Unpredictable Canucks ready to host Flames
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Nobody can accuse the Vancouver Canucks of being predictable.
The Canucks (15-14-4) head into a Sunday home game against the Calgary Flames (16-14-3) on the heels of a strong performance in a 4-3 overtime victory against the visiting San Jose Sharks 4-3 on Friday. The game had no shortage of excitement.
However, the triumph, which ended a four-game Vancouver losing streak, contrasted sharply with the 7-1 shellacking the Canucks took at the hands of the Nashville Predators on home ice two nights earlier.
The topsy-turvy efforts prompt the question: Which version of the Canucks will show up against the Flames?
“It’s important to come back and make sure we play with that same emotion,” said multi-purpose forward Sam Gagner, who scored the overtime winner Friday. “It shouldn’t be tough to get up for that one. It’s an important game for us.”
The Canucks will try to take advantage of a Calgary club that will be playing its second of back-to-back games after losing 2-0 at home to Nashville on Saturday. But Gagner suggested that the Canucks should not take anything for granted.
“(The Flames) have a lot of top-end skill,” he said. “You see their top line with (Johnny) Gaudreau, (Sean) Monahan. They are a line you have to be aware of. Their back end, they move up pucks really well. Being a divisional test for us, it’s exciting.”
The Pacific Division rivals are neck-and-neck in their battle to get above the Western Conference the playoff bar. The Canucks’ character will be put to the test as they continue to toil without injured top center Bo Horvat (foot), winger Sven Baertschi (jaw) and defensemen Chris Tanev (undisclosed) and Erik Gudbranson (wrist).
But Vancouver can take some comfort in knowing that 37-year-old twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, two former National Hockey League scoring champions, are starting to look like their former selves after their points plunged in conjunction with an effort to manage their minutes and reduce their fatigue earlier in the season.
Each Sedin recorded three assists in Friday’s win. Henrik Sedin is producing at almost a point-per-game clip, posting 19 points in his last 20 outings. He has 22 points while his brother is only one back with 21.
“It feels good,” said Daniel Sedin of the increased output. “We are getting more ice time the last 15 to 20 games. It feels good out there.”
The Flames were not feeling great after Saturday’s loss. The setback left Calgary only a point ahead of the Canucks in the standings as both teams remain outside the top three teams in the Pacific and below eighth place in the Western Conference.
“We’ll try to improve on what we need to do better and we’ll get back at it (Sunday),” said Flames defenseman Dougie Hamilton. “It’s another big game. We’ve got to worry about (Sunday) and try to get better and, hopefully, we can get some points (Sunday).”
Calgary has now lost two games in a row and seven of its last 10. Despite having some young and explosive offensive talent in Gaudreau and Monahan, the Flames are minus-10 in goal differential — thanks in part to a struggling defense corps that was expected to be better.
Ironically, winger Jaromir Jagr, 45, the NHL’s oldest player, has the team’s best plus-minus record — plus-seven — but he has been limited to 18 games and has only one goal and six assists.
But Flames coach Glen Gulutzan has no complaints about his contribution to the club.
“If you look at his numbers and what he’s created every time he’s on the ice, it’s almost like any line he’s been with has generated a little bit more,” Gulutzan told reporters.
Jagr returned to Calgary’s lineup Saturday after missing five games with what has been described as a nagging lower-body injury. Sunday’s contest could be the last of his career in Vancouver, pending a seemingly unlikely meeting between the Canucks and Flames in the playoffs.
He could be asked to help bolster a struggling Flames power play. Calgary has struggled in man-advantage situations lately — including a five-on-three situation for a full two minutes against Nashville. The Flames’ power play ranks 20th in the league with a modest 17.54 percent success rate.
“It’s going through a tough stretch,” said Gulutzan.