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Posted On Saturday, 03.10.2012 / 1:42 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Agressive-minded Josi still adjusting for Predators

NASHVILLE – For the second time this season, Predators rookie defenseman Roman Josi took an aggressive approach in an even-numbered situation on Thursday and for the second time it ended up in the back of his net.

Earlier this season when Dallas’ Mike Ribeiro did it to him on Jan. 5, and Predators coach Barry Trotz said that Josi, an excellent skater with an offensive upside who has four goals and 11 assists in 46 games, needed time to learn the League’s personnel.

Trotz sounded that theme again Saturday after Colorado’s David Jones beat him Thursday night along the boards, creating a 2-on-1 that led to Jamie McGinn’s goal. (Nashville also had a blown coverage on the back end of the play, further complicating the situation.)

“What happened was he got bent over reaching,” Trotz said. “If you’re going to expose yourself to try to stand up a guy, you really can’t do that because you get on your toes, then you can’t turn. You’ve got to sit back on your heels and if you’re going to stand the guy, at least you can push forward… Those are little things we talk about one-on-one. He got a little bit anxious and he exposed himself outside the dots and he certainly got walked there….

"Those are just quick decisions that happen in games. Jose is pretty good one-on-one because of his skating ability. Once he goes through the League a couple of times, he’ll know what to expect all the time.”

Josi said it was a bad play, but he was glad later to earn a primary assist to help put Nashville ahead 2-1.

“You got 0.1 seconds to decide what to do,” Josi said. “I decided to be aggressive. … kind of a pretty good move. I got beat a little bit. I poke-checked him and the puck went in the corner, but it was 2-on-1 after that so it’s tough sometimes, but you have to learn out of those situations and next time you can avoid them.”

Nashville coach Barry Trotz would not say whether forward Colin Wilson would return to the lineup on Saturday against Detroit. Wilson was a healthy scratch for the first time this season in a 4-2 win Thursday over Colorado.

Last season, Wilson, 22, a high first-round pick of Nashville’s, was scratched for a protracted period at the end of last season and then into the start of the playoffs until the coaching staff convinced him his play had to improve. Trotz said after Thursday that he did not expect the situation to repeat itself.

Projected lineup:

Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Andrei Kostitsyn - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist
Matt Halischuk - Nick Spaling - Jordin Tootoo
Gabriel Bourque - Paul Gaustad - Brandon Yip

Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Hal Gill - Roman Josi
Francis Bouillon - Ryan Ellis

Out: Brian McGrattan, Colin Wilson, Craig Smith, Jack Hillen
Posted On Thursday, 03.08.2012 / 3:02 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Ankle injury to sideline Duchene 3-4 weeks

NASHVILLE -- Colorado center Matt Duchene's ankle injury will keep him out 3-4 weeks, coach Joe Sacco said on Thursday, costing the team one of its top players in the midst of a playoff drive.

Duchene, who has 13 goals and 13 assists in 48 games, hurt himself in Tuesday's 7-1 win over Minnesota after playing 11:36. It's the second time this season the Avs will be without the two-time 20-goal scorer, as a knee injury cost Duchene 20 games between Dec. 31 and Feb. 17. Colorado entered the day 10th in the Western Conference, but tied with 74 points with both San Jose and Los Angeles, which are in the eighth and ninth spots, respectively.

Sacco said the injury will not require surgery.

"We've done a good job of dealing with injuries and throughout this season we haven't had that many -- knock on wood -- not as many as we've had the last couple of years," Sacco said. "But he missed a significant amount of time before that with a knee injury and we were OK. It's just an opportunity, maybe, for other people to step into maybe more of a role than they previously had."

Sacco said for Thursday's game with Nashville, Mark Olver would move to Duchene's spot at center. Olver, 24, who was called up from Lake Erie (AHL) on Feb. 16, has 3 goals and 2 assists and is plus-3 in 10 games.

In hindsight, two moves that Colorado made before the NHL trading deadline passed that brought more scoring look prescient. The Avalanche sent defenseman Kyle Quincey to Tampa Bay and received forward Steve Downie, who has 14 goals, in return. Downie has 2 goals and 8 assists in seven games since coming over.

They also acquired left wing Jamie McGinn from the Sharks with Mike Connolly and Michael Sgarbossa for TJ Galiardi, Daniel Winnik and a seventh-round pick in 2013. McGinn, who has 15 goals on the season, has 3 goals and 1 assist in four games since joining Colorado.

"We feel we have good depth at all our positions right now," Sacco said. "We have good depth up front, we have good depth on defense, our goaltending's been pretty solid for us throughout the whole course of the season, so it is nice obviously when you lose a body here or there that you know you can rely on a couple guys for at the deadline, Downie, both him and Jamie McGinn, both players have been real good for us since the trade.

"Both are starting to find their way around the locker room, their way around the players, but more importantly they've been very productive and have had an impact on our team in a positive way, so they've been good."

Downie missed Sunday's game with Minnesota because of an injury, but returned on Tuesday and had 3 assists in 18:27 of time on ice. Sacco said he was fine to play on Thursday.

Thursday will be the first time that Avs defenseman Shane O'Brien, a member of the Predators last season, will play against his former team this season. O'Brien was an important penalty killer for the Predators, as they won the first playoff round in franchise history last season in the first round against Anaheim.

O'Brien ended up departing as a free agent and signing with Colorado in the offseason. O'Brien, who is now with his fifth team in six NHL seasons, had something of a reputation as perhaps a malcontent -- Nashville coach Barry Trotz affectionately referred to him as a "chirper" on Thursday.

O'Brien thanked Nashville for helping to rehab that image.

"I was probably a little surprised," O'Brien said. "I wasn't disappointed. I mean, they gave me a great opportunity to come in and kind of just change my, maybe persona, the way people thought about me around the League. Trotzy was unbelievable with me all year. (General manager David) Poile was great, everybody was great.

"I was a little surprised maybe when they didn't re-sign me, but that's the business side of it. Obviously, no hard feelings. It was a great year and that's the way the business works."
Projected lineup:
Jamie McGinn - Paul Stastny - David Jones
Steve Downie - Ryan O'Reilly - Gabriel Landeskog
Mike Connolly - Mark Olver - Peter Mueller
Cody McLeod - Jay McClement - Milan Hejduk
Shane O'Brien - Erik Johnson
Jan Hejda - Ryan Wilson
Matt Hunwick - Stefan Elliott
Semyon Varlamov
Jean-Sebastien Giguere
Posted On Thursday, 03.08.2012 / 12:54 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Predators to give Yip a look against former team

NASHVILLE -- From the time that the Colorado Avalanche put forward Brandon Yip on waivers and he landed with the Nashville Predators on Jan. 19, Thursday's game with his former team has been on his mind.

"Yeah, for sure, I think any time you get traded, a team lets you go, or even if you're just playing your old teammates, you definitely look at the calendar and you're excited definitely for that game," Yip said. "I'm fired up for tonight."

Although it might have been unnecessary to say so, Yip mentioned several times how excited he was. He said he went out with six or seven former teammates on Wednesday night after the Avs arrived in town.

Yip played only 10 games in Colorado this season, often being made a healthy scratch, and had no goals. He has 1 goal and 2 assists in 13 games with Nashville.

Last season, Yip had a promising 10 goals and 12 assists in 71 games, and Nashville likes his size at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds. Since Nashville picked up forwards Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad at the trade deadline, Yip has had a harder time getting in the lineup.

He was a scratch for the last three games, but coach Barry Trotz gave him the heads-up that he would play against his former team a few days ago. Nonetheless, as Nashville tries to settle on its expected playoff lineup, Trotz said he likes Yip's chances to earn a regular spot.

"I think he's really worked hard, him and (Matt Halischuk), and those guys are setting themselves up to unseat some guys, if guys' play doesn't pick up here, so I know Brandon will be a good fit," Trotz said.

Following Tuesday's 5-4 loss to Los Angeles, Trotz was unhappy with what he called some players' commitment level. Asked if Craig Smith and Colin Wilson could be scratched on Thursday, Trotz said, "possibly."

"The guys that are bringing it every night are the guys I'm going to start putting in, and I'm not going to be concerned about 'Do I have enough power-play guys?'" Trotz said. "I'm just going to put the guys that are deserving in terms of accountability. If you're not detailed in your game, if you're not willing to play a 200-foot game, then maybe I'll change you out.

"Whoever comes out tonight, it doesn't mean that they're not going to get back in, but I'm going to increase the urgency level -- a) to get in and, b) to stay in."

Both Wilson and Smith earn power-play time for Nashville.

Yip is looking forward to the opportunity that Thursday is providing him.

"Absolutely, that's the biggest thing on my mind right now, to prove I can be in this lineup and be a contributing factor in every game," Yip said. "Like you said, there's not much regular season left and we're getting geared up for the playoffs and kind of getting in that playoff mode right now. It's exciting for everyone and it's good healthy competition."
Projected lineup:
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Andrei Kostitsyn - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist
Gabriel Bourque - Nick Spaling - Jordin Tootoo
Matt Halischuk - Paul Gaustad - Brandon Yip
Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Hal Gill - Roman Josi
Francis Bouillon - Ryan Ellis
Out: Brian McGrattan, Colin Wilson, Craig Smith, Jack Hillen
Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 2:50 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Once a shutdown pairing, Scuderi, Gill face off

NASHVILLE -- Since they won a Stanley Cup together as a defense pair with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill have not crossed paths much on the ice.

Scuderi signed with Los Angeles and Gill with Montreal after that 2008-09 season. Since Gill was traded to Nashville, both players are now in the Western Conference. Through a quirk in the schedule, Los Angeles is visiting Nashville for the second time in eight days and Nashville visits the Kings again 11 days from now.

Gill's wife and three children are visiting him this week during a break for the schools in Montreal so he was not able to get together with Scuderi on Monday. Nonetheless, he considers Scuderi, 33, a good friend. (Gill, 36, played his college hockey at Providence College while Scuderi played his at Boston College, but both make their offseason homes in the Boston suburbs.)

Scuderi has 1 goal (his third in the last three seasons) and 7 assists this season and is minus-1 while averaging 20:25 of time on ice. The Kings are ninth in the Western Conference, just a point out of the final playoff spot entering Tuesday's games.

"I think we both see the game pretty similar," Gill said. "Play good defense. Take away passing lanes, take away shot lanes. Try and make the first pass, make it tape-to-tape and support our (defense) partners. For the most part, other than us playing together, we've always been with an offensive guy and we kind of play center defense, I guess."

In consecutive seasons playing against Detroit in the Stanley Cup Final, Gill and Scuderi often matched up against the Red Wings' top offensive players such as Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

"Usually, we got the big line," Gill said. "It was fun. You have that challenge every game. It gives you something to play for. As a defensive defenseman, you're not going out there and trying to score goals, so you don't get that glory unless you do a good job shutting down their top line."

In '09 during the Cup Final, Scuderi famously misspoke and referred to himself as "the piece" of the puzzle that the Penguins needed to win it all. His teammates then, with mock affection, nicknamed him "The Piece."

"We got on him pretty good because that's not his personality at all," Gill said.

Despite backup goalie Jonathan Bernier's 5-1 lifetime record against Nashville, Kings coach Darryl Sutter said he will go with No. 1 Jonathan Quick in goal on Tuesday because each game is now like a Game 7 for the Kings with 17 games remaining. Quick, who is second in the League in shutouts with seven and third in save percentage at .932, has never beaten the Predators in his career, as he is 0-4-1 against them, losing 2-1 at Bridgestone Arena eight days ago.
Projected lines:
Justin Williams - Anze Kopitar - Dustin Brown
Dwight King - Mike Richards - Jeff Carter
Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford - Colin Fraser - Jordan Nolan
Rob Scuderi - Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Alec Martinez - Matt Greene
Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier
Out: Brad Richardson, Davis Drewiske, Kevin Westgarth
Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 2:18 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Preds debate Ellis vs. Hillen on defense

NASHVILLE -- Defenseman Kevin Klein is expected to miss his fourth straight game on Tuesday when Nashville hosts Los Angeles. The team is calling Klein's injury an upper-body injury.

When Klein went down, the Predators called up rookie Ryan Ellis, who has yet to get back in the lineup. Ellis played 22 games with the Predators earlier this season, totaling 3 goals, 6 assists and a plus-8 rating. Ellis was sent down after Nashville acquired defenseman Hal Gill from Montreal.

Since Klein got hurt, however, Predators coach Barry Trotz has preferred to go with veteran Jack Hillen. Hillen has played in 49 games this season, but had played relatively sparingly since early January. He had been a scratch for 14 games since the start of the new year. He has played played the past three, going plus-1 in two of them and even in the other.

Trotz would not reveal his lineup for Tuesday, but hinted that Ellis might get in the lineup, saying Nashville might have "one of each" --a new forward and defenseman -- in its lineup.

Brandon Yip and Matt Halischuk were the scratches at forward in Nashville’s last game, as the Predators suited up new forwards Paul Gaustad and Andrei Kostitsyn, both acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline, for the first time in the same game. Gaustad missed his first game afterhis acquisition because of an upper-body injury.

Trotz described the options involved in playing Ellis or Hillen.

"They're a little bit different," Trotz said. "What you get with Jack is a good defender, get some veteran presence. He's a guy that subtly is able to get the job done. He sort of goes under the radar a little bit, but he's pretty efficient.

"With Elly, you get a real good dynamic, puck-moving guy. Competes pretty well. Defends, actually, pretty well, too, so just a little bit different. You get a little bit more of the offense with Ellis than you do with Hillen, but you get a little bit more of the defensive side with Hillen. He'll give you a little more penalty killing. He's a little more of a transporter. Ellis has really great dynamic thought process, stick, passing. Those are all intangible."

With Los Angeles being the League's lowest-scoring team, it will be interesting to see which direction Trotz goes.

The Predators entered Tuesday with the League's No. 2-ranked power play, but they haven't scored a power-play goal in their past three games -- mostly because they’ve only had one chance in each.

"We can't tell if it's any good anymore," Trotz quipped of the unit, "because we never get any" chances.

He thinks with the Stanley Cup Playoffs in sight and so many teams fighting for their lives or positioning, that teams are playing more disciplined.

"I just think everybody's ramped up defensively," he said. "They know the importance of the games … during the playoffs sometimes that's what happens. Everyone's pretty disciplined, but it's good, clean, physical hockey, and no one's taking any penalties."
Projected lines:
Sergei Kostitsyn-Mike Fisher-Martin Erat
Andrei Kostitsyn-David Legwand-Patric Hornqvist
Colin Wilson-Nick Spaling-Jordin Tootoo
Gabriel Bourque-Paul Gaustad-Craig Smith
Ryan Suter-Shea Weber
Hal Gill-Roman Josi
Francis Bouillon-Jack Hillen/Ryan Ellis
Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback
Out: Brian McGrattan, Matt Halischuk, Brandon Yip
Posted On Saturday, 02.25.2012 / 3:55 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Predators will miss popular Smithson

NASHVILLE – Jerred Smithson was a long-time Nashville Predator who was liked and respected by teammates and members of the coaching staff alike.

So when Nashville traded him to Florida on Friday for a sixth-round pick, it was not an easy move.

Smithson, a solid two-way forward who was strong on faceoffs and a good penalty killer, scored what coach Barry Trotz called arguably the biggest goal in franchise history last year in overtime in Game 5 of the first round at Anaheim, setting Nashville up for its first series-clinching win in Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena.

Trotz was the second member of the organization to speak to Smithson on Friday night after general manager David Poile informed him of the trade. Trotz said it was a “tough” phone call and that he was at a loss for words, saying Smithson was “one of my favorites.”

Smithson, 33, in his seventh season with Nashville, was held out of the lineup four times since the Predators claimed a younger faster forward with more potential offensive upside in Brandon Yip. Trotz also said that the development of young players like Nick Spaling, Matt Halischuk, Craig Smith and Gabriel Bourque increasingly took over Smithson’s former role.

Smithson had only one goal and four assists in 53 games. He entered the season with 35 goals and 46 assists in 444 games for Nashville.

“It was difficult in the sense that Jerred brought a lot to the locker room,” Trotz said. “The stats, if you look at stats, they’re really for losers. He brings a lot of intangibles to the group -- character guy. Real pro, one of the better faceoff guys in the game, with him also he probably hasn’t had the year he was expecting and maybe he was expecting. Not to diminish anything he’s done. Not to diminish anything he’s done. He’s done a lot for us.”

Trotz hinted that it was a potentially unhealthy situation, having a player so well respected sitting out on a regular basis, saying, “One thing you don’t want is a player you highly respect and you know has contributed in a lot of different ways to not be a part of it.”

Smithson and Predators captain Shea Weber were roommates on the road. Weber was the third person to speak to Smithson after the deal. He said it was hard to see Smithson sitting out.

“Yeah, yeah, he’s such a character guy, someone who means so much in the locker room, a veteran presence especially where we’re so young,” Weber said. “It was tough to see.”

Right wing Jordin Tootoo played on the same line as Smithson and sat next to him in the Preds’ dressing room.

“He’ll be greatly missed in the dressing room but at the same time it’s part of business,” said Tootoo, who also spoke to Smithson after he was dealt. “… As a person, he was a very comical guy.”…

Right wing Patric Hornqvist will return to the lineup after missing five games with what the team called an upper-body injury.

Here is the projected lineup for the Predators:
Colin Wilson - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher-Martin Erat
Gabriel Bourque - Nick Spaling-Jordin Tootoo
Matt Halischuk - Craig Smith-Brandon Yip
Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Roman Josi - Kevin Klein
Francis Bouillon - Hal Gill
Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback

Out: Jack Hillen

Posted On Saturday, 02.25.2012 / 3:41 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Sharks hope win sparks trip turnaround

NASHVILLE – The San Jose Sharks enter their second-to-last game on Saturday of what had been a rather unsuccessful nine-game road trip with a chance to finish at .500 thanks to a 2-1 win on Saturday at Toronto.

The Sharks went 1-4-1 in the first six games of the trip, but Sharks coach Todd McLellan said he saw some improvement and hopes that with wins over the Predators on Saturday and in the finale at Minnesota on Sunday the Sharks can go home with nine out of a possible 18 points.

The poor road trip, combined with Phoenix’s surge, has allowed the Coyotes to tie the Sharks for first in the Pacific Division with 71 points entering Saturday.

“Defensively, we were much better,” McLellan said of the Leafs’ game. “We weren’t as loose. Positionally, we were better. I thought our goaltender looked sharp, the way he’s supposed to look. Power play got us a goal. We came out on the winning side of a one-goal game, instead of the losing side. Kept a team to under three, which is important to our team.

“A lot of real positives. I thought we got solid contributions from all four lines. We were much more disciplined. We didn’t end up in the penalty box. I can keep going on and on. It’s amazing how many things we did better and yet it still a one-goal win.”

One player who will not play on Saturday or Sunday is newly acquired center Dominic Moore, who has a lower-body injury. Moore missed the game on Thursday at Toronto and McLellan said he would not get back into the lineup at earliest until the team returns home against Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Here's the Sharks' projected lineup:
Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Ryan Clowe - Logan Couture - Tommy Wingels
Jamie McGinn - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell
Brad Winchester - Andrew Desjardins - Jim Vandermeer
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Dan Boyle
Jason Demers - Brent Burns
Justin Braun - Colin White
Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss
Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 1:56 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Hornqvist still sidelined as Predators host Blues

NASHVILLE -- Predators right wing Patric Hornqvist, second on the team in goals with 17, will miss his fifth straight game with an upper-body injury when Nashville hosts St. Louis on Thursday.

He participated in the team's morning skate on Thursday, but is not yet ready to play.

"He's getting closer," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "He's not in tonight. Saturday would be the soonest."

Hornqvist has not been a huge loss in the short-term for Nashville, which has gone 3-1 without him, although the Predators have not scored more than three goals in a game in that span.

Hornqvist's absence has, however, caused the Preds to re-jigger their forward lines and their power play somewhat. Hornqvist normally skates with Colin Wilson on the left and David Legwand at center.

Instead, Wilson has moved to center with Matt Halischuk on his left and Brandon Yip on his right. Yip, a big body, also has taken Hornqvist's spot on the power play in front of the net.

Legwand has centered a line with Gabriel Bourque on his left and fleet-footed rookie Craig Smith on his right. Smith had been the fourth-line center.

Trotz also said it's likely the team will send rookie defenseman Ryan Ellis to the minors soon to get him playing again. Ellis played less than four minutes on Sunday, was scratched on Tuesday and will probably sit again on Thursday, as the Predators are carrying eight defensemen right now.

"Our thought process is that we may have him go to Milwaukee (AHL) for a couple of games just to keep him playing," Trotz said. "And it's not based on play. We just want to keep him playing."

Ellis would not have to pass through waivers, nor would fellow rookie defenseman Roman Josi, but Josi has established himself for longer. Josi played his first game on Nov. 26 and has not missed a game since. Ellis played his first game on Dec. 26 and has been out of the lineup three times entering Thursday.
Here are tonight's projected lineups:
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Matt Halischuk - Colin Wilson - Brandon Yip
Gabriel Bourque - David Legwand - Craig Smith
Jerred Smithson - Nick Spaling - Jordin Tootoo
Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Francis Bouillon - Kevin Klein
Roman Josi - Hal Gill
Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback
Out: Ryan Ellis, Patric Hornqvist, Brian McGrattan
Vladimir Sobotka - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald - Patrik Berglund - David Perron
Chris Porter - Jason Arnott - Chris Stewart
B.J. Crombeen - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves
Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak
Jaroslav Halak
Brian Elliott
Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 2:30 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Luongo back in net for Canucks

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Roberto Luongo will start in goal for the Vancouver Canucks after Cory Schneider posted a 5-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday.

Tonight's game is the second stop on the Canucks' six-game road trip, which also includes stops in Detroit, New Jersey, Dallas and Phoenix. With five games in the next eight days, Vigneault said he expects Schneider to get his share of starts.

Here is what the Canucks' lineup likely will look like tonight:

Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Chris Higgins - Cody Hodgson - Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre - Dale Weise

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Aaron Rome - Christopher Tanev

Roberto Luongo will start in goal, with Cory Schneider the backup.
Posted On Tuesday, 02.21.2012 / 2:27 PM

By John Manasso - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Hip injury again plaguing Bitz

NASHVILLE -- It was two weeks ago to the day in this very same venue that Byron Bitz played on a line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin for Vancouver at Bridgestone Arena and earned a goal and an assist -- his first points in the NHL in almost two years -- in a 4-3 shootout win.

Bitz, a big forward, played in seven straight games for the Canucks, picking up a goal and three assists and coach Alain Vigneault liked what he saw. However, Bitz began experiencing soreness in his hip and was scratched for Vancouver's last game, Sunday in Edmonton, raising potential alarm bells about the player's health.

Groin, hip and abdominal injuries have been a frequent problem for Bitz during his hockey career. Vigneault said Tuesday that Bitz had "some improvement on his hip flexor today" and was hoping he might be able to practice Wednesday.

Vigneault said Bitz's injury history is making the situation "a little more challenging for him and for us right now," but he did not want to overreact on the chance that it might be "real minor."

"I think on his part, on a personal level, there has to be some concern," Vigneault said. "He's played a couple of games in Chicago (AHL) and he comes here and then he plays five games then all of a sudden, the body feels some pain and then he can't play anymore.

"For us, it's a big question. The young man was playing really well, really liked his contribution, and after five games he's got to sit out a couple of days. We believe we still have a lot of hockey to be played here, so we'll see how this goes here in the next couple of days."
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