The Vancouver Canucks end off their marathon seven-game road trip tonight with a stop in Winnipeg to take on the Jets. This road trip has not been kind to the Canucks as they stumble into Manitoba with a 1-3-2 record on the trip, good for just four points out of a possible 12. They hope to end off their roadie on a positive note after their much-analyzed 4-3 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night.
Game Time: 4:30 pm
The host Jets are struggling just as much as the Canucks. Winnipeg enters the game losers of six straight games, with the most recent outing being a 3-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues. The Jets have fallen to sixth place in the ultra-competitive Central Division, only ahead of the Colorado Avalanche.
The Jets’ powerplay is worse than the Canucks’ (15.2% to 17.5%) as is their penalty kill (80.5% to 80.7%). Blake Wheeler (20 points) and Bryan Little (18) lead the club in scoring. The Jets have been shorthanded a league-high 77 times this season.
Thus, both teams have combined for one win over their respective last six games. Something has to give.
1. Come back, Luca Sbisa
The Canucks really miss Luca Sbisa.
By getting hurt, Luca Sbisa has become a Norris Trophy candidate in Vancouver.
— Iain MacIntyre (@imacVanSun) November 17, 2015
The defenceman hasn’t played since October 30, and since then the Canucks are 2-4-2. Sbisa was enjoying a solid if not unspectacular campaign when he was sidelined with a foot injury. Before going down, Sbisa had four points in 11 games and was even in plus-minus.
The blueliner who has benefited the most from Sbisa’s absence is Yannick Weber. However, Weber has struggled at times and has the worst plus-minus of all Canucks defencemen at -7.
Mostly, the club misses the physical presence that Sbisa brings especially in front of their own net. Say what you want of Sbisa’s adventurous forays with the puck, but the Canucks are less-imposing without him in the lineup. Ultimately, they are a weaker team without him.
*Update: Sbisa will indeed play tonight.
Sbisa will play. “I got the green light this morning. I feel pretty confident.” #Canucks
— Vancouver Canucks (@VanCanucks) November 18, 2015
2. Don’t come back, 3-on-3 overtime
With the loss in Montreal, the Canucks’ record in overtime fell to an abysmal 0-6. It’s by far the worst overtime record in the NHL; in fact no other team has lost more than three times in the extra frame.
The overtime woes became the focal point of a lively exchange on TSN 1040 yesterday morning between co-host Blake Price and Vancouver Sun writer Iain MacIntyre.
— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) November 18, 2015
Price opined for more overtime ice time for the youngsters while MacIntyre said that it’s too risky to play them in the extra frame against more experienced NHL players. Price also implored the Canucks to be more aggressive in overtime, while MacIntyre said the team needs to focus on defending.
I firmly side with Blake on this one. The Canucks simply don’t look dangerous enough in overtime due in large part to the personnel that coach Willie Desjardins employs. Chris Higgins, Radim Vrbata, Chris Tanev, Yannick Weber, Dan Hamhuis, and Bo Horvat all saw the ice in overtime in the loss to Montreal. These players don’t really strike fear into the hearts of opponents.
3-on-3 overtime is all about speed and trading chances. I would love to see more Jared McCann in overtime as he brings the right combination of speed, skill, and creativity. Ditto for Jannik Hansen (at least on the speed side of things).
Trot out these three pairings (plus a defenceman) in overtime and see what happens: McCann and Hansen, Baertschi and Virtanen, and the Sedins. It might actually work out.
It can’t be any worse.
3. Sophomore Slump
It’s no secret that sophomore centre Bo Horvat is struggling so far this season. His possession numbers aren’t great and he has just six points in 19 games.
The absence of Brandon Sutter from the lineup has increased the scrutiny on Horvat. He’s expected to produce offensively as a second-line centre as well as handle the role as shutdown centre on the other end of the ice. It’s a lot to ask from a 20-year-old.
No one (especially me) is questioning Horvat’s work ethic. However, Horvat has recently fallen into the pattern of trying to do too much with the puck instead of making smart, quick passes to his linemates. The result is often a turnover in the neutral zone.
There’s no need to hit the panic button just yet. When Sutter returns, the Canucks calendar cover model will hopefully be able to settle back into his third-line centre role.
Veterans Alex Burrows, Brandon Prust, Brandon Sutter, and Luca Sbisa all missed the last game. Burrows is back, and will be in the lineup after the birth of his son.
Forward Radim Vrbata missed the morning skate and looks to be out tonight.
The Canucks also called up Alex Grenier from Utica today, and sent down Hunter Shinkaruk after just one game. Thus, every line except the top line will have a different look for the game.
Luca Sbisa draws in (likely for Yannick Weber), and Ryan Miller will get the start in net.
|D. Sedin||H. Sedin||Hansen|
The Canucks always have it tough when they visit the MTS Centre and tonight should be no exception. It should be an entertaining tilt as the Jets boast a big team comprised of some colourful characters such as Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd, and the immortal Dustin Byfuglien.
Look for the Canucks to end off their road trip by sneaking out a 3-2 victory.