In their previous game, the Vancouver Canucks won in dramatic fashion, beating the Carolina Hurricanes with a Bo Horvat laser in the final minutes of a tied third period. Next up? Another Eastern Conference opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Game Time: 7 p.m.
Canucks fans were treated to a rare regulation win on Wednesday night, not to mention a stellar two-goal performance from Bo Horvat. Then, in case fans were getting restless between games, Trader Jim Benning made a deal with the New York Rangers, exchanging Niklas Jensen and a 2016 6th round pick for 2010 29th overall pick (and former Medicine Hat Tiger) Emerson Etem. Jensen never really took the next step Vancouver was hoping we would and as many pointed out, there is some familiarity with Etem and some current Canucks (Shinkaruk, Vey, Desjardins)… I’m sensing a theme here.
— Tron Funkinblow (@tron_funkinblow) January 9, 2016
It’s not all gumdrops and butterflies in Canuckland though… Jannik Hansen may be unavailable to play tonight due to an upper-body injury though Ryan Miller will dress as Jacob Markstrom’s backup tonight.
Miller – "Everyone probably had some fun calling it cramps for a little too long." #Canucks
— Irfaan Gaffar (@sportsnetirf) January 8, 2016
At the other end of the rink, the Tampa Bay Lightning currently find themselves in an interesting position. They find themselves in a similar position in the standings to the Canucks, but whereas the Canucks weren’t expected to do much this year, the Lightning are the defending Eastern Conference champions! A 3-2 win last night in Edmonton has them at 1-1-0 on their current 4 game western road trip. They’ll visit the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday before heading home.
1. Horvat (Re)Emerging
The kid is alright… at least, for now. Bo Horvat had a monster game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night, registering two goals including the game winner.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) January 7, 2016
He led the team in shots (5) and only the Sedins and Radim Vrbata registered more ice time amongst forwards (Horvat finished the game with 18:08 TOI). Some newfound chemistry with Sven Baertschi could account for the offensive outburst, or it may simply be that Horvat was due.
He’d be hard pressed to keep this torrid clip up, especially given the small sample size, but some secondary scoring behind the Sedin line would be awfully nice. In any case, the young centre now has 3 goals in his last 2 games. Iain, take it away…
Horvat has more goals the last 5 periods (3) than he did his first 39 games (2). Feed Bo, he's hot.
— Iain MacIntyre (@imacSportsnet) January 7, 2016
2. Virtanen Returns
So, after a less than stellar World Junior tournament, a scathing front page article in the newspaper, and questions about what he may develop into as a player, Jake Virtanen will return to the Canuck lineup tonight against the Lightning.
Coach confirms Virtanen will play Saturday vs. Tampa Bay. "I'm looking forward to seeing that strength and speed in our line-up again"
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) January 8, 2016
Virtanen had just one assist in 5 games and took two (very) questionable penalties in the third period of Canada’s quarterfinal matchup with Finland, the second of which led to the Finn’s game-winning goal. However, the young forward is not going to let a subpar performance dictate the rest of his season (and he clearly hasn’t lost his sense of humour).
Virtanen said one positive thing about his full page in the paper was that it was a good pic. Solid flow. #Canucks.
— Dan Murphy (@sportsnetmurph) January 6, 2016
Willie Desjardins has already mentioned how much he is looking forward to having the tough checking winger back and you can bet he’ll use him tonight in an energizer role. While some think with the acquisition of Emerson Etem that Virtanen is on his way back to the Calgary Hitmen soon, Virtanen is not likely to go quietly into that good night. He never has before, so why start now. A big game tonight could be the statement we’ve been waiting for.
3. Jonathan Drouin
It’s odd to think that the last time the Canucks were playing the Lightning, they were in Tampa Bay and most people were talking about a disgruntled star that was surely on his way out of the non-traditional hockey market.
Well, he may not be an NHL star yet, but many believe Jonathan Drouin will no longer be a member of the Lightning very soon. Clearly unhappy with the lack of opportunity so far and the rigid structure of Jon Cooper’s game, the former Halifax Moosehead will have more than several NHL team scouts watching him when he suits up against Hershey and Rochester this weekend. In his first game back with the Syracuse Crunch last night, Drouin had 2 goals and 5 shots in a 6-4 loss to Albany.
Hearing Tampa's asking price, at this point, is very high on Jonathan Drouin, signed thru end of '16-17, much more than rental Keith Yandle
— Steve Zipay (@stevezipay) January 5, 2016
Many possible landing spots have been reported for Drouin, but those teams will have to pay a steep price. The St. Louis Blues, Montreal Canadiens, and New York Rangers are among the many teams reportedly interested in the 2013 3rd overall pick. Some have also suggested his former QMJHL coach Patrick Roy may be interested in reuniting Drouin with Nathan McKinnon.
Unfortunately, Drouin won’t be in the lineup tonight, but you can be sure that much of the discussion before, during, and after the game will involve him.
If practice yesterday was any indication, Virtanen returns tonight on a line with Cracknell and Higgins. With Hansen on IR, Alex Burrows is the likely candidate to play with the Sedins on the top line. Emerson Etem will not join the lineup tonight though he is in Vancouver and was at practice today.
Etem won't play tonight. #Canucks
— Irfaan Gaffar (@sportsnetirf) January 9, 2016
|D. Sedin||H. Sedin||Burrows|
I’ve had an absolutely impossible time trying to pin down this season’s edition of the Canucks, so I’m going to fade myself. I’m thinking the Lightning or going to win 4-2, so obviously the Vancouver Canucks are going to show up with an inspiring performance and win 3-0. Virtanen nets one in his return.