After a month and a half long delay, the much-anticipated Saturday afternoon battle between the Canucks and Maple Leafs has finally arrived. And perhaps that rescheduling was for the best if you’re one of the Canucks’ big guns.
When this game was originally scheduled back in December, Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser were both just finding their footing after rough starts to the season. The COVID outbreak and sporadic 2022 schedule slowed their momentum, but now both players head into today’s contest playing their best hockey of the year.
Pettersson has looked a lot more like his former self lately, showing a lot more tenacity attacking the net and picking up three points in his last two outings. Boeser has three points in his last four games and has played with a lot more confidence himself.
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That reinstilled faith is arriving at just the right time, facing a Toronto team that lives or dies by the play of its superstars. Auston Matthews’ 31 goals puts him just two shy of the league lead, Vancouver native Morgan Rielly sits ninth among all NHLers with 35 assists, and the usual scoring suspects like John Tavares, Willy Nylander and Mitch Marner haven’t skipped a beat.
Which is why the challenge the Maple Leafs present could be a welcome one for Vancouver’s own stars. For Pettersson and Boeser, going toe to toe with Toronto’s top six is exactly the type of showcase that great players thrive off of, and an opportunity to completely shift the narrative around themselves.
And they’ll do so with two lines built to try and match the Leafs’ firepower.
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Bo Horvat, who’s been struggling to put up points lately, has moved up to the first line between Boeser and J.T. Miller, while Pettersson will continue to centre Nils Höglander and Vasily Podkolzin on Bruce Boudreau’s high octane new second line. This setup leaves the Canucks extremely top heavy in the scoring department, and will rely on some strong shutdown work from Jason Dickinson, Tanner Pearson and Conor Garland to give the top six a proper chance to succeed.
With Quinn Hughes out for his final game of COVID protocol, the defensive cast is up for another tough assignment against the Maple Leafs’ speedy big guns. In goal, Thatcher Demko will face a stiff battle in Toronto’s probable starter Jack Campbell, who’s .921 save percentage and 21 wins put him in equally elite company as his fellow American netminder.
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Today’s Canucks and Maple Leafs matchup will have an early 4:00 PM Pacific start time at Rogers Arena, with Hockey Night in Canada carrying the game across the Sportsnet networks.