Canucks look to extend pt. streak vs Hawks, Podkolzin suits up in Kitchener
Thursday November 7 - Vancouver Canucks at Chicago Blackhawks - 5:30 p.m. - Sportsnet Pacific, Sportsnet 650
Vancouver Canucks: 15 GP, 9-3-3, 21 pts, second in Pacific Division
Chicago Blackhawks: 14 GP, 4-7-3, 11 pts, sixth in Central Division
Following their strange-looking home overtime loss against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night, the Vancouver Canucks kick off a quick two-game road trip on Thursday with their first game of the year against their old rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks.
First — a couple of quick notes on the Blues game, which mirrored last week's game in Anaheim in many ways. The Canucks were stronger, possession-wise, against the Ducks — Tuesday's contest was very even, which is not a bad thing when you're playing the Stanley Cup Champions. But just like in Anaheim, the Canucks fell behind 1-0 and looked like they were headed for a shutout loss before they got a late goal to extend their point streak and force overtime. On Tuesday, that goal came from back-in-the-lineup Quinn Hughes.
The goal was Quinn's second of the year. With 11 points in 14 games, he's currently tied for second in rookie scoring, one point behind Colorado's Cale Makar. But I hope the comedy of errors that resulted in the Blues' insane 3-on-0 overtime winner isn't one of those awkward turning points that ends up taking the wind out of Vancouver's sails after their strong start to the year.
After the game, Travis Green kept things positive.
The Blues went on to beat Edmonton 5-2 on Wednesday and the Oilers are idle on Thursday, so a win in Chicago would move the Canucks into first place in the Pacific Division, still with one game in hand on Edmonton.
But like I've mentioned before, it also wouldn't take much for the Canucks to fall out of the second-place perch that they've made their home in the Pacific Division standings. Arizona, Vegas and Calgary are all just one point behind Vancouver, and all have games on Thursday as well. The Golden Knights play in Toronto while the Flames host the Devils and the Coyotes host the Blue Jackets.
The lineup is status quo at the morning skate in Chicago on Thursday, with Jacob Markstrom once again expected to get the start in net.
As for the Blackhawks, they're a year and a day out from having fired Joel Quenneville on November 6, 2018, and they're 34-35-12 overall for 80 points in 81 games under Jeremy Colliton.
They've just arrived back home after rolling through California just behind the Canucks. They went 1-1-1 on the trip, with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Kings, a 3-2 overtime win in Anaheim, and a 4-2 defeat in San Jose.
With a 3-5-2 record in their last 10 games, Jeremy Colliton's team is quickly losing ground in the Western Conference playoff race. They're tied with Minnesota for last place in the Central and are already nine points out of that second wild-card spot.
Chicago has tightened up defensively this season, with help from Robin Lehner supporting Corey Crawford in net. Last season, the Hawks had a second-worst 3.55 goals-against average per game. This year, they're in the middle of the pack at 3.07, while the Canucks are tied for third-best at 2.33. After his fantastic season with the Islanders last year, Lehner's 3-3-2 with a .233 GAA and .935 save percentage since joining Chicago, but the Canucks will see Crawford tonight. No longer really in a No. 1 role, the 34-year-old has been healthy but has appeared in just six games so far this year. He's 1-4-1 with a 3.74 GAA and .892 save percentage.
Where the Blackhawks are really struggling is on the offensive side of the puck. They're averaging just 2.36 goals per game — better than only Columbus and Detroit — and their once fearsome power play is clicking at a rate of just 11.9 percent, fourth-worst in the league.
After his career-best 110-point season last year, Patrick Kane is the only Hawks player in double-digit points right now, with 4-9-13 in 14 games. Alex DeBrincat sits second with 4-5-9, but after 28 goals in his rookie season and 41 last year, he's currently on pace for just 23 goals this year.
Jonathan Toews got off to an ice-cold start, with just one goal and one assist in his first 11 games. He picked up the pace in California, with a goal and three assists in those three games, so it looks like he's starting to get back to his usual self.
The Canucks should get their first look at rookie Kirby Dach tonight. After suffering a concussion during the Blackhawks' prospects tournament in September, the third-overall pick from 2019 has dressed in the team's last nine games, where he's 1-2-3.
That's a good place to segue to the Canucks' own first-round pick from 2019, Vasili Podkolzin.
There was a scary moment in overtime in Moncton on Tuesday, when he was helped off the ice after crashing when he drove to the net in overtime of the 3-3 game between Team Russia and Team QMJHL during the CIBC Canada Russia Series.
That looked ugly, but word is that he stayed on the bench and took part in the handshake line after the Canadian team clinched the overtime win.
For the most part, the Russia players who shone in those first two games were the ones who play in the Q — who are used to the smaller ice surface and familiar with their opponents. But it was a quiet couple of games for Podkolzin.
The series now shifts to Southern Ontario, with the Russians playing the OHL All-Stars in Kitchener on Thursday and in London next Monday. We should also see a bit more media coverage than we did from New Brunswick now that the games are shifting closer to the centre of the universe.
For example: video from Thursday's morning skate, where Podkolzin is in uniform and taking full rotations. Looks like he'll be good to go tonight.
Once again, the puck will drop at 4 p.m. PT, with coverage on Sportsnet One. That'll overlap with the Canucks game, which goes at 5:30 on Sportsnet Pacific.
Enjoy the games!