Prized goalie prospect Thatcher Demko makes his season debut for the Vancouver Canucks (21-21-6) tonight when they host the Buffalo Sabres (24-17-6) tonight at Rogers Arena.
It will be Demko’s second career NHL game after he backstopped the Canucks to a 5-4 shootout win over Columbus on March 31st last season. In 16 games in AHL Utica this season, the San Diego, CA native who turned 23-years-old last month, is 8-5-1 with a 2.58 GAA and a 91.1% save percentage. Tonight will be his first game action at any level since January 2nd when Utica beat Syracuse 4-2.
For a fifth straight game, the Canucks will head into action without scoring leader Elias Pettersson who is still out with a knee sprain. Pettersson skated with the team this morning and hopes to return to the line-up on Sunday afternoon against Detroit. Without Pettersson this season, the Canucks are 4-4-2 and have scored 21 goals in those 10 games – and just 19 in regulation. Pettersson’s hattrick in Ottawa on January 2nd gives him a share of the team lead in goals over the past seven games even though he has appeared in just over two of them.
The Canucks fell 3-2 in a shootout against the Oilers on Wednesday night after failing to convert on any of their five shootout chances. Canuck shooters are now 2/15 on the season while the team has won just one of four shootouts. Brandon Sutter and Markus Granlund had the Vancouver goals while Jacob Markstrom stopped 28 of 30 shots and four more in the skills competition.
Granlund had a goal and an assist against Edmonton and has scored in back to back games for the first time this season. Sutter’s goal came on a first period power play. It was the Canucks first goal with the man-advantage in the past five contests (1/16).
Ben Hutton has points in three straight games (1+2=3) which matches his career-high. Hutton looked like he had netted goals in consecutive games after scoring a power play goal on Wednesday night. However, it was negated due to a coach’s challenge for offside.
Despite a number of solid chances against the Oilers, Bo Horvat has now gone 10 games without a goal. He has registered 37 shots on goal over that span but hasn’t been able to find the back of the net. Linemate Brock Boeser has an empty net goal against Florida to show for his past seven games. He’s had 25 shots on goal in that time. Based on this morning’s skate, it looks like Antoine Roussel may play left wing with Horvat and Boeser in an effort to bring energy to that line and to help spark his teammates.
Nikolay Goldobin will be a healthy scratch for a second consecutive game. It will be the fourth time in the past seven outings since New Year’s Day that he has not been in the Canucks line-up.
The Sabres arrive in Vancouver after a 4-3 overtime victory in Calgary on Wednesday. Jack Eichel netted the winner 1:10 in the extra session as Buffalo scored on its final three shots of the hockey game. The Sabres converted on both third period shots on goal and then Eichel scored on the team’s only shot in OT.
Rasmus Dahlin, Jake McCabe and Evan Rodrigues had the other Buffalo goals while Linus Ullmark made 30 saves for the win. The result snapped a three-game losing streak. Ullmark gets the call in goal again tonight.
Since a 10-game win streak that ended on November 27th and left the Sabres a surprising 17-6-2, the club has posted just seven victories in 22 games (7-11-4).
Jeff Skinner leads Buffalo – and is tied for second in the NHL -- with 30 goals while Jack Eichel had 16+35=51 to pace the team in scoring. Rasmus Dahlin, the first overall pick in June’s draft, brings a five-game point streak into action tonight and now has 5+21=26 in his inaugural NHL campaign. The 18-year-old blueliner is tied with Ottawa’s Colin White for second in rookie scoring behind the Canucks Elias Pettersson who has 42. Tonight, Dahlin can become the first defenseman in NHL history to have a six-game point streak before his 19th birthday.
The Sabres generated a furious rally to force overtime and defeated the Canucks 4-3 in a shootout on November 10th in Buffalo. They scored two goals in the final two and a half minutes to erase a late 3-1 deficit. Jeff Skinner scored with 2:27 to play and then Sam Reinhart tied the game 40 seconds later with 1:47 remaining.
Including that win, Buffalo is 10-3-1 against the Pacific Division this season.
POSSIBLE CANUCKS LINE-UP
POSSIBLE SABRES LINE-UP