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U.S. Thanksgiving: Canucks prep for Columbus after a loss in Pittsburgh

November 25, 2021, 2:08 PM ET [619 Comments]
Carol Schram
Vancouver Canucks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Friday November 26 - Vancouver Canucks at Columbus Blue Jackets - 4 p.m. PT

We've made it to U.S. Thanksgiving — the magical day when the playoff fortunes of the NHL's 32 teams are supposedly revealed.

If the crystal ball is working correctly this year, that's not good news for the Vancouver Canucks. Following their 4-1 loss in Pittsburgh on Thursday, the Canucks wake up in 14th place in the 16-team Western Conference with a record of 6-12-2 for 14 points in 20 games.

Here's how things stand as of Thursday morning:

Central Division:
1. Minnesota - 25 pts
2. St. Louis - 22 pts
3. Winnipeg - 22 pts

Pacific Division
1. Calgary - 29 pts
2. Edmonton - 28 pts
3. Vegas - 24 pts

Wild Card
1. Anaheim - 23 pts
2. Colorado - 21 pts
3. San Jose - 21 pts
4. Nashville - 21 pts
5. Los Angeles - 19 pts
6. Dallas - 18 pts

Take points percentage into account, and there are a couple of minor tweaks:

- Colorado has played just 16 games; their .656 points percentage is better than St. Louis or Winnipeg, so they'd jump up to second place in the Central.

- Dallas has played just 17 games; their .529 points percentage is better than L.A., so those two teams would switch places, but still both be outside the playoff cutline.

If we move Colorado up based on points percentage, that bumps Winnipeg down to the second wild card at 22 points. Which breaks the three-way tie at 21 points.

San Jose and Nashville do have identical 10-8-1 records, so they're the teams that are just on the wrong side of the line.

Outside of Calgary and Edmonton, the teams on the list above are closely bunched together. So there is room for some volatility. But I think the eight teams that are in playoff spots now actually are probably pretty good bets to be there at the end of the season.

The Ducks are a bit of a surprise, and could be vulnerable — especially since they're now on a three-game losing streak following their eight-game winning streak. I wonder if they've already showed us their best hockey.

Other than that, the biggest surprises are probably the division leaders — the Flames in the Pacific and the Wild in the Central. They've both built themselves a bit of a cushion that will help if things go a bit sideways as the season wears on.

As for Thursday's 4-1 loss to the Penguins — the Canucks gave it a good push in the second half of the game.

But some of that can be attributed to score effects. The Penguins, who have been a defensive powerhouse of late, had built a probably insurmountable 3-0 lead by the latter part of the second period.

The shots on goal ended up even, at 37-37. But this map of where the shots originated tells a pretty clear story.

And yes, the Canucks got burned on special teams again. They took five penalties compared to just two for Pittsburgh, and gave up one goal while shorthanded. And because one of the Penguins' penalties was an offsetting minor, Vancouver had just one power play in the game — which generated no shots on goal.

With the way Tristan Jarry has been playing, it was a pretty predictable outcome — especially when the Canucks didn't make life difficult for the red-hot goaltender.

The Canucks are practicing in Columbus on Thanksgiving Thursday, ahead of their date with the Blue Jackets on Friday.

Here's how the lines are rolling:

The forward lines have been shuffled again. Most notably, Justin Dowling goes from healthy scratch to the top six, while Juho Lammikko may be on his way to being scratched for the first time since joining the Canucks in the Olli Juolevi trade.

In 20 games, Lammikko is a minus-five and has one assist while averaging 10:03 of ice time. Deployed primarily as fourth-line centre, he has had a 45.9% success rate in the face-off circle, which is slightly better than his averages from his previous two seasons in Florida.

Travis Green has also flipped his defense pairs, reuniting Luke Schenn with Quinn Hughes after the pair worked well together during Schenn's brief time in Vancouver in the 2018-19 season. That shifts Tucker Poolman onto the right side with Kyle Burroughs.

Hughes and Schenn played just over a minute together in Pittsburgh. At even strength, Hughes split most of his ice time between partners Poolman and Tyler Myers.

Up next: the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.

I don't think much was expected of Columbus after they finished near the bottom of the league last season, two points behind Vancouver, and John Tortorella left the team.

But under promoted head coach Brad Larsen, the Blue Jackets sit in the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference as the Thanksgiving assessments are made. Their overall record is 11-6-0 and they've won four of their last five games. On Wednesday, they shut out the Winnipeg Jets 3-0 in Pierre-Luc Dubois' first visit to Nationwide Arena since he was traded last year.

Boone Jenner was made captain in the offseason and could be on pace for a career year. After managing just eight goals and 17 points in 41 games last season, he's already at nine goals and 13 points in 17 games this year. His previous highs were 30 goals and 49 points back in 2015-16 — Torts' first season behind the Columbus bench.

Oliver Bjorkstrand is also on track for a career year, leading Columbus with 18 points. And Cole Sillinger is the last remaining player from the 2021 draft class still playing on an NHL team. The 18-year-old has four goals and four assists in 17 games. He's the only player from his draft class to see the first year of his entry-level contract get burned after the San Jose Sharks sent William Eklund back to Sweden after nine games, and the Anaheim Ducks returned Mason McTavish to the OHL.

After the tragic passing of his friend and countryman Matiss Kivlenieks during the summer, Elvis Merzlikins has dedicated his season to his former teammate, and said his goal is to win the Vezina Trophy to honour him. His first shutout of the year on Wednesday improved his record for the season to 8-3-0, with a .926 save percentage and 2.44 goals-against average.

The Jackets will be on a back-to-back, also playing in St. Louis in Saturday, so Vancouver may end up seeing Joonas Korpisalo in net. He's having a more moderate season with a 3-3-0 record, .894 save percentage and 3.63 GAA.

Columbus is playing well, and has been finding different ways to win; Wednesday's shutout came on the heels of a 7-4 barnburner against Buffalo on Monday. But here's a small shred of positivity to wrap up for today:

Though the Canucks have just six wins so far this season, Fridays have been a pretty good day. After being Philadelphia in a shootout on Oct. 15 and knocking off Winnipeg last week, Vancouver is 2-1-0 on Fridays so far this season; the only loss was the 3-2 defeat at the hands of Nashville.
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