CANUCKS (18-10-2) at HURRICANES (9-18-5)
TV: SNET-VAN (HD), FS-Carolinas (HD)
LAST 10: Vancouver 8-1-1; Carolina 1-7-2
Season Series: This is the only meeting of the season for the Canucks and Hurricanes. Vancouver took its only game with Carolina last season, topping the 'Canes 5-1 at Rogers Arena on Oct. 17, 2010.
Big Story: Remember when the Canucks were struggling at the season's quarter pole? They don't either. After a torrid last six weeks, Vancouver is looking a lot like last season's Presidents' Trophy winner, and the Canucks will look to keep rolling as they hit the home stretch of a six-game road trip at struggling Carolina.
Canucks: It wasn't too long ago that talk of the Canucks struggling with a Stanley Cup hangover was the No. 1 topic in Vancouver. The shortened summer that comes with a long playoff run can have a profound impact on a team as it prepares for the next season. But lately it seems the Canucks have fought through the early-season slump with impressive aplomb. Once lingering around the bottom of the West's top eight, the Canucks are now fifth in the conference and within hailing distance of first-place Minnesota with three games in hand.
Since losing back-to-back games to the Wild and Blues last month, the Canucks have been among the League's best, going 12-3-1 in their last 16 games. Perhaps the biggest sign that things are back to normal is the impressive play of Roberto Luongo. After getting a challenge for the starting job by backup Cory Schneider, Luongo seems to have quashed any talk of a goalie controversy by going 4-0-1 in his last five starts. Luongo has given up more than one goal in just one of those games.
Hurricanes: A tough season got more difficult for Carolina on Wednesday when the news came that defenseman Joni Pitkanen and leading scorer Jeff Skinner both have been diagnosed with concussions. While Pitkanen is certainly significant for Carolina, the loss of Skinner, last season's Calder Trophy winner, is an enormous blow for a club desperately seeking answers to what has been rough first third of the year.
Carolina currently has the fewest points in the East despite playing the most games in the conference. Times have only gotten tougher lately, as the 'Canes have just one win in their last 10 games, but even the dependable components of the roster have been struggling this season. Goalie Cam Ward, one of the steadiest netminders in recent seasons, has recorded an almost-incomprehensible 3.84 goals-against average over his last eight appearances.
Who's Hot: Just about everyone has been pouring in the points for Vancouver lately, but few have been as impressive as Ryan Kesler, who has 14 points in his last 11 games. ... One bright spot for Carolina: Perhaps captain Eric Staal is starting to regain his scoring touch. Staal has six points in the last four games.
Injury Report: In addition to the losses of Skinner and Pitkanen, the Hurricanes may be without Jay Harrison, who is doubtful with an upper-body injury. … The Canucks have lost Aaron Volpatti for the season due to shoulder surgery, and lost David Booth to a sprained knee last week. He is expected back some time in mid-January.
Stat Pack: The Canucks could be in for a big night on the road. Vancouver's plus-25 goal differential is the second-best mark in the Western Conference. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, have a goal differential of minus-30 -- worst in the League.
Puck Drop: It would be hard to find two teams in the NHL that are going is such dramatically opposite directions as these two -- and for a Canucks team this hot, Carolina may be ripe for the picking. If the Hurricanes can hold off the defending Western Conference champions, it could be the boost they need to help salvage what increasingly has the look of a lost season.