Rested Canucks return home to face Coyotes
Arizona Coyotes at Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks hope some rare rest and relaxation will pay off Thursday.
The Canucks will play their first January home game against the Arizona Coyotes (18-21-3) following a four-day break between games.
Coach Travis Green welcomed the chance to put his charges through full practices this week while also giving them some time off after a grueling six-game road trip.
"Our team's a lot sharper when we get to practice -- especially in our habits (and) our execution," Green told reporters.
The Canucks spent part of the workout time trying to improve their offensive play through drills emphasizing rushes and others focused on moving the puck around the offensive zone.
For good reason.
The Canucks have been shut out in four in their past seven games, including three of the past four. They are struggling to make up for the absence of gifted rookie and team leading scorer Elias Pettersson, who is out with a sprained knee suffered in Montreal. The Canucks are also grappling with the absence of injured winger Josh Leivo, who earned a spot on the top line and had been contributing offensively following a trade from Toronto.
Rookie center Adam Gaudette was recalled from Utica of the AHL this week to help fill the void, but he is still adjusting to life as a pro and his production has been spotty.
The respite between games also gave highly touted goaltending prospect Thatcher Demko a chance to get acclimated after being promoted from Utica last weekend. General manager Jim Benning cleared the way for Demko's promotion by trading former backup Anders Nilsson to Ottawa in a package that temporarily brought journeyman netminder Mike McKenna, 35, to the Canucks before losing him on waivers to Philadelphia.
The Canucks had hoped to send McKenna to Utica to help bolster a Comets squad beset by injuries to its goaltenders. But he was claimed by a Flyers squad that also had netminder health woes.
Demko, considered Vancouver's starting goaltender of the future, was grateful for the chance to settle in. He sported an 8-5-1 record, 2.58 goals-against average and .911 save percentage with Utica after returning in late November from a concussion suffered during Vancouver's training camp.
The 23-year-old San Diego native has been trying to improve the little details of his game as he prepares for permanent NHL duty following two-plus seasons in the minors and a standout collegiate career at Boston College.
"I just wanted to make sure that, when I got here, I was as well-prepared as I could be," Demko told reporters.
He has one career NHL game under his skates after backstopping the Canucks to a win over Columbus during a brief call-up. He is slated to be the understudy to starter Jacob Markstrom, who is playing some of the best hockey of his career, for the foreseeable future.
Demko vowed to keep studying his craft after his rise through the collegiate and minor-league ranks.
"I'm always a student," he said. "I'm always watching some film and I've got my notebook out and stuff like that. Nothing's really gonna change here."
Meanwhile, like the Canucks, the Coyotes are dealing with injuries to key players, including top goaltender Antti Raanta, forwards Nick Schmaltz and Christian Dvorak, and defenseman Jason Demers -- who are all out for the season.
The Coyotes are coming off a 5-0 victory Sunday over the New York Rangers, but that was their only win during a four-game homestand. Arizona hopes to continue to receive offense from rookie winger Conor Garland, who has scored three of his five career in the last two games. He scored twice in the win over the Rangers as shots went in off him both times.
Not bad considering that Garland began the season in the minors after a broken hand suffered in the preseason denied him an anticipated spot with the Coyotes.
"I don't care if (his goals) were off his pants or not," Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet told The Arizona Republic. "He was in front of the net and they (went) in. I give him a lot of credit because he's in front of the net and he's a small guy."
"I feel more and more comfortable after every game," Garland told same newspaper. "I get to watch video after the games, talk to the coaches and learn new things. It's feeling a lot more comfortable and (the game is) slowing down (in my mind) so that feels good."
The 22-year-old Scituate, Mass., native has scored more goals (five) than any other Coyote since Dec. 22.
Garland is turning heads after not generating any prediction of NHL greatness. He was an unheralded fifth-round (123rd overall) draft pick of the Coyotes in 2015. He spent all of 2016-17 and 2017-18 with Tucson of the AHL.
"I'll be honest with you; I didn't know much about him last year," said Tocchet.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 9, 2019