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Posted On Saturday, 01.19.2013 / 5:15 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-13 Opening Day blog

Ducks looking to get off to strong start

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Anaheim Ducks open the season against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night hoping to pick up where they left off more than nine months ago.

Not as the 13th-place team in the Western Conference and out of the playoffs, but as one of the hottest teams in the season's second half, when they went 24-4-6 down the stretch. With top forwards Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne and Bobby Ryan all back, and Jonas Hiller healthy between the pipes, they believe they can keep that pace.

"I don’t see why it shouldn’t carry over," Perry said. "As a team in the second half, we were right up there with the best in the League. We fell a little bit short but if we continue to do the same things we were doing I don’t see why we can’t be one of the top teams."

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Posted On Saturday, 01.19.2013 / 4:34 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-13 Opening Day blog

Canucks start season with injury-depleted lineup

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Vancouver Canucks open the season against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night with almost all of the players who helped them win a second-straight Presidents' Trophy last season.

Unfortunately for the Canucks, not all are healthy.

Offseason surgeries to his left wrist and shoulder have left Ryan Kesler uncertain about a return date, and a groin injury suffered during fitness testing Sunday has David Booth out 4-6 weeks, leaving the Canucks without two-thirds of their second line for at least the first month of the shortened season.

Instead they will start the season with journeyman Andrew Ebbett and sophomore Zack Kassian trying to fill those roles, while the rest of a mostly intact lineup tries to make up for any slack.

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Posted On Monday, 08.13.2012 / 9:20 AM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Summer with Stanley blog

Mitchell's Cup journey connects his past with present

PORT McNEILL, B.C. -- For Willie Mitchell, it wasn't enough to thank the tiny town that raised and nurtured him -- as both a hockey player and young man -- during his one day with the Stanley Cup.

For the veteran defenseman of the Los Angeles Kings, it was important to also honor the First Nation community that continues to stoke his spiritual side every summer as he searches for balance through the area's incredible natural surroundings, away from the pressures of being a professional athlete.

For Mitchell, 35, it was important to thank the entire north end of Vancouver Island -- even if the effort left him worn out for the little private time remaining.

So Mitchell split the bulk of a long day with the Stanley Cup between his hometown of Port McNeill and at the 'Namgis First Nation in Alert Bay on nearby Cormorant Island. In Port McNeill, Mitchell posed for pictures in the arena where he learned to skate with a crowd estimated at approximately 6,000 – more than double the population of the little logging town.

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Posted On Sunday, 08.12.2012 / 3:45 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Summer with Stanley blog

Mitchell takes Stanley on the water

PORT MCNEILL, B.C. -- Willie Mitchell and the Stanley Cup have been left behind temporarily at the community arena in Port McNeill, where the last few thousand fans waited for their chance to get a group picture with the guests of honor.

The rest of the Mitchell entourage, including grandfather Les, who was once invited to training camp with the New York Rangers in the Original Six era, is already aboard three different boats bound for Alert Bay on a nearby Island.

Mitchell and the Cup will take a helicopter over a bit later for a traditional ceremony at the Namgis First Nation Longhouse. But it's not like Mitchell, an avid fisherman, hasn't had a chance to take the Cup out onto the ocean that is such a big part of his life and this small community on the northern end of Vancouver Island.

The Los Angeles Kings' defenseman woke his father, Reid, with a 3:30 a.m. call to take the Stanley Cup fishing, a trip that left other family members with blood from the day's catch still on their clothes during the morning ceremony at the arena, and left more than a few tourists out on whale watching expeditions shocked to see hockey's famous trophy out in a boat in the wee hours.

... More to come

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Posted On Sunday, 08.12.2012 / 1:30 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Summer with Stanley blog

Mitchell brings the Cup to Port McNeill

PORT MCNEILL, B.C. -- With a population listed just over 2,600 people, it's safe to say traffic jams aren't the norm for the town of Port McNeill.

But with Willie Mitchell bringing the Stanley Cup to the north end of Vancouver Island on Sunday, the lineups were as long as that big stick the Los Angeles Kings defenseman uses to poke the puck away from top NHL forwards.

Organizers were expecting up to 7,000 people to see Mitchell and the Cup, more than doubling the population of the oceanside fishing and logging town Mitchell grew up in -- and still returns to every summer. The local arena was already overflowing, with lineups winding in every direction out the door, more than half an hour before Mitchell and the Cup were expected to arrive by helicopter in an adjacent field.

With so many people eager to see both, the plan was to bring people into the arena 50 to 75 at a time for group photos before Mitchell flies it to Alert Bay on a nearby island for another afternoon ceremony.

More to come ...

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Posted On Sunday, 04.22.2012 / 1:44 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Kings-Canucks projected lineups for Game 5

It may surprise some to hear the Canucks are changing up their forward lines coming off their first win of the series and facing elimination for a second straight game, but the biggest change up front actually occurred midway through their Game 4 victory -- and is simply continuing in Game 5 on Sunday night.

Mason Raymond, whose soft check on Anze Kopitar turned a 2-on-2 rush into a 2-on-1 and the Kings’ only goal, dropped from the second line to the fourth, and if not for his effectiveness as a penalty killer might be out of the lineup entirely.

It’s a precipitous drop from the first line in place of Daniel Sedin to start the series, but the fall off from a 25-goal scorer three seasons ago has been steady, with just two goals in 24 Stanley Cup Playoff games this past season before having his back broken by an awkward hit into the boards during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.

“I know the young man is trying hard but obviously the way he is playing right now he doesn't deserve to be on one of the top-three lines,” coach Alain Vigneault said of Raymond. “We expect more from him.”

The Canucks, who only had a few players on the ice Sunday morning, are also taking rookie Zack Kassian, acquired from Buffalo for Cody Hogdson at the NHL Trade Deadline, off the fourth line and putting him in the press box. Replacing him is Dale Weise, who made his NHL playoff debut in Game 3 and only played three shifts and 1:54 of total ice time.

Vigneault said it was about trying to find a mix that can match the Kings’ fourth line, which got Brad Richardson back from an appendectomy for Game 4 and spent long stretches pinning the Canucks in their end.

“Their fourth line has been good, they've spent some quality time in our zone and we need to have a better response,” Vigneault said. “I’m hoping maybe by making those adjustments we will have that response.”

The Kings, who didn't skate at all Sunday morning, aren’t planning any changes, preaching the importance of maintaining the approach that got them ahead 3-0 to start this series.

Here are the rest of the expected lineups for Game 5:

CANUCKS

David BoothHenrik SedinDaniel Sedin
Alexandre BurrowsRyan KeslerMaxim Lapierre
Chris HigginsSamuel PahlssonJannik Hansen
Mason RaymondManny MalhotraDale Weise

Dan HamhuisKevin Bieksa
Alexander EdlerSami Salo
Keith Ballard – Chris Tanev

Cory Schneider makes his third straight start in goal, with Roberto Luongo, a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, again relegated to the bench as backup.

KINGS

Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Dwight King - Mike Richards - Jeff Carter
Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis
Brad Richardson - Colin Fraser - Jordan Nolan

Rob Scuderi - Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Matt Greene - Alec Martinez

Vezina Trophy candidate Jonathan Quick continues in goal, with Jonathan Bernier backing up.
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Posted On Sunday, 04.22.2012 / 1:38 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Edler struggling to find consistency


Facing elimination and with no margin left for error, the Vancouver Canucks dropped ineffective forward Mason Raymond to the fourth line after a bad check cost them a goal in Game 4, and moved tentative rookie Zack Kassian from the lineup to the press box.

Things are a lot different for top-scoring defenseman Alexander Edler, whose struggles in the first three games could be directly tied to falling being 0-3 in the Western Conference Quarterfinals series against the Los Angeles Kings.

Edler, who had 11 goals, 49 points and was a first-time All Star this season, coughed the puck up at his own blue line on the winning goal in Game 1, turned it over with a drop pass that led to a shorthanded goal in Game 2, and was on the ice and failed to clear the zone on the only goal of a Game 3 loss. The Canucks stuck with him, though, knowing they needed Edler to have a chance, and he responded with a much better game and a power-play goal in Game 4, which the Canucks hope will be a turning point in his play.

“Give him credit,” said associate coach Rick Bowness, who runs the Canucks’ defense. “He took a lot of pressure on himself and knows he wasn’t up to his game the first three -- he overcame it [Wednesday] night and played much better. … Much more aggressive, much more assertive, much more confident.”

Edler’s struggles have been frustrating to a fan base that has seen the potential for so much more from the 6-foot-3 defender, who can be imposing physically one night and play tentative the next. The 26-year-old is blessed with a 100-mile-an-hour slap shot, but sometimes is too hesitant and struggles to launch it.

“We’ve had a few talks, yeah,” Bowness said. “We all want the end product, the finished product, right now. It took Steve Yzerman until he was 30 to figure it all out. Phil Mickelson didn’t win his first major until his mid-30s. We all want Alex to be the perfect guy right now, but it just doesn’t happen. It’s human nature.”

Bowness reiterated Edler “is a great player, is going to be a great player for a long time.” Down 3-1 to Los Angeles, the Canucks need that time to be now.

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Posted On Friday, 04.20.2012 / 7:34 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Luongo: I'm 100 percent behind Schneider

VANCOUVER -- Goaltender Roberto Luongo cut through the four-deep crowd gathered around his locker after practice Friday, looked into the glaring row of camera lights and said all the right things.

Meeting the media for the first time since it was announced that he would be on the bench with his team facing elimination in Game 4 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, the former Canucks' captain threw his support behind replacement Cory Schneider and downplayed talk of his future being somewhere other than Vancouver as premature.

"I'm a competitor, you guys all know that, and it's tough," Luongo said of being benched. "But at the same time, this is about the team and I am not going to put myself ahead of the team. We're in this together, we work hard all year to be in this position and right now I am going to do the best I can to be ready if needed, and 100 percent behind Cory and my teammates."

Luongo never veered off script during his five minutes in the spotlight, saying he hadn't paid any attention to talk the Canucks may need to deal the decade remaining on a 12-year, $64 million contract, which includes a no-trade clause. His insisted his focus is not on the list of teams some are suggesting he could go to, but on a Kings team that Vancouver trails 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

"Right now is not the time to be thinking of that stuff," said Luongo, who played well the first two games, but has watched Schneider stop 62 of 64 shots since starting Game 3.

Luongo, who holds the Canucks franchise record for wins and shutouts, was focused only on getting ready for Game 5 on Sunday. He said he was preparing just in case something should happen to Schneider - the second-year goaltender was forced out of a surprise first-round playoff start last spring after cramping up on a penalty shot -- but not wishing any harm to his crease counterpart.

"We're good friends," Luongo said of Schneider. "He's been behind me 100 percent since Day One he's been here. He works extremely hard in practice, he's always been a great team guy, so I'm going to do the same for him. … I think he deserves what he's getting. Obviously he's going to be a top-notch goalie in this league for a long time. I'm happy for him, and hopefully we can get the job done here."

As for how Luongo is handling the situation, teammates praised him for keeping it out of the locker room. For a goalie once accused of throwing them under the bus by talking about poor defensive play, and a guy who admittedly regrets some comments about Boston's Tim Thomas during last year's Stanley Cup Final, it's a big step.

"Six years ago or five minutes ago?" Luongo responded with a laugh when asked if he has developed thicker skin during his time in Vancouver. "You get to handle things. I think I am much better at it now than when I got here, and I think it's nice that I have been able to take that step and negotiate those things without letting it affect me."

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Posted On Sunday, 04.15.2012 / 12:41 AM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Will Canucks go with Luongo or Schneider in Game 3?

VANCOUVER -- Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo stripped off their goaltending equipment side by side in the Canucks locker room after practice Saturday as a large circle of media gathered around them.

It wasn't at all unusual, except this time the crowd formed around Schneider, while Luongo was granted a free path towards the showers.

There is a growing sense the Canucks will do the same in Game 3 on Sunday night.

Cory Schneider
Goalie - VAN
Record: -
GAA: - | Sv%: -
Down 2-0 to the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault admitted after practice that he had a decision to make between the pipes. Actually, he'd already made it, but had yet to tell his own goalies, so he wasn't about to share it with the rest of the world.

It won't come as a surprise if it involves a switch, even if Luongo singlehandedly kept the Canucks in Game 1, and made several more big saves in Game 2.

"Maybe give them a new look, shake up the team … I don't know," Schneider said when asked why he might play in L.A., while insisting he didn't know if he would.

There's another reason: Schneider can flat out play goal.
 
The 26-year-old may be the No.2 goaltender in Vancouver, but he was also the second-best goaltender in the entire NHL when it came to save percentage during the regular season, posting a .937 that trailed only Brian Elliott in St. Louis. And Schneider's 1.96 goals-against average was third in the League, just .01 behind the Kings starter and Vezina Trophy candidate Jonathan Quick.
 
The only thing missing on Schneider's short NHL resume is playoff success.

He did get a surprise – many would say shocking – start in the first round last season against the rival Blackhawks, playing Game 6 in a hostile Chicago environment after the Canucks blew a 3-0 series lead. But the rookie turned two puck-handling gaffes into goals, and was forced to leave early after cramping up badly while getting beat on a penalty shot that tied the game.

Luongo went back in for Game 7, backstopped a 2-1 overtime victory and led the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final before struggling in Boston, getting pulled in two of three road games.

Perhaps because of that, the Canucks made sure to get Schneider more and tougher starts this season, including a big Cup rematch victory in Boston and another tough win in Chicago. And they were careful to keep the sophomore stopper fresh down the stretch, splitting time with -- and for the most part outplaying -- Luongo over the final six weeks of the regular season.

"I would feel pretty comfortable," Schneider said of starting Game 3. "I played in so many games this year and I had a taste of it last year, so I know what to expect. No real surprise for me, just try to play the way I played all year."

Expect, perhaps, while handling the puck.
 
Schneider's stickhandling mistakes didn't end in the Chicago series, and could become an issue against a strong Kings' forecheck Luongo has helped temper with smart, safe plays.

"I have to make smart decisions and put it in position where they are better off than if I hadn't played the puck," Schneider said. "Not try to get too fancy, but just make plays that will put us in position to get out of the zone."

If he plays, it will be Schneider's first game against Los Angeles. And while Luongo had success in the regular season – he had a .944 save percentage in four starts against the Kings – it could be an advantage for the Canucks.

"It can help sometimes if a team doesn't know much about you," Schneider said.

As for Luongo, he said he's seeing the puck well, feels good about the way he's playing, and has always enjoyed playing in the well-lit Staples Center. Despite a lot of talk from teammates about hanging him out to dry with point-blank chances, and poor penalty killing, though, Luongo said he needs to be better.

"You want to come up with the big save when it's needed," Luongo said.

Some might argue he already has made a handful against the Kings. But the question now is whether or not he'll get a chance to make any more.
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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 5:19 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Canucks vs. Kings series blog

Five reasons the Canucks are in trouble

It may pain them to do so, but when it comes to inspiration after losing the first two playoff games on home ice, the Vancouver Canucks need look no further than the team that bullied them into submission to win the Stanley Cup in June, the Boston Bruins.

That’s right, Vancouver’s new rival can now be looked upon as a role model, a team that recovered from the same hole the Canucks now find themselves in their Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Los Angeles Kings -- and the Bruins went on to hoist the Cup after falling behind two-zip to Montreal.

Boston also dropped the first two in the Final in Vancouver before winning four of the last five. Of course they also proved to be a better team than the Canucks in that Final.

Maybe that explains why players looked elsewhere for inspiration.

“We are not going to do everything the same way as last year, cruise to the Stanley Cup Final,” defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. “We are going to make it interesting. Last year we were up three against Chicago and then we let them come back. This year we will spot them a couple and see what happens.”

Vancouver nearly blew that 3-0 lead over the Blackhawks in the first round before needing overtime in Game 7 to advance, eventually to the Final.

Coach Alain Vigneault wasn’t interested in history, however.

“I’m not going to give you a rundown of all the teams that have come back in the past and da-de-da because that would be standing up here and trying to be real positive,” he said. “Reality is we’re down by two and we got to win [Game 3 on Sunday]. That's it. All the other stuff doesn't matter.”

Maybe that’s because a lot of that other stuff doesn’t bode well for a Canucks team facing at least five good reasons it will be tough to secure four more wins:

1) THE NHL’s WORST BEST POWER PLAY: There will be no shortage of talk about the ongoing absence of leading goal scorer Daniel Sedin, who did not travel with the team to Los Angeles on Saturday. But the reality is Vancouver’s power play problems started long before Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith concussed the Canucks’ leading goal scorer and last year’s NHL scoring champion Sedin with an elbow on March 21. On top of the League by a wide margin through early January, the Canucks slump started almost immediately after going 4-for-11 to win the Cup rematch in Boston on Jan. 7. They finished fourth in the NHL, but are just 10-for-130 since, a 12.3 per cent success rate that ranks well below the worst power play in the League.

In addition to being 0-for-10 through two games against Los Angeles, they gave up two shorthanded goals to the Kings in Game 2. Despite not having Daniel Sedin the last nine games of the regular season, the Canucks were still experimenting with new combinations at practice Saturday, and a lack of cohesion that cost them the night before.

“We can’t expect to score every time but we’ve got to gain some momentum for us and we did the opposite,” Captain Henrik Sedin said.

2) TOUGH TO PUSH AND BE PATIENT:
Vancouver’s lack of scoring against the Kings extends beyond the power play, and even this series. Since Darryl Sutter took over as the coach in Los Angeles mid-season, the Canucks are just 1-3-1 and have only managed to score eight goals in those five games. Further complicating things is the Kings’ stifling style, which can punish impatience if you try to force things, and create odd-man rushes the other way.

“They're a very stingy team, they don’t give up a lot so it's very important to stick to our game plan and not try to overdo things and when the opportunities arise make sure we try to capitalize,” forward Manny Malhotra said.

It may be easier to say than do, especially if they fall behind in Game 3.

3) KINGS BETTER THAN AN EIGHT SEED: For all the focus on the Kings’ above-mentioned defensive play, the discussion about their offense has been largely misdirected. It centered largely on finishing 29th in goals this season, and not on averaging more than three a game after acquiring Jeff Carter in a pre-deadline blockbuster. That’s more than half a goal better per game than the Canucks over that same stretch, and despite stereotypes the Kings sit back and defend, they have become much more aggressive under Sutter, with a lot more puck possession and a forecheck that is causing the Canucks defense fits.

"I'm sure people aren't going to be expecting us to score goals but I know in here we all think differently," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said.

4) TWO NOT BETTER THAN NO.1 IN GOAL: Vigneault wouldn’t confirm it until he told the goaltenders themselves, but there is growing speculation the Canucks could change things up between the pipes, with impressive second-year backup Cory Schneider taking over for Roberto Luongo in Game 3. Schneider finished second in the NHL with a .937 save percentage, and despite the fact Luongo has actually been very good the first two games, especially Game 1, there is a sense the Canucks may not want to try that change before it is too late.

“We haven't given him a lot of help on a lot of these goals and kind of hanging him out to dry on a few of them,” Schneider said of Luongo. “It's not my decision. Maybe give the team a new look, shake up the team.”

It won’t matter if neither goalie can best Kings’ crease counterpart Jonathan Quick, who made 46 saves in Game 2 and is coming off a Vezina Trophy-worthy regular season.

“Give him credit, he was real good,” Vigneault said.

5) ROAD RECORD WON’T MEAN MUCH IN L.A.: Vancouver had the best road record in the Western Conference at 24-12-5 in the regular season, and finished second only to Philadelphia in the entire NHL. The Kings were just ninth in the West and 19th in the League at home at 22-14-5. But with Game 3 just hours after the Lakers play at Staples Center on Sunday, the ice could be soft, and the speed advantage the Canucks forwards were supposed to enjoy in this series – and it has been evident at times -- will be largely negated.
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Quote of the Day

I got a chance to play a thousand games and that's pretty special to me. To get a thousand [points], it's a great accomplishment. I'm not going to hide my feelings, I'm proud of that. To do it on a win, do it on a goal, I think it makes it special.

— New York Rangers forward Martin St. Louis after scoring his 1000th NHL point on Friday
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