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Canucks tweak lineup ahead of home opener — Podkolzin draws in

October 26, 2021, 2:44 PM ET [454 Comments]
Carol Schram
Vancouver Canucks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Tuesday, October 26 - Minnesota Wild at Vancouver Canucks - 7 p.m.

Here we go!

The Vancouver Canucks will get back onto home ice in front of a full house at Rogers Arena on Tuesday night, as they play host to the Minnesota Wild.

While the Canucks were the last team in the league to get approval from local health authorities for 100% capacity, they're the second-last to play their home opener. The New York Islanders are starting their season on a 13-game road trip before returning to their new home at UBS Arena on Nov. 20, when they host the Calgary Flames.

And just like the Canucks, the Islanders are 3-2-1 through their first six games.

It'll be interesting to see what kind of numbers the Canucks draw across this seven-game homestand. The home opener usually does well, attendance-wise, followed by a bit of a dip.

And while the Minnesota Wild aren't usually a great draw, this will be the first time Vancouver fans get a chance to see the new-look squad and 2021 Calder Trophy winner Kirill Kaprizov. And the first time the Canucks have hosted Minnesota since defeating them in the preliminary round of the 2020 bubble playoffs.

But...interestingly...after Kaprizov's lengthy contract negotiation finally resulted in him signing a five-year deal with a $9 million cap hit on Sept. 21, as training camps opened, last season's 27-goal scorer has yet to light the lamp this year. He is still a point-a-game player, with five assists in five games, and he has 13 shots on goal as his average ice time has increased by 1:22 per game compared to last season. But the sniper hasn't scored.

Perhaps, like Elias Pettersson, he's needing a little more time to find his groove?

Petey addressed his challenges when speaking with the media after the Canucks practiced on Tuesday.

“I haven’t started this season the way I wanted to, but it’s life," he said, per Ben Kuzma from The Province. "It doesn’t always go the way you want and I’m going to work hard and make the next game better. Simplifying and hard work is where I want to get back to.

“I’m still trying to make plays, but just get a good feeling and not toe-drag the last guy. When things aren’t going the way you want, the worst thing is trying to do it yourself — trying to deke my guy rather than making the easy play. It’s a team game.”

Travis Green moved Pettersson down the lineup during Saturday's game in Seattle, and it looks like that's where he'll start against the Wild. Justin Dowling missed practice on Monday and was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday, which has created a shuffle up front.

Though Travis Green typically hates messing with a winning lineup, these changes come somewhat by necessity.

After Vasily Podkolzin spent the last two games in the press box, it looks like Dowling's absence makes room for him to show his stuff in front of the local fans — in a top-six spot, with Pettersson moving down.

As for Dowling, I'm sorry to see him come out of the lineup. An under-the-radar signing who has barely been talked about, he has been used in all situations despite averaging just 11:01 per game, and has even been good on the rare occasions that he has been required to take faceoffs, going 10-for-14. And with two goals came the loss to Buffalo and into the empty net in Seattle, he's still the only Canuck other than Conor Garland and Bo Horvat to have scored multiple times this season.

But with Dowling's move to IR, Justin Bailey has been recalled. Justin-for-Justin, as it were. Last season, this seemed to happen with the many Tylers.

After missing most of training camp due to a positive Covid test, Bailey has gotten off to a fantastic start in Abbotsford. He has three goals and three assists in the club's first five games as they've opened their season with a 3-1-1 record.

With Zack MacEwen now in Philadelphia, Bailey plays a similar role — a big-bodied winger with decent hands who can play an energetic, physical game. And it's our first opportunity to see the Canucks take advantage of the new proximity factor with its farm team — that the big club can supplement its lineup easily, with a call-up just an hour away (when traffic is decent, of course).

It's a little unclear who Bailey will line up with against the Wild. Jason Dickinson left the ice partway through practice on Monday but did take reps in his usual spot at Tuesday's pregame skate. So it looks like either Alex Chiasson or Juho Lammikko will be scratched. If Dickinson can't go, Lammikko might draw into the pivot position.

Defense pairings remain the same. And Thatcher Demko gets the start, of course — his first home opener. Last time he played in front of fans at Rogers Arena, on March 10, 2020, he was carrying the load was Jacob Markstrom was on injured reserve.

With Ilya Sorokin carrying the load for the Islanders because Semyon Varlamov has started the season on the shelf, he has faced the most shots of any goalie in the early going — an average of 34.8 per game. That seems high for a Barry Trotz team, but he's getting better as he goes along. He allowed five goals in each of his first two games, but put up back-to-back road shutouts over the weekend — against the Coyotes on Saturday and Vegas on Sunday.

I bring this up because Thatcher Demko sits second in total shots faced — and saves — going into Tuesday's action. With five games played, he's averaging 34.4 shots against per game — almost identical to Sorokin. And his .924 save percentage and 2.53 goals-against average are both above his numbers from last year (.915, 2.85) and his career averages (.912, 2.91). Pretty good, considering those results have all come on the road.

As for the Wild, they've started the season with a 4-1 record, although their competition hasn't been especially fierce — two games against Anaheim and one each against L.A., Winnipeg and Nashville. Their loss to the Predators is the only game that was decided by more than one goal — a 5-2 decision in their most recent outing, last Sunday, which concluded a three-game homestand.

Tuesday's game kicks off a three-game road trip for Minnesota, which will also see them visit Seattle and Colorado. The Kraken are creating some new routing for the schedule-makers!

Cam Talbot is expected to start against Vancouver, and has been the go-to goalie for the Wild, winning all four of his starts so far. Kaapo Kahkonen took the loss against the Preds in his first start of the year.

The Wild are just hitting the ice for their morning skate as I finish up this post, with all players present and accounted for. Here's a look at how their lines are rolling out.

With that, you're up to date. Enjoy the game!
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