Blues

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
1 month ago
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The Vancouver Canucks (32-11-4) chase their ninth win in 10 games tonight when they host the St. Louis Blues (23-20-2) at Rogers Arena. The visitors are the only team that has defeated the Canucks in regulation time so far in 2024 with a 2-1 win on January 4th. 
Since that night at Enterprise Center, the Canucks are 8-0-1 and have won three straight following a 2-0 victory over Chicago on Monday. Meanwhile, the Blues are playing back-to-back and arriving in town after a 4-3 comeback win in Calgary last night.

What we saw

After suggesting yesterday that there was no confirmed date to debut the metallic blue helmets the players wore at practice, the Canucks confirmed today that they will rock the blue against the Blues tonight. It’s one of two games the shiny look will be on display over the balance of the schedule.
It was a sparsely attended optional skate for the Canucks this morning. Casey DeSmith was among a handful of players to take the ice. DeSmith gets the call in goal tonight. He last played in a 4-3 shootout loss in Columbus on January 15th and is 1-1-1 in his last three starts. 
Rick Tocchet wouldn’t confirm, but he sounded like a coach toying with the idea of splitting up the Lotto Line. Tocchet mentioned this morning how he likes Elias Pettersson at centre, so don’t be surprised to see some new line combinations during warm-up. Otherwise, there will be no changes to the 18 skaters dressing for the Canucks tonight.
On Monday, Pius Suter opened the scoring with his first goal in nine games and Andrei Kuzmenko had his first two points since Christmas setting up both Vancouver goals. Quinn Hughes netted his 12th goal of the season becoming the first Canuck blueliner since Christian Ehrhoff in 2010-11 to reach a dozen goals in a season.
Canucks penalty killers were perfect on Monday denying the Hawks on five power plays. Vancouver has now killed off 15 straight short-handed situations and 40 of the last 44 times the team has been down a man.
Brock Boeser continues to lead the Canucks with 27 goals on the season, but has gone five without a goal and has just three goals in his last 13 games. 
JT Miller was held without a point against the Blackhawks and remains at 599 career NHL points (222+377=599). He has 362 points with the Canucks, had 172 as a New York Ranger and produced 65 in Tampa Bay.
The Canucks are 16-2-3 in their last 21 games and are 9-1 in their last nine on home ice. They have opened the scoring in seven straight games and 10 of their 11 outings so far this month. In their last nine games, the Canucks have trailed once – for a total of 53 seconds in the first period against the New York Rangers.
It’s a quick turnaround for the Blues who got a goal from Brandon Saad with 48 seconds remaining to break a 3-3 tie and propel them to a win in Calgary last night. The game winner capped a Blues rally from a 3-1 second period deficit. Saad had a pair on the night while Brayden Schenn scored the first short-handed goal of his NHL career and Jordan Kyrou also found the back of the net. Jordan Binnington made 32 saves for the win.
The Blues don’t have a league leader when it comes to goal-scoring, but they have an effective by-committee approach, with seven players in double-digits. Robert Thomas leads the club with 16, while Jake Neighbours has 14, and Saad and Kyrou each have 13. Thomas is the team’s top point producer with 47 on the season 13 ahead of Kyrou.
St. Louis enters the night coming off consecutive victories. The Blues are now 10-6-1 under interim head coach Drew Bannister. They gave up the first goal last night, but are 18-2 on the season when opening the scoring. 
No team in the NHL has taken fewer minor penalties or spent less time on the penalty kill this season than the Blues. Also, the Blues are tied with Dallas with the most short-handed goals in the league this season with 11.
Former Canuck Adam Gaudette was recalled from the minors last week and has appeared in a pair of games for the Blues. He did not play last night in Calgary and could be injected into the St. Louis line-up to provide a spark tonight. After watching as the back-up last night at the Saddledome, Joel Hofer is expected to get the start in goal. He is 7-8 on the season with a 2.88 GAA and a .910 save percentage.
The Canucks blanked the Blues 5-0 the last time they were in Vancouver on October 27th. The Blues returned the favour with a 2-1 win on home ice earlier this month. This is the completion of their three-game season series.
Tonight’s referees: Steve Kozari and Francis Charron

What we heard

Rick Tocchet on potentially splitting the Lotto Line for first time since January 6th: “I’m not sure what we’re going to do tonight. We could split them which is fine. Maybe I’ll put Petey back in the middle which I like. But I have no problem every once in a while putting this line back together again. We’ll see how it goes.”
Tocchet on keeping team focussed for final two games before All Star break: “You’re looking for the leadership group to really help us out on this. To make sure they’re ready to go. Make sure they run the room. I think it’s important sometimes that coaches have to stay out of it. Over an 82-game schedule, I think this is one of them. I’m not taking myself out of the equation here, I’m just saying I think it’s important that the leadership group run the room sometimes and run the attitude of the game tonight.”
Sam Lafferty well aware the Blues were the last team to handle the Canucks in regulation time: “Yeah, we remember it. We kind of got away from our system a little bit there. So for us, it’s a little more motivation tonight.”

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