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Scenes from morning skate: Gretzky in town, Demko in goal as Canucks hold power play summit ahead of game against Senators

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
1 month ago
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The Vancouver Canucks (23-10-3) ring in the new year when they host the Ottawa Senators (14-18-0) in the first game of 2024 at Rogers Arena. 
The Canucks have been idle since a 4-1 loss to Philadelphia on December 28th while the Sens arrive in town after a 5-1 win over Buffalo on New Year’s Eve.

What we saw

Rick Tocchet’s good friend and former television colleague – oh, and the greatest to ever play the game – Wayne Gretzky was in attendance at the Canucks optional skate. Gretzky made the quick trip north from Seattle where he worked yesterday’s Winter Classic. 
Gretzky watched as Tocchet spent close to half an hour working with the Canucks sagging first power play unit on Tuesday morning. Daniel and Henrik Sedin helped the coach. Among the wrinkles the Canucks experimented with was moving Elias Pettersson from the right half-wall to the bumper position.
Thatcher Demko gets the start in goal tonight. Carson Soucy will not return to the lineup so the Canucks will go with the same six defencemen they used throughout December. Rick Tocchet said he hadn’t decided yet on who would be the odd man out up front. Based on the last few days of practice, expect Phil Di Giuseppe to return to left wing with JT Miller and Brock Boeser. Nils Höglander skated as the extra forward during the past few days of practice, but the coach wouldn’t confirm that he would be a healthy scratch tonight.
It’s impossible to argue with Thatcher Demko’s 6-1-1 record in December. However, the netminder has an .897 save percentage in eight games last month and has surrendered four goals in back to back starts and 11 goals in his last three outings. He has not played since picking up a 7-4 win over San Jose on December 23rd. With his next victory, Demko will match former teammate Jacob Markstrom for fifth on the Canucks all-time wins list with 99.
The Canucks have played just once in the past 10 days. So they should be well rested as they return to work tonight. Teddy Blueger scored the Canucks lone goal against Philadelphia extending his point streak to a career-best seven games (3+6=9). Blueger leads all Canucks scorers over the past 10 games scoring four goals and picking up 10 points.
The loss to the Flyers was the first time in 10 games the Canucks did not pick up at least a point in the standings (7-1-2). Overall in December, the team was 8-2-2. 
JT Miller continues to lead the Canucks in scoring and tied for fourth in the NHL point parade with 15+33=48, yet the veteran centre has gone eight games without scoring and has just one goal in his last 10 games and only two in his last 16. 
The Canucks power play has suffered a power outage lately going 0 for 3 against Philadelphia and it now 2 for its last 22 (9.1%) over the past six games. Additionally, the Canucks were torched for a shorthanded goal by the Flyers so the power play has netted just a one goal advantage over the last six games. 
On that note, Ottawa has the worst penalty killing in the NHL at 72.1% on the season and on the road it is just 69.1%. However, the Sens successfully killed off all three Buffalo power plays in Sunday’s 5-1 victory. Even with the win, the Sens still sit last in the Eastern Conference and 29th in the overall league standings with 28 points. Ottawa is 3-7 in its last 10 games and has just four road victories on the season.
Anton Forsberg made 45 saves on Sunday as the Sens were outshot 46-31. He is expected to get the start again tonight.
Brady Tkachuk leads the team with 16 goals while Drake Batherson has 14. Overall Tim Stutzle is the team’s top point producer with 7+26=33. Tkachuk also leads the NHL in penalty minutes with 88 so far this season.
On Sunday, the Senators removed the interim tag from Steve Staios naming him the team’s full time general manager. That continued a season of change for the Sens who replaced head coach DJ Smith with Jacques Martin on December 18th. Martin is 3-3  in his second stint behind the Senators bench. On Sunday, Martin coached the 1300th game of his NHL career.
Former Canuck Zack MacEwen is set to play his 200th NHL game tonight (121 with Philadelphia, 55 in Vancouver, 13 for Ottawa and 10 with the LA Kings). The rugged winger scored his first goal of the season – and his first NHL goal since January 9, 2023 – on Sunday against the Sabres. 
North Vancouver’s Angus Crookshank, who played parts of three seasons for the BCHL’s Langley Rivermen before attending the University of New Hampshire could play his first ever game at Rogers Arena. The 24-year-old winger scored his first – and so far only – big league goal in his second NHL game in Arizona on December 19th.
The Canucks beat the Senators 5-2 on November 9th  in the opener of an Eastern Canadian road swing. Brock Boeser scored 15 seconds into the contest and Ilya Mikheyev netted a pair of goals as the Canucks scored five times on a season-low 16 shots on goal.
Tonight’s referees: Pierre Lambert and Chris Lee

What we heard

Rick Tocchet on this morning’s PP1 summit: ‘Well, I’ve got to take responsibility for myself. Sometimes I assume things. That’s why I wanted to go out today and work on some stuff. I find some guys are misfiring, missing passes a little bit and I blame myself because I’ve got to get on those guys to start to work on that. I really liked it this morning and I feel it’s going to be a factor tonight.”
Tocchet on Soucy becoming an option soon and what that means for other blueliners: “‘We’re going to be full-strength here and I’ve got to be honest, tonight’s game could decide who comes out of the lineup. That’s just the world we live in.”
Quinn Hughes on putting in power play work on a game day: “We just have to stay confident and be crispy and have high execution and just keep it simple. Dumb it down a little and go back to what we were used to.”

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