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Canucks resume action with visit to powerhouse Panthers

Sportsnaut
Jan 8, 2022; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA;  Florida Panthers left wing Jonathan Huberdeau (11) celebrates his goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during the first period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 8, 2022; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Florida Panthers left wing Jonathan Huberdeau (11) celebrates his goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during the first period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Canucks, who haven’t played since Jan. 1 due to two straight COVID-19 protocol postponements, are set to visit the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.

“We’re not happy with it,” Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau said of the two home games postponed. “That makes it nine games in a row on the road that we’re gonna have.”

COVID-19 aside, Tuesday’s matchup is a good one.

Vancouver has at least one point in nine straight games, going 8-0-1. That includes the past four games on the road.

Florida has the best home record in the NHL at 18-3-0. Overall, the Panthers are 5-0-1 in their past six games, home or road.

Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau enters this week ranked fourth in the NHL in points with 46 and second in assists with 33.

Huberdeau has a five-game point streak, getting three goals and 10 assists during that span. Those 13 points are a five-game franchise record.

“‘Huby’ is a special player,” Panthers winger Anthony Duclair said of Huberdeau. “He’s one of the best playmakers in the league.”

Duclair is another hot Panthers player. He has scored five goals in his past six games, including an overtime tally to beat the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.

The Panthers lead the league this season in goals scored at home with 93, an average of 4.43 tallies per contest.

“We use our home fans to our advantage,” Panthers winger Carter Verhaeghe said. “They are awesome.”

There are five Panthers on the injury/illness list, including three in COVID-19 protocol: backup goalie Spencer Knight and forwards Patric Hornqvist and Mason Marchment.

Besides Huberdeau, the Panthers’ offense is led in points by Aaron Ekblad (29 points) and Verhaeghe (28). Duclair and Aleksander Barkov are tied for the team lead in goals (14), and Sergei Bobrovsky is the top netminder (16-3-3, .917 save percentage, 2.57 goals-against average).

Vancouver has eight players on its illness/injury list, including four in COVID-19 protocol. But Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Jason Dickinson returned from the list to rejoin practice Monday and are expected to play the Panthers.

J.T. Miller leads the Canucks in points (36), and defenseman and power-play quarterback Quinn Hughes tops the squad in assists (26). Miller and Bo Horvat lead Vancouver in goals with 11 each.

Goalie Thatcher Demko, 26, is one win away from tying his career high. He is 15-11-1 with a 2.55 GAA and a .920 save percentage. Poise and quickness are two of his biggest attributes, and the Canucks are hoping he is sharp on Tuesday, despite the layoff.

“We want to play,” Boudreau said of the postponements. “It’s a difficult scenario, but we will have to muddle through. It’s frustrating, but other teams are doing it, too.”

Besides Miller and Horvat, other Canucks forwards to watch are Pettersson and rookie Vasily Podkolzin.

Pettersson, 23, scored 28 and 27 goals in his first two seasons, respectively. However, he has scored just 16 goals in his past 60 games. He missed the first 30 games last season due to a wrist injury, and he has six goals and 11 assists in this campaign.

Podkolzin, 20, was Vancouver’s first-round pick in 2019, No. 10 overall. After signing a three-year deal in May, Podkolzin came over from Russia and has seven goals and two assists in his debut season.

–Field Level Media