VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Can the Vancouver Canucks surprise again?
That's the question heading into Monday's contest between the hometown Canucks (5-3-0) and the visiting Washington Capitals (3-2-2).
The Canucks were expected to struggle from the get-go of this National Hockey League season, but they have managed to beat tough opponents in Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, among others. Vancouver's latest feat was an overtime victory at home over Boston, which always sparks emotions due to its triumph in seven games over the Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals.
Now, the Canucks will try to better the defending champions.
To do that, they will likely have to get more offense from center Bo Horvat and second-year winger Brock Boeser, who teamed up for the winning goal Saturday. The Canucks need them to keep producing as star rookie Elias Pettersson remains out with a concussion.
"Brock and I have some good chemistry out there and, thankfully, the pucks are going in right now," Horvat told reporters.
Horvat has five goals and one assist in the club's first eight games. He sits second in club scoring behind Pettersson, 19, who accrued eight points before he was sidelined by a hit from Florida defenseman Mike Matheson. The Panthers rearguard received a two-game suspension for his actions.
Boeser is tied for third in team scoring with Sven Baertschi. They both have five points.
Vancouver will have to shine again with Pettersson. He has resumed skating on his own, but his return date remains uncertain.
Vancouver goaltender Jacob Markstrom is confident that the youth-laden Canucks can turn in another solid effort when the Capitals visit.
"When we play organized and when we play for each other and everybody's giving 100 per cent, we can beat any team," he told reporters.
Meanwhile, the Capitals are looking to regain top form after last season's first ever title and a summer of celebration.
"We're still trying to find our game," forward Brett Connolly told The Washington Post. "Would we have liked to have picked up where we left off? Yes. But it's not easy. We played a lot of hockey last year and (had) a short summer, and you come in here and there are a lot of distractions, a lot of that kind of stuff. We've done some good things, and we've done some not- so-good things. I think if you look at last season, we weren't very good either at the start. We weren't at our best. Just take the positives and know that we can overcome that.
It hasn't been disastrous. We're still getting points, we're still above .500 right now with a tough couple back-to-backs to start the year. So (it's) not the worst start, but obviously we have another level."
The Capitals will visit picturesque Victoria, B.C., after Monday's contest as they have a two-day break between games. But according to forward Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals are not guilty of being too relaxed by thinking they are stable club too soon.
"I don't feel that we have that attitude in the locker room," Backstrom told The Washington Post. "It's a process. We want to get better as a team, we want to play the same way as we did last year, so we've just got to keep working."