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Posted On Sunday, 01.20.2013 / 4:32 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Many Oilers in mid-season form for opener

The Edmonton Oilers play their first NHL game of the season Sunday night in Vancouver, but a lot of them are already in mid-season form.

Top young players like Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and rookie defenseman Justin Schultz all played together for Edmonton’s American Hockey League affiliate in Oklahoma City during the lockout. Others, like rookie Nail Yakupov, Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner, Lennart Petrell, Corey Potter and Ladislav Smid played in Europe. And even veteran forward Ryan Smyth and No. 1 goaltender Devan Dubnyk went overseas to play in the Spengler Cup.

Add it all up and the Oilers hope to have an advantage when they open against a Canucks team that only had a couple players in action – and looked like it during a 7-3 loss to Anaheim the night before.

“There's no rust in their system,” said Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo, who will face the Oilers after replacing new No. 1 Cory Schneider in the opening loss.

Edmonton’s young players tried to downlplay the advantage.

“Nerves are still going to be going for sure,” said Nugent-Hopkins, noting it’s been two weeks since they last played a game. “We worked on our game down in OKC and are just going to try and keep working on it up here.”

Here’s the way the talented young Oilers will line up against the Canucks:

Taylor HallRyan Nugent-HopkinsJordan Eberle

Nail YakupovSam GagnerAles Hemsky

Ryan SmythShawn HorcoffTeemu Hartikainen

Ben EagerEric BelangerLennart Petrell

Ladislav SmidJeff Petry

Nick SchultzJustin Schultz

Ryan WhitneyCorey Potter

Devan Dubnyk gets the start in goal, while Yann Danis has been called up from the AHL to back up while veteran Nikolai Khabibulin continues to recover from offseason hip surgery.

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Posted On Sunday, 01.20.2013 / 4:24 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Schultz excited to face childhood team in NHL debut

Edmonton Oilers defensman Justin Schultz can’t think of a better place to make his NHL debut than Vancouver, against the team he grew up cheering.

Not that Schultz, who is from Kelowna, just a five-hour drive to the northeast, expects a warm welcome from his home province. After choosing the talented, young Oilers ahead of the more established Canucks during the final stage of a free-agency pursuit that made headlines across the NHL, Schultz expects to hear boos.

They rained down on him during his only other trip back to British Columbia this season, when fans in nearby Abbotsford jeered almost every time he touched the puck while playing an American Hockey League game for the Oilers’ affiliate from Oklahoma City.

“I heard a little bit of that in Abbotsford when we played there, but you don’t really hear that stuff when you are playing,” said Schultz, who can count on some crowd support with “a lot of friends” and his parents in attendance Sunday.

The skilled 22-year-old defenseman was a prize addition for the Oilers over the summer, and made an immediate impression in the AHL, where he played with other top young Oilers like Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Despite leaving Oklahoma City when the NHL lockout ended two weeks ago, Eberle (51 points) and Schultz (48 points) are still the top two scorers in the AHL. Schultz’s totals, which include 18 goals in just 34 games, are obviously even more impressive given he’s a defenseman.

Still, he’s admittedly nervous about his first NHL game.

“Excited, nervous, sure I’ll have butterflies before the game but can't wait,” Schultz said. “(Playing in the AHL) helps, especially playing with so many of the guys who are here right now, but this is another big jump.”

It's a jump that Schultz, a Hobey Baker finalist in his final two seasons at the University of Wisconsin before using a loophole in the old CBA to become a free agent, seems ready to make.

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Posted On Sunday, 01.20.2013 / 3:46 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Canucks hope to bounce back against Oilers

The only change the Canucks are making after a 7-3 loss to Anaheim is in goal, where Roberto Luongo gets his scheduled start Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers after taking over for new No. 1 Cory Schneider the night before.

Schneider was pulled after five goals on 14 shots, while Loungo gave up two on 12, but it won’t matter who is playing if the rest of a roster that remains intact doesn’t play better, especially in their own end and on the penalty kill.

“We've analyzed some things we need to do,” coach Alain Vigneault said after announcing Luongo as his starter Sunday morning, citing a big gap between his forwards and defense as one main issue. “Overall we were doing a pretty good job as far as keeping the chances against to a reasonable number but we did have some breakdowns and they found the back of our net.”

Turning that around against the Oilers will be up to the same group:

Alexandre BurrowsHenrik SedinDaniel Sedin

Mason RaymondAndrew EbbettZack Kassian

Chris HigginsMaxim LapierreJannik Hansen

Aaron VolpattiManny MalhotraDale Weise

Dan HamhuisKevin Bieksa

Jason GarrisonAlexander Edler

Keith Ballard – Chris Tanev

Roberto Luongo

Cory Schneider

The Canucks have three spare defensemen, but no extra forwards on the roster – unless you count Jim Vandermeer, who has played up front in the past – something Vigneault doesn't expect to last long. In addition to Vandermeer, defensemen Cam Barker and Andrew Alberts will be healthy scratches for a second-straight game.

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Posted On Sunday, 01.20.2013 / 3:44 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Start unexpected by Luongo, not Vigneault

Roberto Luongo didn’t think he’d ever play another game for the Vancouver Canucks.

That was back in May, after losing his starting job to Cory Schneider two games into a five-game playoff loss to the Los Angeles Kings.

Now the veteran goalie is preparing to play for the second straight day to start the new season.

“Probably most of you don't believe it right now, either," Luongo said after the announcement was made following the morning skate Monday.

Coach Alain Vigneault explained the decision by saying he was just sticking to his plan to start Luongo against Edmonton on Sunday night, one day after pulling Schneider early in the second period of a 7-3 loss to Anaheim.

“This was my plan that I figured out a couple of days ago and nothing happened last night that changed my mind,” Vigneault said.

That plan certainly didn't include seeing Schneider give up goals on three straight shots over a three-minute span early in the second period against the Ducks – and five on 14 overall.

Luongo took over, giving up two goals on 12 shots. He said after he should have stopped both goals by Teemu Selanne, who had four points for the Ducks, but said he felt good about his game overall. He will get a chance to build on that feeling against a talented Oilers team that was at least rumored to be interested in acquiring him in a trade last summer.

“To start a game with this logo on is something I’m happy to be doing right now,” Luongo said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I would have been fine with either way. I just got myself ready, no matter what the situation."

Neither Luongo nor Schneider had much help against the Ducks. Vancouver gave up quick goals on all three Anaheim power play opportunities, and its highly touted defense surrendered several point blank scoring chances.

Schneider, though, wasn’t making any excuses after the game, shouldering the blame when there was plenty to go around by saying it was up to him to make some big saves to keep the Canucks in the game.

“Sometimes you need to make that one big save and that will get you on your rhythm and send you on your way and I couldn’t make that big save,” Schneider said after the game. “You start pressing a little harder and trying to make that save and sometimes it’s a little counter-productive.”

Schneider, who lamented the three shots that went “through” him the most, said he “felt just a half-second off,” wanted to go over video on Sunday and then, “put my head down, work my butt off and fix any mistakes I made.”

Now he will get that chance to work with goaltending coach Roland Melanson, at least until a game Wednesday against Calgary.

"I want to keep playing,” Schneider said after the skate Sunday. “I'm not worried to get back in the net. I'm eager to do so. This will give me time to work on things."

In Vancouver, where most expected Luongo to be long gone by now, it also provides time for a potential goaltending controversy to simmer.

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Posted On Sunday, 01.20.2013 / 2:40 PM

By Kevin Woodley -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Luongo to start Sunday for Canucks

Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault is sticking with his plan and starting Roberto Luongo against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday night.

That plan certainly didn't include seeing Cory Schneider getting shelled Saturday night in the season-opening 7-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks, or being pulled early in the second period after giving up goals on three straight shots in just more than three minutes – and five goals on just 14 shots overall. Luongo took over from there, giving up two goals on 12 shots as well.

Vigneault said the plan all along was to split goalies over the back-to-back weekend games, and nothing on opening night changed his mind. He said he told the goaltenders about his decision after the one-sided loss to the Ducks, which saw the Canucks give up quick goals all three times they were shorthanded amid a series of defensive breakdowns.

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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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Quote of the Day

It's always a little bit weird, but it moves on. They've got a good team, and they played well tonight. I think that's just part of it.

— Peter Laviolette on facing his former team (Flyers) for the first time since his departure