Game Day: Canucks, Blues look to be sharp from the start

 

 
 
 
 
St. Louis Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo (left) and Vancouver Canucks winger Derek Dorsett fight for a loose puck during an NHL game in St. Louis earlier this season. Despite the Blues' superiority in the standings over the last three seasons, the Canucks are 8-0-2 against St. Louis since 2011.
 

St. Louis Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo (left) and Vancouver Canucks winger Derek Dorsett fight for a loose puck during an NHL game in St. Louis earlier this season. Despite the Blues' superiority in the standings over the last three seasons, the Canucks are 8-0-2 against St. Louis since 2011.

Photograph by: Bill Boyce, AP

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ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock used two words this morning to describe his team's recent starts: "The shits."

Then he added: "What other way can you describe it? Sideways."

Imagine what he would say about the Vancouver Canucks' starts.

The Blues, scoreless in the first period of their last nine games, play tonight against the Canucks (5 p.m., Pacific time, on Sportsnet Pacific, TSN 1040), who have surrendered the first goal in 23 of their last 31 games. Based on history, it's a good bet Vancouver's road-trip opener will be decided by one goal. But it's probably a better bet to take the under in the first period.

"The coaches, there's a lot they can do with the systems and stuff," Canucks winger Alex Burrows said. "But when it comes down to preparation and the way you start, that's up to the individual players.

"All guys prepare individually, going into warmup and going into the game. There are ways you can push yourself more in warmup — skate a little harder, get a sweat going. As soon as the anthem is finished, you've got to zoom in and be sharp right off the get-go."

The Canucks haven't been sharp at the start on many nights, falling behind and chasing games critical to the National Hockey League playoff race. They are 11-10-2 in the 23 games since New Year's when the opposition has scored first, and the Canucks' 18 wins this season after trailing 1-0 are tied for third in the NHL.

But they are 25-6-2 when they score first.

They could badly use an opening goal tonight against a powerful St. Louis team that is due a market correction in their favour against Vancouver.

Despite the Blues' superiority in the standings over the last three seasons, the Canucks are 8-0-2 against them since 2011. Nine of the games have been decided by a goal, five of them in overtime or a shootout.

St. Louis defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk has a fascinating theory about the Canucks' success head-to-head.

"They're a very smart team; I think they adjust very well," Shattenkirk said. "Knowing how physical we play, I don't think they try to match that. They just try to make quick puck decisions. They play a pretty fast game in that respect and it allows them to really not get hit, not be too hemmed in in their zone.

"I think we have to try to be a little bit more possession-focused, make plays when we can and try to get it in the (offensive) zone in our own hands, rather than dumping it in and trying to get it back, especially with how smart their defencemen are."

Hitchcock didn't dispute the theory, except to say he doesn't think the bigger Blues are much more physical than the Canucks.

"Our physical play is way down even from the team that was here last year or the year before," he said. "We're built different. We're built with more diversity in our lineup, as is Vancouver.

"Their physicality is in a different way. They've got a few guys that aren't fun to play against. But their physicality is in their puck-protection skills. Not just the Sedins (Daniel and Henrik), but they've got other people who know how to protect the puck and they don't give it up easy. That's their physicality. Both teams are like that."

But teams have also slipped in recent games, the Blues losing four of their last five while the Canucks are coming off consecutive home losses against the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche — both non-playoff teams.

While the Blues are second in the Central Division with 99 points, the Canucks' second-best total in the Pacific Division is 91 points. With critical games tonight around the NHL, Vancouver is only three points clear in the Western Conference playoff race.

And after the Blues, they play the Central-leading Nashville Predators on Tuesday, visit the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday, then play for the fifth time in seven days against the desperate Winnipeg Jets on Saturday afternoon.

The Canucks will be thrilled if their playoff "cushion" is still three points by the time they return home to play the Los Angeles Kings on Monday.

"They're all good teams; it won't be easy," Burrows said of this four-game trip. "But we've gone out on trips earlier in the year that we knew were going to be hard, and we've come out on the right side of things. We've had success in this building and against this team. Even though they're one of the best teams in the West, I like our chances if we're good for 60 minutes."

Eddie Lack (Canucks) and Brian Elliott (Blues) are the starting goalies.

• INJURIES:

Blues: LW Alex Steen (knee).

Canucks: G Ryan Miller (knee), C Brad Richardson (ankle), RW Zack Kassian (back).

• FORWARD LINES:

Blues: Olli Jokinen-David Backes-TJ Oshie; Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko; Paul Stastny-Patrik Berglund-Dmitrij Jaskin; Steve Ott-Marcel Goc-Ryan Reaves.

Canucks: Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Alex Burrows; Chris Higgins-Nick Bonino-Radim Vrbata; Ronalds Kenins-Bo Horvat-Jannik Hansen; Shawn Matthias-Linden Vey-Derek Dorsett.

imacintyre@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/imacvansun

 
 
 
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St. Louis Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo (left) and Vancouver Canucks winger Derek Dorsett fight for a loose puck during an NHL game in St. Louis earlier this season. Despite the Blues' superiority in the standings over the last three seasons, the Canucks are 8-0-2 against St. Louis since 2011.
 

St. Louis Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo (left) and Vancouver Canucks winger Derek Dorsett fight for a loose puck during an NHL game in St. Louis earlier this season. Despite the Blues' superiority in the standings over the last three seasons, the Canucks are 8-0-2 against St. Louis since 2011.

Photograph by: Bill Boyce, AP

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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