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Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 4:18 PM

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

Canucks experimenting with lineup down stretch

With just 16 games left in the season and three new players on the roster, the Vancouver Canucks are in the midst of a chemistry experiment, tinkering with their lines, pairings and power play as they prepare for the playoffs.

The biggest change heading into Tuesday night's battle of division leaders with Dallas comes up front, with newcomer Zack Kassian being promoted to the second line.

Kassian's move up comes at the expense of a struggling Mason Raymond, who drops to the fourth line, and could find himself out of the lineup entirely should the Canucks choose size and grit over his speed and go with either Dale Weise or Byron Bitz, who figures to be called back up from the AHL come playoff time.

"I'm trying to figure out where the pieces go," coach Alain Vigneault said. "We have a short focus on the game, but I'm also keeping a big-picture approach with the pieces and how they best help us move forward to get into the playoffs. I've got an idea, but I don't know. The players are going to decide for me."

Kassian is off to a good start since arriving from Buffalo as a key component to a four-player deadline day deal. The big winger started by showing a physical presence on the fourth line, then made the most of a promotion to the second line during the third period of a 5-3 loss to his ex-Sabres team, scoring once and setting up new linemate David Booth for another as they combined with center Ryan Kesler for two goals and several dominant, often physical, shifts.

"They've got speed, size and skill, and two of three have a little edge," Vigneault said. "If it works out, it's a good line. Our scouts felt really highly that Kassian has the potential to be a top-six forward and get there fairly quick. How long that's going to take, I'm not sure. He obviously caught our attention as far as the skill level and physicality that he can bring. Like any young player, can he maintain it and will it continue? Those are the questions we're going to get answered."

Part of the questioning includes what to do with Raymond, who lost an entire offseason and preseason to broken vertebrae from an awkward hit into the boards during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, and hasn't been able to rediscover his 25-goal form of two seasons ago.

Vigneault stressed patience given all Raymond had to overcome -- both physically and mentally -- and has so far ignored calls to drop him from the lineup altogether for failing to use his considerable wheels to take the puck to the net. Raymond, who has 8 goals, 8 assists and a plus-8 rating in 41 games since returning in early December, remains in the lineup to help a second-unit power play that lost its playmaker when Cody Hodgson was dealt to acquire Kassian, and as a top penalty killer.

"I am trying to do what is best for the team, and at the same time also looking at his challenges," Vigneault said. "I know we are going to need him down the road. We are going to need that 25-goal scorer, but at the same time I have to look at the big picture right now. For now, obviously I am looking at some other people in that second-line spot and we'll see how that goes and how it affects our team."

The other tinkering involves the power play. Marc-Andre Gragnani, who was the other player coming to Vancouver in the trade with Buffalo, is getting an extended look -- perhaps in part because he needs 12 more games this season to avoid becoming a Group 6 unrestricted free agent this summer -- on a first-unit power play ranked third in the NHL, but with just one goal in seven games.

That dry spell helps explain why top-line twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin have one assist combined in the last five games and over the last six weeks have fallen well off the pace that saw them combine to win the last two NHL scoring titles.

"I've got a lot of confidence in the people we use in that situation," Vigneault said, pointing out the number of chances has also dropped significantly. "For whatever reason there doesn't seem to be as many power plays as there was before, and considering the fact we've played a lot of games in a short amount of time we haven't been able to spend a lot of time in practice working on it, which keeps our execution and momentum good. We have a pretty good month to practice it."

That includes 11 games in March -- and 13 of the last 18 overall -- at home.

That's plenty of time to practice -- and to tinker – before playoffs.
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Posted On Tuesday, 03.06.2012 / 3:58 PM

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

Rookie goalie Bachman in net as Stars play Canucks

The Canucks face the Stars in a battle of division leaders Tuesday night, though it should be noted the Central-leading Stars come in 15 points behind a Canucks squad again running away with the Northwest, and moved into first in the Pacific based on winning percentage only after Phoenix (33-24-9) lost Monday.

Dallas could also drop from the third seed in the Western Conference to seventh by the time Tuesday's game starts -- the Coyotes play earlier -- and all the way down to eighth by the end of a busy and important night in a tight, tough playoff race.

Here are the expected lines as the 41-17-8 Canucks try to bounce back from just their second regulation time loss in 20 games against a 35-26-5 Stars team that is on a 6-0-1 streak and has won four straight on the road:

CANUCKS
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Zack Kassian - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Chris Higgins - Samuel Pahlsson - Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre - Mason Raymond

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Marc-Andre Gragnani - Aaron Rome

Roberto Luongo
Cory Schneider

Raymond may have lost his second-line spot to Kassian, but figures to get time on a second power-play unit that lost its playmaker when Cody Hodgson was dealt to acquire Kassian, one reason he'll play ahead of healthy scratch Dale Weise.

Gragnani, who was the other player coming to Vancouver in the trade with Buffalo, is also getting an extended look -- perhaps in part because he needs 12 more games this season to avoid becoming a Group 6 unrestricted free agent this summer -- and a point job on a first-unit power play that remains ranked among the League's best but has just one goal in seven games.

STARS
Loui Eriksson - Mike Ribeiro - Michael Ryder
Steve Ott - Jamie Benn - Adam Burish
Eric Nystrom - Vernon Fiddler - Radek Dvorak
Ryan Garbutt - Tom Wandell - Tomas Vincour

Sheldon Souray - Stephane Robidas
Mark Fistric - Trevor Daley
Alex Goligoski - Philip Larsen

Richard Bachman
Kari Lehtonen

The big change for the Stars is in goal, where the rookie Bachman gets his second start in seven games so workhorse No. 1 Lehtonen can rest up for Thursday's big showdown with San Jose back in Dallas.

Nothing else expected to change from a 3-2 shootout win in Calgary, with forward Toby Petersen told to stay in Dallas and spend some time with his family after leaving the team for the birth of his third child, a daughter.
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Posted On Saturday, 03.03.2012 / 5:43 PM

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

Ex-mates pepper Hodgson with good-natured barbs

Cody Hodgson may receive a warm welcome back to Vancouver from the fans that quickly warmed to him during this Rookie of the Year candidate season. His ex-Canucks teammates weren’t so kind.

With all the hype on Hodgson and Zack Kassian playing their former teams just five days after the promising former first-round picks were swapped for each other as part of a four-player deal at the NHL Trade Deadline, the best material after the morning skate came from the rest of the Canucks, who were having a good time with Hodgson’s quick return as a Buffalo Sabre – not to mention his large head and fashion sense.

“Slow feet, big head,” joked defenseman Kevin Bieksa when asked if he had a scouting report on facing Hodgson. “No, he’s a good player. … I feel we put a lot of time into him this year and he’s in a lot better place now than he was at the beginning of the year. He’s dressing a lot better now.”

Vancouver goaltender Roberto Loungo was asked about facing Ryan Miller at Rogers Arena for the first time since the 2010 Olympic gold-medal game.

“I’m a bit more worried about their superstar, Cody,” Luongo said, before delivering his own scouting report in a perfect deadpan. “He’s got a huge head. Apart from that, he’s very skilled, good vision, quick release.”

Hodgson was able to laugh off jokes he probably knew were coming.

“They like to make fun of me for that,” Hodgson, who is known for his smarts on the ice, said of his head size. “Hopefully I put it to good use tonight.”

As for Kassian, he admitted there is extra motivation playing the Sabres.

“Definitely I feel I have something to prove to the Sabres and to Vancouver,” he said. “As a young player in this League you have to make a name for yourself and being traded away from Buffalo I want to play well and show them what I could have been and I want to show Vancouver they didn’t make a mistake.”

That includes being physical – even against ex-teammates and good friends – something Kassian said he wouldn’t hesitate to do Saturday night.

“Once the game is over you go back to being friends,” he said.

The same goes for Hodgson’s ex-teammates.

“Once the puck drops there’s no friends out there,” Bieksa said. “I don’t know if you’ll see a couple guys take a run at Cody or not, but it will be all in good fun.”

It may just hurt a little more than the jokes about head size and shirt choice.

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Posted On Saturday, 03.03.2012 / 5:10 PM

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

Sabres turn to German connection on D

The irony wasn’t lost on Alexander Sulzer.

It took a trade away from the Canucks for the seldom-used defenseman to finally get back into a game in Vancouver.

Dealt to Buffalo just before Monday’s NHL Trade Deadline as part of the four-player deal that also landed the Sabres Rookie of the Year candidate Cody Hodgson in exchange for promising power forward Zack Kassian and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani, Suzler will make his debut with his new team against his old one Saturday night in Vancouver.

“It’s kind of ironic and that’s what makes it really exciting,” said Sulzer, who played six of 12 games all season in Vancouver, and none since Jan. 15. “I’m really pumped for the game, especially in Vancouver. "I’m excited to play against the boys.”

Sulzer is replacing Robyn Regehr (lower-body injury) in the lineup Saturday. According to BuffaLo coach LIndy Ruff, Regehr rode the bike Saturday and will be re-evaluated Sunday before the Sabres' wrap up a five-game road trip Tuesday in Winnipeg.

In the meantime, Buffalo filled out the roster by calling up 20-year-old forward Marcus Foligno from Rochester of the American Hockey League

Suzler is almost as excited about his defensive partner, Christian Ehrhoff, who will also be playing his first game against the Canucks after being traded last summer when it became clear they couldn’t re-sign the free agent. With only six Germans in the entire NHL, it’s noteworthy for two to be on the same pairing.

“It’s obviously a great pairing with both Germans,” joked Sulzer, who was on past Olympic and World Championship teams with Ehrhoff -- they even roomed together at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver -- but rarely played with him.

Kidding aside, Sulzer was happy to land in Buffalo, even if he’s seventh on the Sabres depth chart and watched the first two games as a healthy scratch. It's better than being eighth -- arguably ninth -- in the Canucks’ pecking order.

“It’s tough to get in the lineup when you are the odd-man out if there aren't a whole lot of injuries,” Sulzer said, “And here it's only seven guys, so if one guy goes gown you are in right away and that makes it easier too.”

Vancouver’s defensive depth also made it easier for the Canucks to let Ehrhoff, coming off a 14-goal, 50-point season, depart as a free agent, trading him to the New York Islanders for a fourth-round draft pick before he hit the open market. The Islanders then dealt him to the Sabres for another fourth-round pick, and he signed a 10-year, $40-million deal in Buffalo rather than test the market.

“I was disappointed to leave,” Ehrhoff said. “I made it clear all last season I would like to stay, but obviously it didn’t work out financially here and that's a business decision (GM Mike Gillis) made and I accept that and I’ve moved on.”

Now that he’s back in Vancouver, Ehrhoff isn’t sure what to expect from the fans, joking they might boo him. More likely they’ll be too preoccupied with the return of Hodgson, who was a fan favorite as a rookie, and Ehrhoff will fly under the radar.

“Maybe,” Ehrhoff said. “And that’s not too bad.”

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Posted On Saturday, 03.03.2012 / 4:06 PM

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

Probable lineups for Sabres vs. Canucks

The Buffalo Sabres will have to continue their stingy play without one of their best shutdown defenders, as Robyn Regehr won’t play Saturday night in Vancouver after suffering a lower-body injury during Thursday's 1-0 win in San Jose.

Regehr is listed as day-to-day as the Sabres try to extend their shutout streak to three games after also blanking Anaheim 2-0 on Wednesday. Alexander Sulzer, who came to Buffalo with Cody Hodgson as part of the four-player trade that sent Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani to Vancouver on Monday's Trade Deadline day, will make his Sabres debut against his old team in Regehr’s place.

Here are the  anticipated lineups as the 29-27-8 Sabres try to close the four-point gap on the last Stanley Cup Playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and the 41-16-8 Canucks try to increase their narrow lead atop the entire NHL:

CANUCKS

No changes for a Canucks team that is 16-1-3 during the past 19 games and settling into a seven-game home stand that started with a tight 2-0 win Thursday night against the equally hot St. Louis Blues:

Daniel SedinHenrik SedinAlexandre Burrows

Mason RaymondRyan KeslerDavid Booth

Chris HigginsSamuel PahlssonJannik Hansen

Manny MalhotraMaxim LapierreZack Kassian

 

Dan HamhuisKevin Bieksa

Alexander EdlerSami Salo

Marc-Andre GragnaniAaron Rome

 

Roberto Luongo
Cory Schneider

 

SABRES

Other than the switch on defense to replace the injured Regerh with Sulzer, the Sabres will also maintain the status quo as they try to continue a 5-0-2 run the past seven games and 10-3-3 stretch the past 16 to get into the Stanley Cup Playoff race:

Thomas Vanek - Derek Roy - Jason Pominville

Tyler Ennis - Cody Hodgson - Drew Stafford

Nathan Gerbe - Ville Leino - Patrick Kaleta

Matt Ellis - Brad Boyes - Corey Tropp

 

Jordan Leopold - Tyler Myers

Alexander Sulzer - Christian Ehrhoff

Andrej Sekera - Mike Weber

Ryan Miller
Jhonas Enroth

Miller, who stopped al 82 shots in California, will make his eighth-straight start appearance and 19th consecutive appearance in goal. He relieved backup Jhonas Enroth on Feb. 16 and hasn’t had a full game off since Jan. 18. But after a slow start to the season is looking more like the Vezina Trophy winner from two seasons ago behind a Buffalo team that hasn’t given up more than two goals in regulation during the past six, and just seven goals overall during that stretch.
   

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Posted On Thursday, 03.01.2012 / 4:36 PM

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

Defense the theme in battle for West lead

VANCOUVER -- The battle for first place in the NHL Thursday night comes down to a Vancouver Canucks team that has scored the most goals in the League against a St. Louis Blues squad that has given up the fewest in the Western Conference

If you ask Canucks captain Henrik Sedin, it's a perfect playoff preview.

Asked about the St. Louis showdown as preparation for playing a team like the Blues or Nashville in the postseason, Sedin said: "Keep lining up teams: Detroit, Phoenix, Dallas, all good defensively. Everyone plays the same way, so once we get to the playoff it's going to be a grind from game one until wherever it takes us. It's going to be low-scoring games, tight games, so we have to get used to this."

The Canucks have certainly adjusted to tight games of late, going past regulation 13 times in the last 21 games, and winning eight before blowing third-period leads and losing in extra time the last two, snapping their perfect 26-0-0 run when leading after 40 minutes this season.

"This is the way the games are being played this year, it's very rarely you see us or anyone blow out teams," Sedin said. "It's a good sign. We've shown we can win in tight games and it doesn’t matter how they are played -- if it's Boston or Detroit, with more skill -- so I think it’s good for us."

Sedin said it starts in their own end, where they'd try to match the Blues.

Certainly defense has been key to St. Louis' turnaround under Ken Hitchcock, who took over a 6-7-0 team and has since guided them to a 34-10-7 record. Only the New York Rangers, with 124 goals against, have given up fewer than the Blues' 128 -- and in addition to having played three more games than New York, St. Louis surrendered 35 goals in those 13 games before Hitchcock replaced the fired Davis Payne.

The Canucks may not match the Blues defensively, but they have been almost as hot since a slow October start.

In fact, when St. Louis beat the Canucks on Nov. 4, Vancouver was just 6-6-1 and 10th in the west. The Blues were 5-6-0 and 14th.

Now they'll meet with top spot in the NHL on the line.

"Since the beginning of November they've been one, and we've been one of the best teams in the NHL," said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, tipping his hat to Hitchcock for the job he's done. "And we both find ourselves right now fighting for that top spot."


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Posted On Thursday, 03.01.2012 / 4:02 PM

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

Likely lineups for Blues, Canucks

VANCOUVER -- Marc-Andre Gragnani, acquired from the Buffalo Sabres on Monday, will make his Canucks debut Thursday. He'll replace Chris Tanev, who struggled as the Canucks closed a six-game road trip Phoenix on Tuesday, while fellow trade-deadline acquisitions Zack Kassian and Samuel Pahlsson made their debuts for Vancouver.

"We'll see what he can do tonight -- he hasn't played in a while and he's got an opportunity," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "Obviously we want to see what Marc-Andre can do and Chris' game in Phoenix was a little bit more challenging."

St. Louis skipped the morning skate after running its season-high road win streak to four games with a 5-2 win in Edmonton on Wednesday. The Blues, who are just 14-13-3 on the road this season, aren't expected to change their lineup other than swapping starting goaltenders. Not that it should make a difference, as Jaroslav Halak, who played Wednesday, and Brian Elliott each has 20 wins, a first for St. Louis, and each is among the NHL leaders in goals-against average and save percentage for the League’s stingiest defensive team.

Here is what the teams could put on the ice when they meet at Rogers Arena, with first place in the Western Conference on the line:
 
CANUCKS
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Chris Higgins - Samuel Pahlsson - Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre - Zack Kassian
 
Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Marc-Andre Gragnani - Aaron Rome
 
Roberto Luongo is back in goal after Cory Schneider started in Phoenix on Tuesday.

Dale Weise is a healthy scratch for a second-straight game since the arrival of Kassian, while fellow big-bodied fourth-liner Byron Bitz was sent to the AHL.

BLUES
Andy McDonald - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
David Perron - Patrik Berglund - Chris Stewart
Chris Porter - Jason Arnott - Vladimir Sobotka
B.J. Crombeen - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves
 
Alex Pietrangelo - Carlo Colaiacovo
Barrett Jackman - Roman Polak
Kent Huskins - Kevin Shattenkirk

Brian Elliott is expected to start in goal after Jaroslav Halak beat the Oilers in Edmonton on Wednesday.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.01.2012 / 3:58 PM

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

Gragnani excited to make Canucks debut

VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks continue to roll out their trade deadline acquisitions Thursday, with new defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani playing his first game in a battle for first place in the NHL against the St. Louis Blues.

As debuts go, there might have been easier outings for the 24-year-old, but he's eager to get going against a big, physical Blues team that comes in on a four-game road win streak and just one point behind in the Western Conference standings.

"I can hardly sleep I'm so excited to be here and might be one of the happiest guys on Earth right now," Gragnani, who was part of a four-player trade with Buffalo on Monday that also saw Zack Kassian come to Vancouver, with popular rookie Cody Hodgson and defenseman Alexander Sulzer going the other way.

"It’s the best team in the NHL, so who wouldn’t want to play here?" said Gragnani. "It's probably one of the greatest things that ever happened to me in my career. I'm extremely excited and proud to be here. … Everything is positive for me right now."

The Canucks hope that includes Gragnani's plus/minus rating. Along with a reputation for being a good puck-mover and a power-play specialist, the defenseman comes to town with questions about his defensive play. He was plus-10 in 44 games with the Sabres, but only played once the last five weeks, watching as a healthy scratch despite a breakout 7 points in seven playoff games last spring.

In Vancouver he will start on the left side of a third pairing with Aaron Rome -- he practiced on the right side, where the Canucks have a shortage, but will move back over against the Blues -- and also man the point on a power play that has fallen out of first place after managing just one goal on 12 chances over the last five games.

"Obviously my first job as a defenseman is to play 'D,'" said Gragnani, who played one season for Canucks coach Alain Vigneault as a 16-year-old in junior. "I'm going to try to bring a lot of energy, puck-moving, and a little bit of offense."
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Posted On Saturday, 02.18.2012 / 12:42 PM

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

Mixed allegiances for Hodgson, Franson

Like lots of kids in Toronto, Cody Hodgson grew up cheering the Maple Leafs.

Not many, however, were almost born watching them. And it’s a safe bet none celebrated that occasion 22 years later by playing them.

The Vancouver Canucks center will celebrate his 22nd birthday against the Toronto Maple Leafs team he was almost born watching.

Hodgson said his mom was watching a game at the old Maple Leaf Gardens on Feb. 17, 1990 when she went into labor. After going straight from the rink to the hospital, Cody was born the next morning, and subsequently raised in a family filled with Leafs fans.

“Growing up there and being a Leaf fan for a lot of my childhood, a lot of my boyhood idols were Leafs players – Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark and those guys, legends in the city,” said Hodgson.

But all of his family’s long-time allegiances switched, Hodgson said, as soon as Vancouver drafted him 10th overall in 2008. So there will be no Frankenstein jersey blends of the Canucks and Maple Leafs in the Hodgson household when the two teams meet Saturday afternoon.

“No it’s all Canucks jerseys now,” Hodgson said. “Ever since the draft, they’re always supportive no matter where I go or what team I play for.”

For Hodgson it’s just another game, even if the one 22 years ago wasn’t.

“You just go out and compete and do what you can to win the game,” said Hodgson, who can help extend Vancouver’s win streak against the Leafs to 10 games dating back to 2003. "You try to treat like it's just another game."

It definitely won’t be that for Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Franson and the large contingent of family members that made the six-hour drive southwest from his hometown of Sicamous, B.C.

Like Hodgson, Franson grew up cheering the Maple Leafs. He just did it in Canucks country, which makes for an odd dynamic on a weekend that started with Franson being honored by another local hockey team.

The Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League inducted Franson into their Ring of Honor on Friday night, even creating a bobblehead in his likeness for the first 500 fans at the game, which naturally led to some good-natured ribbing in the Leafs’ locker room.

“Oh yeah, I’m taking heat, but that’s fine,” said Franson, who won a WHL championship with the Giants in 2006 and a Memorial Cup in 2007. “I’m honored to be in this position and I’ll take some heat from the boys anytime for that. They've treated me with nothing but respect and I can’t say enough about the Giants, they’ve been a class act from Day One and I wouldn’t trade my three years here for nothing.”

Franson was also excited to see his younger brother Cain, an 18-year-old forward with the Giants, play live for the first time in years, but admitted Canucks fans won’t be happy to see his family Saturday.

“There will be a lot of Leafs jerseys coming from Sicamous, everyone will have one,” said Franson, who is making his first trip to Vancouver with the Maple Leafs after being acquired in a trade with Nashville last summer. “The Leafs have been in my family a long time.”
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Posted On Saturday, 02.18.2012 / 12:27 PM

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

Projected lineups for Maple Leafs, Canucks

The Toronto Maple Leafs have their hands full trying to hold onto eighth place in the Eastern Conference against a Canucks team trying to stay close to Detroit atop the western standings. Not only is Vancouver 8-0-3 in the last 11 despite not always playing its best hockey during that stretch, but the Canucks haven’t lost to the Maple Leafs since 2003, a stretch they’ll try to extend to 10 wins Saturday.

Here’s a look at the expected lineups for a 4 p.m. start Saturday in Vancouver:

CANUCKS

Vancouver’s forward lines will start against Toronto the way they finished against Colorado on Wednesday, with Cody Hodgson moved back up to the Triple-H third line with Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen that produced the winning goal.

Daniel SedinHenrik SedinAlexandre Burrows
Mason RaymondRyan KeslerDavid Booth
Chris HigginsCody HodgsonJannik Hansen
Manny MalhotraMaxim LapierreByron Bitz

Dale Weise is ready to return after missing four games with a minor injury, but for now appears to have lost his fourth-line spot to Bitz and will be scratched.

Assuming coach Alain Vigneault was being honest when he said Kevin Bieksa, who was hobbling slightly around the hallways while his teammates skated on Friday, will play against the Leafs, the only change is Chris Tanev’s call up from the AHL and insertion onto a third pairing that has struggled at times lately.

Dan HamhuisKevin Bieksa
Alexander EdlerSami Salo
Aaron Rome – Chris Tanev

Andrew Alberts and Alexander Sulzer, who skated with Hamhuis in practice, are the expected scratches. As for Keith Ballard, who has missed four games already with a mysterious head/neck issue that sounds a lot like a concussion, he isn’t expected to make a road trip that starts the next day, after suffering a setback trying to skate on his own during a team day off Thursday.

“Didn’t pan out the way he wanted and the way our medical staff wanted,” said Vigneault. “Keith told me this morning he’s got ‘upper-body symptoms.’ It's from the neck up so we're going to keep him behind here and try to sort that out.”

Roberto Luongo is back in goal, with Cory Schneider backing up and confirming the roles would be reversed to start a six-game road trip Sunday in Edmonton.
 
MAPLE LEAFS

The sight of defenseman Carl Gunnarsson out on the ice turning laps before the Zamboni was even off it in Vancouver on Friday was a welcome one for Maple Leafs brass concerned he might have suffered a high ankle sprain four days earlier.

Instead of missing a month, though, it looks now like Gunnarsson won’t be out much longer than the mandatory week from being placed on injured reserve, and could be back as early as Tuesday, but perhaps more likely Thursday.

In the meantime, the Leafs already have a glut of defensemen to sort out, one that left Luke Schenn a surprised healthy scratch in Edmonton on Wednesday.

“It’s never fun sitting out,” said Schenn, who has also had to deal with seeing his name in trade rumors around the NHL. “Sometimes it’s from the approach of get a player going. If that’s what it is them when I get back in, make the most of it.”

Coach Ron Wilson confirmed Schenn would get back in against the Canucks on Saturday night, but said the decision to sit him was also about getting fellow defenseman Mike Komisarek, who was chatting with general manager Brian Burke after practice Friday, playing time in back-to-back games after the veteran sat out four of the previous five as a healthy scratch.

“With seven, eight defensemen who are NHL capable the hard part is keeping everyone involved,” Wilson said. “Luke had been off for a couple of games. … He’s just got to keep the game simple and be physical.”

While the back end rotates, the Leafs forward lines are expected to be the same:

Joffrey LupulTyler BozakPhil Kessel
Clarke MacArthurMikhail GrabovskiNikolai Kulemin
Matthew Lombardi – Tim ConnollyColby Armstrong
Darryl BoyceDavid SteckelMike Brown

Joey Crabb and Jay Rosehill are the healthy scratches

Schenn moves back onto a pairing with rookie Jake Gardiner, who Wilson said may be the “most consistent defenseman the last 15 or 20 games.”

"He gets back to pucks and he makes good decisions with the puck," Wilson said. "He's fearless physically – and he's not a very big guy – but he uses his body really well, he protects the puck and he just bumps it along. He's been well coached along the way. And he's very reliable back there. He's going to make a mistake every once in a while, like everybody in our League, but he's minimized the mistakes and he hasn't made the kinds of mistakes you would expect someone so young – he hasn't made many of those rookie mistakes."
Keith Aulie - Dion Phaneuf
Jean-Michael Liles - Cody Franson
Jake Gardiner - Luke Schenn

Carl Gunnarsson remains on injured reserve, while Mike Komisarek is expected to be a healthy scratch.

After alternating the last few starts with Jonas Gustavsson, James Reimer gets a chance to follow up his 29-save, 4-3 overtime win in Edmonton on Wednesday with another start Saturday. Reimer has given up three or more in his last four starts, with the only two wins in that stretch both coming against the lowly Oilers.
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Quote of the Day

I remember the first time at Wrigley Field all of us had the long johns, the turtlenecks and the extra equipment because we were afraid of being cold. Halfway through the first period everybody's ripping everything off and we just ended up wearing what we would normally wear for a game at the United Center.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic