The Vancouver Canucks are going to need to dig deep if they hope to come home from Ontario with any points in their pockets.
After starting the week with a pair of losses in Ottawa, they weren't able to take advantage of the Toronto Maple Leafs' decision to rest some players on Thursday. Despite starting David Rittich and sitting top defensemen Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin, as well as new arrival Nick Foligno, the Leafs skated to an easy 4-1 win and held Vancouver to a season low 16 shots on goal.
J.T. Miller scored the only goal, on a power-play late in the second period when the Canucks were already in a three-goal hole. And in a solid 17:12 of ice time, Kole Lind had a relatively effective NHL debut. He had two shots on goal — one of just eight Canucks skaters to even test Rittich — and also added a hit, a block, and one giveaway, while finishing with an even plus-minus.
Meanwhile, Quinn Hughes led the team in ice time again, at 23:47, and somehow managed to be on the ice for all four goals against — which all came at even strength. But unless the last 12 games of the season go *really* badly, he should escape the indignity of the "Green Jacket" award for the worst plus-minus of the year. At minus-23, he's currently tied for fifth-worst with Nolan Patrick of Philadelphia and Blake Wheeler (!) of Winnipeg. The leader, Rasmus Dahlin of Buffalo, is at a whopping minus-37, with five games left on the Sabres' schedule.
The Canucks may also be missing Tyler Motte on Saturday; he left Thursday's game late in the second period, after appearing to get the worst of a collision with Timothy Liljegren.
The Canucks did take their morning skate on Saturday, but delayed their usual media availability.
I don't want to jump to conclusions, but that could be due to this report, which came out on Saturday morning. Jake Virtanen has been placed on leave due to allegations of sexual misconduct.
This article includes a quote from a Canucks spokesperson:
“We have become aware of the concerning allegations made about one of our players. Our organization does not accept sexual misconduct of any kind and the claims as reported are being treated very seriously by us,” says a Canucks spokesperson. “We have engaged external expertise to assist in an independent investigation and we have placed the player on leave as we await more information.”
The Canucks have now also issued that statement to media outlets and posted it on their social media channels.
Virtanen was not on the ice for Saturday's morning skate. These allegations are serious, and I hope they are handled properly.
Not diminishing that in any way, there is still a game to be played tonight. Other than Virtanen's absence, the only other Vancouver lineup note I saw is that Thatcher Demko looks set to get the start.
As for the Leafs, they'll be running something closer to their usual lineup, including Jack Campbell back in net.
Meanwhile, down on the farm, it was a terrific night for the Utica Comets. They beat the Rochester Americans 7-1 on Friday.
In his first game action in more than a year, Mikey DiPietro stopped 19 of 20 shots — including two breakaways and a penalty shot. And he came out of the game with his usual upbeat attitude on full display.
At the offensive end of he ice, Jonah Gadjovich remained red hot. His 15th goal of the season was just part of the story — he finished with a Gordie Howe hat trick!
So let's look at the fight:
Don't forget, Saturday's game is an early start, at 4 p.m. PT.
Next week, they've got four straight against the Edmonton Oilers on tap: a back-to-back at Rogers Arena on Monday and Tuesday, followed by two games in Edmonton on Thursday and Saturday.