Canucks Game Day: Why Sabre rattling is recipe to get game in order

‘It would end with one mistake. Now it’s two or three and that’s what upsets me the most. Sometimes old habits come back.’ — Canucks coach Rick Tocchet

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Buffalo Sabres (32-31-5) at Vancouver Canucks (42-18-8)

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(Before Buffalo game in Seattle on Monday.)

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When and where: Tuesday, 7 p.m., Rogers Arena

TV: SN Pacific. Radio: Sportsnet 650

The buzz: It’s not about them, it’s about us.

That credo has carried the Canucks to a remarkable season of redemption by adhering to and maintaining structure and resilience to remain in contention for first overall in the NHL standings. However, those non-negotiable staples have loosened to such a degree that they’re no longer something to shrug off.

Something is clearly amiss.

Whether it’s blowing leads, readiness or reads, zone exits or entries, plodding play with or without the puck, a struggling power play, or not going hard to the net to draw infractions, it’s not one thing. It’s everything.

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In preparation for a playoff run, and not just a one-and-done exit, the Canucks need to gather their complete game in 14 remaining regular-season games.

And whether it’s contenders like the Vegas Golden Knights, Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers and the Winnipeg Jets who remain on the slate — or those jacked to play spoiler — a Tuesday test against the Buffalo Sabres isn’t another game.

They’re chasing a wild-card post-season position and pushing the Canucks aside is part of the process.

One of the cards Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet can play is to shuffle his deck. He did at practice Monday.

He aligned Conor Garland with Elias Pettersson to give the centre a needed-speedy, puck chasing, sweet passing right winger. Ilya Mikheyev was dropped to the third line and Vasily Podkolzin to the fourth. Nils Aman was reinserted and Phil Di Giuseppe was the extra forward.

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Canucks coach Rick Tocchet drew up the plan and delegated authority to coaching assistants to turn the club into contenders. Now all that is being tested. Photo by Jeff Vinnick /NHLI via Getty Images

“The urgency has to come now,” warned Tocchet. “Guys have bounced back before, but this is a different part of the season — the stretch with a lot of desperate teams — and we have to be more committed with better back-checking and the things we’ve let slip.

“What we worked on this year was not having one mistake lead to another. It would end at one. Now, it’s two or three mistakes and that’s what upsets me the most since the All-Star break. Sometimes old habits come back.

“I’m not surprised. You’re going to go through this sort of stuff, but you can’t wait for the next guy to do it. We need guys to take charge. And when the pressure is hitting you, go find it. You can’t hide from it.”

Even when the Canucks get into a position to shoot, efforts are getting blocked or missing the net. On Saturday in a disturbing 2-1 loss to the Washington Capitals, they had 27 blocked shots and 21 missed the mark.

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“We’re not moving our feet to change the angle of the shot,” added Tocchet. “You can’t have that because you’re not going to win those games.”

The history: The Canucks pushed an impressive road-trip record to five straight wins in Buffalo on Jan, 13. Thatcher Demko made 26 saves, including one off a scramble with five seconds left, for his fourth shutout in 1-0 triumph. Sam Lafferty scored the lone goal.

The hope: Staying out of the penalty box and not disrupting momentum. Avoiding stick penalties with better body-positioning in the defensive zone will avoid turnovers and trigger transition.

The fear: Another domino effect in which one mistake leads to another. A crippling combination of errors with and without the puck has disrupted an ability to play a strong pressure game.

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The top guns: Elias Pettersson is tied for 11th in league scoring with 79 points (31-48). J.T. Miller is tied for seventh wth 87 points (33-54), Quinn Hughes is 13th with 77 points (13-64) and Brock Boeser is 27th with 66 points (36-30.)

The wounded: Canucks: Thatcher Demko (knee, week-to-week), and Dakota Joshua (hand, week-to-week, LTIR). Sabres: Jack Quinn (upper body, IR), and Mattias Samuelson (lower body, IR).

The quote: “I can’t coach where guys are squeezing sticks, but there’s going to be some heat here. They have to handle it.” — Rick Tocchet

The lineup: 








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The prediction: The Canucks take advantage of the Sabres on the second half of back-to-back games. They actually draw penalties and score a power-play goal in a 4-2 triumph.

(FAN FORUM: Do you have a specific question for a player? Pass it along to @provincesports and we’ll get it in a future edition.)

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