Spencer Martin starts for Canucks vs. Panthers; Demko, Miller on Covid list
Friday January 21 - Florida Panthers at Vancouver Canucks - 7 p.m. PT
For the first time in more than a month, the Vancouver Canucks will hit the ice for a game at Rogers Arena on Friday night.
But it won't be easy for the club to keep Bruce Boudreau's perfect five-game home winning streak intact. The Canucks will be facing one of the hottest teams in the league, the Florida Panthers. And they'll be severely shorthanded as Covid wreaks havoc once again.
Remember when it looked like the nasty strain of the virus that ripped through the Canucks' roster last March might have provided the players who were here at that time with stronger immunity against Omicron? All it took for that to change that was one trip to the southern U.S.
Bo Horvat went onto the protocol list ahead of Tuesday's win in Nashville. Then, J.T. Miller and Thatcher Demko joined him on Thursday night, after positive rapid-test results led to them missing practice at Rogers Arena on Thursday morning.
With Conor Garland and Jaroslav Halak also still stateside after entering protocols, and Justin Bailey recalled from Abbotsford, here's how everything shook out at Friday's morning skate — with Spencer Martin and Mikey DiPietro manning the nets.
I guess I was a few days early when I was calling for the Canucks to give one of their AHL keepers a crack in net in Washington last weekend. After shouldering that heavy load with all five games on the road trip, Demko now gets another chance to rest. Hopefully, he and his teammates are experiencing mild symptoms or none at all, like most of the players who have been hit this time around.
It's never a good time to lose players as important as Demko, Miller and Horvat — especially all at once. But it feels especially worrisome with the scary-good Panthers coming into town.
The good news is that Vancouver is catching Florida at the end of a three-in-four stretch. And the visitors are actually only at the midpoint of their Western swing, with games still to come in Seattle on Sunday and Winnipeg on Wednesday.
That likely means that rookie Spencer Knight will get his second start of the trip, after Sergei Bobrovsky logged his first shutout of the year in Edmonton on Thursday.
After a dazzling junior career, there were high hopes for Knight going into this season, with many projections that he'd quickly become the Panthers' starter. But it hasn't worked out that way — partly because Bobrovsky has had a return to form, and also because Knight hasn't been particularly good. He's bringing a 3.51 goals-against average and .891 save percentage into Friday's game, and gave up five goals to Calgary on Monday in his only start of 2022 so far.
That being said, I'm pretty sure the Panthers' no-show against the Flames had a lot to do with their team trip to Banff and sled-dog tour in Canmore before this road trip began...
My guess is that they'll be back in fine form against Vancouver on Friday.
Injury-wise, Patric Hornqvist missed Thursday's game in Edmonton with an upper-body issue. And it looks like both of Florida's former Canucks defensemen won't be skating at Rogers Arena on Friday. Gustav Forsling is in Covid protocol while Olli Juolevi is back on injured reserve, with an undisclosed issue.
Forsling has been very good for the Panthers this season, with 19 points in 34 games while averaging 21:10 a night. From what I've seen, he seems settled into a pretty consistent second pairing alongside bruising Radko Gudas.
Now 25, Forsling has taken another step forward from last season, where he had 17 points in 43 games and averaged just under 20 minutes a game. What's hilarious is that, this year, his plus-18 mark is kind of middling on the Panthers. With a league-leading goal-differential of plus-49, Florida has six players with better plus-minus marks than Forsling, led by Aaron Ekblad at plus-28.
As for Juolevi — he had been on what, for him, was a pretty consistent streak before this latest setback. He suited up for nine of Florida's last 14 games, amidst a three-game outage for Covid protocols and two healthy scratches.
All told, Juolevi is pointless in those nine games played, and now a plus-one. He got into 23 games with Vancouver last year, and had three points.
Vancouver's goal differential is now at minus-10, tied with San Jose for 20th overall. The top Canuck in the plus-minus category is Quinn Hughes at plus-11. He has delivered in a big way on his promise to improve his two-way game, and has done it without sacrificing his offense. With 31 points in 39 games, he's second in team scoring behind J.T. Miller, and tied with Morgan Rielly for eighth overall in scoring among defensemen.
The Canucks will be missing some very important players on Friday night, but the Hughes vs. Ekblad matchup should still be very fun to watch.
With Miller and Horvat absent, this is another big opportunity for Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser to once again show that they've rediscovered their scoring groove in front of some home fans — capacity at Rogers Arena remains capped at 50%. They'll get to do it together, too, as two-thirds of the Lotto Line, with Nils Hoglander sticking alongside Pettersson.
We could also see a big night for the energy line of Motte-Lammikko-Highmore, which has been impactful in recent games.
Here's what the Canucks will be up against on the very deep Panthers team, based on their lineup in Edmonton onThursday:
Sounds like Spencer Martin will indeed get the start in net against the Panthers, with Mikey DiPietro backing up.
For Martin, it'll be his first start as a Canuck, and his first NHL start in nearly five years. In his last game, on Feb. 1, 2017, he was on the losing end of a 5-0 tilt between the Colorado Avalanche and the Los Angeles Kings — with Peter Budaj getting the shutout for Los Angeles.
In his three starts for the Avs that year, Martin went 0-2-1, allowing 13 total goals. As an unrestricted free agent, he moved on from the Avs to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the beginning of the 2019-20 season, then was traded to the Canucks for future considerations this past July.
As I mentioned last week, we've seen some unheralded netminders step in with some huge performances for other teams around the league this year. I'm looking forward to seeing if Martin can join that club — against a very tough opponent.
Enjoy the game!