Blue Jackets-Canucks Preview
Vancouver's extended All-Star break is coming to an end, and it's easing back into things by completing a three-game homestand against two beatable opponents.
The first of those, however, is complicated with the Columbus Blue Jackets and former coach John Tortorella visiting Thursday night.
Tortorella first had to return to the Blue Jackets' bench to make his first trip back to Vancouver a possibility. The in-season hire missed three games before the break with two broken ribs suffered in a practice collision but returned for Tuesday's 5-1 loss in Edmonton. He's now up against the team he coached two seasons ago with the Canucks missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08 resulting in his dismissal.
"He'll want this game coming back in," Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins said. "His guys will be geared up for it."
While other teams returned to action as early as Tuesday, the Canucks (20-19-11) will go eight days between games and conclude the homestand Saturday versus Calgary. Vancouver entered the break with consecutive losses after Nashville scored the decisive goal in a 2-1 result on Jan. 26 in the final five minutes.
Desjardins thinks the flip to the post-All-Star schedule means his team needs to begin approaching everything like the postseason.
"I can't see how we couldn't be," Desjardins said. "To me, I look at our last two games that we let get away, and that was a big difference. That's something you recognize now - how big those games are. Every game going forward is going to be big. I would think the whole room would have to see that every game's going to be a playoff game. ... We're in a spot where we have to catch up."
That might begin with not only a stronger power play, but also cultivating more opportunities. The Canucks have gone six games without a power-play goal, but that's come on only eight chances.
"I think that's one area that we look at, and I think it made a difference for us last year," said Desjardins, who had Vancouver back in the postseason in his first year on the job. "And I think if we can get them going in the right direction, it can make a difference this year."
Vancouver has enjoyed a 15-2-2 stretch against the Blue Jackets with an average of 3.31 goals per game, including a 5-3 win in Columbus on Nov. 10 for Tortorella's first game against his former team.
While the Canucks begin the second half five points out of the playoffs, the Blue Jackets (19-28-5) are at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. The loss to the Oilers followed a two-game winning streak with Edmonton outshooting the Canucks 18-8 in the first period before scoring four second-period goals.
"We need to be ready to start the game on time because we were a little behind for the first 20," said Brandon Dubinsky, who had five points in the two wins prior to the break.
"We were a little rusty but both teams were coming off the same All-Star break and they had even more time off than we did. We can't use that as an excuse. We need to be ready to play from the drop of the puck."
Especially so since Columbus is depleted at goaltender. Sergei Bobrovsky (lower body) and Curtis McElhinney (ankle) have both been out. McElhinney is with the team on the four-game trip, but Joonas Korpisalo faced the Oilers. Despite allowing five goals, he's posted a 2.14 goals-against average over a 4-1-1 span as a starter.
Likely counterpart Ryan Miller is 2-5-1 with a 3.27 GAA in his last nine games, but he's gone 3-1-1 with a 1.79 mark in his last six contests against Columbus.