Vancouver Canucks game day: Tocchet urges his players to get to the inside vs. surging Sabres

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Paterson
29 days ago
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The Vancouver Canucks (42-18-8) are out to snap a two-game losing skid when they host the surging Buffalo Sabres (33-31-5) at Rogers Arena. 
The Canucks are coming off a 2-1 loss to Washington on Saturday night. That followed a 4-3 overtime setback against Colorado last Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Sabres are here after a 6-2 win in Seattle last night.

What we know

The Canucks are expected to roll with new line combinations for tonight’s game against the Sabres. Based on yesterday’s practice lines, Elias Pettersson will centre a line with Nils Höglander and Conor Garland. JT Miller and Brock Boeser will have Pius Suter on their left wing. Ilya Mikheyev finds himself on a line with Elias Lindholm and Sam Lafferty. Teddy Blueger centres a fourth line with Vasily Podkolzin and Nils Aman, who draws in for Phil Di Giuseppe.
Casey DeSmith will start a third straight game in goal, looking for his first win since March 3rd in Anaheim. DeSmith made 22 saves on Saturday against the Capitals. In eight career starts against the Sabres, DeSmith is 4-2-2 with a 1.99 GAA, a .938 save percentage and three shutouts.
Not only have the Canucks opened the scoring in the first three games on this nine-game homestand, they’ve hit the scoreboard early. JT Miller scored 2:05 into a March 9th game against Winnipeg. Miller put the Canucks in front just 24 seconds into last week’s game against Colorado. And on Saturday night, Brock Boeser got the Canucks on the board 1:11 after the opening face-off. Despite getting the early jump in hockey games recently, the Canucks are just 1-1-1 on the homestand. The team has scored six first period goals on the homestand, two in the second period and just one in the third.
Quinn Hughes picked up the primary assist on the Boeser goal on Saturday giving the captain a new career-high with 77 points on the season.
After failing to convert on the power play in the past two games, the Canucks have fallen outside the top 10 in league rankings in that category. At 22.5% on the season, the Canucks now find themselves 11th in the NHL with the man-advantage. In their 19 games since the All Star break, the power play is just 15.1%.
Buffalo is coming in hot after a 6-2 win in Seattle last night. The Sabres have won four of five as they try to remain within striking distance of the Eastern Conference playoff chase (four points back of Washington for the second wild card spot). Jeff Skinner had the seventh hattrick of his NHL career while Tage Thompson, Alex Tuch and Owen Power also scored for Buffalo which is 11-6-1 in its last 18 games.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has been both busy and good, starting 15 of the Sabres last 16 games and a league-high 18 since the All Star break. Overall, he has started 25 of the Sabres last 28 games. However, with that heavy workload, UPL is expected to get the night off making way for Devon Levi to tend the Buffalo net in the second game of this back to back set. Levi was recalled from the minors late last week and has not seen NHL game action since January 24th.
Last season the Sabres were third in the NHL in goals per game (3.57). They enter play tonight 21st in the league this season (2.97). Defenceman Rasmus Dahlin leads the Sabres in scoring with 50 points. With his three goals last night, Jeff Skinner now leads the team with 24 goals. Tage Thompson and JJ Peterka each have 21.
The Sabres line-up features a couple of players with strong ties to this area. Chilliwack native Zach Benson – the 13th overall pick in last June’s draft — will play his first NHL game in Vancouver. While former Vancouver Giant standout Bowen Byram will make his first visit in a Buffalo uniform. He has 3+2=5 in six games as a Sabre after being acquired from Colorado at the trade deadline.
Tonight’s game features four of the top 17 picks from the 2019 NHL Draft which was held at Rogers Arena: Byram (4th overall), Dylan Cozens (7th), Vasily Podkolzin (10th) and Peyton Krebs (17th).
Buffalo is playing its 11th set of back to back games this season. The Sabres are 3-7 in the second game and have yet to post victories on consecutive nights. The Canucks hope that trend holds this evening.
This is the second and final meeting of the season between these expansion cousins. Sam Lafferty scored the only goal and Thatcher Demko stopped all 26 shots he faced when the Canucks shutout the Sabres 1-0 in Buffalo on January 13th.
Tonight’s referees: Corey Syvret & Trevor Hanson

What we heard

Rick Tocchet on what he needs to see more of from his team: “Well, offensively, inside play. If you get there, you’ve got to stay there. We’re getting pushed (out). We’re trying too many high plays where two or three guys kind of leak from the net. And then if you have four guys on the outside, it’s easy to defend. If you play inside and have a couple of switches, that’s the decision making for the defensive team.”
Tocchet shot down any notion that Dakota Joshua has had a setback recovering from hand injury suffered five weeks ago today in Chicago: “He’s progressing. We’re trying to be prudent. With these kinds of injuries, you’ve got to be really smart about it. We’d rather take the over-cautious approach with him right now. There’s no rush. Obviously, we want him in. He’s a big part of our team. But we’d rather take the cautious approach right now.”
Elias Lindholm on the challenge of finding his own game while constantly having new linemates: “I’ve been around for a long time and obviously I was lucky there one year in Calgary when we found some real good chemistry and played pretty much through the whole season, that’s kind of rare. I’m kind of used to bouncing around a little bit. That’s just the way it works. I just have to try to get back to my game and play better.”
Quinn Hughes on Sabres young, mobile blueline with Byram joining Dahlin and Power: “They can all skate. If they’re going to be up in the rush, they can headman pucks. Hard to forecheck. (Byram) is a really good player. He defends hard. He competes. So it’s a good addition for them.”
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