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Toronto Maple Leafs at Vancouver Canucks Preview: Hosts on the Coast

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The Leafs head to British Columbia for a two-game set against Elias Pettersson & friends.

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Toronto Maple Leafs Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Game 25: Toronto Maple Leafs at Vancouver Canucks
Time: 10:00 PM EST
Place: Rogers Arena
Channel: TSN

Game 26: Toronto Maple Leafs at Vancouver Canucks
Time: 7:00 PM EST
Place: Rogers Arena
Channel: CBC

Fresh off their sweep of the Edmonton Oilers, the Leafs journey further west for a pair of games in Vancouver.

It’s been a tough season thus far for the Vancouver Canucks, as last year’s playoff showing turned out to be a false dawn. Their defence ranks either at or near the bottom of the NHL depending on how you choose to measure such things, and their offence hasn’t been able to overcome a raft of dead-weight depth players. Add that together, and you have a team that’s won three of its last ten, has its playoff chances down to 6%, and is now in the embarrassing position of trying to fend off the plucky Ottawa Senators for second-last in the Scotia North Division (tm).

It’s not always funny, baby, but I hope you don’t mind, when I tell you that it sure is sometimes.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards

Joe Thornton - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Alexander Kerfoot - John Tavares - William Nylander
Ilya Mikheyev - Pierre Engvall - Zach Hyman
Jimmy Vesey - Nic Petan - Jason Spezza

Defence

Morgan Rielly - T.J. Brodie
Jake Muzzin - Justin Holl
Travis Dermott - Zach Bogosian

Goaltenders

Michael Hutchinson
Frederik Andersen

Update: As per Sheldon Keefe, reported by Kristen Shilton, Nic Petan will draw in for Travis Boyd. Goaltending remains TBD.

These lines, as well as starting goalie Michael Hutchinson, are my best guess pending an update. Seemingly the entire Leafs lineup has minor injuries they’re playing through or taking maintenance days for, so things are very much in flux. That said, given how well the triplet games against the Oilers went, I wouldn’t blame Sheldon Keefe for taking an it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it attitude.

Vancouver Canucks

Forwards

J.T Miller - Elias Pettersson - Brock Boeser
Tanner Pearson - Bo Horvat - Nils Hoglander
Loui Eriksson- Brandon Sutter - Adam Gaudette
Antoine Roussel - Jay Beagle - Jayce Hawryluk

Defence

Alexander Edler - Nate Schmidt
Quinn Hughes - Travis Hamonic
Jordie Benn - Tyler Myers

Goaltenders

Thatcher Demko
Brayden Holtby

Update: The Canucks have also made a couple of lineup changes, with Jake Virtanen being bumped out by Hoglander and salary cap anchor Loui Eriksson joining the third line. The 4RW has also changed; I didn’t know who the old guy was and I don’t know who the new guy is so that’s not a huge deal.

If nothing else, the Canucks still have a top offensive line that can score against anybody. Pettersson slumped brutally to start the year, but his production has been returning to his usual high level recently (seven points in his last five games); Brock Boeser is a very fine sniper to complement the playmaking 1C, and J.T. Miller adds some speed and additional offence. I genuinely believe that this line could be the top line on a contender, and maybe it’ll even get the chance to one day if the Canucks start being run better.

Bo Horvat is sometimes used as a more defensive centre for the Canucks, although not always. Tanner Pearson is a worthy second-line sidekick, but Jake Virtanen, bless his heart, has now hit the “needs a fresh start” stage of prospect disappointment. Vancouver apparently has already come close to trading him this season, except the deal stalled on salary retention. It feels a bit unkind to mention he was drafted ahead of William Nylander, but I guess I just did it again. Oh well.

The bottom six is where things get rough. The only real positive there is neato rookie Nils Hoglander, who has been a rare bright spot for the Canucks this season and looks like he’ll be a top-six fixture before long. The fourth line has a combined cap hit of $6,825,000, which is probably enough said about it.

Nate Schmidt hasn’t been able to save the Canucks’ defence group; nor has dazzling young offensive defenceman Quinn Hughes, despite a bevy of points. So far as I can tell, those two players skew more offensive in style, and the defensive partners on their pairings haven’t been able to hold up their end of the bargain, leading to a defence group that doesn’t stop a hell of a lot. I doubt they can be as bad as they looked when the Leafs were turnstiling them earlier this year, but it’s not going well.

And that leaves the goaltenders, who honestly deserve our sympathy for their workload against. Brayden Holtby has struggled badly under the strain, while Thatcher Demko has at least looked competent, which is an achievement given what he faces. Demko maturing into a reliable starter looks like an encouraging turn for the Canucks, who view him as their starter for the future. The future might be coming about now on that one, actually.

As much as I’ve rained on them, the Canucks are an NHL team with a good top line that can certainly win games, rarely though they have done so this season. The Leafs are in the second game of a back-to-back on the road, and the Canucks had last night off. And Vancouver is well aware that whatever chance at the playoffs they have left involves winning a whole lot more starting ASAP. So Toronto can’t count on winning with a B-game showing. If they bring their best stuff, though, I like their odds.

Go Leafs Go!