With a 1-1-1 record through their first three games, the Vancouver Canucks enjoyed a day off on Sunday, then hit the ice for practice on Monday as they prepare to face the 2-0-0 Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.
Yep — though injured Jack Eichel remains untraded and with all the doom and gloom surrounding the franchise, the Sabres have opened their season with a 5-1 win over Montreal and a 2-1 shootout victory over Arizona. They're riding a goalie tandem of 40-year-old Craig Anderson and 32-year-old Dustin Tokarski, who carry a collective cap hit of $1.475 million between them!
At just over $65 million, including Eichel, the Sabres are the lowest-spending team in the league this year. It's no wonder they're expected to be competing for the top spot in the 2022 draft lottery, and a crack at drafting Shane Wright. And while their two opponents so far don't exactly strike fear into anybody's heart, I feel like there were some good signs in what Don Granato did when he took over as head coach last season. I hope the Canucks don't take their opponent lightly on Tuesday.
I'm looking forward to seeing Whitehorse boy Dylan Cozens go up against the Canucks for the first time on Tuesday night. It'll be weird not to see Rasmus Ristolainen eating up minutes on the blue line after his offseason trade to Philadelphia; he was such a fixture for the Sabres in recent years.
During the day off on Sunday, the Canucks took in the Detroit Lions/Cincinnati Bengals NFL clash from a suite at Ford Field, according to Ben Kuzma from The Province
. It felt special to see Vasily Podkolzin's panorama video of the massive stadium on his Instagram Stories on Sunday — you're not in Russia anymore!
Will we see Brock Boeser back in the lineup in Buffalo? Maaaaaybe. He practiced on the first line on Monday.
Boeser has three goals and three assists in five career games against the Sabres.
Quinn Hughes is absent. But with 82:57 played in his first three games, he's the NHL's overall ice-time leader as of Monday morning, 21 seconds ahead of Miro Heiskanen. So let's hope that's just a rest/maintenance day and a chance to spend some time with his family, as the Canucks are still in Detroit.
I hope the Canucks worked on their penalty killing at practice. With Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel gone, and Brandon Sutter and Tyler Motte on the shelf, we knew this could be an issue this season. In the early going, it has been.
Discipline-wise, the Canucks have been pretty good — shorthanded just seven times in their first three games. But with a power-play goal allowed in each of their games so far, their kill rate is a grim 57.1%. That's gotta be better.
At 3-for-12 for 25%, the early power-play numbers are decent, though — especially without Boeser.
And here's an intriguing nugget from the folks at CapFriendly:
It'll be interesting to see if and when the Canucks provide more clarity on this latest turn of events.
One thing's for certain — despite his assignment to the Abbotsford Canucks after he cleared waivers, Travis Hamonic was not listed on the club's opening roster and didn't take part in this weekend's games in California.
Let's use that as a jumping-off point to transition to the weekend's AHL games — a 5-3 loss to the Bakersfield Condors on Saturday and a 3-2 shootout win over the Ontario Reign on Sunday, for Abbotsford's first points.
I watched both games on AHL TV's free preview weekend — and it was pretty remarkable to see the club find its legs in such a small amount of time.
Against Bakersfield, Abbotsford started out under water, with barely a puck touch in the first half of the period and down 1-0 when they went to the locker room, with shots 11-5.
They turned things around in the second, outscoring the Condors 3-1, but a three-goal third period by the home squad gave Bakersfield the win.
In Ontario the next night, Arturs Silovs came into the net in place of Mikey DiPietro, while 6'4" defenseman Adam Brubacher joined the blue line in place of 6'0" rookie Alex Kannok-Leipert.
The Reign came into the game off a 5-2 win over the San Diego Gulls on Saturday, but the Canucks held their own — killing off two first-period penalties to keep the game scoreless after 20 minutes, then taking the lead off a Danila Klimovich snipe from the right face-off dot on their first power-play of the game, early in the second.
From there, the teams traded goals to get to the end of regulation in a 2-2 tie — Phil Di Giuseppe for Abbotsford, Alex Turcotte and Brayden Burke for Ontario.
Silovs made a bit of a misplay on Burke's goal, but redeemed himself later — holding the fort as the Canucks killed off a soft slashing penalty on Madison Bowey in overtime, then stopping all four shots he faced in the shootout before Di Giuseppe stepped up again to secure the win.
Still just 20, and after barely playing last year, Silovs is still a bit of an unknown to Canucks fans. I've liked his backstory ever since the Canucks unearthed him at the 2019 U18 championship and quickly signed him after making him a sixth-round pick in the draft two months later, so I'm happy to see him make a terrific first impression. DiPietro was also good in Game 1, especially in the first period, but Bakersfield really took over that contest in the third period.
And how about Klimovich? The 18-year-old also scored against the Condors, so he's rolling at a goal-a-game pace, and was named first star against Ontario. During one TV timeout, the camera caught Carson Focht explaining something to him near the bench, so while he isn't quite getting the same glamorous welcome to North America as Podkolzin, he seems to be making the adjustment just fine so far.
On the other hand, I suppose spending a couple of days in the L.A. area while the Canucks are headed for Buffalo isn't all bad, is it? The Abbotsford team will finish out its road trip with a rematch against the Reign on Tuesday before returning home for a pair of games against the Henderson Silver Knights this weekend — Friday night at 7 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4:00.
Even with Quinton Byfield sidelined by injury, the Los Angeles Kings have played three rookies in their early-season lineup — 26-year-old Russian Vladimir Tkachev, who they signed as a free agent, and top draft prospects Arthur Kaliyev and Rasmus Kupari. That leaves players like Turcotte, the fifth-overall pick from 2019, second-rounders Samuel Fagemo, Sean Durzi and Jaret Anderson-Dolan and former Canuck Tyler Madden playing for the Reign.
Madden skated in a top-line role on Sunday, but is pointless so far in two games this season. He had five points in 14 games for the Reign last year.
I'll finish up today with a couple of other notes on ex-Canucks:
• Olli Juolevi is expected to draw into the lineup for Florida on Tuesday, as they take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in one of the NHL's most entertaining new rivalries.
• Jonah Gadjovich has sorted out his immigration issues and joined the San Jose Sharks, but it doesn't look like he'll draw into the lineup against Montreal on Tuesday. Another ex-Canuck prospect, Jonathan Dahlen, started the season on the first line for the Sharks. He played 14:45 in his first NHL game, but didn't pick up a point in San Jose's season-opening 4-3 win over Winnipeg.
• Zack MacEwen remains in visa limbo and has not yet joined the Flyers.