While you have to enjoy the fact that the Canucks were given a nice healthy break during this 6 game road swing, the excitement that built up from the wholesale dismantling of the hated Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday has left many a Canucks fan impatiently awaiting tonight's match against the Los Angeles Kings. And who can blame them. While not a perfect game, there were so many positives, so many signs that the team that dominated the NHL last season was coming back. After a game that seemed to be an almost cathartic release for them, they now find themselves with 3 straight games against teams playing some bloody awful hockey right now. Here's a great opportunity to pounce on them and get on a roll. Yeah, I know what you're thinking. This is gonna end horribly, right? Maybe not. It all starts with a team many had pegged to be at or near the top of the West standings, the LA Kings. Between new additions making little impact and Drew Doughty's holdout, return, subsequent injury and statements to the press about his desire to be the best defenceman in the NHL, this season has been a frustrating one for the Kings to say the least.
On paper it looks a lot like the Canucks and Kings are pretty much in the same boat. And while they're not in the position of panic that you're seeing with tomorrow night's opponent in nearby Anaheim, the Kings felt they would be better than this, and are only ahead of the Canucks thanks to a pair of loser points. Those two loser points came during a 5 game skid, snapped just on Tuesday as the Kings eeked out a 4-3 win over the Nashville Predators. It's that stretch of 5 without a win that has people in LA nervous. While Mike Richards and Simon Gagne, the two most notable changes in the Kings lineup have been putting up points, the rest of the team struggles to score and as a result it hasn't translated into wins the way they had anticipated.
What has helped the Kings has been their goaltending. Jonathan Quick has been stellar to start the season but is showing signs of cooling off. Add in his 3-6-1 lifetime record against the Kings and this could be a very winnable game for the Canucks. Another thing the Kings will need to be concerned about is the Canucks' special teams. Chicago saw exactly what can happen when you take foolish penalties against Vancouver, and given the level of animosity that's been present with these two teams over the last few seasons it could play right into the Canucks' hands.
As far as the Canucks go, a sign of some consistency would do much to calm those who still think there's reason to panic. Like I said the game Sunday was not perfect, there's still much work to be done defensively. They can't allow that many shots on goal every night. With Sami Salo skating with the team in practice today, and Aaron Rome looking to build on a fairly impressive return to the lineup against the Hawks, stability on the back end may just be on the way. Speaking of imminent returns, not only was Mason Raymond with the regular squad today, but Alexandre Burrows stayed out for the entire practice. I would be surprised if he does play tonight, but having him back in the lineup would be a boost. **UPDATE** Coach Alain Vigneault says no Burrows, and Salo will be a game time decision.
Things to watch tonight: Doughty will be out to stir things up, building upon a growing reputation as one who really needs to work on keeping his emotions in check. My guess is we see him in the box more than twice tonight. Also, will Kevin Bieksa and Mike Richards have another tilt tonight? Think Richards will be ready for this?
Also tonight, Colin Fraser makes his debut for the Kings. Fraser, you will recall was the lemon the Oilers sent to the Kings in exchange for Ryan Smyth. The hearing with the league on whether the Oilers should be punished for not being forthright about Fraser's injuries is coming soon, we hear.
LAST NIGHT'S LEFTOVERS
The hockey world is still abuzz over the ridiculousness during that Tampa Bay/ Philadelphia game. Pundits and fans alike are weighing in, assigning blame/ support for one team or the other. Me? I think they're both wrong. Tampa's defensive strategy is an insult to the game, and to the fans. Would you really pay to see that? Especially with the kind of skill they have on the Lightning, to see them just sitting there, waiting for the Flyers to try and break through their line of defence as though they were playing 'Red Rover' was pretty pathetic. The problem however is that the Flyers decided to deal with it like your four year old having a temper tantrum in Aisle 8 at Safeway. Yes, the trap sucks. Yes it's insulting. But standing there and refusing to move the puck is the hockey version of holding your breath. Both teams were making hockey look bad last night, not good as the league tries to figure out how to capitalize on the NBA lockout... Rookie Craig Smith had 2 goals and an assist as the Nashville Predators handed the Anaheim Ducks their 6th straight loss 4-2. The Canucks take on the Ducks tomorrow night at the Honda Center... Here's something to ponder tonight: If the Bruins treat the Oilers' kids like they did the Canucks during the finals, will the media prop up the B's and mock the Oilers for not being tough enough, or will they be outraged at the audacity of laying a finger on those fine young lads? Just a thought... Also, thumbs down to the Bruins for not making Tyler Seguin available to Edmonton media before tonight's game.