Jason Brough


The undefeated Canucks get their first real test tonight


The Vancouver Canucks haven’t lost yet, but they haven’t held a lead either. After two come-from-behind victories over Calgary and Carolina — both of which required overtime — they’ll get their toughest test of the season tonight at home against the undefeated St. Louis Blues.

“They’re definitely one of the best teams in the league,” Canucks forward Brandon Sutter told TSN 1040 radio this morning. “At least the last five or six years, they’ve been a dominant team in the West. So we expect a hard game. They’re a big team, heavy team, and very good defensively. They’re well-coached, they’re a very good structural team, and those are always the hardest teams to play against.”

Injured for much of last season, Sutter has played the hero twice already. He notched the shootout winner Saturday against Calgary, then scored in overtime Sunday to complete the comeback over Carolina.

But despite the two victories, the Canucks still have much to prove to their many detractors. After all, the Flames and Hurricanes are not the Blues, who are 3-0-0 after beating the Blackhawks, Wild, and Rangers.

Expect winger Jack Skille to replace youngster Jake Virtanen in Vancouver’s lineup. Head coach Willie Desjardins didn’t love Virtanen’s game against the Hurricanes (neither did Joakim Nordstrom, presumably), so Skille will make his Canucks debut on a line with Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi.

Also, goalie Jacob Markstrom will make his second straight start for Vancouver. That wasn’t the plan originally, but Ryan Miller showed up to the rink “a little tight,” per Desjardins, so Markstrom gets the nod.

Update: Miller won’t dress. Markstrom will reportedly be backed up by 23-year-old Matt Hewitt, the goalie for the University of British Columbia.

As for the Blues, it’s possible that winger Jaden Schwartz could return from his elbow injury tonight, but Thursday in Edmonton is more likely, according to NHL.com’s Lou Korac.

Related: Virtanen remains with Canucks, but AHL still an option down the road

The odds say Torts will be fired first


A winless start in Columbus has made John Tortorella the most likely NHL head coach to be fired first, according to online bookmaker Bovada.

Tortorella is getting 13/4 odds to get the ax before any of his counterparts. He’s followed by Willie Desjardins in Vancouver at 7/2 and Islanders bench boss Jack Capuano at 15/4. Next are Michel Therrien in Montreal at 11/2 and Claude Julien in Boston at 13/2, while Alain Vigneault in New York and Paul Maurice in Winnipeg are each at 7/1.

As for Tortorella, there’s no doubt the Blue Jackets are in tough. They lost their first two games of the season and host Chicago Friday. After that, they have four road games against tough competition in Dallas, Los Angeles, San Jose and Anaheim. So it could get worse before it gets better.

That being said, even if the losses pile up, the Jackets may be loath to fire another coach. Tortorella hasn’t even been on the job a year, after replacing Todd Richards last October. And remember, for the privilege of hiring Tortorella, the Jackets had to send Vancouver a second-round draft pick.

Related: Two losses and the Blue Jackets get new lines

The Winter Classic in St. Louis is sold out


Don’t have Winter Classic tickets yet? Well, you’ll have to hit up the secondary market, because the Jan. 2 game between the Blues and Blackhawks at Busch Stadium in St. Louis is sold out.

From the Post-Dispatch:

The NHL put an undisclosed number of tickets to the outdoor game on sale at 10 a.m. viaTicketmaster.com, and minutes later hopeful fans at their computers were turned away.

Busch Stadium will hold an estimated 50,000 fans for the Blues-Blackhawks’ game and the alumni game on Dec. 31, but the Blues did not have control of all those seats. They were split between the NHL, Blues, Blackhawks and Cardinals.

Four outdoor games will be played this season, the first one going this Sunday in Winnipeg between the Jets and Oilers. The next one is scheduled for Jan. 1, when the Maple Leafs will host the Red Wings at BMO Field in Toronto. The Winter Classic is the following day, and the fourth and final outdoor game is set for Feb. 25 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh between the Penguins and Flyers.

The Kings are winless and injured, but at least they’ll get Pearson back tonight


The Los Angeles Kings are hoping the return of Tanner Pearson from his suspension can help them to their first win of the season tonight in Minnesota.

“It gives us more speed in our first two lines, that’s for sure,” head coach Darryl Sutter said, per LA Kings Insider. “I think that we haven’t gotten much out of our left side, if you look at it, all of training camp. So that’ll help, for sure. Tanner’s a guy that you count on and trust, and the fact of the matter is he scored 15 goals last year. We’ve got a lot of guys that didn’t get many goals, so that’s a guy that can contribute, for sure, on the shooting and scoring part.”

Pearson was suspended for the first two games of the regular season, a 2-1 loss in San Jose and a 4-2 defeat at home to Philadelphia. The Kings were also without injured winger Marian Gaborik for those games, and they will be for a while longer. Ditto for goalie Jonathan Quick, who lasted just a period against the Sharks and could miss months with a reported groin injury.

And don’t forget the Kings lost Milan Lucic to free agency over the summer. He scored 20 goals for them last season, and no obvious replacement was brought in.

So some early adversity for the Kings, no doubt about that. They play the Wild tonight, then travel to Dallas for a game Thursday.

Getting Pearson back will be nice, but will it be enough?

Johnson earns second straight start for Flames, after Elliott struggles


Glen Gulutzan knows a goaltending controversy when he sees one. The Flames’ new head coach was an assistant in Vancouver when John Tortorella started Eddie Lack over Roberto Luongo in the 2014 Heritage Classic. It was the “last straw” for Luongo, and a couple of days later came the trade to Florida.

So for Gulutzan, what’s happening in Calgary right now is far from a “goalie controversy.”

But at the very least, let’s call it an interesting development. Because Chad Johnson confirmed to reporters today that he’ll get the start Tuesday when the winless Flames host the Sabres. Brian Elliott started the first two games of the season and got shelled by the Oilers, allowing 10 goals on 55 shots (.818). Johnson then started Saturday night in Vancouver and was solid in a 2-1 shootout loss.

Both Elliott and Johnson are new to the Flames, and both of them are pending unrestricted free agents. So expect the Flames’ goaltending story to be front and center all season long, or at least until the situation stabilizes. Elliott was supposed to be the consistent starter they’ve so badly needed in Calgary; he wanted to be the “backbone of the team.” It’s still very early, but it hasn’t started out that way.

Related: Elliott gets off to tough start with Flames