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GAME DAY PREVIEW: Vancouver Canucks vs. Washington Capitals - Oct. 26/17

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Tough four-games homestand for the Canucks kicks off tonight

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Minnesota Wild
Oct 24, 2017; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Vancouver Canucks goalie Anders Nilsson (31) celebrates with defenseman Chris Tanev (8) following the game against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Vancouver Canucks vs. Washington Capitals

7:00 p.m. PST, Rogers Arena, Vancouver, B.C.

TV: Sportsnet Pacific, Radio: SN 650

It might be early in the season, but there are definitely more reasons to be optimistic about the Vancouver Canucks this season.

At the nine-game mark last year, the Canucks just lost their fifth game in a row to, ahem, the Washington Capitals. It was a 5-2 defeat at Rogers Arena that left the Canucks stuck in the midst of what ended up being their longest losing streak of the season.

Through nine games last year, the Canucks had one win in regulation, and they had scored 17 goals in nine games, for an average of 1.88 goals-per-game.

Fast-forward to 2017, and Travis Green’s Canucks are providing many more reasons for optimism.

All five of their wins at this point have come in regulation. In four of those five wins, the Canucks have scored the first goal and they managed to hold the lead throughout the game.

Their also averaging a shade under three goals per game, and the production is currently spread throughout the lineup. If the Canucks are going to compete, their going to need different players to step up on different nights. They don’t have an Alex Ovechkin sitting in the wings.

That is, unless you’re really drinking the Brock Boeser kool-aid.

The Opposition

Everyone is expecting the Capitals to drop off this year after an offseason where they lost some key veterans and overpaid on guys like T.J. Oshie.

So far, the Capitals haven’t done anything to quiet the critics.

The biggest hole for the Capitals is on their blueline. They lost Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt and Kevin Shattenkirk in the offseason, and Matt Niskanen is currently out with a lower body injury.

John Carlson, Brooks Orpik and Dmitri Orlov are the three veteran mainstays on the blueline, while youngsters Taylor Chorney, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey round out the top six.

The results have been mixed thus far, with the Capitals ranking 24th in the NHL in terms of scoring chance differential.

Despite giving up too many chances, the Capitals offence is making up for it with a potent offence. Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov are both tied for fourth overall in NHL scoring with 12 points, while Ovechkin trails only Nikita Kucherov with 10 goals.

The Capitals are a top heavy team, and there is a significant drop off after their top six. If the Canucks shutdown line can find a way to neutralize some of the offensive stars in this game, it will go a long ways towards improving the Canucks chances of winning this game.

The Home Team

After three straight wins, it’s easy to start seeing the positives throughout this Canucks roster.

The reunion of Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser and Sven Baertschi looked good as a unit on the road trip. They are no Backstrom and Kuznetsov, but as a line they are creating chances. Look for them to get back on the scoresheet after getting blanked in Minnesota.

Jake Virtanen was the apple of everyone’s eye after scoring in two straight games to end the road trip. His line with the Sedins is getting favourable matchups in sheltered minutes, and all eyes will be on them tonight.

The one line that is filled with questions marks is the free-agent express unit of Thomas Vanek, Alex Burmistrov and Sam Gagner. None of those three players have shown any kind of consistency through the first nine games. That’s especially true for Gagner, who has just two assists through nine games.

With Brendan Gaunce eyeing a return, each player on that line should start showing some urgency if they want to keep their place in the lineup.

The goalie decision ahead of tonight’s game will be an interesting one. Logic dictates that Anders Nilsson and his two shutouts get a chance to keep the streak alive tonight.

Game Day Battle Hymn

Like most night when the Capitals enter an opposing arena, it’s a Russian invasion. That holds true for the Canucks tonight with two of the NHL’s leading scorers, Kuznetsov and Ovechkin coming to The Rog tonight.

The Canucks have a Russian weapon, uh, player of their own in Alex Burmistrov. Maybe some Russian metal will get Burmistrov amped up to outscore the other Russians on the ice side of the ice.