Wednesday July 29 - Vancouver Canucks at Winnipeg Jets - 7:30 p.m. PT - Sportsnet
Here we go!
It's no wonder I keep having trouble typing 'July.' It's a very odd time of year to be ramping up for any hockey — let alone playoff hockey!
The NHL announced on Monday that it had zero positive Covid-19 tests in the week ahead of teams' travel to the hub cities, which speaks volumes about the commitment of players who were living in hot spots during training camp. Hopefully the travel also went smoothly. Teams are being asked to keep mostly to themselves for the first five days in their hub cities, as further daily testing is conducted to ensure that everyone continues to stay healthy.
The Vancouver Canucks touched down in Edmonton on Sunday and hit the ice for practice on Monday, ahead of their exhibition game on Wednesday night against the Winnipeg Jets.
All teams held their first NHL-hosted media availabilities from both Toronto and Edmonton on Monday. The ones I saw from Edmonton had some sound-quality issues which made it a little bit tough to hear the speakers. For the Canucks, that was Travis Green, followed by a panel of Chris Tanev, Bo Horvat and Brandon Sutter.
We got confirmation that, after missing practice in Vancouver on Saturday, Zack MacEwen was back with the group in Edmonton on Monday. And Alex Edler also apparently skated after he was cut during a collision with Tyler Myers on Saturday.
As far as the forwards go, my expectation is that, after his very strong training camp, Micheal Ferland will start on the energy line with Antoine Roussel and Adam Gaudette.
Fourth line? Put Beagle in the middle. From there, Green has six wingers to choose from: Josh Bailey, Loui Eriksson, Zack MacEwen, Tyler Motte, Brandon Sutter and Jake Virtanen.
Teams are allowed to dress 13 forwards and seven defensemen for the exhibition game, so Green can dress three out of those six on Wednesday. Green admitted that it'll be a tough decision.
I feel like the physicality that Motte and MacEwen bring is well-suited to an opponent like the Jets — and to playoff hockey in general, for that matter. Eriksson and Sutter bring the two-way game and penalty-killing chops.
And Jake? With him, I feel like we're right back to where we were at training camp. Last September, he was perceived to be on the outs. But he was in the lineup on opening night and went on to appear in all 69 Canucks games, setting new career highs for goals, assists and points with his 18-18-36 stat line. His shooting percentage was also a career high, at 12 percent, and he led the team with six game-winning goals.
That being said, one of the tells that reporters picked up during the final camp sessions was that Virtanen wasn't being used on either of the main power-play units. That could be a significant indicator, since six of Jake's goals last season came with the man advantage.
Green's roster decisions on Wednesday won't necessarily telegraph the way he intends to dress his lineup for Game 1 against Minnesota on Sunday. But in such a short series, there won't be much room for error once the qualifying round begins.
The Jets have been one of the more forthcoming teams, information-wise, in the early going. Here's how they practiced on Monday in Edmonton:
#NHLJets PRACTICE LINES: Connor-Scheifele-Wheeler Ehlers-Eakin-Laine Copp-Lowry-Roslovic Appleton-Shore-Perreault Bourque
Winger Logan Shaw and defenseman Sami Niku were also in the mix with the first group. My guess is that the combos we see above are probably pretty close to what Paul Maurice will roll out against Vancouver.
It'll also be interesting to watch how teams deploy their goaltenders in the exhibition games. Will they try to get in a little ice time for both starter and backup, or is it more important to get a full-game experience for the starter?
We know Jacob Markstrom loves to play as much as he can. If the Canucks/Wild series goes to four games, there will be a back-to-back set on August 6 and 7, which will create more tough decisions.
As far as life behind the scenes, Elias Pettersson has been spotted carrying a big video camera with him pretty much everywhere he goes. In the past, he has shown a knack for creating fun social media content, so I'm looking forward to seeing what he shoots.
Tyler Motte is taking a bit more of a DIY approach. He recently published his second summer-hockey blog. He reads! He takes walks on the seawall! He shares meals with Adam Gaudette!
Camp ➡️ Bubble Ep. 2 A look at hobbies and activities away from the rink
And a couple of other quick notes to close out today:
• Alex Edler has been named the Canucks' nominee for the King Clancy Trophy, presented "to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community."
Edler is literally following in the footsteps of his close friends, the Sedins. Earlier this month, he was named the Canucks' first recipient of the new Daniel & Henrik Sedin Award for community involvement. Henrik is a past King Clancy winner, in 2016, and he and Daniel were named joint winners in 2018. Trevor Linden is the only other Canucks player to have won the award, after starting his 'Captain's Crew' program for underprivileged children to attend games back in the 1996-97 season.
• And as the NHL tries to get the 2019-20 season wrapped up, European leagues are starting to grind back to life — although there may be some hiccups about returning on schedule. The KHL, for instance, has been dealing with Covid outbreaks among several teams.
The start of the KHL preseason has been rough. Multiple teams had to close their camps due to Covid outbreaks on the team, and numerous exhibition games were cancelled so far. Teams are now starting to install disinfectant booths for anyone entering the arenas. (c: Championnat) pic.twitter.com/JZpOnB9kD9