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Canucks seek surge in January, beginning with Islanders game

Dec 31, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Vancouver Canucks forward Bo Horvat (53) shoots the puck against goalie Jacob Markstrom (25) during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

The Vancouver Canucks head into 2023 and a Tuesday home game against the New York Islanders with plenty of work to do if they hope to make the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since the 2019-20 season.

The Canucks fell eight points behind third-place Calgary in the Pacific Division with a 3-2 road loss to the Flames on New Year’s Eve and are now seven points out of the final Western Conference wild-card spot. The month of January, which features a difficult five-game road trip that includes stops in Winnipeg, Tampa Bay and Carolina, is key for Vancouver.

Just ask center J.T. Miller.

“Until the break here, the bye week and the All-Star break (in early February), we have a really hard schedule,” Miller said after practice on Monday. “So from our standpoint, we have to be good this month or it’s going to be ugly for sure. We’ll try to play a really solid game (Tuesday) and go from there.”

The Canucks managed just five wins in January last season and went on to finish five points shy of a wild-card spot and seven points out of third in the Pacific.

“It’s a new year,” said center Bo Horvat, who leads the team with 26 goals. “It’s a big opportunity for us coming up to gain a lot of points. We’ve got to go out and do it now.

“Teams are starting to hit their full stride and making those playoff pushes,” Horvat added. “And we’re one of those teams that are still in the hunt, and we’ve got to get ready to go for this last stretch.”

First up are the Islanders, who had a three-game winning streak snapped with a 4-1 loss at Seattle on Sunday in the first game of a four-game road trip that also includes a back-to-back at Edmonton and Calgary.

Mathew Barzal scored his 100th career goal at the 17:30 mark of the first period to tie it at 1, but the Kraken took control after that. They outshot New York 15-6 in the second period while building a 3-1 lead on goals by Eeli Tolvanen and Oliver Bjorkstrand. Brandon Tanev sealed the win with an empty-netter.

“It’s nice, but at the end of the day would rather have gotten the win,” Barzal said of his milestone goal.

“We weren’t executing,” Islanders coach Lane Lambert said. “We weren’t clean on our breakouts, and it starts there. You can’t play with speed if you don’t execute or exit cleanly, and we didn’t do that. We didn’t generate anything because we just didn’t play the game the right way.”

Barzal agreed.

“It wasn’t great, man,” he said of the Islanders’ performance. “There wasn’t a lot of puck possession. A lot of errors. Some ugly hockey out there. … Fast team. Played up-tempo. It just seemed like they were coming at us in waves all night.”

Left wing Anders Lee said it was important that New York, which entered the new year tied in points with Pittsburgh for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, bounces back from the loss to the Kraken.

“This is an important four-game road trip,” Lee said. “Obviously dropped the first one, so the next one is big.”

–Field Level Media