Canucks Game Day: Horvat and crew aim to keep Sabre-rattling on rugged road

Rasmus Dahlin of the Buffalo Sabres is looking forward to seeing how well Elias Pettersson is playing for the Vancouver Canucks today.

Kevin Hoffman / Getty Images Files

“It’s good because everybody is bringing offence and everyone feels good about that and is gaining confidence,” said Elias Pettersson. “I had some chances (in Boston), but I’d rather win.”

NEXT GAME: Saturday

Vancouver Canucks at Buffalo Sabres

10 a.m. PT, KeyBank Center, SNETP, SNET 650 AM


THE BIG MATCHUP

Bo Horvat vs. Jack Eichel

Another day, another big ask of Bo Horvat.

The workhorse centre will be matched against the Sabres’ top line and that also means getting the better of Jack Eichel in the face-off circle.

The Buffalo captain won 63 per cent of his draws Thursday during a 6-5 overtime win in Montreal. Eichel also leads his club with 19 points (4-15) and has combined with linemates Jeff Skinner (11-7) and Jason Pominville (8-7) for 52 points.

Horvat is coming off a four-point (2-2) outing Thursday in an 8-5 win at Boston and won 16 of his 30 draws, while helping to keep the Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak combo to one goal and two points.

FIVE KEYS TO THE GAME

1. Pettersson always makes point

Held to a secondary assist Thursday, Elias Pettersson still has 17 points (10-7) and an eight-point lead in the Calder Trophy race. More important, the Swedish centre has embraced a three-zone awareness to complement his underrated skating, precise playmaking and superlative shot.

And his we-not-me mantra is infectious. So what if he doesn’t score?

“It’s good because everybody is bringing offence and everyone feels good about that and is gaining confidence,” Pettersson said Friday. “I had some chances (in Boston), but I’d rather win.”

Pettersson is also winning more draws and was 6-for-11 in Boston.

2. Dahlin will be worth watching

Rasmus Dahlin, the first-overall pick in the 2018 draft, is acclimating to the NHL as a third-pairing defenceman. His five points (1-4) in 16 games don’t tell the true story.

“He’s good defensively but sometimes he plays like a forward with his stickhandling,” said Pettersson, who played with Dahlin at the world juniors and against him in Sweden.

“He’s quick on his feet, so I can’t sell myself and put me in a bad position.”

3. Watch out for the Sabre dance

There’s a humble nature to Dahlin that masks how good he is and is going to be.

“It’s a scary sight, especially his composure in tight areas,” said Sabres winger Sam Reinhart. The biggest adjustment has been off ice.

“New language, new country and as a defenceman, there’s a big responsibility,” said Dahlin. “And with Pettersson, his hockey IQ is something special and it’s so fun to see him play.”

4. Eriksson turning back clock?

Loui Eriksson got to the net on his first goal Thursday in Boston — it started with a Markus Granlund chance off a turnover and an Erik Gudbranson shot — before the Swede backhanded a rebound home. He then went one better by tipping a Ben Hutton power-play point shot down. He also had a team-high three takeaways.

5. Can defence remain offensive?

Gudbranson has points in four straight games (1-4) and his six points are already higher than last season. Ben Hutton had two points Thursday (1-1) and his six points (4-2) have already equalled 2017-18. The reason?

Both defencemen are skating better, are more confident and jumping up into the play.

CANUCKS’ LINES

Forwards

Tim Schaller — Bo Horvat — Loui Eriksson

Nikolay Goldobin — Elias Pettersson — Jake Virtanen

Antoine Roussel — Markus Granlund — Tyler Motte

Darren Archibald — Adam Gaudette — Brendan Leipsic

Defence

Ben Hutton — Erik Gudbranson

Derrick Pouliot — Chris Tanev

Michael Del Zotto — Troy Stecher

Goalies

Jacob Markstrom, Richard Bachman

SABRES’ LINES

Forwards

Jeff Skinner — Jack Eichel — Jason Pommonville

Conor Sheary — Casey Mittelstatdt — Kyle Okposo

Vladimir Sobotka — Evan Rodrigues — Sam Reinhart

Patrik Berglund — Johan Larsson — Tage Thompson

Defence

Jake McCabe — Rasmus Ristolainen

Zach Bogosian — Marco Scandella

Rasmus Dahlin — Nathan Beaulieau

Goalies

Carter Hutton, Linus Ullmark

SICK BAY

Canucks: Brock Boeser (groin, day-to-day), Brandon Sutter (separated shoulder, IR), Anders Nilsson (finger fracture, day-to-day). Sven Baertschi (concussion, IR), Alex Edler (knee sprain, IR), Jay Beagle (forearm fracture, IR);

Sabres: Matt Hunwick (neck, IR), Scott Wilson (fractured ankle, IR)

SPECIAL TEAMS

Power play

Canucks: 13th (21.1%) | Sabres: 18th (18.6 %)

Penalty kill

Canucks: 17th (79.4%) | Sabres: 16th (80%)

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