Canucks getting healthier as they prep for a Saturday matinee vs. Buffalo
Saturday December 7 - Vancouver Canucks vs. Buffalo Sabres - 1 p.m. - Sportsnet, Sportsnet 650
Standings as of Friday morning:
Vancouver Canucks: 29 GP, 14-11-4, 32 pts, fourth in Pacific Division
Buffalo Sabres: 29 GP, 13-11-5, 31 pts, third in Atlantic Division
The Vancouver Canucks will be hitting the ice early on Saturday for a 1 p.m. matinee against the Buffalo Sabres, so I'm getting a bit of a jump on the setup for that contest.
It'll come after a few days with some R&R for the road-weary Canucks. Wednesday, the team held off-ice workouts before lunch with the Canucks' alumni.
Thursday was a full day off, with its usual collection of dog videos on Instagram Stories — and a little road hockey for Jay Beagle.
That seems like it bodes well for a possible return to game action?
Friday night, the Chainsmokers are headlining at Rogers Arena, so the Canucks have hit the ice at Burnaby 8 Rinks (soon to be known as the Scotiabank Barn) for their Friday practice — with Beagle and others back in the mix.
One other player is missing — Nikolay Goldobin. He was reassigned to Utica on Friday morning. Goldy got into just one game during his 10-day recall, playing 8:37 against Pittsburgh before being healthy scratched for the Canucks' three subsequent games. Better luck next time!
Here's how the lines rolled out on Friday:
The Canucks made two salary-cap related roster moves this week, placing both Micheal Ferland and Brandon Sutter on long-term injured reserve retroactively.
A player must be on LTIR for a minimum of 10 games or 24 days before he can be re-activated. Ferland meets that threshold easily — his last appearance was on October 30, so he has already missed 17 games. Sutter's last game was on November 12, so he has also missed 10 games.
But even after Goldobin's demotion, the team still has just two available roster spots.
Another move will be needed if Beagle, Ferland and Sutter are all ready to play on Saturday. That's possible, but the feeling from Friday seems to be that Beagle and Ferland are closer to game action than Sutter is.
The good news for Adam Gaudette — he played his 80th NHL game against Ottawa on Tuesday, so he's no longer waiver exempt. The next man up on that front will be Zack MacEwen. He's only at 11 games played right now, so he's the likely candidate to go back down. But he is now in his third pro season after signing as an unrestricted free agent at age 21, so he'll lose his waiver protection at the beginning of next year.
Since the Canucks are hosting their expansion cousins on Saturday, the club will also be continuing its 'Decades' celebration with 80s Night.
If you go to the game dressed in 80s gear, you'll get free popcorn. The players will make you feel welcome by donning the Flying V jerseys for warmup, then the Black Skate jerseys return by popular demand for the game itself.
The day will also feature some 80s Canucks alumni on hand for the pregame ceremony, and a George Michael singalong.
As for the Sabres — they're now the team with the longest playoff drought in the NHL, at eight years. And they're on their fifth coach since parting ways with Lindy Ruff in February of 2013 — but Ralph Krueger is generating pretty good reviews so far in his return to the NHL.
The Sabres got off to a strong start under Krueger, going 8-1-1 in their first 10 games, but nobody wanted to get too excited. After all, Buffalo rode a big winning streak to first place overall in the NHL last November before a brutal second-half collapse that got Phil Housley fired.
There has definitely been some trouble along the way, including back-to-back losses to Tampa Bay during the NHL Global Series in Sweden that was part of a 2-8-2 stretch through most of November. But the recent past has been better — Buffalo's 2-1-2 in its last five games, with the only outright loss coming on Thursday night in Calgary against the resurgent Flames.
For the moment, Buffalo's still clinging to the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division — but Montreal and Toronto are just one point back and Tampa Bay is two behind, with multiple games in hand.
Offense, defense and power play are all in the middle of the pack so far this season — and for Buffalo, that's a good place to be. But the penalty is struggling — 30th overall, ahead of only Detroit, with a 74.2 percent success rate.
The Canucks torched the Red Wings for five power-play goals in their two meetings earlier this year. Will they be able to do something similar against the Sabres on Saturday?
Even while the Sabres have been losing, Jack Eichel has been putting up points. A four-goal night against Ottawa on November 16 kicked off an 11-game point streak that's still going, and has seen him collect 10 goals and 10 assists during that time. He's now seventh overall in the NHL scoring race with 18-21-39 in 29 games. That's seven points ahead of Elias Petterson, who has slipped out of the top 10 due to a quiet-for-him three points in his last five games.
The Ottawa game on Tuesday was the 100th of Petey's NHL career. It's gone by fast, hasn't it?
He has played the sixth-most games of any player in his 2017 draft class, but his 98 points so far rank him second overall behind Nico Hischier — who joined the NHL a year earlier and has 115 points in 176 games.
Though we won't get to see Petey square off against Rasmus Dahlin, who's currently sidelined with a concussion, Canucks fans will get to see another hot Swedish rookie for the first time. Victor Olofsson is a 24-year-old from Ornskoldsvik who's a power-play machine. Originally drafted in the seventh round by the Sabres in 2014, Olofsson picked up two assists in Calgary on Thursday to give himself 11-13-24 on the season so far and move one point ahead of Quinn Hughes, into second spot in the rookie scoring race.
Speaking of Ornskoldsvik, Joe Smith of The Athletic took a detour up to spend 24 hours there while he was covering Victor Hedman and the Lightning at the Global Series. This is the most evocative story I've read about the small hockey factory that has shaped the course of the Canucks so dramatically — and features some quality Markus Naslund content, as well a dose of Sedinery.
One other thing — if you haven't looked at it yet, the new GameFlow tool in the NHL app is pretty cool. I played around with it a bunch during Thursday's games, and wrote about it for Forbes today. Check out the article to learn more:
Try it alongside your eggs benedict as you watch the game on Saturday!