November 28, 2022

The Vancouver Canucks visit the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. Some news, notes and quotes to think about before dropping the puck.

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Vancouver Canucks (3-6-3, 6th in the Pacific)

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(Before Tuesday’s game in Ottawa)

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at Montreal Canadiens (5-6-1, 7th in the Atlantic)

(Before Tuesday’s game in Detroit)

Wednesday, 4:30 p.m., Bell Center.

TV: SN Pacific. Radio: Sportsnet 650.

It’s never just another game in LaBelle Province. It’s an event.

The Stanley Cup banners and those honoring retired franchise legends hang proudly in the cavernous Bell Center, a constant reminder of far better times.

And with the Montreal Canadiens going through a rebuild with dynamic young players like captain Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, winning against the Reds, Whites and Blues is never easy.

Here’s what the Canucks can do to make it a night to remember:

Load the gun, pull the trigger

The Canucks had the league’s third-ranked power play after a dozen games, and a 30.2 percent efficiency is based largely on being unpredictable and trotting units that have handcuffed the club in the past.

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Thirteen power play goals are second and that’s impressive. The Canucks are 16th on odds and aren’t doing enough to take penalties – a specialty of speedy irritant Conor Garland – and they’ve also given up three shorthanded goals for overthinking in the O-zone.

JT Miller has always preached the potential that the power play can be that dagger, a nightly difference maker.

And despite multiple options – Andrei Kuzmenko flying low to take feeds or plate passes, Bo Horvat at bumper point and Elias Pettersson at his sweet shooting range – Miller remains a little peeved that he’s not finding even more collective success.

“It’s not all sunshine on the power play right now,” he said. “We’re scoring a few goals but we’re not where we want to be in terms of our expected level of play, execution, winning puck fights and shots on goal.

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“We will challenge ourselves to get better. There is a right way to play on the power play and we can be better.”

That would mean playing faster, being more direct, and not trying to thread seam passages through skates to get that perfect, pretty cross-ice feed.

Dakota Joshua (right) brought a necessary physical element to the Canucks' fourth line.
Dakota Joshua (right) brought a necessary physical element to the Canucks’ fourth line. Photo by Derek Cain /Getty Images files

The fourth line takes courage, goals

“It takes a village.”

This slogan should be emblazoned on t-shirts for each member of a fourth line.

It’s grunt work because the job description is demanding. Knock out opposing players by making them play in their own zone, be fast and physical, don’t take a penalty and don’t get hit.

The Canucks had several fourth-line alignments that tick those boxes. They also had that element of someone who could score a goal or two to take the heat out of the top six mix.

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Tyler Motte, now a third-liner with the Ottawa Senators, was great in that regard. But what about Nils Aman’s current lineup between Dakota Joshua and Jack Studnicka?

There’s good news that undrafted rookie Aman is beating all odds, quickly adapting to the North American ice surface and earning a spot on the list. There’s a physical bite in Joshua and size and speed in Studnicka. Joshua had scored two goals in Ottawa on Tuesday night, Aman had one and newcomer Studnicka had yet to score in his first three games.

The Canucks need the kind of goal Joshua scored last Thursday. He got to the net, held his ground, fought for rebounds and jammed one home.

Canucks defenseman Riley Stillman (left) engages in a spirited battle with Minnesota Wild winger Brandon Duhaime during a game October 20 in St. Paul, Minn.
Canucks defenseman Riley Stillman (left) engages in a spirited battle with Minnesota Wild winger Brandon Duhaime during a game October 20 in St. Paul, Minn. Photo by Andy Clayton King /Associated Press Files

Roster roulette fan favorite

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There is no Twitter like Canuck’s Twitter.

No matter what lineup Coach Bruce Boudreau chooses on any given day, there’s always a lot of debate as to whether it makes sense to stick with the status quo rather than refine a new look.

The newest player in the conversation’s crosshairs is Riley Stillman, who has been paired with Tyler Myers. The left-footed defender is lively but has struggled to defend in eight games after being acquired in a trade. He’s a minus-6 with a dozen penalty minutes.

There’s a call for Jack Rathbone, who had played four games and sat the last three before Tuesday, to get a look at the left side. And he finally got it against the Ottawa Senators.

After a stellar 40-point rookie season in the American Hockey League, he always seemed like a natural at bringing speed and passing to the back end. Rathbone’s defense is better at blocking the opponent due to smart stick position, but the Canucks need down-low physical presence.

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Keep this debate and others raging on.

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