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Ten weekly random thoughts: week 2 – September 23-29

The Canucks wrapped up their preseason schedule with a trio of games, including a mini 2 game series against Ottawa, including a tilt in Abbotsford. They then wrapped up the week and the preseason against division rivals Arizona Coyotes. The only win of the week on Monday was costly as both Brock Boeser and Oscar Fantenberg suffered concussions. Adam Gaudette did everything in his power to make the team. He was easily the Canucks best player in all three games this week, including a sick no look pass that found a wide open Zack MacEwen. Goaltending was shaky at times and both Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko let in goals they’ll want back. Special teams was also suspect with both shorthanded and power play goals allowed. Jake Virtanen, Nikolay Goldobin and Loui Eriksson were all largely invisible. Goldobin was held completely off the stats line Thursday, save for being -1 for being on the ice for a goal against. Eriksson had one giveaway. Looking at the week ahead, the Canucks open the 2019-20 regular season and their 50th season in the NHL with a pair of games in Alberta. On Wednesday, they are in Edmonton. Connor McDavid is expected to be in the lineup after recovering from a torn PCL. There should also be several ex-Canucks in the lineup: Zack Kassian, Sam Gagner and Markus Granlund. On Saturday, the Canucks head south to Calgary and will be the late game on Hockey Night in Canada. BC boy Milan Lucic will be making his regular season debut after the off-season trade from Calgary for James Neil. Here are 10 weekly random thoughts from week 2 of the NHL.

1. How many games is enough for an NHL goalie to be ready to play in the regular season. Goalies are a bit of a different animal than a position player. They need to face real game situations and a certain number of shots to feel comfortable back in net. Some goalies can be ready with 2 preseason games, others need 4. As expected, neither Jacob Markstrom or Thatcher Demko played in either split squad game to kick off the preseason two weeks ago. The Canucks also kept both goalies home for the neutral site game in Salt Lake City. In the end, Markstrom played three preseason games and Demko got into two games. The Canucks need both goalies to be above average, or it will be another long season. Goaltending was shaky in both final tuneup games this week. Demko did a poor job of rebound control and Markstrom should have had a couple of the goals against Arizona, including one where he was caught looking the wrong way. Goaltending coach Ian Clark now has a week to work with both goalies and address the weaknesses from preseason. It will help having an NHL-caliber lineup playing in front of the goalies.

2. The Canucks will be facing some early adversity when they open the regular season Monday, as Brock Boeser, who signed a new three year deal at the end of the 1st week of preseason action is in concussion protocol after this dirty hit by Ottawa Senators forward Chris Tierney. First of all, Boeser is looking towards the point after passing the puck. Second, he is facing the boards and is in a vulnerable, defenseless position when Tierney hits him. Right from minor hockey, players are supposed to be taught to lay off if you see a player’s number. Too many things can happen when a player is facing the boards like that (spinal injury, concussion to name a couple). Did Boeser sell it a bit by leaping into the boards? Perhaps, but Tierney still should have laid up. Tierney received a 2-minute minor for boarding on the play and the Senators smartly sat him out Wednesday in Vancouver. The Senators are back in Vancouver December 3. Josh Leivo will likely play in Boeser’s spot until he recovers. Boeser skated on Saturday and if all goes well he could be in the opening night lineup.

3. Oscar Fantenberg is also in concussion protocol from Monday’s game. Unlike Boeser, it wasn’t one hit that caused the injury, but rather two. Expect the Canucks to exercise caution with both Boeser and Fantenberg, especially after Sven Baertschi basically minutes three months with post-concussion syndrome from a hit he absorbed at the end of October last season. As Fantenberg is expected to be a depth defenseman, his absence from the lineup shouldn’t be too impactful. One of Alex Biega, Ashton Sautner or Quinn Hughes would play in his absence. Fantenberg skated on Saturday and if all goes well he could be in the opening night lineup.

4. Three players who needed to impress and didn’t are Loui Eriksson, Nikolay Goldobin and Jake Virtanen. Eriksson is pretty much stuck on the Canucks, unless they are willing to bury him in the minors as they did with Sam Gagner and his hefty contract a year ago. Eriksson has 3 years left in his deal @ $6 million/year. He’ll probably make the team, despite barely showing up in the stat line on a given night. He’ll likely be on the 4th line with Tyler Motte and Jay Beagle. Virtanen, who showed up in sub-optimal shape first day of training camp, received lukewarm feedback from Travis Green, who expressed his desire that Virtanen use his body and drive to the net more. To his credit, Virtanen does seem to put more effort in on a nightly basis than Goldy or Loui. Nikolay Goldobin was a late signing. Like Eriksson, most nights Goldobin is hard to spot, both on the ice and on the score sheet. He’ll probably see plenty of time in the press box as a healthy scratch. When he does get the chance to play, he’ll be in the bottom 6.

5. Let’s get into some predictions starting at a macro/team level:

  • Pacific Division playoff teams:
    • Vegas Golden Knights- the Golden Knights have a huge advantage with their home arena being in the tempting brjght lights of Vegas. They are still largely a team playing to prove detractors wrong
    • San Jose Sharks- the Sharks may be aging and have a goalie who has his off-nights, but the Sharks’ competitive window is still open, at least for this season.
    • Calgary Flames- Here’s a team looking to avenge a 1st round playoff exit. They essentially swapped goalies with the Edmonton Oilers with Mike Smith heading north to Edmonton and Cam Talbot relocating south to Calgary. The two Alberta teams also traded struggling forwards with James Neal Edmonton bound and Milan Lucic on his way to cowtown.
  • Central Division playoff teams:
    • Nashville Predators- The Predators may have traded Subban, but they are still very deep and will grab one of the 3 guaranteed divisional playoff spots
    • Colorado Avalanche the Avs have one of the best up-and-coming teams in the league, led by captain Nathan MacKinnon and his winger Mikko Rantanen.
    • St. Louis Blues The defending cup champs will ice largely the same team. Jordan Binnington will have to replicate the magic he displayed last season or the Blues could be a one-hit wonder
  • Western Conference wild card teams:
    • Vancouver Canucks It’s been six years since the Canucks last made the playoffs (2014-15) and this could be the year the Canucks end the drought. They have 2 scoring lines, a good penalty killing unit, more depth on defense and elite goaltending. Let’s just hope injuries don’t derail the season
    • Dallas Stars The Stars may some interesting free agent signings, inking veterans Corey Perry, Joe Pavelski, Tanner Kero and defenseman Andrej Sekera. Hopefully the off-ice trouble of bickering between management and Tyler Seguin has resolved itself
  • Atlantic Division playoff teams:
    • Tampa Bay Lightning- the Bolts have largely the same team as last year that ran over the NHL. They are a threat to do even better in the regular season
    • Toronto Maple Leafs The Maple Leafs are probably Canada’s best chance to bring Lord Stanley home. They have largely the same team and they got rid of Nazim Kadri, who had a tendency to do stupid things in the playoffs, letting players get under his skin
    • Boston Bruins the Bruins made it to game seven of the Stanley Cup finals. They have a deep team and could go on another deep playoff run
  • Metropolitan division playoff teams:
    • Washington Capitals- Ovie may be getting older, but he can still score 50  goals. He has a good supporting cast around him and Brayden Holtby is a top 5 goalie
    • NY Islanders they swept the Penguins in the 1st round last year and proved they didn’t need John Tavares by spreading the scoring more effectively, instead of relying on one player. They’ll be a contender again this season.
    • NY Rangers- made arguably the biggest splash in free agency signing Artemi Panarin. They also did a sign-and-trade for Jacob Trouba. Henrik Lundqvist is still king in net.
  • Eastern Conference wild card teams:
    • Montreal Canadiens- Carey Price is still an elite goalie and Shea Weber will be healthy for the first time in a long  time
    • New Jersey Devils The Devils certainly made a big splash, acquiring PK Subban from the Predators. Their 1st overall draft pick Jack Hughes was turning heads during the preseason. NJ will be the dark horse this season
  • Stanley cup Tampa Bay Lightning over Colorado Avalanche

6. Let’s do some predictions of individual awards:

  • Art Ross (player with most points) – Connor McDavid. The Oilers captain is going to be on a mission this year to carry his team back to the playoffs. He’ll also be looking to prove that he is fully healthy
  • William Jennings trophy (goalie with minimum 25 game who has allowed the fewest goals) – Jordan Binnington. Last season was no fluke and Binnington will be a big reason why. He just missed out on the Calder trophy due to lack of games played last year
  • Jack Adams award (top coach)- John Hynes. If the Devils coach pulls off a playoff berth, he deserves the Jack Adams trophy
  • Hart trophy (league MVP): Nikita Kucherov- the league couldn’t figure out the Russian native and it’ll be more of the same this season and with more incentive after being swept in the 1st round by the Blue Jackets
  • Vezina trophy (top goalie) Andrei Vasilevskiy. the Lightning are going to dominate the league again and that will mean Vasilevskiy should lead the league in most statistical categories
  • Selke trophy (best 2-way player) Patrice Bergeron who’s always about attention to detail
  • Calder trophy (top rookie) Jack Hughes- offence seems to matter in winning this award and the top pick from last year’s draft looks like he’ll dominate the league
  • Norris trophy (top defenseman) Brent Burns- the man with the beard to fear is poised for a big comeback after finishing third in voting last year for this award. He’ll need to be his best self if the Sharks want to swim and not sink in the Pacific division

7. Three games I’m looking forward to

  • October 17 @ St. Louis. This will be a good early test for the Canucks, facing the defending Stanley Cup champs. St. Louis largely won the Cup on the back of a red hot rookie goalie named Jordan Binnington, who helped the Blues rise from dead last in the league to an improbable 2nd half run, where they lost just ten times after the all-star break. They also won a pair of game 7’s, including the Stanley cup finals. St. Louis will ice largely the same team as last year. The Canucks won 2 of the 3 meetings last season. However, both wins came before Christmas
  • October 19 @ New Jersey. This will be the 1st meeting of the Hughes brothers, who are expected to battle for the Calder trophy. Quinn in Vancouver is expected to see PP time and be initially paired with Chris Tanev. Jack Hughes, drafted 1st overall by the Devils, and he has looked good early on. He’ll make the Devils top line even more potent.
  • February 12 vs. Chicago. This is the night when the Sedin’s jerseys will be retired. Henrik and Daniel both scored over 1000 points in their illustrious careers and lead the Canucks all-time in several categories, including points, assists (Henrik) and power play goals and assists.  This was a fitting game to pick for the ceremony because of all the playoff battles the Sedins had against the Blackhawks over the years.

8. Three non-Canucks games to watch

  • October 26- St Louis @ Boston –  A rematch of the epic 7-game battle for the Stanley Cup, this one features two teams who should remain dominant in their respective conferences and divisions. Can Jordan Binnington stymie the Bruins shooters again? Will Brad Marchant get under the skin of the Blues players?
  • October 26 Calgary Flames vs. Winnipeg Jets (heritage classic @ Mosaic stadium in Regina) Over the past several seasons, the NHL has been playing outdoor games at football stadiums or baseball arenas in North America. It’s a chance for the players to get back to their youth and playing in the elements like many used to do. These games also allow many more fans to go to a game than would otherwise be attended. Typical NHL arenas have a capacity of about 18,000, give or take a couple of hundred seats. By contrast, MLB, CFL and NFL stadiums have a capacity of 50,000. Yours truly attended the Heritage classic between the Canucks and Senators back in 2014. It was actually snowing that day too, and they were forced to close the roof because the snow was mixed with rain and that would have been dangerous to play on. Other stadium series games this year are: Nashville Predators @ Dallas Stars @ Cotton Bowl stadium in Dallas on New Year’s Day, Pittsburgh Penguins @ Philadelphia Flyers @ Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia Eagles), on February 23
  • December 27 Calgary @ Edmonton- This will be the first regular season battle of Alberta. In the off-season the two teams traded struggling forwards with James Neal moving north to Edmonton and Milan Lucic heading south to Calgary. Calgary and Edmonton also essentially swapped starting goalies with Mike Smith signing with the Oilers and Cam Talbot inking with the Flames. The two teams will meet 5 times this season with three of the games in Cowtown. Four of the five meetings will take place over a five week period between December 27 and February 1.

9. Finally, to get you fired up for the season, here’s every Canucks goal from last season.

10.  Canuck of the week: Adam Gaudette, who all but forced his way onto the team with a very strong preseason. Gaudette, who played 57 games last season, thanks in large part to the injury woes of Brandon Sutter, had a decent rookie year last year. He was by far the Canucks best player this week with a couple of goals and some assists from beauty passes. He’s also more than held his own in the faceoff circle. If he’s a late cut, it will be because the Canucks don’t want to lose a player via waivers and he wouldn’t be down long.

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