The road has not been kind to the Vancouver Canucks, and amid a five-game swing along the East Coast, they are hoping that an early start to the second game of a back-to-back against the Washington Capitals won't leave them a step behind.
Coming off a 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday night, Vancouver will hustle to Washington for a rare start at 5 p.m. EST, further compressing the Canucks' third game in four nights. Vancouver has only won four contests away from home this season.
“You can't get down three goals to a team like that and expect to come back. We weren't good enough tonight, especially early on,” Canucks winger Daniel Sedin said.
Vancouver is battling injuries between the pipes, as goaltender Ryan Miller is sidelined with a lower-body ailment suffered in Thursday's victory at Tampa Bay. Backup Jacob Markstrom started against the Panthers, but prospect Thatcher Demko, who was called up from Utica of the American Hockey League on Saturday, could get the nod against the Capitals.
“It's been something I've really been looking forward to; you're just not sure when it's going to happen,” Demko said. “I'm just excited to be here.”
The Canucks will get one member of their lineup back on the ice as right winger Jannik Hansen will return to the lineup after missing more than a month with a rib injury. Hansen practiced with the team Saturday and is preparing to play for the first time since Nov. 5.
“It (stinks) sitting out,” Hansen said. “It's boring. You don't feel like you're a part of the team. It's definitely not fun.”
Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen got to experience Hansen's pain for the first time since joining Washington before the 2014 season. Niskanen missed Friday's win against Buffalo with an upper-body injury after being on the receiving end of a boarding penalty from Boston's Patrice Bergeron on Wednesday.
“I don't think it was that bad of a hit,” Niskanen said after practice Saturday. “I didn't think it was live, and even after watching it, I can see where that can happen. It was one of those where I lost my balance the wrong distance from boards. If I'm two feet closer to the boards, nothing happens. If I'm two feet further away, nothing happens.”
Niskanen hopes to return to the lineup against Vancouver, but is in the NHL's concussion protocol.
“He practiced well and said he felt pretty good, so we'll what his status is (Sunday) morning,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said after practice Saturday. “There's a protocol the NHL has for injuries and we'll follow that protocol to a T. And that's why we can't give you an answer right now.”
The Capitals beat Vancouver 5-2 on Oct. 29 with Philipp Grubauer picking up the road victory.
No. 1 netminder Braden Holtby figures to get the start Sunday, with each game critical for Washington thanks to its position in the red-hot Metropolitan Division. Even with 35 points, the Capitals sit in fifth place.