Canucks right the ship in Chicago, will wrap trip at Seattle's home opener
Thursday October 21 - Vancouver Canucks 4 - Chicago Blackhawks 1
I was so wrong about the Chicago Blackhawks.
I thought they'd challenge for a playoff spot this year, with Jonathan Toews back in the fold, Seth Jones helping to shore up the D, and a disrespected Marc-Andre Fleury once again ready to prove he'd been underestimated.
As it turns out, their season has been the opposite of that. In their first game of the year, they got down 3-0 to Colorado before the first period, and it's like they've never recovered.
Not even a 1,000-game ceremony for Patrick Kane on Thursday night could turn the tide for the Blackhawks, who dropped to 0-4-1 and have now been outscored 21-9 for the season. Toews doesn't have a point. Jones is a minus-6. And Fleury's 0-3, with a 5.63 GAA and .840 save percentage. Kevin Lankinen took the loss against Vancouver.
And in the midst of all that, ex-Canuck Adam Gaudette can't find a regular spot in the lineup. The player he was traded for, Matthew Highmore, has been steady in Vancouver's bottom six through the early going — averaging 12:20 per game, including some penalty killing time.
He even picked up his first point of the year against his old team on Thursday, feeding Jason Dickinson for the game's opening goal at 6:36 of the first period.
Meanwhile, Gaudette has appeared in just two games so far, with one shot on goal and a minus-two rating from the Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Oct. 16.
Chicago's last three losses have all been by three goals. It feels like they aren't even close to turning this thing around.
So — while the Canucks skated out of the Windy City with a tidy victory that helped ease the sting of losing to Buffalo, it may not be time to plan the parade route just yet.
Sitting at .500 with one game left to go in their longest road trip of the year, it's a decent start.
Conor Garland has points in every game so far, including his first multi-point night against the Blackhawks. He even makes empty-net goals fun!
Brock Boeser looked like his high-scoring self when he converted on the 5-on-3 chance late in the second period that put Vancouver up 3-1 and essentially sealed the game.
Earlier in the second, Quinn Hughes picked up his 100th career point in his 133rd NHL game when he set up Tanner Pearson for what proved to be the game winner.
And Thatcher Demko had his best game of the year to date — stopping 29 shots and earning first-star honours.
In their five games so far, the Canucks have been all over the map defensively — giving up 2, 4, 3, 5 and 1 goals, in order.
Does that mean that they'll finish out the road trip with a shutout? Or a six-spot?
One thing's for sure — they'll be going through another major ceremony on Saturday night, as the Seattle Kraken celebrate the opening of Climate Pledge Arena and their first home game in front of a fanbase that has been eagerly anticipating this moment.
And while Thursday's win moved the Canucks up to third place in the Pacific Division, behind Edmonton (4-0-0) and San Jose (3-0-0), the Kraken limped home from their franchise-opening five-game trip with a 1-3-1 record after finishing up with a 6-1 loss to the Flyers and a 4-2 loss to the Devils.
Going into the season, all the talk was about how Seattle might struggle on the scoring side, with not-enough high-end offensive talent on their roster. But they've given up 19 goals so far — tied with Montreal for third-highest in the league, behind only Arizona (22) and Chicago (21).
Also surprising: they currently lead the league — by a lot — with 106 penalty minutes, including six majors. Vancouver sits fourth, with 60 minutes — and two majors, following Kyle Burroughs' scrap with Riley Stillman on Thursday.
Ever since the Seattle franchise was approved, we've been hearing about how the Kraken will be natural rivals for the Canucks. Are they going to kick things off with an old-fashioned slugfest on Saturday night??
But don't let those high penalty totals get you thinking that the Canucks will get endless opportunities to feast on the power play. Nearly half of the Kraken's penalty total has come from five (!) misconducts — no other team has more than two. They've actually taken just 12 minors so far, while Vancouver has taken 18.
With the expectation that Seattle would play a tight defensive system, Philipp Grubauer was my preseason Vezina Trophy pick. So far, he hasn't lived up to my expectations with his .867 save percentage and 4.01 GAA. In his last start, he was pulled midway through the second period after giving up five goals on 20 shots in Philly — and his backup, Chris Driedger, managed to injure himself during his relief appearance, leading to No. 3 Joey Daccord taking the loss in New Jersey.
As the No. 1, Grubauer should be back in net for the historic game on Saturday.
And here's how the rest of the lines are shaking down at Friday's practice.
With Yanni Gourde back more than a month ahead of schedule after offseason shoulder surgery, he has now slotted into the top-line centre spot, bumping ex-Canuck Jared McCann down to the wing.
Kole Lind made his debut for Seattle against the Flyers, but after a minus-2 performance in 9:21 of ice time against the Flyers — and with Gourde's return — he has now been re-assigned to the AHL's Charlotte Checkers.
And speaking of the AHL, there's another historic home opener on tap this weekend, as the Abbotsford Canucks return to the Fraser Valley. With a solid 1-1-1 record over their first three games — and Nic Petan ready to slot in as the top centre after clearing waivers earlier this week — Abby hosts the Henderson Silver Knights for a pair of games this weekend — Friday at 7 p.m. PT, then Sunday at 4 p.m.
After that, Abbotsford will get a week of practice before hosting an already-familiar foe, the Ontario Reign, for back-to-back games on Oct. 29 and 30.