After solid road trip, Canucks face inconsistent Blues

After winning three times on a five-game road trip, the Vancouver Canucks believe their game is in a good place as they return home.

They carry momentum into opening their three-game homestand, which begins Friday against the St. Louis Blues. The Canucks enter the matchup off back-to-back victories at Florida and Nashville.

“We ended up having a really great road trip, and we’ve got a great blueprint on how to play to be successful,” Canucks defenseman Ian Cole said.

“We’re fine-tuning now but I think we still have more in us,” center Elias Pettersson said. “We still can be better in our details and everything and I can work on my goal scoring.”

Pettersson has two goals and eight assists in six games. Brock Boeser is the team’s top goal-scorer with six, while J.T. Miller (two goals, six assists) is also off to a strong start.

Last season, the Canucks ranked dead last in the NHL in penalty killing at just 71.6 percent. This season they showed immediate improvement with two victories over the explosive Edmonton Oilers.

Overall, the Canucks have killed 78.3 percent of their penalties this season, which ranks in the middle of the pack. Goaltender Thatcher Demko (2-2-0, 2.57 goals-against average) said the team has done a better job of denying seam passes from side to side.

“A lot of the plays are either shots from the flank or the low jams which are my responsibility, so I’m proud of that unit,” Demko said. “I think that we started the year off against the best power play of all time for two games and thought we came away from that pretty happy and just continue to build on it. It’s going to be an important part of our game here if we want to make the playoffs.”

The Blues, who have alternated wins and losses since the season began, will be making their final stop on a three-game Canadian swing. They fell 4-2 to the Jets on Tuesday night and blanked the Flames 3-0 on Thursday night.

“Good solid 60 minutes,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “Right from the get-go in the game, I liked the way we were moving and skating and playing. Our forecheck, we established that right away. And our cycle game was good.

“Putting pucks deep and just putting pressure on them, we got some opportunities and looks right away. It just feeds confidence in the group.”

Berube shuffled his forward lines against the Jets and devised new lineup configurations against the Flames. Defensemen Robert Bortuzzo and Scott Perunovich made their first appearances of the season while replacing defenseman Tyler Tucker and winger Jakub Vrana with an 11-forward, seven-defensemen alignment.

Berube said Vrana must be stronger away from the puck to stay in the lineup.

“Last couple of games for me, just not seeing a lot,” Berube said. “We need more from him. It’s all on his play on the ice, that’s all. He’s got to be better.”

The Blues plugged Bortuzzo onto the penalty-killing unit and added Perunovich to the power play. Joel Hofer earned the 27-save shutout in Calgary, so Jordan Binnington (2-1-1, 1.68 GAA) is expected to start against the Canucks.