The Canucks seek redemption in series-ending game vs. the Canadiens
It ain't over yet, but the Vancouver Canucks need to find their way out of this funk in a hurry if they hope to keep a playoff spot in sight in the Scotia North Division.
As of Saturday morning, they're one of three teams in the division to have played six games. The Leafs are 4-2-0 — tied for first place with the Habs, though they've played one additional game.
Edmonton has also played six games — and is tied with the Canucks for 6th/7th place, at 2-4-0.
The bad news: eighth-place Ottawa is only one point back, and has played just four games. And fifth-place Calgary is just one point ahead, and has played only three games.
During last season's pause, the NHL introduced points percentage on their standings page, and used it as the barometer to determine which teams made the playoffs. It may come into play again this year, if it turns out that not all teams are able to complete their 56-game schedules before playoffs begin.
For now, it gives us a sobering snapshot into how deep a hole the Canucks have already dug for themselves. At .333, they're tied with Edmonton for last in the division. At .300 with identical records of 1-3-1 after five games, Chicago and Buffalo are the only teams in the league that are lower.
The Canucks can lean on "It's still early," for a little while longer. If they can pull out a regulation win on Saturday, they'd be sitting just two points behind the Habs in the standings — and have grabbed four of a possible six points in the three-game series.
Is that possible? Admittedly, it seems like a stretch after Montreal's thorough 7-3 dismantling of Vancouver on Thursday night. But that's why they play the games. Ya never know.
Travis Green elected to give his group the day off on Friday. With the early 4 p.m. start time on Saturday, there's no pre-game skate either. He'll meet with the media early in the afternoon, ahead of game time.
We do know that Brogan Rafferty has been re-assigned to the taxi squad after his emergency recall before Thursday's game. I'd forgotten that he got into two games at the end of the 2018-19 season, right after the Canucks signed him as a free agent, so he wasn't making his NHL debut.
On Thursday, his stat line was actually reasonably solid, under the circumstances. Wearing Jacob Markstrom's old No. 25, he played 13:58, including 2:46 on the penalty kill. He was on the ice for three Montreal goals in total — two at even strength and one while shorthanded — but also picked up his first career NHL assist on Brandon Sutter's third-period marker.
Rafferty got the secondary assist, for the calm pass to Tyler Myers in the defensive zone, before Myers sprung Sutter for what might be his prettiest goal as a Canuck?
That Myers pass should also serve as a nice reminder of why it's a good thing that he avoided suspension for his late-game hit on Joel Armia.
After the on-ice officials reviewed the play, they hit Myers with a match penalt. But on Friday, NHL Player Safety determined that the hit was a proper body check with *some* head contact. Interesting.
Armia did go straight to the dressing room. After the game, coach Claude Julien said he'd been told that Armia had suffered a concussion.
After just one point in Montreal's first four games, Armia was on fire on Tuesday — named first star, with two goals and two assists. He set up both of Tyler Toffoli's goals — one of them, shorthanded. One of his goals was also shorthanded, and one at even strength.
In addition to Armia, the Canadiens also lost Paul Byron on Thursday. Neither player practiced on Friday.
So — the Canucks will see their old pal Corey Perry on Saturday. He has been recalled from the taxi squad and skated in Armia's spot on Montreal's third line at practice on Friday. Fresh as a daisy, in his first game action since the Stanley Cup Final with Dallas, who knows what kind of havoc he'll wreak?
As far as the rest of the Canucks' defense goes, Jalen Chatfield is the latest man down. He managed just five shifts before leaving Thursday's game. His status was uncertain on Friday, as was Alex Edler's.
Travis Hamonic was placed on injured reserve on Thursday, but Jordie Benn was finally cleared to play on Friday, so he will probably draw in.
No matter how it all shakes down, another night of musical chairs on the blue line makes it tough for everybody, as the players try to generate some offense without being certain when their partner will be covering for them. But this is reality in this most unusual season.
One other note to wrap up before I close today: the AHL announced (most of) its schedule for the new season on Friday.
The schedule for the Canadian teams still needs to be set, but the Utica Comets will be playing 32 games, starting Feb. 5. Keeping travel to a minimum, they'll face just four different opponents this year — their fellow New York State teams in Syracuse, Binghamton and Rochester, and the Providence Bruins in Rhode Island.
It's still unclear whether there will be playoffs at season's end. The most important thing, this year, is to give second-tier players a place to play — and, presumably, to provide additional call-up depth if teams end up exhausting their taxi squad options.
Based on this tweet from Friday, there are still some details to be ironed out:
The Comets' training camp is scheduled to get underway next week, with medical testing on Monday and the first on-ice session on Tuesday.