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Sure, it’s early, but Vancouver Canucks face crucial test in Vegas

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LAS VEGAS – Will it be a statement or a confession tonight for the Vancouver Canucks?

Fourteen games into their National Hockey League season, the answer to this question seems as difficult to predict as red or black on the roulette wheel after the Canucks were alarmingly bad in Thursday’s 7-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

They play the Vegas Golden Knights Saturday night not so much needing to win, but required to answer some uncomfortable questions about their leadership, their appetite for battle, their willingness to play for coach Travis Green, and about the team general manager Jim Benning constructed and expects to be in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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Yes, that’s a lot packed into one game – Game 15 of an 82-game schedule – but the Canucks appear to be already at a crossroads after obliterating on Thursday what they had built little by little over the previous couple of weeks.

Is another season starting to swirl down the drain or are these Canucks really different from the team that was the worst in Canada last season?

“If you have games like that, you’ve got to respond,” veteran winger J.T. Miller said after the morning skate. “I mean, that shows the identity of the team, it helps with your character and what kind of focus we have as a group. I think we’re all excited to play. This is a perfect game for us right now – for a test. I think it’s going to show a lot about our team identity and character.”

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Centre Jason Dickinson, one of Benning’s summer acquisitions to add experience and two-way grit to the team, said: “We’ve got to come out in the first five or 10 minutes and be the hardest team to play against. They’re not going to get an inch from us, and then carry that through for the rest of the 60 minutes. But the first five or 10 minutes is going to be where we determine our character and our ability to respond to tough situations.”

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Those are strong statements from Miller and Dickinson. Now the Canucks need to back it up against a Golden Knights team that, like the high-powered Avalanche, have been a sleeping giant so far amid key injuries.

Colorado outshot Vancouver 9-0 in the first 10 minutes and 17-3 in the first 25, and had the game won when struggling Canuck star Elias Pettersson’s careless turnover allowed the Avalanche to make it 3-0 halfway through the first period.

And the score wasn’t the worst thing for the Canucks: it was their lack of engagement and pushback, their unconditional surrender against a faster, better team.

They simply did not compete.

“It felt like we were trending (positively) and when something like that happens, you just sit there and you wonder what went wrong,” Dickinson said. “It’s pretty clear we just didn’t win enough battles and didn’t come up with enough pucks. And is that an accumulation of starting to feel good (about our game) and then getting complacent and not pushing to get more? It’s possible. You hope that’s not the case. This is only going to be Game 15 tonight. You’ve got to keep pushing, keep pushing because our record is below .500 right now, and we’re not going to fix that if we’re complacent about where we are.

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“It’s up to each and every guy to get themselves ready to play. I don’t think it’s fair to put any onus on anybody but yourself. You have to be willing to take responsibility for when things don’t go right because you’re going to take responsibility when things do go right. (Thursday) was unacceptable. And until you take responsibility, it’s not going to change.”

The Canucks, 5-7-2 for the season and 2-5-1 since opening with a solid six-game road trip, scrambled their lines for the Knights, Stanley Cup contenders who are 7-2 since losing four of their first five games.

Dickinson moves to left wing and will partner Brock Boeser and Pettersson, who has only three even-strength points, all assists, this season. Miller will play centre between Tanner Pearson and Nils Hoglander, while Bo Horvat centres wingers Conor Garland and Vasily Podkolzin.

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The defence has also been remade, partly due to a two-game suspension to Tucker Poolman for clubbing Avalanche forward Kiefer Sherwood on Thursday.

The Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Tyler Myers pairing has been split up, with Myers moving alongside Quinn Hughes. Ekman-Larsson partners with Kyle Burroughs, while minor-league callup Madison Bowey plays with Brad Hunt.

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Canuck Thatcher Demko is expected to face Robin Lehner in goal.

Vegas has been playing without key injured forwards Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and William Karlsson, and newest Knight Jack Eichel just underwent neck surgery and will be out at least three months.

“It’s simple things, right?” Miller said. “Like competing, skating, win your puck battles and then offensively the ice should open up. We need to be more competitive in this game, and I think this is a perfect opportunity against a team like this in a building like this. This is going to be a fun game.”

It’s Vegas, baby. Place your bets.



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College football rankings: Ohio State, TCU have earned spots in final four

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Michigan and Georgia are clear playoff teams. We’ll soon find out who the CFP Selection Committee thinks deserves a spot beside them.



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No. 11 Utah Utes take down the No. 4 USC Trojans for the PAC 12 Championship | Number One CFB Show

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RJ Young reacts to the No. 11 Utah Utes taking down the No. 4 USC Trojans for the PAC 12 Championship.



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Canucks’ Luke Schenn passes Brooks Orpik for most hits by an NHL defenceman

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Luke Schenn of the Vancouver Canucks, after a six-hit night, has been crowned the hit king amongst NHL defencemen, passing Brooks Orpik for most hits since the stat has been recorded.

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Some 2,947 hits later, the journeyman hasn’t stopped doing what he does best and is now able to say he stands at the peak of his craft. He hit the mark in 888 games.

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A couple of days ago Schenn told Sportsnet that he “didn’t really think too much of it,” and that he “doesn’t really care too much about the number,” however as he broke the record, the fans in attendance made sure to let him know how much they cared.

Chants of “LUKE! LUKE!” broke out at Rogers Arena in Vancouver for the new leader in the category.

The 33-year-old has played for seven teams throughout his career and won two Stanley Cups during his time with the Tampa Bay Lightning. On every team he’s been on, he’s done what he does best. Hit.

Five forwards still remain above him on the hits leaderboard: Milan Lucic, Alex Ovechkin, Matt Martin, Dustin Brown, and the recently coronated Cal Clutterbuck sits atop the rankings with 3,647.

It was a celebratory day for the Schenn family, as brother Brayden played in his 800th NHL game across the country as his St. Louis Blues took on the Pittsburgh Penguins. But Brayden still has a ways to go if he wants to catch up to Luke’s physical domination, as the centre only has 1,700 hits to his name.

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