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GAME DAY PREVIEW- Game 3: Canucks vs Los Angeles

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After starting the season on the road, the Canucks officially kick off this Anniversary season tonight against the same opponent from this date in 1970, the Los Angeles Kings.

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Vancouver Canucks Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

VANCOUVER CANUCKS vs LOS ANGELES KINGS

7:00PM PST ROGERS ARENA, VANCOUVER, BC

TV: SN. RADIO: SN650.

OPPOSITION BLOG: JEWELS FROM THE CROWN

This is no ordinary season, and it’s no ordinary home opener. Tonight, the Canucks mark their first NHL game as they face off against the opponent from Oct 9, 1970, as the Los Angeles Kings are in town. There’s going to be a pregame ceremony, one of many this season, and it will include the naming of the new captain. It’s going to be Bo Horvat. It has to be, because no other choice (and this is not a slight against any other player in any way, shape or form) makes as much sense as Bo. He’s been groomed for this for a couple years now. Just accept it.

And there’s gonna be a hockey game tonight, in addition to all the pomp and circumstance, and while it’s very early on, we’re already seeing some trends in this team that are disappointing to say the least. While they perhaps deserved a better fate in Edmonton, they got thoroughly outplayed by the Flames for long stretches on Saturday night, and when they were in control, they were kept to the perimeter. The PP, which we were led to believe would be a difference maker this season, looks a hell of a lot like the god-awful one we’ve been watching harpoon the Canucks night after night for the last couple years. And the guys who are supposed to be the defensive experts on this squad have been letting the team down. Again. So, as we’ve been trying to get you to accept all summer long, you need to temper your expectations for this team, because they’re not going to magically be better even with the number of changes they made in the off-season. There’s a very real chance they’re not any better than last year. Yes, it’s early but early or not, they failed a pretty important first test out of the gate. They’re going to need to come out hard against a team that played a fierce battle of a game last night in Calgary, and hopefully use that to their advantage. Yes, every game is must win, but for the psyche of the team and their fan base, they cannot afford to lose this one tonight, especially against a team that by all rights, should be at the bottom of the NHL Western Conference standings when the smoke clears in April.

To get us ready for tonight’s contest, I asked Sarah Avampato from our friends over at Jewels From The Crown about the Kings:

1. The Kings are coming off a big overtime win in Calgary last night. In a season that’s going to be a struggle for this team as they go through the rebuilding process, how important was this one given the rivalry that’s developed between the teams?

It was so important, both for the rivalry and just for the team in general. Last season spiraled out of control after a 2-7-1 start, including a six-game losing streak where they scored a total of eight goals. The team would pile up loss after loss, seemingly unable to claw back out of it, so seeing some resilience is a positive. This season, they’ve scored nine goals in two games, and while holding leads looks like it may be an ongoing struggle for the team this year, things already feel less dire than they did this time a year ago. The fact that their first win came against a divisional rival where our star players have some beef with one another, and with Drew Doughty being the one to score the game winner, after his nemesis Matthew Tkachuk scored two, was just the perfect way to end this game.

2. The Kings have a new coach this year, one that’s familar to the Pacific Division. What do you expect to see from Todd McLellan as a head coach? Also, why did they hire Willie Desjardins? Next to Jim Benning getting a contract extension this summer, that hiring stands out as one of the most inexplicable things to happen in hockey.

The biggest thing I expect from McLellan is working to reinstill a culture of winning and accountability with the team. While the players thought they were over the hard-nosed approach of Darryl Sutter, it turns out they all felt like they missed having a coach who pushed them hard to be their best. Their style of play already seems to be more aggressive and up-tempo than it was last year, and while there are growing pains in veteran players learning new systems, if they can follow his guidance consistently (and not just abandon it when a game turns bad) the team may actually be on track for being entertaining, if not good.In regards to Desjardins, based on everything I’ve heard, they weren’t willing at that time to commit to offering an incoming coach a long-term contract. At that time, they were still paying Darryl Sutter and John Stevens, so they were understandably a bit wary about giving term to another coach who may not work out. (Also, you can probably play a conspiracy theory game and presume that Rob Blake was just waiting for Todd McLellan to inevitably get fired from Edmonton.) It made for a long, frustrating, weird season, but if Blake and the rest of the front office already presumed that the 2018-19 season would be a lost cause, then they probably were going with whoever agreed to be hired with no future job security.

3. One thing the Kings appear to be doing right is stockpiling prospects in their minor system. Who are some of the newer faces we should be watching tonight?

Most of the biggest “future of the franchise” names are still down in the AHL, but tonight, keep an eye on Tobias Bjornfot (defense) and Blake Lizotte (forward). Bjornfot, just 18 years old, is one of only four 2019 draft picks currently active on an NHL roster, and he’s already garnering high praise from McLellan and his sometimes-defense partner Drew Doughty. While he’s still adapting to the pace and style of the NHL game, you can see the beginnings of a strong, smooth-skating defenseman with strong positioning instincts. Lizotte is an undersized center with speed, a good shot, and a never quit attidude. He impressed all throughout the preseason and won a spot on the team over prospects with pro experience or draft pedigree.

4. Another familar face tonight will be Ben Hutton, as he makes his regular season debut against his old squad. Your thoughts on Hutton so far?

He ... exists? I honestly haven’t noticed him much, which is probably good, especially considering that he didn’t have the benefit of a full training camp to get his feet under him with the team. Todd McLellan singled Hutton and his partner Sean Walker out for maybe being the best pairing in the season opener against the Oilers, and it turns out he’s had a very quietly excellent couple of games so far. Through two games, he leads the Kings in Corsi (66.67%), has been on the ice for 25 shots for and just 10 against, and has yet to be on the ice for an even strength goal against. For a team that’s given up nine goals in two games, that’s not too bad. If he keeps being this effective, I’ll be glad to reassess my initial impression of him, which was: “but why?”

5. The Kings have Jonathan Quick locked down for 4 more seasons including this one. Do you think they try and move him in the summer as his salary for the remainder of his contract goes down, or will they leave him exposed in the expansion draft if they haven’t moved him?

Oh, man, every time I try to predict what’s happening with Quick, the Kings do something else to surprise me and throw it all off. The Kings signed both backup goaltender Jack Campbell and apparent goalie-of-the-future Cal Petersen to contract extensions, throwing off all of the predictions on who will be playing where in 2020-21. If they don’t move him this summer, then they’re going to need to move Campbell, as (per CapFriendly), Petersen will be out of waiver eligibility after this year. It’s hard to move on from a legend, and it’ll be even harder if Quick rebounds this year (making him more attractive to a trade partner but also making the team want to hang on just a little bit longer). But they’ve got a logjam in net, with Campbell, Petersen, rookie Matt Villalta in the AHL, and several quality prospects in college and juniors, and they need to make a decision soon on how to proceed.

Thanks to Sarah for taking the time to answer these for us!

LINEUPS

As this was being written, the Canucks were taking their game day skate, but we should see something resembling this on the ice for the Canucks tonight:

and the PPs will likely be as follows:

No word yet on the Kings, though I would expect that we see Jonathan Quick in goal for LA tonight after Jack Campbell got the OT win in Calgary last night.

GAME DAY CHATTER:

GAME DAY BATTLE HYMN

As we head into the next 50 years with this god-forsaken franchise, I want to remind you that even though things still look pretty grim, they will get better. I have no doubt about that. So keep the faith, and screw everyone that bashes this team. They’ll get theirs soon enough.