VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Suddenly, the Vancouver Canucks can score and the St. Louis Blues can’t.
That situation offers an aura of intrigue as the Canucks (15-16-5) and Blues (22-13-2), who are both struggling, get set to face off Saturday at Rogers Arena. Two scenarios could result based on the way each team has been playing lately.
The game could turn into a pond hockey match like the ones in which the Canucks have found themselves. Or, it could be a low-scoring affair in keeping with the type of game that the Blues have played recently.
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The injury-riddled Canucks, often perceived as a team lacking offense, have scored 10 goals in their past three games. Nine of those goals came in the last two outings, against Montreal and San Jose.
But the additional goals have not helped that much, because the Canucks have lost three straight while getting some spotty goaltending from Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson. The only certainty about their play is that it will not come under criticism from Canucks coach Travis Green.
“You’re not going to hear our goalies sit there and say they’re playing their best hockey of the year,” Green said earlier this week. “But if you’re tyring to get me to throw blame on our goalies, I’m not going to do that.”
Green indicated that he would prefer a better effort from his defense corps, which gave up several odd-man rushes against Montreal and, while improved, also struggled against the Sharks. The Canucks have found themselves trailing early on many nights, especially in recent contests.
“We’ve had to chase some of these games,” Green said. “When you chase games from behind you’re going to give up some outnumbered rushes. When you’re down 5-3, 5-4 … it’s just the way it is.”
Meanwhile, St. Louis coach Mike Yeo could be forgiven if he suddenly started singing the blues lately.
In contrast to the Canucks, the Blues have scored only six goals in as many games — and have scored no more than two in either contest. In three of those six games, the Blues were blanked on the scoreboard.
The offensive drought has been intensified by the absence of Jaden Schwartz, who is slated to be out for six weeks after suffering an ankle injury Dec. 9. To shake his team out of the scoring doldrums, Yeo has juggled his lines constantly in recent games — with little or no effect.
“We’re looking for something,” Yeo told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch earlier this week. “I believe we kind of hit a point (against Calgary) where we realized that (the team’s play) wasn’t good enough. And, unfortunately, sometimes that has to take place for us to kind of dig in and take a step back and realize that we have to get back to it.”
Fortunately for the Blues, they are still fairly comfortable in the chase for a playoff spot, ranking among the top teams in the Central Division and the Western Conference. However, Vancouver, currently below the playoff bar, is not so fortunate.
The Canucks, who are without key injured forwards Bo Horvat (foot) and Sven Baertschi (jaw) on a long-term basis, have lost seven of their past eight games.
Still, both teams have some bright spots — namely rookies who have made fans forget the inconsistencies of seasoned veterans.
Tage Thompson scored his first NHL goal as the Blues lost 3-2 in overtime to the Oilers in Edmonton on Thursday.
“He continues to be positive,” Yeo told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Thompson, a 20-year-old Phoenix native who was drafted by the Blues in the first round (26th overall) is also hungry. He earned a spot on their roster at the start of the season, but was sent down to San Antonio of the American Hockey League after toiling in only four games.
Thompson got a call to come back after the Blues placed Sammy Blais on injured reserve.
“Obviously, I wasn’t happy being sent down,” Thompson, who has potted seven goals and nine assists for San Antonio, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I don’t think anyone is, but there’s a reasoning to it and I understand it. (I) couldn’t dwell on it or let it bother me. I just had to go down and play, and get better, and keep working and, hopefully, get my chance back up here.
“Now that they’ve given me another opportunity up here, I’ve got to take hold of it and try to hold on as long as possible. My focus is just working hard to try to stay here.”
Brock Boeser took the same approach with the Canucks when he was scratched for the first two games of the season — and it paid off. The 20-year-old Burnsville, Minn., native leads the team with 19 goals and 33 points and has been outscoring top NHLers lately while remaining in strong contention for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
Boeser, who overcame a foot injury earlier this week and did not miss any games, has six goals and two assists in the past seven games while scoring against some of the NHL’s best goaltenders. But he does not claim to be able to put each shot where he wants it to go.
“I just try to (hit) the first spot I see,” he said.