Winning Canucks send down Podkolzin, Rathbone as homestand begins
Sunday November 27 - Vancouver Canucks 4 - San Jose Sharks 3 (OT)
Tuesday November 29 - Washington Capitals at Vancouver Canucks - 7 p.m. PT - Sportsnet Pacific
After a perfect road trip and riding their first three-game winning streak of the season, the Vancouver Canucks will open a four-game homestand on Tuesday against the Washington Capitals.
The Canucks did show some signs of fatigue as they completed their weekend back-to-back set. They were outshot 35-20 in Sunday's game and 19-6 in the back-and-forth third period, where the Sharks went up 2-1 just five seconds into Vancouver's only penalty of the game, but the Canucks responded with two quick goals from Ilya Mikheyev and Elias Pettersson.
Luke Kunin forced overtime when he scored his second of the game with 5:15 left in regulation, then Andrei Kuzmenko tallied his first NHL overtime marker as he beat Kaapo Kahkonen for the sudden-death game winner at 1:12 of the 3-on-3 frame.
The goal shows up on the stat sheet as Kuzmenko's 10th of the year, but he was retroactively awarded the Canucks' third power-play goal in Vegas on Saturday as well. So if you look at the NHL's stats page on Tuesday, you'll see him listed with 11 goals and 21 points in 21 games — and a shooting percentage of 22.5%.
The 26-year-old has certainly done everything that has been asked of him since joining the Canucks, and couldn't have found a better landing spot than with linemates Mikheyev and Pettersson.
Yes, it'll be a challenge to re-sign him at the end of the year if he keeps this up. It's a good problem for a team to have but it could end up requiring some tough choices.
I had a minor miscalculation in the last blog, looking at the Canucks' position in the Western Conference wild-card race. Minnesota did win on Sunday — and I overlooked the fact that the Calgary Flames still held a game in hand after the Canucks played Sunday night. So even though Vancouver caught Calgary at 21 points, the Flames still hold the higher slot in the standings due to a better points percentage.
The Canucks will head into action on Tuesday night sitting 11th in the West but just one point out of the second wild-card spot. A win over Washington would boost them to .500 for the first time this season, at 10-10-3, and potentially pop them into playoff position.
I know it's way too early to be doing this in November, but who would have thought we could even be having this conversation a month ago?
There are two games with playoff-position implications for Vancouver on Tuesday's schedule:
• Calgary (10th place, 21 points) hosts Florida
• Nashville (12th place, 20 points) hosts Anaheim; the water-main flood at Bridgestone Arena has been fixed
Minnesota (8th place, 22 points) and St. Louis (ninth place, 22 points) are both idle on Tuesday.
The Canucks were off the ice on Monday, but made one significant roster announcement. Vasily Podkolzin and Jack Rathbone were assigned to AHL Abbotsford — presumably to create space on the 23-man roster as Jack Studnicka and Travis Dermott return from injury.
Here's how the lineup is rolling at Tuesday's morning skate. Studnicka is in the main rotation, with Mikheyev absent. Dermott continues to skate on the fourth defense pair.
Studnicka has missed the last six games with a lower-body issue. He was 1-1-2, averaging 10:29 of ice time, after being acquired from Boston in late November.
Dermott hasn't played at all this season, after suffering a concussion during a practice in training camp. He was 1-1-2 in 17 games and averaged 16:54 after he was acquired from Toronto last spring, at the 2022 trade deadline.
And for the players who were sent down...
This will be the first AHL stint for Podkolzin, the 21-year-old who was selected 10th overall in 2019. After putting up 14 goals and 26 points in 79 games last season, Podkolzin has no goals and three assists in 16 games this year, though his average ice time has remained almost identical at just over twelve-and-a-half minutes a game.
His only game action since he suffered that nasty facial injury in his fight in Boston was 9:46 in last week's home game against Vegas. He did not dress for any of the thee games on the road trip. Hopefully the move will give him the opportunity to play some big minutes and, best-case scenario, gain some offensive confidence.
The Baby Canucks are now home from a 10-day Canadian road trip, where they went 2-4-0 in two-game sets against the Laval Rocket, Toronto Marlies and Calgary Wranglers.
They're now kicking off a six-game homestand with back-to-back games against the Bakersfield Condors on Tuesday and Wednesday.
As for Jack Rathbone — the preseason hype that this would be his year to step into the NHL lineup turned out to be greatly exaggerated. Although this is his first AHL assignment of the season, Rathbone has dressed for just six NHL games, and hasn't played since Nov. 9 in Montreal. He has one assist and has averaged 15:25 of ice time, but has been pushed down the depth chart with the arrival of Ethan Bear — who has played well and also seems to be bringing the best out of his partner, Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
The physical element that Kyle Burroughs brings to the blue line better fits the Canucks' team needs right now than Rathbone's Hughes-lite skillset — never mind that Burroughs also opened the scoring in San Jose on Sunday and is now up to a career high two goals for the year!
Thatcher Demko had a solid game against the Sharks, and helped keep his team in the game when the hosts were pressing in the third period. But Spencer Martin was the first goalie off the ice at Tuesday's morning skate, so he'll likely be the starter against Washington.
As for the Capitals, injuries and Father Time have made for a rough start for the 2018 Stanley Cup champions: they're coming into Tuesday's game four points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a record of 9-11-3, and kicked off a rambling six-game road trip in inauspicious style on Saturday, dropping a 5-1 decision to those unstoppable New Jersey Devils.
Alex Ovechkin continues to lead his team in scoring, with 11-10-21 in 23 games. He's now up to 791 for his career, 10 behind second-place Gordie Howe and 103 behind Wayne Gretzky, so no big milestones are set to fall during this visit to Vancouver.
T.J. Oshie has given the Caps a bit of a boost in the last three games, after returning from his lower-body injury. But Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, Dmitry Orlov and Carl Hagelin are all out of action and so is Connor Brown, a significant free-agent signing who suffered an ACL injury that required surgery when the Canucks visited Washington for their third game of the season — where their 4-2 lead turned into a 6-4 loss and massively amplified the narrative that the Canucks couldn't close out games.
Nothing certain on the goalie front from Washington as of Tuesday morning, but Darcy Kuemper appears to be the likely starter. He has played 17 games so far this season, with a record of 7-9-1 despite a .914 save percentage and 2.60 goals-against average. He was in net for Washington's 3-0 home shutout win over Calgary on Friday, while backup Charlie Lindgren took the loss in New Jersey on Saturday.
And to close out today, some personal news: this is my final blog for HockeyBuzz.
As many of you know, I took on some additional work at the beginning of this season. And while I was hopeful that I could juggle everything and maintain my standards, I've found that I have been stretched too thin — particularly because quite a bit of my work for the Hockey News has taken me away from the Canucks and even the NHL.
It has been a heckuva ride since 2013 — starting with the Torts year and winding through the Linden/Benning/Willie/Travis eras and a global pandemic to where we are today.
My deepest gratitude to everybody for reading over all those years, through good times and bad, and for all your spirited debates and discussions over in the comments.
I learned so much here, and even though I wouldn't recognize you if I saw you on the street or heard your real name, I've appreciated the strong sense of community and the support that you've given me along the way.
Stick around — the bosses inform me that a new blogger will be setting up shop in this space very soon. And never the lose the passion!
It's kind of nice to be able to say goodbye when the Canucks are on a bit of a high. I'll still be hoping for more wins than losses and a playoff push — although the Connor Bedard narrative is also quite irresistible.
Thanks again and tonight — enjoy the game!