VANCOUVER -- As teammates, linemates and close friends at Boston College, Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold say it will be easier to make their NHL debuts with the Calgary Flames on Sunday night because they have each other.
Gaudreau and Arnold signed with the Flames two days after their college season ended, and immediately after Gaudreau won the Hobey Baker Award as the best player in the NCAA on Friday. They will play their first game for the Flames on the same line against the Vancouver Canucks.
Gaudreau, who could have returned for another season at Boston College, said it was easier to sign with the Flames because Arnold was already doing the same.
With nothing left to play for, Vancouver will finally give goalie Jacob Markstrom his first start in a Canucks uniform, and his first in the NHL since late December.
In addition to possibly catching the St. Louis Blues, who are two points ahead in the Central, and securing at least second place in the division by moving four points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks with a win, Varlamov has a chance to break coach Patrick Roy's franchise record with his 41st win of the season.
Selanne, who plans to retire at the end of the season after 22 years in the NHL and hasn't played back-to-back games all season, made sure he'd get one more against the Vancouver Canucks on Monday when he sat out against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday.
"The Western Canada cities are where I have played the most in my career," said Selanne, who started with the Winnipeg Jets and played all 1,448 games with Western Conference teams. "And this has always been my favorite city, so I wanted to play one more."
Lack will face Lundqvist for the first time Tuesday (10 p.m. ET, TSN), but wasn't yet sure if he'd speak up while they are stretching at the red line during pregame warm-ups.
"He's a guy I have been looking up to for almost 10 years now and I've been looking forward to this a while," Lack said of Lundqvist, who will be back in goal for the Rangers after serving as the backup Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers. "It's a great moment for me."
There are similarities between Lack and Lundqvist in terms how they play deeper in their crease and minimize their movements. Lack, who is making his 17th straight start, cited Lundqvist among a handful of goalies he watches closely to find things he can improve in his game.
Bieksa played two shifts after a hit left him limping off the ice late in the second period of a 3-2 overtime loss against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, and the Canucks called up rookie defenseman Frank Corrado from the American Hockey League on Friday.
So it was a bit of a surprise to see Bieksa taking part in the morning skate Saturday, including time on the top power play unit. He will be a game-time decision, but hinted strongly he plans to play.
"If there's a chance I can play, I will," Bieksa said. "We'll see how it feels later, but I got through the skate OK, and this time of the year there is a lot of guys playing injured. So if you can play, you play."
Kesler was at practice Friday for the first time since a knee-on-knee collision with Winnipeg Jets forward Jim Slater on March 12, but was a game-time decision against Buffalo. Kesler will center the second line in place of Shawn Matthias, who drops to the fourth line, and Jordan Schroeder goes from the fourth line to being a healthy scratch.
Lieuwen gets the start after Sabres goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who was hoping to return Sunday, had a setback in his recovery from a lower-body injury and wasn't able to practice Saturday.
With No. 1 goaltender Jhonas Enroth not on the road trip because of a lower-body injury, coach Ted Nolan said he wanted to give Lieuwen a start close to home. Nolan said Ontario native Matt Hackett, who made 35 saves in a 3-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers to snap the Sabres seven-game losing skid on Thursday, will start when Buffalo goes back east to play the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday.
Lieuwen, who was called up March 16, appreciated the gesture.
In addition to expecting a big crowd to make the one-hour drive west from his hometown of Abbotsford, Lieuwen will be facing at least one more of the Canucks he used to root for.
Daniel Sedin returns to Vancouver's No. 1 line after missing nine games with a hamstring injury, and second-line center Ryan Kesler is a game-day decision after missing four with a knee sprain.
"Probably 3-4 weeks,” coach John Tortorella said of the timeline for Tanev to return.
Vancouver has three-and-a-half weeks left in the regular season and heads into its game Wednesday against the Nashville Predators trailing the Phoenix Coyotes by five points for the second Western Conference wild-card spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Canucks may need to win 10 of their final 11 games to have a chance at the playoffs but have four wins in their past 18 games.
"We certainly need to get a streak going or we're done," Tortorella said. "But let's just worry about starting one against Nashville."
In his second game since being called up from the American Hockey League on Friday, rookie right wing Nicklas Jensen will move up to play alongside center Henrik Sedin and left wing Alexandre Burrows. Given the lengthy scoring slumps of the other two first-line forwards, Jensen may be the one counted on to provide a spark.
Burrows has yet to score a goal in a season limited to 34 games by a variety of injuries, while Sedin doesn't have a point in 12 games and hasn't scored in 23 games. Jensen, a 21-year-old picked 29th in the 2011 NHL Draft, had nine goals in his past 14 AHL games before being held without a shot in 16:18 of ice time against the Calgary Flames on Saturday.
"You need that as an organization to have young guys come in and get some minutes," Sedin said. "They play with a lot of excitement and energy. There are going to be some mistakes, but it's not like we've been mistake-free all the other nights either."
VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks don't have a lot of young, promising forward prospects to call up from the American Hockey League, but they'll get a good look at one in Nicklas Jensen against the Calgary Flames Saturday night.
Jensen celebrated his 21st birthday on Thursday, was called up from the Utica Comets on Friday and will start against the Flames in a top-six role, playing right wing with Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins.
The slumping Canucks have scored nine goals in their past nine games and hope Jensen can provide a needed offensive boost after scoring nine goals in his past 14 games in the AHL.
"He's come alive of late," coach John Tortorella said. "I'm going to put him in an offensive position at the start and see where we go."
The Canucks haven't looked like they are going anywhere lately.
A stretch of one win in 12 games has dropped Vancouver to 11th in the Western Conference and sparked talk of a need to rebuild a franchise thin on offensive forward prospects. When top-six right wing Zack Kassian was suspended three games for his hit on Dallas Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon in a 6-1 loss on Thursday, the Canucks finally turned to Jensen.
Kesler did not play Wednesday against the St. Louis Blues after hurting his left hand blocking a shot during the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and Tanev has missed seven games since injuring his right thumb blocking a shot against the Edmonton Oilers in late January.
They are welcome additions to the Canucks, who snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 1-0 win against St. Louis.
Kesler leads the team with 20 goals and is tops among NHL forwards in average ice time at 22:12 per game. He plays on the top power-play and penalty-kill units for the Canucks. He was injured by an Ilya Kovalchuk shot in the preliminary round in Sochi but played the final four games for the United States before returning here.
"He has been our most consistent guy," Canucks coach John Tortorella said. "He's been a horse, so it's a really good thing for our lineup. It kind of slots some other guys where they should be, so we're happy."
VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler was back on the ice and in the spotlight Thursday, but the hand he injured during the 2014 Sochi Olympics was far from the biggest story.
Kesler, who didn't play in the Canucks' 1-0 win against the St. Louis Blues the night before, spent most of his lengthy post-practice media scrum denying reports he had asked for a trade out of Vancouver.
"Completely false," Kesler said. "I'm happy. I love my teammates. I love the city. My son was born here, my kids grew up here."
Reports surfaced Wednesday night that Kesler had asked for a trade at the start of the season, and speculation has surrounded the Canucks for weeks that Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin are the team's only untouchable players.
"It's coming from our seven-game losing streak, and when you have reports that everybody not named Sedin is on the trading block, I think it stems from that," said Kesler, who has a no-trade clause on a contract with a $5 million annual salary-cap charge through end of the 2015-16 season.
VANCOUVER -- So much for the 2014 Sochi Olympics giving the injury-ravaged Vancouver Canucks time to rest and recover.
Although a couple key players are expected to return against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday, none will make up for the loss of second-line center Ryan Kesler, who won't play after injuring his hand in Sochi.
"He's out and day-to-day," coach John Tortorella said shortly before the Canucks skated Wednesday morning, refusing twice to elaborate.
VANCOUVER -- Already struggling mightily to score, the Vancouver Canucks received some bad news on defense heading into their game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET, TSN).
Defenseman Christopher Tanev won't play against the rival Blackhawks, and according to Vancouver radio station News 1130 AM will be out until after the 2014 Sochi Olympics with a broken thumb.
"He's day-to-day with an upper-body injury," assistant coach Mike Sullivan said, declining to address questions about the injury report.
Tanev never was counted on for offense but is averaging almost 21 minutes a game on a paring with Dan Hamhuis that regularly faces the opposition's top line. Tanev also is tied with Jason Garrison for the lead among Canucks defenseman with five goals, and is fourth with 14 points in 54 games this season.
VANCOUVER -- Given the injury-plagued season Jordan Schroeder has endured, you would be hard-pressed to use the word lucky in the same sentence as the Vancouver Canucks center.
But even Schroeder can see the good fortune in finally being ready to return after missing 44 games following ankle surgery at a time when the Canucks are already missing two skilled top-six forwards.
Schroeder, who also missed the first six games of the season after getting hurt blocking a shot in preseason action only to break his ankle in the third game back, returns to a team without two of its top-five scorers in Henrik Sedin (ribs) and Mike Santorelli (shoulder).
"Obviously you don't want to see your teammates injured, but it's good timing," Schroeder said of his return. "It opens up holes and opportunity for other guys."
VANCOUVER -- Struggling to score and missing captain and leading scorer Henrik Sedin, the Vancouver Canucks appear set to shake up their lines against the Phoenix Coyotes on Sunday, including dressing a seventh defenseman as a power-play specialist.
Though there were no morning skates Sunday for either team ahead of a 5 p.m. local start time, the indications from practice Saturday were that forward David Booth will be a healthy scratch so defensemanYannick Weber can play on the fourth line and man the point on a new-look power play that has been anything but powerful this season.
Vancouver is 28th in the NHL with the man-advantage at 14.3 percent and has converted two of 30 chances in its past eight games. Zack Kassian scored one of those goals during a 9-1 loss against the Anaheim Ducks and Weber had the other in a 3-2 shootout win against the Calgary Flames. But Weber, the Canucks' only dangerous right-hand shot from the point, was scratched for the return of defenseman Ryan Stantonagainst the Nashville Predators on Friday, and the power play went 0-for-5 in a 2-1 loss.
VANCOUVER -- The Nashville Predators announced Thursday that assistant coach Lane Lambert didn't accompany the team on its four-game road trip through Western Canada so he could stay in Nashville with his wife, Andi, while she undergoes chemotherapy treatment.
"If you know anything about Lane, you know he is a fantastic young coach, very detailed, passionate, and I am going to miss him on the bench," coach Barry Trotz said. "His wife and him have been absolute rocks with the stuff they have been going through."
Trotz said it was his decision to leave Lambert home.
"He would be here and his wife would want him here," Trotz said. "I made the decision more than him."
VANCOUVER -- The last-second trip to the left coast was a hectic one for new Nashville Predators defenseman Michael Del Zotto, but the move back to the left side made all the scrambling worthwhile.
Del Zotto was still a bit out of sorts after taking to the ice with his new team Thursday morning to prepare for a game against the Vancouver Canucks, but not as out of sorts as he was trying to play the right side as a left-shot defenseman for the New York Rangers this season. Getting the offensively gifted defenseman back on his natural left side was a big part of the trade for the Predators, who sent one of their excess right-shot defensemen, Kevin Klein, back to the Rangers.
"For sure, some guys enjoy playing the opposite side, but it's a very different game and for me, I've played left side my whole career and it was a bit of an adjustment," said Del Zotto, who will start with the Predators on the left side of impressive rookie Seth Jones.
Coach John Tortorella said Sedin, who leads the team with 40 points, will be a game-time decision against the Calgary Flames on Saturday night. Already playing through a finger injury on his left hand and wearing a splint on his pinky finger, Sedin left a 1-0 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes in the third period Thursday after taking a late cross-check in the ribs from Coyotes forward Martin Hanzal and did not return.
Sedin took part in the morning skate at Rogers Arena, including power-play drills, but said afterward no decision had been made on his status. The fact he didn't come back with the Canucks on the power play for the final four minutes of the 1-0 loss in Phoenix said a lot for a player who hasn't missed a game in almost 10 years, a streak of 678.
"That's when you want to be out there for sure, but I wouldn't have been any help for our team if I was out there," Sedin said. "This is the time when you don't want to miss out, you want to be there, and that's what every guy feels who plays a team sport."
VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks are close to getting several key players back, but they'll have to try to beat the hottest team in the NHL on Friday night with the same players that have lost the past five games.
Edler, who is skating with a brace on the right knee he sprained Dec. 3, does not have a timeline for his return. Burrows, who broke his jaw two days earlier, isn't expected back until Jan. 18 against Calgary.
"I feel great but it's a process when you have a broken bone," Burrows said. "They normally say it takes six, seven weeks to heal fully. If it's in your foot, and there are bones around it, you can maybe go in three or four. When it's the jawbone, you have to be extra cautious."
VANCOUVER -- First-year Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella didn't mince words when describing Dan Hamhuis earlier this season, saying the defenseman's "game was a dog's breakfast."
A few months later Hamhuis is an Olympian.
Hamhuis was among the surprises when Canada named its team for the 2014 Sochi Olympics on Tuesday morning, earning a spot ahead of Dan Boyle and Brent Seabrook, who both won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games, among others.
Despite representing Canada seven times internationally -- twice at the World Junior Championship and five times at the World Championship -- and being a part of the Olympic orientation camp in the fall, it was hard to picture Hamhuis at the Sochi Games as he was struggling to adjust to the new system installed by Tortorella.
"I didn't get off to the start I wanted but just tried to stay patient with myself and patiently get better, and I think my game's come around," said Hamhuis, who has four goals, 13 points and a plus-12 rating in 44 games while often being matched up against opponents' best lines.
As happy as Neal was for his teammates, it was hard to match their smiles after being left off the Canadian roster.
"You have to keep your head up, and try to keep a smile on your face but it is tough," Neal said. "It's disappointing, you wanted to be part of that team so bad and you only get so many chances. It's the chance of a lifetime to play for Team Canada at the Olympics."
VANCOUVER --Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo will be healthy enough to represent Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but there is still no indication when he'll be back with his NHL team.
Luongo spoke about his selection by Hockey Canada on Tuesday but was forbidden from talking about the ankle injury that kept him out against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, and required an MRI on Monday.
Luongo still hasn't skated and he won't play against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night, but there was no sign of a limp as he walked away from a long media scrum team officials threatened to cut short if there were questions about his injury. He did, however, admit to wondering about his Olympic chances after getting hurt in a game against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night.
"I mean, at that point I did not know what was going on exactly yet so obviously it crosses your mind," Luongo said, adding he never talked to Canada officials over the weekend about the injury. "But at the end of the day my main goal is to get healthy and play for the Canucks, so that's what I am worried about right now."
Luongo, who had been on the ice with goalie coach Roland Melanson a couple other times already, won't dress against the Lightning, but hopes to be back by the weekend.
"I felt really good out there today," said Luongo, adding he was first hurt stopping a shot from Evander Kane and left after feeling it again making another save a few minutes later. "I knew it wasn't serious given the fact I could still move around and skate off on my own."
Luongo isn't the only Canucks player nearing a return.
Luongo wasn't made available to the media after his hour-long skate and isn't expected to play against the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night, but looked fine running through a series of movement and recovery drills with goaltending coach Roland Melanson. He pushed off both legs on his skates and from his knees, dropping into and lifting up out of the butterfly while stopping shots.
Joacim Eriksson, called up from the American Hockey League after Luongo was hurt, was also on the ice and remained on the roster. He is expected to back up Eddie Lack, who improved to 7-2-0 with an 18-save, 2-0 shutout win against the Calgary Flames on Sunday.
Vancouver did call up rookie defenseman Frank Corrado from Utica of the AHL on Monday morning after Andrew Alberts was knocked out of the game on Sunday by a high hit from Calgary forward Brian McGrattan. Alberts joins Alexander Edler (right knee) and Ryan Stanton (left ankle) on the sidelines, though Edler, who was hurt in a game on Dec. 3, was among four players who skated Monday.
Back in Vancouver for the first time since winning Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, Bergeron said it was hard not to recall the celebrations 2 ½ years ago, both on the ice and in the room.
"Just celebrating with all the guys and it all happened here in this room, it does bring a lot of memories," Bergeron said. "And the final buzzer when you jump on the goalie and all celebrate together. Too many things to talk about, but it is obviously a special feeling."
Lucic, who is from Vancouver, shared those sentiments. But like most of his teammates, Lucic downplayed the significance of the rivalry that blossomed in that Cup Final and what it would mean Saturday.
Coach John Tortorella admitted that neither Jannik Hansen nor David Booth has been effective while taking turns on that top line since Burrows was injured four games ago. Tortorella also made it clear Zack Kassian, who scored five goals in the first seven games alongside the Sedins last season, isn't going to get a turn anytime soon.
There was a lot of talk about Kassian getting a regular shot with the Sedins coming into training camp, and he did in preseason before an eight-game suspension for breaking the jaw of Edmonton Oilers forward Sam Gagner with his stick. That included missing the first five games of the regular season, and Kassian has spent most of his time since on the third or fourth line, averaging 11:20 of ice time and sitting out as a healthy scratch once.
"I am not ready to put him in those situations when I am playing that line against probably one of their top two lines on the opposing team," Tortorella said of playing Kassian with the Sedins. "We are still in the process of trying to get Zack to process the game, not only with the puck but away from the puck. It's tough when you have to worry about pucks going in the back of your net, when players just aren't ready to read those situations. I don't feel he has learned that part of the game well enough to be put in those situations."
Instead, Canucks backup goalie Eddie Lack will play against the Hurricanes and Skinner, who had five goals and an assist in three games last week. It will be Lack’s first home game after watching Luongo come within seven seconds of a shutout in a 3-1 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday.
Lack is 3-2-0 with a .911 save percentage in his first full NHL season, including 29 saves in a 3-2 win in Carolina eight days earlier. The 25-year-old Swede has started the back half of five of the first six sets of back-to-back games for the Canucks, but always on the road.
"It's something I've been looking forward to for a while," Lack said of playing at home. "You nap in the hotel on the road, you nap in your own bed here, that's pretty much the only difference. It's still the same ice."
VANCOUVER – Two days after coach John Tortorella said he was worried about defenseman Andrew Alberts stepping into the lineup after six weeks as a healthy scratch, the Vancouver Canucks recalled defenseman Yannick Weber from the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League.
Alberts played his first game since Oct. 24 and just his fourth of the season Friday against thePhoenix Coyotes in place of Alexander Edler, who is out indefinitely with a right knee injury. But Alberts, who has played two of his four games as a forward this season, finished with just six minutes and 33 seconds of ice time and only played one shift after the second period of the 3-2 overtime win.
VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks won't change their lineup against the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday night, but coach John Tortorella is still trying to change his team's mentality.
Tortorella was upset his team sat on a 2-0 third period lead against the Phoenix Coyotes on Friday, blowing the lead midway through the period and giving away a point to a Pacific Division rival they are chasing before rallying to win 3-2 in overtime.
It was the fifth time in the past seven home games that the Canucks failed to hang onto a lead in the third period. And while he made it clear the team was not guilty of sitting back with the lead in the other four losses, Tortorella still sees room for improvement.
Alberts hasn't played since Oct. 24 and only one of the three games he has played this season came on defense; he filled in as a fourth-line forward in the other two. He played one 37-second shift Oct. 22 and three shifts totaling 1:49 on Oct. 24. Now the Canucks need him to fill some of the team-high 23:26 averaged by Edler, who is out indefinitely after injuring his right knee in a 3-1 win against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday.
Tortorella knows that is a lot to ask of Alberts.
"I love the guy. He is a great teammate. He just comes to work every day but he hasn't seen any game looks," Tortorella said. "With so many different looks coming at you, when you don't have those in game situations for as long as it's been, it's a tough spot.”
Coach Darryl Sutter would only confirm Carter was being activated from the injured list before the game and would be one of 13 forwards to take the pre-game skate.
Carter wasn't available to talk after the morning skate, but it seemed clear from the line rushes he would be back and on the second line. Carter, who had five goals and nine points his first 14 games, returns to a team that scored one goal its past two games, including a 1-0 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.
Despite the drought, the Kings, who also get big fourth-line forward Jordan Nolan back after he missed four games with an undisclosed injury, have a point in nine straight (6-0-3).
"We have been getting a lot of opportunities, we're just not finishing it off," Sutter said.
"I think it's OK but I don't know yet," Quenneville said, adding he "didn't know yet" how long Hossa will be gone.
Hossa missed three games with a lower body injury before returning to score a goal and add an assist in Chicago's last game, a 6-3 win against the Winnipeg Jets Thursday night. Hossa has scored 10 goals and recorded 17 points in 20 games this season.
With Chicago already missing forward Bryan Bickell, who was injured against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, Hossa's absence means Kris Versteeg will slide back up to the top line of the NHL's highest-scoring team. Versteeg has a goal and four points in four games since being re-acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers on Nov. 15.
With six goals scored during a five-game losing streak (0-3-2), Tortorella admitted he's just trying to find a winning mix.
"We're throwing it up against the wall here a little bit and we'll see what sticks," said Tortorella, who also split up Mike Santorelli and Chris Higgins.
Henrik will center Higgins and Jannik Hansen, who scored on Tuesday in his second game back after missing 10 with a shoulder injury. Daniel, who has 15 shots his past two games, will play on the left side of Santorelli and Ryan Kesler while Alexandre Burrows, who hasn't scored this season, drops from the first line to the third.
VANCOUVER --David Booth was looking forward to playing against his former team, the Florida Panthers, on Tuesday night. He won't get the chance.
Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella is making Booth a healthy scratch for the second time this season. The benching comes two games after Booth was recalled from a conditioning stint in the American Hockey League.
Booth, who has this season and next remaining on a contract with a $4.25 million salary-cap hit, comes out of the lineup because fourth-line wing Dale Weise is ready to return from a sprained left knee.
VANCOUVER – Struggling to score, the Vancouver Canucks appear ready to shake up their forwards against the Dallas Stars on Sunday, breaking up their loaded top line in favor of more balance.
Ryan Kesler was moved off the wing of the No.1 line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin in practice Saturday and replaced by Alexandre Burrows, who returns to his old spot without a goal in nine games this season.
"I know how to play with them,” Burrows said of the Sedin twins. “It should be fun, just give them the puck and go to the net.”
Vancouver has scored three goals during its first three-game losing streak of the season, including a 2-1 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night in which they blew a late 1-0 lead.
VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks will get some forward depth back during the next two games.
David Booth returns Thursday against the San Jose Sharks from a groin injury and conditioning stint in the American Hockey League, while Jannik Hansen (shoulder) returned to practice Wednesday and is eligible to come off long-term injured reserve Sunday against the Dallas Stars. And Dale Weise (knee) may join him after skating with the team for the first time Thursday.
"You have to get hit to feel comfortable but I am close," Weise said. "I'll practice Saturday and if that feels good, maybe Sunday. If not then Tuesday [against the Florida Panthers] I think I will be back."
It may have gotten lost amid plans for the retirement of Pavel Bure's No. 10, the contract extension Canucks forwards Daniel and Henrik Sedin signed Friday, the return of Mason Raymond to Vancouver, or the similarities between the Maple Leafs goaltending tandem and what the Canucks went through the past two seasons. But with forward Carter Ashton starting a two-game suspension for a hit from behind on Derek Smith of the Calgary Flames on Wednesday, Kulemin is the best option to take his place in a matchup with the Canucks' loaded top line of the Sedin twins with Ryan Kesler.
"Faceoffs are going to be important," Zetterberg said. "Both of our lines want to have the puck and it's not so fun to chase it."
The Red Wings have done too much chasing of the puck early this season, having been outshot in eight of their past 10 games and giving up 40 shots to the New York Rangers in a 3-2 overtime loss Saturday.
"We're too loose, we're giving up too many shots and we're not as tight as we should be defensively," coach Mike Babcock said.
While Gionta is back in Montreal for family reasons, Gallagher plans to be where Vancouver fans grew used to seeing him during his junior career with the nearby Giants of the Western Hockey League: in front of the net causing havoc.
San Jose has already beaten the Canucks eight straight, including a first-round sweep in last season's Stanley Cup Playoffs and the season opener for both teams Oct. 3.
The Sharks will be without defenseman Brad Stuart, who begins a three-game suspension for an illegal hit on New York Rangers forward Rick Nash. But Stuart was also out with a lower-body injury when the Sharks handed the Canucks a 4-1 loss to start the season in San Jose.
Splitting up identical twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin is such a rarity Schneider almost never saw it during his time in Vancouver. It certainly got the Canucks attention in Calgary.
"As soon as he wrote the lines on the board, it kind of gives you a little jolt when you see the twins split up. You know it's serious," said defenseman Kevin Bieksa. "I don't get paid the big bucks like the coaching staff to make those decisions and obviously I think they are better together, but at times it's definitely effective to split them up."
After falling behind 3-1 early in the third period, the Canucks stormed back , with the Sedins each setting up a goal on their new lines.
Tortorella downplayed the move, saying it was more about changing the entire forward mix after a miserable start.
VANCOUVER -- An already intense rivalry between the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers ratcheted up when they met in a preseason game that yielded two suspensions.
They play again Saturday night, and Canucks forward Dale Weise, who was suspended three preseason games for his check to the head of Oilers star Taylor Hall, said he isn't sure what to expect.
"I guess we'll see what happens," Weise said. "I'm going to go out and play the same way, and regardless if it's Taylor Hall or someone else I am going to finish that check every time and look to be physical tonight. And if I have to answer the bell it's part of the game."
VANCOUVER -- New Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella's reliance on blocking shots generated plenty of discussing around the hockey world. That isn't likely to change now that top-line wing Alexandre Burrows will miss at least two weeks with a lower-body injury.
Burrows was hurt blocking a slap shot while killing off a 5-on-3 during the Canucks' season-opening 4-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night. He finished the game but was spotted limping out of the locker room, and hasn't been back on the ice since. On Saturday, he was spotted wearing a walking boot.
"He's going to be out a couple of weeks, that's where we are going to leave it right now,"Tortorella said, refusing to get any more specific about the injury.
Burrows averaged just under 30 goals over the last four full seasons, and led the team with 13 in the shortened 2012-13 season while playing alongside Daniel and Henrik Sedin on the No.1 line. He joins depth center Jordan Schroeder, who broke his foot blocking a shot in the preseason, on the injured list.
The Canucks, who averaged just over six blocks a game, blocked 22 shots in the season opener against the Sharks.
"I know you are probably going to ask about 15 questions about shot blocking,"Tortorella said. "Alex Burrows made the right play and if he doesn't make that play, he'd probably never play a 5-on-3 again here, so don't turn it into that. It was the right play. Injuries happen in a lot of different ways, so we'll continue to try to play defense – not just shot block – play defense the way you are supposed to."
There was concern Booth might miss the start of the season after only playing 12 games last year before ankle surgery, being held out of the start of training camp, and pulling out of a game last weekend after tweaking his groin in the morning skate. But coach John Tortorella surprised everyone by announcing the oft-injured winger is ready to play.
"David Booth as far as I am concerned is playing tonight, unless someone tells me something different," Tortorella said when asked if Booth had resumed skating.
VANCOUVER -- Roberto Luongo was back in the media spotlight Wednesday, and again he was asked about his state of mind coming back as the No.1 goaltender for a Vancouver Canucks team that took that title away and tried to trade him for almost 18 months.
Except this time Luongo wasn't asked if he was happy about coming back to Vancouver after preparing to leave for so long, a question he danced around in previous interviews, but whether or not it was important. It certainly seems to be among the fan base.
"You guys [have to] understand, after what has happened over two years, it's a process and just kind of got to feel it out and see how it goes" Luongo said. "I am not saying I am unhappy. I am just saying right now I just want to be playing and then we'll see how things go. I think it's tough to do a complete 180 turn on something like this."
VANCOUVER --David Booth skated with his Vancouver Canucks teammates during informal practices late last week, so it surprised some to hear new coach John Tortorella say Wednesday that the power forward still hadn't been cleared medically to start training camp.
"Day to day," Tortorella said, jumping in on a question directed toward general manager Mike Gillis sitting next to him before both said it wasn't a surprise to them that Booth isn't ready. "We want to try and keep him healthy, so we want to be careful here."
Booth injured his groin during on-ice fitness testing last season and missed the first month of the season. He returned and scored one empty-net goal in 12 games before badly spraining his ankle in an awkward fall March 16, an injury that required surgery six days later.
VANCOUVER – Vancouver Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider flew with the team Saturday afternoon, but there was no word whether the injured No. 1 would be available for Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday.
Schneider missed the final two games of the regular season with what Vigneault labeled a “body" injury, but was back on the ice Sunday and said Tuesday he was ready to play in the series’ opener Wednesday night.
Roberto Luongo played the first two games instead, and Schneider stayed off the ice Thursday before returning to practice Friday. He has not dressed as the backup in the best-of-7 series, which the Sharks lead 2-0.
Canucks defenseman Chris Tanev, who missed the final 10 games of the regular season, also made the trip to San Jose but was wearing a walking boot on his injured right ankle as he walked through the airport in Vancouver.
VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Canucks arrived at the airport Saturday afternoon with different ideas about how to move on from a stunning loss to the San Jose Sharks the night before and start preparing for Game 3 on Sunday night.
As hard as it was to get over blowing a lead in the final minute and losing 3-2 in overtime on Friday; as devastating as it was be so close to evening the best-of-7 series only to fall behind 2-0 in the Western Conference Quarterfinal, they only have one more day to recover.
Captain Henrik Sedin thought they should "wake up today and look forward to tomorrow," moving on quickly and forgetting a loss goalie Roberto Luongo labeled "a heartbreaker."
VANCOUVER -- There is little doubt in Dan Boyle’s mind why the San Jose Sharks lasted only five games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season: Porous penalty killing.
The Sharks gave up six goals on 18 chances against the St. Louis Blues and bowed out earlier than any of their nine-straight postseason appearances.
“Our PK let us down and we were out,” Boyle said bluntly.
The veteran defenseman is confident it won’t happen again, not after the Sharks’ penalty killing unit went from 29th in the NHL at 76.9 percent last season to sixth in the League this year, killing off 85 percent of the chances they gave up.
That success continued in Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals on Wednesday, with San Jose surrendering three shots on two chances for the Vancouver Canucks. Aggressively pursuing the puck in their own end, and seemingly not afraid to overload on one side, the Sharks kept the Canucks off balance and never really let them get set up and comfortable.
“One guy goes, everybody goes,” Boyle said. “Our unit as a whole has done a very good job all year and it’s just as important as the power play. It’s huge.”
VANCOUVER -- The San Jose Sharks were the second best faceoff team in the NHL during the regular season and continued that dominance on the draw against the Vancouver Canucks in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Led by Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, San Jose won 40 of 70 faceoffs (57 percent) in the opener of the Western Conference Quarterfinals on Wednesday, but Canucks coach Alain Vigneault takes issue with how the Sharks did it.
“Instead of trying to beat some of those guys clean, the way they cheat and are allowed to cheat, it makes it more challenging,” Vigneault said when asked about the faceoff discrepancy. “They got quite a few guys that can take draws.”
Havlat left with nine minutes left in the first period of San Jose's 3-1 win Wednesday, and replays of his last shift show Bieksa lifting his stick up into Havlat's groin area as he turned to box out for a rebound in front of the Vancouver net.
"Havlat? I don't remember," Bieksa said after the Canucks' optional morning skate Friday. "I don't know. I'll have to watch it over again to see what you are talking about."
Havlat was seen walking gingerly in the hallways of Rogers Arena but did not take part in the Sharks' skate Friday. Coach Todd McLellan didn't provide an update on the injury or have much to say about the incident that caused it.
"Marty is not playing [Friday] and I guess that is all that is important," McLellan said. "If there was a situation that somebody crossed the line, it could have been dealt with on the ice or after."
Asked if it was addressed at the League level, he said, "Not that I am aware of."
VANCOUVER -- Goaltending was back in the Vancouver Canucks' spotlight on Thursday, but they have bigger problems to worry about against the San Jose Sharks: scoring goals, killing penalties and winning faceoffs.
Roberto Luongo confirmed he would be back in net for Game 2 against San Jose on Friday Friday (10 p.m. ET, CNBC, TSN, RDS) after a getting a somewhat surprising start in Wednesday's 3-1 loss to open the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Sharks.
Injured No.1 Cory Schneider didn't practice Thursday after being on the ice the previous four days, but there was no word whether he suffered a setback. Coach Alain Vigneault continued to label him "day-to-day" with a "body" injury.
"Not too sure what's going on with that," Luongo said of Schneider's health. "It's a playoff series, it's a bit of a mind game with the opposition, and I am just in the groove now to focus as if I am playing every game until I am told otherwise."
VANCOUVER -- It didn’t take new San Jose Sharks forward Raffi Torres long to make a lasting impact on the past two Stanley Cup Playoffs, even if it wasn’t always positive.
Despite vowing to change his approach after a hit to the head knocked out Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa and earned Torres a 25-game suspension (later reduced to 21) in the first round last year, Torres is promising not to let up against his former Vancouver Canucks teammates in these playoffs.
“As the game is going and the puck is dumped in you can't focus on what friends you have over there,” Torres, acquired from the Phoenix Coyotes at the NHL Trade Deadline, said before Game 1 on Wednesday. “I don’t want them easing up on me.”
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault promised there would be no more surprises before the puck drops for Game 1, insisting Kesler exercised the option on an optional practice, despite the fact every other Vancouver player took part.
"We've got him locked up in the back, we're feeding him raw meat," Vigneault said with a laugh. "The beast will be ready tonight."
VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks added another twist to their season-long goaltending soap opera when the club announced Roberto Luongo will start in net when the Canucks play Game 1 of their first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series against the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS).
The possibility of Luongo playing in the opener was raised when Cory Schneider missed the final two games of the regular season and stayed off the ice for five days with what the team called a "body" injury. However, Schneider skated on his own Sunday and with team since Monday and Tuesday. He said after practice Tuesday he felt good enough to play.
Instead it will be Luongo, who lost the No. 1 job two games into last year's playoffs and started this season as Schneider's backup while expecting a trade that never happened.
"It's kind of funny I'm in this situation, but at the same time I'm not surprised," Luongo said, adding he didn't learn he was starting until Wednesday morning. "The way things have been going the last year, I didn't rule it out, for sure. It's been a fun ride and it's only going to get better from here on out."
The ride won't feature Schneider on the bench. First-year pro Joe Cannata, called up from the American Hockey League when Schneider couldn't practice last week, will dress as the backup.
The Ducks will be without seven regulars when they play here Thursday, though initial plans to include captain Ryan Getzlaf among those resting may be scuttled with fellow center Nick Bonino not feeling well.
“We don't know yet, probably won’t know until game time,” Getzlaf said after the morning skate. “Either way, I’m kind of impartial to the whole thing. Sometimes its almost better to keep going as it is to rest, but the last couple of days have been good rest because I’ve been off both, so if I do play tonight it will be fine.”
With or without Getzlaf, the Ducks won’t resemble the team that clinched the Pacific Division on Monday night with a win against the Edmonton Oilers.
The Ducks clinched the Pacific Division and locked themselves into the second seed in the Western Conference with a 3-0 win against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night. Anaheim finishes the season at home against the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night.
“You can look at it both ways, it’s a fine line,” coach Bruce Boudreau said of resting players. “I think some guys do need a rest. … But I don’t think those two guys are going to lose anything. They are by far the oldest line in the NHL, I gotta believe."
VANCOUVER -- While the Chicago Blackhawks contemplate resting key players in the final week of a dominant regular season, the Vancouver Canucks are just trying to find enough healthy defensemen to make it to the end.
Frank Corrado will not only make his NHL debut for Vancouver against League-leading Chicago on Monday night, he will do so on a top-four pairing with Alexander Edler. Not bad for a 20-year-old who was playing junior 10 days ago.
Corrado's debut comes with Kevin Bieksa and Christopher Tanev -- the Canucks' only two right-shot defensemen -- both out with lower-body injuries. Keith Ballard joined them on the sidelines after tweaking his back in a fight Saturday.
Derek Joslin was the only other healthy option, but he shoots left, so the Canucks called up Corrado, who played three games with their American Hockey League affiliate after his junior season in the Ontario Hockey League ended.
"It's a combination of we're curious to see if he can play at this level and, personnel-wise, we have two options right now and one of those options is a right-handed shot," coach Alain Vigneault said. "So that's basically how he won the job."
VANCOUVER –Vancouver Canucks left wing Chris Higgins is close to coming back from a minor knee strain. That return should also provide enough forward depth to help the Canucks bring back their three-line attack.
Until then, however, Vancouver will probably continue to load up their top-two lines. That means playing centers Ryan Kesler and Derek Roy together on the second unit as they try to clinch a playoff spot Saturday night with a win over a Detroit Red Wings team that needs a victory to move back into eighth place in the West.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said he would take the afternoon to decide whether to continue the two-line tactic of the past two games. Throughout the team's morning skate, Higgins skated on the third line with Roy in the middle and Jannik Hansen on the right.
Higgins huddled with the coach and trainers towards the end of practice, but said he wasn’t yet ready to play.
“We’re pretty close but it didn't feel quite right and I hadn't had a full practice with the team,” said Higgins, who has played well with trade-deadline addition Roy, getting 14 shots in three games before hurting his knee and missing three contests. “Definitely close. It just needs another day, get a full practice in.”
VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks will welcome Ryan Kesler back against the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday night after the Selke Trophy-winning center missed more than a month with a broken bone in his foot, but the injury news wasn't entirely positive after the morning skate.
Defenseman Christopher Tanev will miss the game against the Coyotes after hurting his right leg taking a hit from Calgary Flames forward Tim Jackman in the first period on Saturday night. Tanev went straight to the locker room, returned for the second period and finished the game, but wasn't on the ice with teammates on Monday morning.
"It should be more day-to-day here," coach Alain Vigneault said. "We're going to give him a day today to recuperate and see how he feels tomorrow."
They're just not entirely sure what Kesler they'll get after being off skates for a month.
Kesler has played just seven games all season, missing the start recovering from offseason wrist and shoulder surgeries only to break a bone in his foot blocking a shot in his Feb 15 return. He played six more games before the fracture turned up in a CT scan, and he couldn't skate until late last week.
"I'm not exactly sure what we're going to get back, to tell you the truth," coach Alain Vigneault said. "He's been off skates for quite some time, but like they used to do in the old days, we are going to play him into shape."
Kesler has played seven games all season, missing the start recovering from offseason wrist and shoulder surgeries only to break a bone in his foot blocking a shot two periods into his return. He played six more games before the fracture turned up in a CT scan, but the only thing keeping Kesler from playing now is a lack of conditioning after spending a month on crutches.
“It’s finally healed and it's just a matter of time for the wind to get back and for me to feel comfortable,” Kesler said after taking part in an optional morning skate Saturday. “Obviously being out there you want to play tonight, but that's not realistic. I am itching big time. It’s been a tough year for me but everything happens for a reason. … My goal is to get some games in before playoffs and feel good about my game heading into playoffs.”
VANCOUVER -- The cavalry is coming for the Vancouver Canucks, but for now they'll have to rely on trade-deadline acquisition Derek Roy for a boost.
Roy will make his Canucks debut against the streaking Edmonton Oilers on Thursday, but the bigger news coming out the Vancouver morning skate was the number of injured teammates who could soon join him in the lineup.
Selke Trophy-winning center Ryan Kesler highlighted the list of hurt forwards out before the rest of the team took the ice, skating for the first time since a broken bone was discovered in his foot in late February. Forwards Mason Raymond and Dale Weise, each out with a shoulder injury, also skated, as did defenseman Keith Ballard, who has been sidelined due to a fractured foot. All could be back within a week -- some maybe by the weekend -- but for now a Canucks team that has struggled to score will rely on Roy for a lift on and off the ice.
"Having a guy like Derek is hopefully going to be a big addition to the lineup and we're excited to have him," said goalie Cory Schneider, who will make his ninth straight start. "We saw a bunch of the wounded guys skating out there today, so that's always a good sign and will bring some optimism back into the room."
Moved up from defense to play third line left wing because of injuries to six forwards, Ballard will join them in the infirmary after fracturing his foot in a 1-0 shootout win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, and won’t play Thursday night against the Colorado Avalanche.
“Ballard suffered a very, very, very minor fracture to his foot last game -- not exactly sure when and how,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “If this was playoff hockey he would probably be able to suck it up and play, but considering it is quite painful right now we are going
to give him a couple of days. It’s not something that is long term, it’s day to day, very minor.”
"You always want to see shots early but it's a double-edged sword," Schneider said. "You don't want to see breakaways right away. You want to get in a rhythm and get busy and get your feet wet because it's been eight days."
The Canucks and Blues each will welcome back an important forward when they meet at Rogers Arena.
Luongo gets a fourth straight start for just the second time this season despite giving up nine goals in his last two, including three in the final period of a 5-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.
Luongo has, however, only given up one goal in his last four starts against the Wild at Rogers Arena, and the Canucks are playing the first of back-to-back games, with Cory Schneider almost certain to start Tuesday against St. Louis.
Despite being listed as a game-time decision, all signs at the morning skate pointed to Bieksa coming back after missing seven of the past eight games. After losing six of those seven without him (1-4-2), the Canucks will welcome him back with open arms.
"I don't think I am the savior," said Bieksa, who leads Vancouver's defense with five goals. "The answers are definitely in this room right now."
VANCOUVER -- This week just keeps getting better and better for Bracken Kearns.
First he got the call from the San Jose Sharks on Sunday, saying he'd been called up from the American Hockey League after veteran forward Martin Havlat was hurt on Saturday. Then he checked the schedule and saw the Sharks' next game was in his hometown of Vancouver against a Canucks team that his father, Dennis, played more than a decade for. Then he got put on San Jose's top line with Joe Thornton and Logan Couture.
For a late bloomer with just five NHL games in eight professional seasons, it may even top playing his first NHL game with the Florida Panthers on Oct. 20, 2011.
"That was a big deal for me," Kearns said of his NHL debut, "But coming here and getting to play with Thornton and Couture, it's just incredible. I checked the schedule and I couldn't believe it, so I am pretty pumped."
VANCOUVER -- Defenseman Keith Ballard wasn’t happy watching the Vancouver Canucks' past two games from the press box as a healthy scratch, something that has happened more often than he’d like over his three seasons with the team.
Ballard does not, however, want to be traded out of Vancouver, speculation that began when his agent was quoted as planning to talk to the team. The beleaguered blueliner still prefers fighting for ice time on a good team to playing a lot more on a bad one, something he knows all too well from spending his first five NHL seasons out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes.
“First five years, I played 25 minutes, up by one, down by one, PP, PK, over the boards every other shift,” Ballard said. “We finished 26th, 27th, 29th, and whatever in the League, and it’s not fun. It’s fun playing a lot. It’s fun getting those opportunities. It’s fun taking the one-timer on the 5-on-3, but it [stinks] losing. Regardless of what happens here, or how long I’m here, I like it here because of that fact (it’s a winning team). It’s a good group.”
VANCOUVER -- Defenseman Kevin Bieksa remains out of the Vancouver Canucks lineup for a second straight game Tuesday after aggravating a groin injury in his return from the same injury Saturday.
Bieksa, who averages 21:32 of ice time and plays on the power play and penalty kill for the Canucks, missed two games before coming back to play against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday. He finished that game, but did not play Sunday on the road against the Calgary Flames, and was not back on the ice for the game-day skate Tuesday morning ahead of Tuesday night's game against the San Jose Sharks.
"He's day to day," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "Everybody that watched that game, he was quick, he was strong 1-on-1, and then towards the end of the game, one hit, one push, and he felt it again. He finished the game and didn't think anything of it. Next day [he] got up and was real stiff."
Bieksa is expected to join the team on a three-game road trip that starts Thursday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Here are the rest of the projected lines and defense pairings for Tuesday's game between the Sharks and Canucks at Rogers Arena:
Despite winning his previous start five days earlier against the Dallas Stars, Schneider sat and watched Luongo start consecutive games, earning the second by pitching a shutout in the first.
So when Schneider said he was "sick and tired of being an average goalie" after the loss to Phoenix, most also assumed he was sick and tired of not being able to get into any kind of a rhythm. As he prepared to play against Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night, Schneider insisted to NHL.com that wasn't the case.
“I know people try to read between the lines and interpret things, but if you just read the words, exactly what I am saying is what I mean. It was self-analysis of the last four games," Schneider said. "I was just a little annoyed with myself. It has nothing to do with anything else."
But whether or not he cracks a roster that has won five straight games and seven of the past eight remains to be seen. Sutter certainly hinted it wasn’t guaranteed, even though Martinez was one of the six defensemen to play every game of the Kings’ Stanley Cup Championship run last summer.
“He’s not getting in just for what he did,” Sutter said of Martinez, who hasn’t played since Feb. 11 and took part in his first full practice Friday. “He’s got to beat somebody out. So when that happens, if it’s based on other guy’s performance, [it's] not that big a deal.”
VANCOUVER -- Defenseman Kevin Bieksa is a game-time decision for the Vancouver Canucks after missing the past two with a sore groin, but whether he plays or not, they will have to shake up their roster for Saturday night’s game against the streaking Los Angeles Kings.
Ryan Kesler’s fractured right foot, and his attempt to play through the injury for six games, made sure of that. By the time the results of Kesler’s CT scan were known, the Canucks had placed fourth-line wing Aaron Volpatti on waivers a few hours earlier, losing him to a claim by the Washington Capitals.
That combination led to Vancouver claiming 6-foot-5, 228-pound forward Tom Sestito off waivers from the Philadelphia Flyers, and the recall and subsequent demotion back to the American Hockey League of journeyman Andrew Ebbett.
It won’t help a Canucks team struggling to find chemistry and coming off consecutive losses, especially with three natural centers among their 12 healthy forwards.
VANCOUVER -- Vancouver center Ryan Kesler has a broken right foot and could miss the Canucks' busiest month of the season.
Coach Alain Vigneault said a CT scan taken on Wednesday morning revealed the fracture. He did not have a timeline for the return of his Selke Trophy-winning center, but it's bad timing for a team about to play 16 games in March.
"Any fracture is usually four to six weeks, depending on the nature of the fracture," Vigneault said. "Some are less -- hairline fractures. I haven't gotten at length with our doctors how long this will be."
VANCOUVER -- The Phoenix Coyotes won't get any of their key injured players back for Tuesday night's road game against the Vancouver Canucks, but coach Dave Tippett expects his team to get back to its defense-first approach after a couple of letdowns.
It was missing when Phoenix uncharacteristically blew consecutive leads against the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames to start this three-game road trip. They lost in a shootout in Edmonton on Saturday after blowing a two-goal lead, and in regulation to Calgary the next night after giving up two goals in the final 1:23 to lose 5-4.
"Maybe a wake-up call for our group," captain Shane Doan said.
The rare defensive letdowns can be partly explained by the continued absence of veteran defenseman Derek Morris, who skated hard on Tuesday morning, but will miss a fifth game. Fellow defender David Schlemko, who signed a two-year, $2.38-million contract extension on Monday, has been out for three weeks with a shoulder injury.
"Derek Morris has probably been one of, if not our best player when he is in the lineup," Doan said. "Hopefully we get him back soon."
His teammates are hoping to bounce back from a defensive effort that would be enough to make most goalies nauseous. A sick Schneider watched from the bench as Roberto Luongo was torched during an 8-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.
"We were all pretty embarrassed by that game," Schneider said of the last stop on a four-game road trip. "We're not going to let that sit in our minds too long, we're going to come back and defend home ice."
They will do so without defenseman Kevin Bieksa, who injured his groin during the road trip and remains day-to-day. As one of only two natural right-side defensemen on the roster, the loss of Bieksa necessitated some juggling on the defensive pairings, and after they failed miserably against the Red Wings, there will be more Tuesday.
While that will only increase the glare of an already bright spotlight on the Canucks' rotating goalie situation, Luongo is the first to pass the credit for his NHL-leading 1.45-goals against average to the tight defensive play in front of him.
Going into the Canucks' game against the St. Louis Blues Sunday night, Vancouver leads the NHL with just 14 goals against while playing five-on-five. Four of those came Friday in a blown-lead loss to the Stars, and that included two Schneider would admittedly want back. Up until that game, though, Luongo said this is as tight as the Canucks have played in his six-plus seasons here.
"It's not just us goalies and the D, it's the forwards too, coming back, putting pressure on guys, making sure they don't have the time and space to make plays," Luongo said. "It all starts with back pressure – we've barely given up any odd-man rushes. If you eliminate that from the game we already have a big jumpstart on other teams. After that just make sure we play our system 5-on-5 and don't give up much."
That change will only increase the glare of an already bright spotlight on the Canucks' rotating goalie situation. But Luongo is the first person to credit the team in front of him for his NHL-leading 1.45 goals-against average.
Going into Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Blues, Vancouver leads the NHL with just 14 goals allowed while playing five-on-five. Four of those came Friday night, when they blew a 3-1 lead mid-way through the game. The Stars scored three unanswered goals to win that game, including two Schneider would likely want back. Despite the musical chairs in the Vancouver crease, Luongo insists this is as sound the Canucks have played defensively in his six-plus seasons here.
“It’s not just us goalies and the D, it's the forwards too. Coming back, putting pressure on guys, making sure they don’t have the time and space to make plays,” Luongo said. “It all starts with back pressure – we’ve barely given up any odd-man rushes. If you eliminate that from the game we already have a big jumpstart on other teams.”
Vancouver allowed just six goals during their six-game win streak, which coincided with Alain Vigneault's decision to break up his top defensive pairing of Jason Garrison and Alexander Edler, who is playing his first full season as a left shot on the right side. The Vancouver defense has been mostly airtight since the change.
“It’s an extremely tight team and we have close support, especially in our end and that’s been good to get out of our end," Garrison said. "You have quick, easy passes and everyone moves as a five-man unit.”
Jake Allen’s strong play means the Blues don’t have to rush him back into a game.
After winning his first two NHL starts, Allen will be in goal for a third-straight game Sunday night against the Vancouver Canucks. Halak, though, told NHL.com after the morning skate he will back up for the first time since hurting his groin in a Feb. 1 game against the Detroit Red Wings. Halak was set to start Feb. 11 against the Los Angeles Kings, but tweaked the groin in the pre-game warm ups.
"I’m going to back up tonight," Halak said.
Allen earned the chance to build off his first two NHL wins while Brian Elliott, who will watch from the press box, tries to find his game with video and on-ice work with goaltending coach Corey Hirsch.
"We know we’ve got to get Jaro and Brian going," said coach Ken Hitchcock of Allen’s strong play. "This just bought us some time."
The defenseman returned as a franchise leader Friday.
As Rome walked down a hallway that became familiar during three seasons in Vancouver, he couldn't help but notice his name on the wall where the Canucks honor past team award winners. Atop each category, from all-stars and MVPs, to most exciting player and unsung hero, was a piece of white hockey tape with Rome’s full name scribbled across it.
Rome, who often made headlines in Vancouver for getting picked to play ahead of more established, higher-paid players, took it in stride.
"Nothing new," Rome said. "It's all good fun. Guys like to have fun here and I had a lot of fun in the three years I was here."
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Jaromir Jagr celebrated his 41st birthday Friday in the city where his NHL career started, giving the Dallas Stars forward a chance to reflect on being drafted almost 23 years ago.
The Pittsburgh Penguins picked Jagr with the fifth choice of the 1990 NHL Draft, which was held at BC Place, across the street from where he will play against the Vancouver Canucks on Friday.
A lot has changed since then, including the building the Canucks play in, as well as five players who will play with and against him Friday who hadn't been born when Jagr was drafted.
Evidently Jagr's opinion of himself has changed too.
"Back then I never thought I am going to play NHL," he said. "I didn't think I am good enough to play NHL and I was wondering why the Pittsburgh Penguins draft me. I was very thin, not very strong."
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- This time Ryan Kesler left no doubt he was back.
After being evasive and playing coy following his first full practice the day before, the Vancouver Canucks' Selke Trophy-winning center declared himself ready to return Friday night against the visiting Dallas Stars. Kesler hasn't played in almost 10 months after undergoing shoulder surgery in May then needing a wrist operation in June.
"I flipped AV's coin out there on the ice and it said I was, so I think I'll be playing," Kelser said, joking in reference to coach Alain Vigneault's ongoing gag about using a coin to choose his starting goalie. "It's been a long road, so for it to finally be here is pretty exciting."
Schneider is focused only on the fact the coin flip landed on him for Friday's game against the visiting Dallas Stars.
He expects there will be a lot more flip-flopping as the upcoming schedule gets busier.
"I don't think there's much to figure out," Schneider said of getting the start after Roberto Luongo made 25 saves in a 2-1 win against Minnesota on Tuesday. "We are going to be pretty busy here the next six weeks, so I don't think it's going to be a lot of rhyme or reason. It's just going to be playing a guy who is playing well and try to share the load so if the team is maybe tired the guy in net will be fresh and be the difference."
Both Luongo and Schneider have been just that throughout a six-game win streak.
Luongo won the first three amid a stretch of four straight starts before Schneider took over for back-to-back wins of his own, giving up just one goal each time. Luongo was back in goal against Minnesota, but will watch Schneider play against the Stars.
Statistically, Luongo is better overall with a .943 save percentage and 1.45 goals-against average that ranks first in the NHL. But after since an opening-night face plant as the new would-be No.1 that saw him pulled allowing after five goals on 14 shots, Schneider has been just as good, posting a .946 save percentage while winning four of five starts.
All of which makes Vigneault's coin flip a no-lose bet.
About the same time Kesler was creating a buzz with a regular shift in practice, the team issued a press release announcing Malhotra had been placed on injured reserve for the rest of the season. The popular 32-year-old center's season – and possibly his career – is over because of a vision-threatening eye injury suffered almost two years ago.
Canucks general manager Mike Gillis said he made the decision out of concerns for Malhotra's health, and that Malhotra was risking further injury by continuing to play with limited vision in his left eye.
"I wouldn't put anybody in a position where if I was uncomfortable with their ability to protect themselves or ability to function out on the ice and be at a higher risk than normal," Gillis said. "Particularly in today's game, where it is so fast, the players are so big that even someone not trying to hurt him or injure him, an innocent collision could be really damaging if you don't know or you are unaware."
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Pretty soon the only place Henrik Sedin will still be looking up to Markus Naslund is in the rafters of Rogers Arena, where his fellow Swede’s retired No. 19 Vancouver Canucks jersey hangs.
Sedin is one point behind Naslund’s franchise record of 756 heading into Tuesday’s game against the Minnesota Wild, and will soon pass the player who preceded him -- first on the outdoor rinks of their hometown and later as captain of the Canucks. But along with Trevor Linden and Stan Smyl, the other players whose names hang from the Rogers Arena rafters but already sit below him on the scoring list, Sedin will continue to look up to Naslund in other ways.
“It’s a great honor,” Sedin said. “Markus is a guy from our hometown, and Trevor, what he meant for us our first couple of years, and a guy like Stan [now a Canucks senior adviser] is around the team on a weekly basis, so it's very nice to be up there with those guys.”
News that symptoms related to multiple sclerosis will prevent Josh Harding from making a start on the second half of back-to-back games not only means a likely first NHL game for 22-year-old American Hockey League call up Darcy Kuemper, but could create a crunch on the 23-man roster should the Wild activate defenseman Jared Spurgeon from the injured list.
At the other end, it will be Luongo back in goal for the Canucks after watching Schneider win the past two.
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Symptoms related to multiple sclerosis will prevent Josh Harding from playing against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, but the Minnesota Wild goaltender insists the disease will not prevent him from continuing to stop pucks in the NHL.
Harding said he is "100 percent" confident he could keep playing through the unpredictable, incurable disease that can affect vision, hearing, memory, balance and mobility. He was diagnosed with the illness in October.
"Coming into this I knew it wasn't going to be the most perfect road," he said after skating Tuesday. "There are going to be some bumps in the road and some challenges and I know things are going to get better and that's a positive point."
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- If you handed Ben Street a team of Hollywood’s top screenwriters, he still can’t imagine coming up with a better script for his NHL debut than what will play out Saturday night.
Called up from the American Hockey League by the Calgary Flames the day before, Street will play his first NHL game in his hometown against the Vancouver Canucks, in front of family, friends and his fiancé, while the rest of the Street clan watches into the wee hours back in Newfoundland on "Hockey Night in Canada."
It’s hard to imagine a better way to celebrate Hockey Day in Canada.
"I don’t know what else I would add into the story," Street said after Saturday’s morning skate. "On 'Hockey Night in Canada' where you grew up, I don’t think there’s anything I can add to it at this point."
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Calgary Flames are a lot better equipped to handle a recent run of injuries to key players than they would have been when they visited the Vancouver Canucks two-and-a-half weeks ago.
Back then, everyone was still trying to figure out where to go in the new system installed by new coach Bob Hartley.
Now the incumbents can at least tell the new guys where to go.
"Now there are 17 guys that know the system, and we bring in new guys and they can just follow the lead and other guys will be able to even tell them on the ice, 'Hey, this is where you are supposed to be,'" veteran Alex Tanguay said. "A couple weeks ago we had a couple guys on each line that didn’t know where they should be."
Schneider, who came into the season as the new No. 1 after taking over from Roberto Luongo early in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, watched Luongo start – and excel in – four straight games before making 22 saves Thursday in a 4-1 win at the Minnesota Wild.
"I've always liked to get in a rhythm and tonight is another opportunity to do that," said Schneider, who went 10 days between starts. "I don't change anything regardless of who I am playing, or how long it's been, it all stays the same. I think that's part of staying consistent is doing the same things over and over again that give you success. If you get out of those patterns you see differences in your game."
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The heated rivalry between the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks rarely needs any extra fuel to spark a fire, but there is plenty of it going into their first meeting of the season Friday.
It will be the first time the teams have played each other since March 21, when Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith hit Canucks forward Daniel Sedin with an elbow to the head, earning a five-game suspension. Sedin sustained a concussion and missed almost a month, and in his absence the Canucks lost the first three games of their first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series to the Los Angeles Kings.
Sedin and Keith both downplayed the incident Friday morning.
"I don't get angry that much," Sedin said, while insisting several times a win was all that mattered Friday. "It was more disappointment, so that's the only feeling I have. From what I heard he is a great guy and I still believe he is a good guy, that's not going to change. I think when the rivalry gets that heated players maybe do things they shouldn't do, and that was probably the case."
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said backup goaltender Ray Emery will start Saturday in Calgary for just the second time this season. Quenneville wouldn't confirm whether Bollig or Mayers would play on the fourth line Friday, but Mayers stayed out for a hard skate long after his teammates left in the morning, as did Rozsival, who is close to coming back from a knee injury.
Coming off consecutive losses, winless in three road games, still missing captain Gabriel Landeskog to injury, and facing a team they haven't beaten in regulation in 17 tries, Colorado moved third-line center John Mitchell into the top-six as a left wing and inserted call-up Michael Sgarbossa to make his NHL debut in Mitchell's usual spot.
"Just shake it up a little bit and see what happens," coach Joe Sacco said. "With Gabe being out just thought I'd change it up a little bit."
Sacco didn't have an update on his captain and usual top-line left wing Landeskog, who returned from a big, high hit in San Jose on Saturday and finished the game, but did not dress in Edmonton on Monday night. He is still with the team and watched part of the Canucks morning skate Wednesday from the tunnel outside the Avalanche locker room, but did not take part in Colorado's skate an hour later.
"Same status," Sacco said of Landeskog. "Head/leg injury and no timetable as far as returning."
Without Landeskog, Sacco hopes Mitchell will add "a little more jam" to Stastny's line, something he noticed from the trio after making the switch in the third period of a 4-1 loss to the Oilers. The hope is that leads to more power play opportunities for the Avalanche, which is averaging three chances per game and giving up a little more than six.
"It's fair to say we need to do a better job of playing inside the dots, getting to the net more, making the opposition tug us down," said Sacco, who liked the way his team is playing five-on-five but has seen them give up seven power play goals the last two games.
"Our Achilles heel has been our penalty kill," Sacco said. "Even when we do a pretty good job of killing a penalty it seems to end up in the back of our net. No excuses, we have to be better in that area."
Here are the rest of the new Colorado lines as the Avalanche tries to end a 0-15-2 skid against the Canucks on Wednesday night:
The Vancouver Canucks only have one new defenseman playing regularly this season, but they've got two trying to make big adjustments.
Asking them to do so on the same pairing has been problematic early, so for now they have split up newcomer Jason Garrison and Alexander Edler, who is being asked to play the less familiar right side after his old partner Sami Salo left for Tampa Bay as a free agent.
The change came shortly after both defensemen committed egregious turnovers that led to goals early in a 4-1 loss in San Jose on Sunday night. Garrison moved onto a pairing with Kevin Bieksa and Edler, a left-handed shot, stayed on the right side with steady veteran Dan Hamhuis, a top-four mix that stayed intact during a 3-2 shootout loss the next night in Los Angeles.
"We felt we needed to make a couple little changes and adjustments and I felt it worked really well in the L.A. game," coach Alain Vigneault said. "Playing against the Stanley Cup champions, it was our fourth game in six nights, and we played a real solid game."
For Garrison, who signed in his hometown as a free agent after a breakout season in Florida, it's about learning a new system, getting comfortable with a new playing partner, and reacting on the ice rather than thinking.
"There is going to be a period when you think about things more than just reacting to them, and that's part of the process," said Garrison, who is pointless but plus-2 in six games. "But you have to make that timeline very short and make it reactionary more than learning very quickly."
Here are the rest of the lines as the Canucks look to extend a 15-0-2 streak against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night, including goaltender Roberto Luongo getting a surprise second-straight start:
Coach Alain Vigneault said the surprise start was his decision, but wouldn't elaborate on why he made it, or whether it raised more questions about who was his No. 1 goaltender.
"Tonight Louie is No. 1, he’s playing," Vigneult said. "I'm not going to get into all the logistics of what goes behind making a decision. Those are internal things and we'll just leave it at that."
Schneider was the presumed No. 1 after taking over from Luongo three games in last year's playoffs.
Luongo replaced a struggling Schneider in the season opener, and Vigneault made headlines by keeping Luongo in goal the following night. But he went back to Schneider for the third game, saying he was playing the goalie "that gave him the best chance to win," a line that seemed to re-confirm Schneider as the No. 1 going forward.
Schneider also started the next two games, including a shutout in Anaheim on Friday night and a 4-1 loss in San Jose on Sunday, before Luongo got another start in the second half of back-to-back games Monday in Los Angeles. Most assumed Schneider, who has a .897 save percentage overall but .935 since being pulled early in that opening game, to be back in goal against the Avalanche.
Instead it will be Luongo, who many -- including the goalie himself -- assumed would be traded before the season even started.
"My decision," Vigneault said after Wednesday's morning skate. "It's just my call. Just got back yesterday and that's what I decided."
Luongo has lost both his starts in shootouts, but has a .917 save percentage and looked sharp stopping 26 of 28 against the Kings.
"I couldn't tell you if I was surprised or not," Luongo said. "Like I have been saying, I just get ready to play every day and when I am called upon I just want to be ready. I am excited to get the start tonight and hopefully build off last game and get a win most importantly."
Luongo, a notorious slow starter in past seasons, feels good about his game after spending seven weeks working with former Toronto Maple Leafs goaltending coach Francois Allaire in Florida.
"I put a lot of work in during the lockout, and skating four times a week by yourself is something you don't get a chance to do very often, and working on some things you need to improve on really helped me out," Luongo said. "Coming into camp I found I was able to see the puck much better and make some good reads off shots that maybe took me a little while to get going in the past."
As for when he'll get another chance after Wednesday, Luongo wasn't sure, saying the goalies usually find out the day before.
"I don't know if there is a plan or not," he said.
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Calgary Flames admittedly have struggled trying to adjust to a new coach and system after an abbreviated training camp, bordering between moments of brilliance and monumental breakdowns while losing their first two games.
So switching up all four lines for the third game, against Vancouver on Wednesday, may seem somewhat counterintuitive.
For new coach Bob Hartley, however, it's all about a learning curve that goes both ways -- players learning where to go and what to do in his system, while he also learns what to expect from them.
"I met them many times, I have talked to them over the phone and I watched many game tapes, but right now we are in game situations and just trying to find the best fit for all of them," Hartley said. "Just a matter of trying to get the best possible lines to generate good offense and at the same time be reliable in the three zones."
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- So much for Alain Vigneault’s theory about sticking with things that worked in the past as a way to overcome a short training camp.
The Vancouver Canucks coach has abandoned that philosophy after an 0-1-1 start, with the team calling up small, speedy center Jordan Schroeder from the American Hockey League for his first NHL game, and throwing his lines in a blender as Vancouver tries to record its first win against the winless Calgary Flames (0-2-0).
Burrows has played the middle a handful of times in the past, and said his defensive responsibilities won't change much from playing with the Sedins, where he often was the first forward back and assumed down-low coverage in his end.
"A little bit more skating, less board work, and maybe a little more responsible making sure no one gets caught deep and we're not giving up any odd-man rushes, but there’s not a whole lot," Burrows said of the move to the middle. "I don't overthink things, still go out and put work boots on."
Schneider allowed goals on three straight shots, and five goals on 14 shots overall in 26 minutes of action in a 7-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
He was replaced by Luongo, who allowed two goals on 12 shots. Luongo then started Sunday against the Edmonton Oilers and made several great stops among his 30 saves, but said after the game he should have had both of the ones that beat him in regulation as Vancouver blew a 2-0 lead en route to a 3-2 shootout loss -- Luongo was beaten on two attempts.
Schneider replaced Luongo as the Canucks' starting goaltender three games into the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season then signed a three-year, $12 million contract extension in the summer.
As much as the on-ice decision regarding the goaltenders was in the spotlight, speculation about Luongo's future again heated up after Canucks president and general manager Mike Gillis told the Vancouver Sun he had a trade in the works.
"We have a potential deal in place with one team that has to do something with another player that they have -- and it's not who anybody thinks it is -- and so we have to wait," Gillis told the newspaper. "[But] we've been offered packages that don't fit what our plan is, what we need."
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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."
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.
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.
“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.
Vancouver Canucks forward Daniel Sedin will not travel to Los Angeles with the team for Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals on Sunday night.
"He's not flying with us today and nothing has changed," coach Alain Vigneault said after practice Saturday.
Vigneault would not confirm a report on Twitter from earlier in the day that Sedin, out since March 21, would not play the rest of the first-round series.
"There's no timeline in these injuries," Vigneault said. "I can't tell you more than he's not skating with the team and he's not coming to LA."
The Canucks trail the Kings two games to none in the best-of-seven series and miss their leading goal scorer, especially on the power play. Vancouver is 0-for-10 with the man advantage without Sedin, and gave up two shorthanded goals in a second straight 4-2 loss in Game 2 on Friday night.
Daniel Sedin skated on his own -- in full gear but at a light pace -- an hour before the rest of the Canucks regulars took the ice for the morning skate Friday. It was the third time he's been on the ice this week, but there was no indication he was any closer to a return. Vigneault bristled when asked to compare Sedin's health since Monday.
"How would you compare the sun today to the sun a couple of days ago? How am I supposed to answer that question?" he responded. "Nothing's changed guys. I can't tell you anything more."
Sedin, who hasn't played since Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith elbowed him in the head with 10 games left in the regular season, skated at least once on his own before rejoining the team at practice on Monday.
The 2011 Art Ross Trophy winner took his regular spot on the first line and top power play unit with twin brother Henrik Sedin, and even stayed through a long conditioning skate at the end of practice. But he didn't come out with the team the following day, instead going out after practice on Tuesday with the extra players.
There was a report from a Swedish media outlet the following day, citing an interview with the Sedin's father, that Daniel experienced headaches after the Monday session and wouldn't play Game 1. He didn't and, despite the short skate prior to Game 2, still wasn't ready on Friday night, when the Canucks' power play he helps anchor went 0-for-5 and gave up two shorthanded goals in a 4-2 loss that left the Canucks down two games in the series.
VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks are pledging to let their play do the talking the rest of the Western Conference Quarterfinals after admitting their mouths got too involved during a Game 1 loss to Los Angeles.
Vancouver engaged in a lot of post-whistle activity in the series opener on Wednesday night, spending so much time trying to get the Kings off their game that it took away from theirs instead. It was uncharacteristic of a team that preached discipline and a whistle-to-whistle focus all season -- and looked more like the one that lost track of both en route to a loss in the Stanley Cup Final against Boston last year.
"We need to stay away from it," Ryan Kesler said. "We haven't been doing it as much all year and with the excitement of playoffs we got caught up a little too much in it. We need to stick to our game plan, which is whistle to whistle."
Kesler was in the middle of a lot of it with Game 1 hero Mike Richards, who had a goal and two assists in the 4-2 win. While Kesler's two assists represented his first multi-point game since Dec. 26, the focus after was more on his post-whistle antics, the snow shower on Kings goalie Jonathan Quick that started a run of three straight penalties, and a couple of apparent embellishments.
Coach Alain Vigneault hinted while talking with reporters on Thursday that it would be discussed before Game 2. It sounded Friday morning like Kesler got the message.
"When the excitement of playoffs is here, and the real season starts you're going to try get any advantage," Kesler said, "But we got caught up in it."
The Canucks also got caught up trying to be a bit too physical, which led to some of the Kings' eight power plays -- and two power-play goals. But Vigneault and Kesler both warned they couldn't back off too much.
"We're going to keep hitting," Kesler said. "We can't play soft. We can't play timid. We'll kill penalties like that. It's the other ones we have to stay away from."
VANCOUVER -- With all the attention on leading scorer Daniel Sedin's attempts to return from a concussion, Canucks defenseman Keith Ballard has been able to fly slightly under the radar in his own recovery from a head injury.
"I guess you get thrown in the fire and see how you do," Ballard said after taking the morning skate on Friday in preparation to play Game 2 against the Kings.
It's a big ask of Ballard, who hasn't played in more than two months since coming out of the lineup Feb. 7. He was shut down completely for several weeks during that time after experiencing dizziness and headaches -- and sometimes sleeping 16 to 18 hours a day. But he's been skating since mid-March, rejoined the team later in the month and feels he's as ready as he can be to return.
"I know it's going to be fast, it's going to be intense and I'm ready for that," Ballard said. "From my perspective I've done everything I could physically and mentally to prepare so I go from there. My legs feel great. My skating feels great. It's just a matter of putting it all together. It's not psyching yourself up, the building and the atmosphere and what's at stake gets you emotionally ready. It's the mental part that is a huge part of hit, getting your mindset right."
Ballard has battled the mental side since coming to the Canucks two summers ago. He never became the top-pair defenseman Vancouver touted when they traded Michael Grabner and a first-round pick to Florida as part of a five-player package to acquire him on the eve of the 2010 NHL Draft. But he remains a great skater, and after struggling to recover from offseason hip surgery and another concussion last season was playing well before getting hurt in February.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault hopes his ability to skate the puck out his own end pays off against a Kings forecheck that pinned them in the Vancouver zone several times.
"Skate and move the puck, make smart decisions and a bit of a physical side, that's the strength of my game so that's what I gave to do," Ballard said. "If I play to my capabilities, I definitely think I can make a positive impact."
It was eerily similar to his impact with the sturdy Bruins blueliner on Jan. 7, a ferocious hit that broke Ebbett’s collarbone badly in two places.
So seeing a similarly explosive collision on the eve of making his own playoff debut brought back memories for Ebbett, who will replace the suspended Byron Bitz for Game 2 against the Los Angeles Kings on Friday night.
“It definitely reminded me of the hit for sure, just seeing the impact these two had,” Ebbett said. “It brings back memories from when he hit me.”
Ebbett still has a four-inch plate and nine screws in his shoulder and a jagged scar across the front of his collarbone from two fractures the surgeon in Boston called the worst he’d seen. So the fact he’s back for the playoffs after working to return for the final four games of the regular season, means that much more.
“I had doubts the first two weeks when I was in bed and on the couch but once I got here and in the gym and talking to doctors and trainer we knew this was our goal and it's nice to achieve it,” Ebbett said.
Ebbett will take the place of Bitz, who received a two-game suspension for driving Kyle Clifford face first into the boards in Game 1, on the fourth line. But the versatile Ebbett could also see some second unit power-play time, and with five goals in just 18 games this season, adds another scoring touch.
More than anything, he’s just happy to be back after a regular season that also included missing more than a month after breaking his foot while blocking a shot against the Kings on Nov. 10, a game in which he also scored.
“It's been a long year, it’s been a little frustrating at times, but those three months of working the gym and rehabbing, this is what I’ve been working for to get back to here,” he said. “I’m going to play as well as I can to hopefully stay in.”
So the chances of Penner being back up on the second line with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to start Game 2 of Western Conference Quarterfinals on Friday night may be slim. Penner’s promotion had more to do with a rotation that started when forward Kyle Clifford was knocked out of the game, so don’t be surprised if rookie Dwight King is there with Penner back on the third line.
Sutter made it clear he needs more from the big, enigmatic Penner.
“He can be a whole lot better for all three periods,” Sutter said of Penner, who only scored seven goals in the regular season. “We’re talking about him because he scored one goal. If it’s just about scoring I don’t think we’re going to beat this team 5-4 or 6-5. You have to be very good 200 feet, everywhere on the ice.”
Sutter did confirm forward Andrei Loktionov, who was called up from the American Hockey League when Brad Richardson needed an appendectomy Monday, would go in for Clifford. Clifford didn't play after having his head driven into the boards by Byron Bitz in Game 1. Bitz was given a two-game suspension Thursday.
“He’s pretty familiar with everything he needs to do," Sutter said of Loktionov, who played 39 games with the Kings this season, but will be making his NHL playoff debut. "He's pretty familiar with the players. The players are pretty familiar with him. He's pretty familiar with the system. He gives us some versatility.”
With the Canucks making changes in their lineup – Andrew Ebbett in for Bitz and defenseman Keith Ballard returning after missing two months with a concussion – and talking about needing to improve their discipline, their battle level and their power play, Sutter was asked what the Kings need to adjust.
Los Angeles outshot Vancouver 39-26 in Game 1, including a decisive 29-14 edge through 40 minutes, so maybe there’s not much to change.
“They don’t give up many opportunities five-on-five so you gotta to finish,” Sutter said. “I don't think you coach that. If you are creating your opportunities, you worked for your opportunities so the next part is reward your work.”
Here are the rest of the expected lines for the Kings in Game 2:
Daniel Sedin skated on his own an hour before the rest of the Canucks, but there was no update on his condition or possible return from a concussion for Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals series against Los Angeles on Wednesday night.
It seems unlikely that the Canucks get their leading goal scorer back, but they will have one player return from a concussion as they try an even the best-of-seven first round series against the Kings.
Keith Ballard, out since Feb. 7, will make his playoff debut in the hopes his ability to skate the puck out of trouble helps negate a Kings’ forecheck that had Vancouver pinned in its own end for prolonged periods. Aaron Rome appears to be the odd-man out on the back end based on the morning skate, with the Canucks expected to go back to the top-four pairings from last playoffs.
The Canucks will also use versatile forward Andrew Ebbett in place of Byron Bitz, who was suspended two games for the hit that knocked Los Angeles forward Kyle Clifford face first into the boards and out for at least Game 2, if not longer.
Ebbett, who will play on the fourth line at even strength, has also worked on the second unit power play and could help after the Canucks went 0-for-5 with the man advantage in s 4-2 loss Wednesday to the Kings.
Unfortunately it had less to do with their Game 1 victory in Vancouver the night before, and more to do with a line that went out on the popular social media network afterwards.
Sent from the team's official Twitter account, @LAKings, shortly after the 4-2 win, it read: "To Everyone in Canada outside of BC, you're welcome," a reference to the Canucks perceived status as one of hockey's most hated teams.
The Kings quickly apologized Thursday morning.
"We encourage our digital team to be creative, interactive and to apply a sense of humor whenever possible," Mike Altieri, the Kings vice president of communications and broadcasting, said in a statement. "To anyone who found it offensive, we sincerely apologize."
Vancouver players dismissed it, saying they are used to the wearing the black hat ever since last year's run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final cast them in the villain's role -- even in Canada.
"You laugh about it a bit, but we're used to it," backup goalie Cory Schneider said. "Everyone's kinda doing that stuff to us, so it doesn't really bother us a whole lot. We have bigger, more important things to worry about than what their team is putting on Twitter."
Los Angeles players and coach Darryl Sutter also dismissed it for the most part, stressing that it didn't come from anyone in the locker room.
"It's irrelevant to the guys in the room," captain Dustin Brown said. "As players we're all smart enough to know bulletin board material at this time of the year is not a good idea and as players we all understand that. Maybe someone who is control of the Twitter feed needs to understand that as well."
As for perceptions of the Canucks, Brown said it should be considered a compliment.
"When you've been the best team the last two years, you automatically get the role of the most hated team," Brown said. "I mean you look at other sports, you look at the Yankees who have dominated baseball on and off, they are probably the most hated team in baseball. That goes with the territory of being the best."
VANCOUVER -- Canucks forward Byron Bitz accepted responsibility for the dangerous hit that knocked both him and Los Angeles Kings forward Kyle Clifford out of Game 1 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series on Wednesday night.
The 6-foot-5 Canucks forward will have more time to think about after Brendan Shanahan, the NHL's Vice President of Player Safety, announced late Thursday that Bitz was suspended for two games for the dangerous hit.
"I don't feel very good about it," Bitz said before a phone hearing with Shanahan.
Clifford had his back to Bitz, who was skating along the goal line before planting his shoulder into the Kings' forward, driving his face hard into the boards. Bitz received a five-minute major for boarding, during which the Kings scored a goal, and a game misconduct. Clifford returned the bench during the ensuing power play but never got back on the ice and didn't return for the third period.
"I had no intention of targeting the head or injuring anybody," said Bitz, who has not been disciplined before. "That's not the way I play. It was an unfortunate play. The referees made the call and it cost our team a goal. It's my fault."
Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter said Clifford wouldn't play Game 2 on Friday.
"You guys know the old standard, 'upper-body injury,' and he's out," Sutter said.
"I don't want to not tell the truth. I'll just leave it at that"
As for who might take Clifford's place in the lineup with Brad Richardson already out after an appendectomy Monday, Sutter only joked he was, "talking to Bernie Nichols about it, but he doesn't know if he's quite game ready."
"I have to be ready," Loktionov, a Russian, said in choppy English of possibly playing his first playoff game. "It's so much quickly than in season, everyone try to hit you. I have to keep my head up and keep move my feet. It's different."
The Canucks also have options to replace Bitz, including Dale Weise, who plays a similar physical role, and Andrew Ebbett, an undersized center who can also help on the second unit of a power play that was 0-for-5 in Game 1.
"I'd be kidding if I'd say we don't need the power play," coach Alain Vigneault said. "You need that as a weapon to make sure the other team stays honest on the ice and obviously our power play needs to be better. We have the personnel for it to be good. Right now they need to execute better."
Forget scoring his team's first goal on a 5-on-3 power play, pouncing on a turnover to set up the go-ahead goal with 3:14 left or adding a third point by assisting on an empty-netter in the dying seconds of L.A.'s 4-2 Game 1 victory in Vancouver on Wednesday.
The true measure of Richards’ effectiveness came when Canucks coach Alain Vigneault was asked about his matchup with his own second-line center Ryan Kesler, who also happens to be the reigning Selke Trophy winner.
It was an optional practice for both the Kings and Canucks after Los Angeles, with most of the top players taking the day off leading into Game 2 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series Friday night.
Still, with Sedin not skating for a second straight day it seems highly unlikely he will return to help Vancouver try and even the series after losing the opener 4-2 on Wednesday night. Out since March 21 with a concussion, there was optimism when Sedin practiced with the team Monday. But it faded when he skated with a small group after practice Tuesday, and stayed off the ice the next two.
Sedin, who won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s top scorer last season, led the Canucks with 30 goals and was second in points with 67 despite missing the final nine games of the regular season after an elbow from Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith, who was suspended five games for the hit.
As for an optional skate after losing an opener for first time in eight playoff series, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said areas of concern – and they had several, most notably an ineffective power play – would be address in meetings.
“Just felt it was the right thing to do to make sure our guys are ready for tomorrow,” Vigneault said of the off day for most. “We’re working on a lot of things right now, so you don’t need to worry about that.”
VANCOUVER -- Los Angeles center Anze Kopitar is preparing to be frustrated by the Canucks.
So is defenseman Drew Doughty, but the similarities end there.
Kopitar, the Kings' leading scorer, is expecting to see a lot of Samuel Pahlsson in the first round of the playoffs. He knows Vancouver's new checking center well from his time with rival Anaheim, where Pahlsson won a Stanley Cup in 2007 and established a reputation as one of the game's top shutdown pivots.
"He's a hard-working guy, all over the ice and one of the top guys shutting down," Kopitar said. "It's going to be tough to play against him, obviously."
It could very well be the key matchup between a Kings team that has relied heavily on its top line of late, and a Canucks team that altered its identity slightly by refocusing on the defensive end after acquiring Pahlsson at the deadline.
In addition to matching up against the opposition's best forwards, Pahlsson combined with Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen to provide steady offense, with eight goals and seven assists since they were reunited for the last 10 games of the regular season.
Coach Alain Vigneault called it his best line since then. It's the only one he hasn't tinkered with since top goal scorer Daniel Sedin was concussed on March 21.
"Our best line at both ends of the rink," Vigneault said. "They've generated and created and been on the score sheet, and defensively they have been reliable."
For all that Pahlsson does in that mix, talking is not among them. Unlike a lot of antagonizing checkers in the NHL, the quiet Swede lets his play do the talking.
"No, I haven't heard too much of him chirping on the ice," Kopitar said. "But he's certainly a guy that is in your face all the time, and he's one of the best shutdown guys in the League, and I am going to have to prepare myself for that."
Besides, the Canucks have plenty of other guys to do the chirping, something Doughty found out in their playoff meeting two years ago.
"There was a few times I got into it with [Alexandre] Burrows and took a few dumb penalties that took me off the ice," Doughty said. "I definitely learned from that."
His teammates and coaches at the time made sure of it. Doughty doesn't need another reminder as he tries to avenge that six-game loss in the first round.
"It's tough at times, but I can always get back at them during the play, make a big hit or a big stop or whatever it may be," he said. "That's what really matters."
VANCOUVER -- Their playoff series hasn’t started yet, but already the Los Angeles Kings are leading the Canucks 1-0 when it comes to welcoming back key forwards from injury.
While the Canucks were talking about missing top goal scorer Daniel Sedin for Game 1 of the playoffs Wednesday night because of a concussion, the Kings were preparing to welcome back Jeff Carter from a bone bruise that kept him out the last five games of the regular season.
“Good to go,” Carter said after joining teammates for a third straight day Wednesday.
That’s welcome news for a Kings team that has improved offensively since his arrival in a blockbuster trade with Columbus that reunited Carter with fellow former Flyers forward Mike Richards.
The Kings were dead last in scoring before Carter arrived, but averaged more than three goals in the 21 games after his arrival, which would be top-four in the NHL for the entire season. Carter only has six of them, and just nine points overall, but he balanced out the top six and created more room and less checking pressure for Anze Kopitar’s top line.
“I think I filled a hole, kind of balance things out maybe, shifted guys into roles that probably suit them well,” Carter said. “Just a little bit of balance.”
That balance will be important after the Canucks created a shutdown line with the trade deadline addition of center Samuel Pahlsson, who is expected to go head-to-head with Kopitar.
"[Carter] definitely adds a threat all over the ice at all times and we all know he can score some big goals and we need him to do that for us," Kopitar said. "It spreads everything out and maybe those guys can't; just key on the top line because it spreads the scoring around and that's what you need in the playoffs if you want to go deep."
Here are the rest of the expected lines as the Kings, who are missing Brad Richardson after undergoing an appendectomy Monday, try to avenge a six-game, first-round loss to Vancouver two years ago:
VANCOUVER -- With Daniel Sedin sitting out Game 1 of the Canucks' Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Kings on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC), the Canucks will do a bit of line-juggling.
Mason Raymond, who missed the last regular-season game to witness the birth of his first child, will take Sedin's spot on the top line, alongside Henrik Sedin and Alexandre Burrows, while Maxim Lapierre, who played well in Daniel's place on the top line, shifts to the second line.
Here is how the Canucks likely will look when they hit the ice Wednesday for Game 1, including Zack Kassian's return after missing two games with a shoulder injury:
VANCOUVER -- Daniel Sedin did not take part in Wednesday's morning skate at Rogers Arena and has been ruled out for Game 1 against the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.
"There is nothing new to report. Obviously he's not going to play tonight," coach Alain Vigneault said.
Sedin, who won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer last season, practiced with teammates Monday for the first time since being concussed by an elbow from Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith on March 21, but was not out with the main group on Tuesday, skating instead with a smaller group of spare part players after the main session ended.
Twin brother Henrik said Daniel was "100 percent" on Monday, and despite the absence Tuesday, coach Alain Vigneault said Sedin hadn't suffered a setback in his recovery.
Daniel, who missed the final nine games of the season but still leads the team with 30 goals and is second with 67 points, has not talked with reporters since the injury, which earned Keith a five-game suspension.
Vancouver forward Daniel Sedin practiced with teammates Monday, but didn't talk.
He didn't practice Tuesday, but skated shortly after.
What does it mean for the Canucks' leading scorer in Game 1 of the playoffs Wednesday?
No one with the Canucks was saying, leaving only question marks about whether last season's Art Ross Trophy winner as the NHL's leading scorer would be ready to return from a March 21 concussion in time to face the Los Angeles Kings when Vancouver starts the first round.
Twin brother Henrik, who said Daniel was "100 percent" a day earlier, offered only no comments when asked about his lifelong linemate's health and playing status.
Coach Alain Vigneault did at least say Sedin hadn't suffered a setback in his recovery after practicing for the first time with teammates on Monday, but that was about it.
"It's not a setback," Vigneault said twice. "It's a unique injury and he will continue the protocol and when he's ready to play he'll address you. Until then he won't talk to you."
Daniel, who missed the final nine games of the season, but still leads the team with 30 goals and is second with 67 points, did not talk with reporters after practicing on Monday. He skated with regular linemates Henrik and Alexandre Burrows, and worked in his usual spot on the top power-play unit, staying out through the end of a hard skating session at the end. On Tuesday he didn't go on the ice until most teammates were talking to the media -- mostly not answering questions about his status.
Daniel skated for 40 minutes with six spares, including Keith Ballard, who is coming off a concussion of his own and not expected to play in Game 1, doing drills with skill coach Glenn Carnegie, and firing into a net guarded only by a shooter tutor.
There was no word -- or even a hint -- if he'd play Wednesday.
"You should know by know I don't discuss lineup decisions," Vigneault said.
Daniel still wasn't wearing a white helmet the way Ballard, who has been out since early February, did before he was cleared for contact last week. But there was no contact.
Keith was suspended five games for the hit. The Canucks won eight of their last nine games without Daniel to secure a second-straight Presidents' Trophy.
Sedin, who won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer last season, took his usual spot on the top line alongside twin brother Henrik and Alexandre Burrows.
Vancouver's leading goal scorer hasn't played since being concussed by an elbow from Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith on March 21, but his return was a positive sign Sedin could be ready for Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs, Wednesday night against Los Angeles.
Sedin, who still leads the team with 30 goals and is second with 67 points despite missing the final nine games, skated on his own with a skills coach before practice and stayed out with the main group when they took to the ice. Sedin wasn't wearing a white helmet the way defenseman Keith Ballard, who has been out since early February with a concussion, did before he was cleared for full contact in practice last week.
The Canucks can lock up the top spot in the in the Western Conference - and perhaps the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top team - by winning Saturday's regular-season finale against Edmonton.
Perhaps more exciting, however, are reports that top goal scorer Daniel Sedin, out since an elbow to the head from Duncan Keith on March 21, has been skating on his own. First reported by TSN's Farhan Lalji Saturday afternoon and confirmed later in a Vancouver Province story, word that Sedin has skated by himself the last few days and is expected to be ready for the playoffs puts a positive spin on his twin brother's comments a bit earlier.
"As time has moved on he's felt better," Henrik Sedin said. "But until you are on the ice and feel comfortable playing a game, [concern is] always going to be there."
Henrik said those concerns are fueled by seeing players like Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who has missed 22 games with a concussion, still out.
"For sure, those guys I'm sure after a week they thought they were going got be able to play in three or four days, and 20 games later they still haven't played," he said. "That's always going to be there until he's back."
With the absence of Daniel, and fellow top-six forward Mason Raymond away for the birth of his first child, the Canucks will shake up their forward lines again. Here's how all the lines are expected to look Saturday:
Roberto Luongo is back in goal after watching Cory Schneider start in Calgary on Thursday, giving Luongo one last chance to erase the memories of being pulled form his last start before the playoffs start next week.
Maxim Lapierre, who has played well since moving up from the fourth line to the first line in place of Daniel Sedin, is moving down to try and spark a struggling second line. Andrew Ebbett, playing his fourth game after missing almost three months with a broken collarbone, moves up to the first line, while AHL call-up Byron Bitz centers the fourth unit.
The only line that remains intact is the checking unit anchored by Samuel Pahlsson, which has been the team’s best trio for at least two weeks.
On the back end, Chris Tanev comes back from a maintenance day, while Marc-Andre Gragnani, who now has played enough games to become a restricted free agent instead of an unrestricted free agent, will be a healthy scratch.
The Oilers are locked into 14th place in the Western Conference and another lottery pick in the NHL Draft, but coach Tom Renney made it clear they have something to play for beyond just spoiling the Canucks’ night.
“The fact we’ve had the type of season we’ve had is motivation in itself and as I explained to the guys out on the ice just now this is the first game of next year,” Renney said. “Better play that way.”
Ben Eager, who has a long history of antagonizing the Canucks during his time in Chicago and San Jose, draws back into the lineup on the fourth line.
With defensemen Ladislav Smid (neck), Theo Peckham and Corey Potter (both concussions) all still out, prospect Colten Teubert remains with the Oilers on emergency recall and gets to play his first NHL game in front of family and friends form his nearby suburban hometown of White Rock, B.C.
Top-four Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa was back on the ice for an optional morning skate, but will miss his fourth straight game Tuesday night against the Anaheim Ducks as he continues to take an extended "maintenance day."
"I'm just going to take it one maintenance day at a time,” Bieksa said, using the words "maintenance" or "maintain" more than a dozen times during a brief but entertaining back and forth with the media. "There's no problem."
The status of Daniel Sedin, who will miss a seventh-straight game because of a concussion, isn't a laughing matter. Vancouver's top goal scorer still isn't skating, but reports Sedin has been at the rink working out off ice for three-straight days are at least positive, and indicate he could be back for the start of playoffs.
In the meantime, the healthy Canucks are taking motivation in a chance to stay atop the Western Conference and possibly claim a second-straight President’s Trophy as the NHL's top regular-season team. Thanks to a six-game win streak without Sedin, Vancouver is one point ahead of St. Louis in the West, and tied with the New York Rangers overall, with three games left for each team.
The Canucks play all three against non-playoff teams, and will use the chance to lock up home ice advantage in the playoffs as a way to get fired up
"We want to finish as high up in the conference as we can and obviously it's second or first and we want first," associate coach Rick Bowness said after Tuesday's morning skate. "Do we have a shot at the Presidents' Trophy again? Absolutely. Are we focused on making sure we take care of the day-to-day process and the in-game process to give ourselves a chance to do that? Absolutely. We want home-ice advantage. We saw the benefit of it last year, and even though it didn't help us in Game 7 against the Bruins, it was certainly nice going into every round knowing we had home ice. So we'd like that again."
For an Anaheim team in 13th place, the chance to spoil that is a goal.
"It is kind of what we've been talking about," Ducks top-line winger Corey Perry said. "They have something to play for and we just want to go out and play our game and if it happens to be as a spoiler, we're happy to do that."
Here are the expected lines as the 49-21-9 Canucks try to reach the 50-win mark for a second-straight season by extending their longest win streak of this season against a 33-35-11 Ducks team playing out the string -- possibly for the last time for veteran Finnish forwards Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu:
Luongo will get a second-straight start in the late-season goaltending rotation, with Schneider expected to play in Calgary on Thursday.
While the Canucks only have six healthy defensemen right now, Bieksa said he could play now if the playoffs started early, and Aaron Rome (knee) and Keith Ballard (concussion) are also skating, though Ballard is still wearing a white helmet to indicate he hasn't been cleared for contact.
The Calgary Flames are still technically alive in the Western Conference playoff race, but their hopes dimmed so considerably after a 4-1 loss to Colorado on Friday night that it’s hard to know how they’ll respond 24 hours later in Vancouver.
For the first time in a while, Canucks players were talking about facing a team that was playing for jobs next season rather than one fighting to make the playoffs this year. It’s an interesting conundrum for the Canucks, who have used their opponent’s desperation as motivation to snap out of their own late-season funk with five straight wins against teams battling for one of the final playoff spots.
“A lot of times those guys are playing for their jobs for the next year,” said goalie Roberto Luongo, who plans to play against Calgary after a sore neck forced him to abandon a scheduled start Friday night against Dallas after warm up. “We have seen it throughout this year, we haven't necessarily had great success against teams like that. We want to make sure we still get ready to play.”
Vancouver clinched at least the second seed a while ago, which contributed to an early-March funk. But their first five-game win streak since November has put the Canucks within a point of St. Louis for top spot in the Western Conference, and two back of the New York Rangers in a bid to win a second-straight President’s Trophy as the NHL’s regular season team. That should keep them focused.
Luongo returns in goal after ceding a start Friday against Dallas to Cory Schneider in warmups because of a sore neck.
The only change for the Canucks is the return of Andrew Ebbett, who has been out since having his collarbone broken in two places by a clean hit from Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg during a Jan. 7 rematch of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Ebbett, who required multiple screws and plates during surgery to repair the damage, was cleared for contact 10 days ago.
"It was actually 12 weeks since I got hurt, so it's about that time," Ebbett said of his return, which allows the Canucks to test his playoff readiness.
The versatile 5-foot-9 forward had four goals and five points in just 14 games. He takes the spot of Dale Weiss on the fourth line.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault also said he hoped to get defenseman Keith Ballard, out since Feb. 7 with a concussion, back in a few games before the end of the season. But Ballard, who went seven weeks without even skating, still hasn't been cleared for full contact, is just hoping to rejoin a full practice on Monday, and didn't sound like he was close to playing a game.
“Right now I know I’m not ready," Ballard said.
Calgary didn’t skate Saturday after flying in late following a 4-1 loss to Colorado, so the lineup is expected to be the same. The big question mark is in goal, where No. 1 Miikka Kiprusoff has played seven straight, 37 of the last 40, and is one game short of 70 for a seventh-straight season.
Kiprusoff has 34 of the Flames 35 wins, with rookie Leland Irving posting the only other victory in Vancouver two days before Christmas. Current backup Henrik Karlsson has only played 20 NHL minutes since injuring his knee in a crease collision with Canucks’ forward David Booth during a 5-1 loss here Dec. 4.
Vancouver No. 1 goaltender Roberto Luongo will be back in goal Saturday night for the Canucks against the Calgary Flames, just 24 hours after a sore neck forced to him pull out of a scheduled start against Dallas after the pregame warmup.
Luongo, who was back on the ice Saturday morning, said he woke up with the sore neck Friday and just wasn’t able to move it well enough to track pucks, so he stepped aside at the last minute to let Cory Schneider take over against the Stars.
"A few years ago I might have been a little more stubborn and tried to play,” Luongo said. “But I thought about the team and the fact we have a guy who can obviously step in and do a great job for us. I tried to make a rational decision."
It was an easier decision after teammates kept picking the corners on him during warm up, but obviously frustrating as he slammed his stick before leaving.
"If you are not seeing the puck you are just a fraction of a second late in reacting to it,” Luongo said after an optional skate Saturday. “Going through warmups yesterday and getting lit up high you realize that maybe you are not ready to play."
Just 16 hours later, Luongo insisted he is now ready to play against Calgary.
"Definitely, I was able to loosen it up,” Luongo said. “I am feeling fine, I was able to track pucks with my head and I am not having any problems. … Obviously you don't want to take any chances with something like that, but I felt really good this morning and don't see why it would be a problem."
The Canucks had third-stringer Eddie Lack at the rink Saturday morning – their American Hockey League affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, played the night before in nearby Abbotsford – but let him leave with Luongo ready to return.
With Vancouver on its first five-game win streak in four months, Luongo is looking to build on a personal 2-0-1 run that includes a .965 save percentage. That came after taking a week off to “reset” his game following a stretch that saw him give up 25 goals in eight games. But with Schneider also playing well – after making 28 saves in a 5-2 win over the Stars, he is 12-1-1 in 14 starts since Christmas and second in the NHL with a .937 save percentage – Luongo is comfortable continuing to split starts over the final four games to keep both playoff ready.
“I am feeling good about my game right now,” Luongo said. “Obviously, Schneider is playing well also and we are getting wins. It's important to have both guys ready -- you never know what might happen.”
That point was driven home during the pregame warm up Friday night.
With the Vancouver Canucks preparing for the playoffs, it's no surprise they've built a shutdown line around new checking center Samuel Pahlsson. With the Dallas Stars in a battle to make the playoffs, it's no surprise they're leaning on a sizzling top line anchored by skilled center Mike Ribeiro.
When the two lines go head-to-head Friday night, however, it may surprise some to learn it will also be a battle of the team's top two lines overall of late.
In addition to seeing more pure matchups against the opposition's best forwards, Pahlsson's line has been producing offensively, with Chris Higgins scoring the tying goal and overtime winner in Colorado last week -- and the only goal in a 1-0 victory over the Avalanche on Wednesday. Pahlsson, who had two goals and nine assists in 61 games with Columbus before being acquired at the trade deadline, already has a goal and four assists in just 14 games with the Canucks.
That may not sound like much, but with Vancouver struggling to score it's more than Ryan Kesler (three goals, one assist) over the same stretch, and not far behind former Hart and Art Ross Trophy-winner Henrik Sedin (seven assists).
"It took a couple games for us to find each other and mesh," said Higgins of a trio rounded out by Jannik Hansen. "Now I kind of know where [Pahlsson] is going to be and that's why we're having success. All three of us know where we are going to be on the ice and that's an underrated element of a line. [Henrik and Daniel Sedin] don't even look for each other, they just know where each other are and it's not as difficult when you don't need to take that extra half a second just to know where your teammate is going to be."
That sounds a lot like the chemistry enjoyed by Ribeiro with Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder on a top line that combined for all three goals and eight points in Dallas' 3-1 win in Edmonton on Wednesday night. The trio has five goals and 12 points in the last three games, as well as six goals in three games against Vancouver this season.
"Ribeiro is really tricky to play against," Pahlsson said. "He can really make a fool out of you and make you look stupid, so you've got to be ready for him."
Playing against that line is perfect playoff preparation, said Higgins.
"We're playing some tough minutes against some of the players we'll play in the playoffs, some of the other team's best players, but it's good practice," he said.
"Ribeiro is one of the best passers in the game and sees the ice like few players in the game can, Ryder is having a great year, has an unbelievable shot, and Eriksson is great around the net. So it will be a tough match up for us tonight but I think we enjoy the challenge of playing against those guys."
The results have played a role in the Canucks' success against Dallas. After the Stars' top trio combined for 12 points while winning the first two meetings - and before the Canucks put their current shutdown line together - Vancouver held all three off the scoresheet in a tight-checking 2-1 win March 22. Ribeiro expects the matchup, and welcomes the challenges, knowing it frees up others.
"They've had a few shutouts. It's just up to us to be ready tonight," Ribeiro said. "We'll see probably a few more checking lines, and that's fine too, it gives [Jamie] Benn's line a chance to create more chances and score for us too. It's hard for other teams to match up against two or three lines that can score."
As for tendencies, Higgins may have a slight advantage having played on the same line with Ryder for parts of four seasons with the Montreal Canadiens.
"Yeah I may know a couple things," Higgins said with a smile.
Of course, in a battle of the two top lines, that may work both ways.
VANCOUVER -- Kevin Bieksa's maintenance day is turning into a maintenance week.
The Vancouver Canucks' top-four defenseman will miss a second-straight game Friday night against Dallas and is unlikely to play Saturday against Calgary, but is still expected back before the playoffs start in less than two weeks.
"We all know Kevin is one of the fiercest competitors in the League," associate coach Rick Bowness said after Friday's morning skate. "He battles hard every shift, so to give him a few maintenance days is the proper thing to do."
Asked if the necessary maintenance was upper or lower body-related, Bowness said: "We'll just go with the whole body. And mind. Give him a mental break, too."
There is less uncertainty about what's keeping Daniel Sedin out of the lineup, but even more about when he might return. Vancouver's top goal scorer will miss his fifth straight game since being concussed by an elbow from Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith, and despite a report in the Vancouver Sun in which general manager Mike Gillis said he was "hopeful" Sedin would be back by the start of the playoffs, there was no update from Bowness or teammates Friday.
Without Sedin, who leads the team with 30 goals and is second to twin brother Henrik with 67 points, the Canucks have struggled to score, winning their last two games 1-0 and compiling a 4-0-1 run despite only scoring eight goals. All of which prompted another shakeup of the forward lines going into Friday's game against a Dallas team fighting desperately to stay in the playoff picture.
Luongo takes his turn in the Canucks' new back-and-forth goaltending rotation, and will try and build off a 38-save 1-0 shutout of Los Angeles on Monday, while Schneider, who made 43 saves in a 1-0 win over Colorado on Wednesday, is expected to play Saturday night against Calgary.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the second of consecutive 1-0 victories was that they came without regular defensemen Bieksa (maintenance), Aaron Rome (knee) and Keith Ballard (concussion). All but Ballard are expected back for the playoffs, and Ballard has also resumed practicing with the team.
Up front, Lapierre's move from fourth-line agitator to first-line winger with Sedin out is the biggest surprise, with a struggling Kassian going the other way. Lapierre has shown offensive flashes in the past, but knows that's not his main job playing alongside former scoring champion Henrik Sedin.
"Today is a fun day and good opportunity for me, but at the end of the day I know my role is to bring some energy, be physical," Lapierre said. "Try to create some room for these two guys. They have unreal skills and I will be in front of the net. I can make some plays with the puck. But we don't want me ruining every play."
The biggest change from the Stars last visit to Vancouver in early March is between the pipes, with the workhorse Lehtonen expected to play in Vancouver on Friday night and again in San Jose on Saturday night. There was some thought of Bachman, who won here 5-2 back on March 6, but with so much on the line Dallas decided to stick with their unquestioned No. 1 despite the fact Lehtonen is 2-6-0 with a .881 career save percentage against the Canucks.
The Stars are still missing significant players in forwards Radek Dvorak (ankle) and Eric Nystrom (skate cut on leg), and defenseman Mark Fistric (abdominal strain). But Dvorak and Fistric are skating at least and could return in San Jose Saturday -- the first part of a crucial home-and-home series with the Sharks.
Fourth line center Tom Wandell goes from being a healthy scratch the last game to being out sick.
VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks and Dallas Stars could meet in the first round of the playoffs, but it feels like the postseason already has begun for both teams.
Friday's game (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN) will be the fourth between the Canucks and Stars in just over a month, a rarity this late in the season for teams that don't play in the same division. With the Stars fighting just to make the playoffs, the intensity has been ratcheted up with each meeting, adding a playoff feel to the season series.
"It's been pretty spirited," Canucks forward Chris Higgins said. “They are fighting for their lives and want to get first in their division so they are going to come with a playoff-type game. It's fun playing these guys. They are a competitive group."
The fact Dallas, which comes in atop the Pacific Division but with three teams within a point, could be a first-round opponent, adds to a budding rivalry.
"It helps set the tone, at least," Higgins added. “It's one of a couple teams we're probably going to play in the playoffs, so you want to make sure they know they are going to be in for a difficult series if they play against us."
The Stars won the first two meetings, but the Canucks won the last one, 2-1 in Dallas on March 22, part of a four-game win streak in which Vancouver has given up just three goals while focusing on improved defensive play.
For the Stars, it will be important to fight through the tighter checking without getting frustrated by it, a balance center Vernon Fiddler says they're ready to manage in a season series with a rising level of dislike between the sides.
“We've both got guys that are a little edgy and it brings the best out of everybody and it's great for hockey," said Fiddler, whose impersonation of Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa's “angry face" during a recent game only added to the budding rivalry. “The games that mean the most, there is a lots of emotion in them and both sides are bringing that. When our team is emotionally in the game we play a little bit better, but obviously we don't want a bunch of stupid penalties."
They need two points more than anything, Fiddler added, but if they also can send a message to a potential first-round opponent in the process, all the better.
“They're a great team over there, but we think we match up pretty good against them," Fiddler said. “It could be a potential playoff opponent, so you want to be at your best and I think we've already played them pretty good this year."
Fighting for their playoff lives, the Colorado Avalanche will face a backup goalie when they play a must-win game Wednesday night in Vancouver.
The only problem is Vancouver's No. 2, Cory Schneider, is anything but.
Schneider is second among all NHL goaltenders in save percentage at .934, and fifth with a 2.04 goals-against average. But it is still somewhat surprising that he’s starting Wednesday, just two nights after Roberto Luongo pitched a 38-save, 1-0 shutout of the Los Angeles Kings. It is a sign the Canucks want to have both parts of one of the League’s top tandems on a roll and ready when the playoffs start in two weeks.
“It is very important,” coach Alain Vigneault said of keeping both playing well. “I think we've done a good job of keeping both guys on top of their game throughout the year. It's something we worked into our planning.”
The start against Colorado will be Schneider’s fourth in the last six games, and with back-to-back contests against Dallas Friday and Calgary Saturday, he figures to play at least one of the final five games as well. The sophomore stopper is 10-1-1 in 12 starts since Christmas, while Luongo struggled through early March, giving up 25 goals over eight games before taking a week off to “reset.” Luongo is 2-0-1 with a .965 save percentage since coming back.
“We've got two great goaltenders and we’re using them both,” VIgneault said.
That’s tough news for a Colorado team that needs to win to keep its playoff hopes alive, but has yet to beat the Canucks this season. Vancouver is 5-0 against their Northwest Division rivals, including one shutout each for Luongo and Schneider early in the season, and a 3-2 overtime victory in Colorado four days ago.
The Avalanche, who are only one point behind Phoenix and Dallas for the final playoff spot but only have three games left after Wednesday (both the Coyotes and Stars will have five left), could get one break if top-four defenseman Kevin Bieksa can't play for the Canucks. Already missing Aaron Rome to a knee injury, Bieksa took a maintenance day Tuesday and might have it extended.
“Just playing tough hockey, a couple little maintenance issues we're dealing with right now,” said Vigneault, adding he wasn’t worried about Bieksa for playoffs.
As for the Avalanche, which may need to sweep its final four games after going 0-2-1 in the last three, there will be a couple changes up front.
Captain Milan Hejduk, who hasn’t scored in 21 games, is slated to drop down to the fourth line, while fellow forward Peter Mueller, a surprise healthy scratch the last two games, gets back in at the expense of Chuck Kobasew. On the back end, coach Joe Sacco indicated rookie defenseman Tyson Barrie, who is from B.C., is a game-time decision and may be scratched for a second-straight game after getting knocked off the puck on the play that led to Vancouver’s game-winning goal last week.
Here are the rest of the expected lineups as the Canucks prepare for a 400th straight sellout dating back to November 2002 – the longest active streak in the NHL and third longest in North American pro sports – by launching a “This is Our Home” campaign promoting responsible playoff celebrations from their fans:
"Daniel obviously, as everyone knows, has got a concussion and we're following the protocol," Vigneault said after his team's morning skate, ignoring the fact no one else from the Canucks said so since Wednesday's hit, which resulted in a five-game suspension for Keith.
As for Sedin's timeline for a possible return, Vigneault didn't sound like he'd have updates anytime soon: "I'm not going to address this every day. He's got a concussion and when we've got something more to say, we'll say it."
While it's anyone's guess when Sedin will return, Vancouver could be getting a couple other players back sooner than expected. Utility forward Andrew Ebbett, who has 4 goals in 14 games this season, is practicing after having his collarbone broken in two places by a big hit in Boston on Jan. 7 and needing surgery to repair the damage. And defenseman Keith Ballard, out since Feb. 7 with a concussion, rejoined the team at Monday morning's skate. Ballard, who has been cleared for light contact after missing 22 games, is hoping to practice Tuesday, but wasn't close to thinking about playing in the final seven games.
"How he'll react next couple of days is anyone's guess," Vigneault said.
The same could be said of an up-and-down Canucks team that has been locked into the second seed in the Western Conference for a while -- they can clinch no worse than second and close within two of St. Louis for first place with a win over a more desperate Los Angeles Kings team fighting for its playoff life.
Vancouver will try to build off two-straight road wins and put a decidedly blasé 3-4-0 homestand in the past against a streaking Kings team that won six straight before losing to Boston on Saturday, dropping to eighth in the West -- tied with San Jose and Colorado, but just one point behind Dallas for the Pacific Division lead.
Here are the expected lineups for their final meeting of the season:
Coach Darryl Sutter called the 4-2 loss to Boston one of the team's best games despite winning the previous six, so it's no surprise he won't change his lineup as the Kings open a tough four-game road trip that finished with an absurd Edmonton-to-Minnesota trip for games on consecutive nights.
Columbus forward Derek Dorsett won’t have any problems finding motivation as the Blue Jackets’ lost season continues Saturday night in Vancouver.
Dorsett is ecstatic just to be back in a locker room instead of the bathroom.
“It's good to be back and not hugging the toilet bowl,” Dorsett said after losing “14 pounds” to a bug that hit late Monday night, and staying home for the first game of a Western Canadian road trip in Edmonton on Wednesday. “I’ve never been sick like that before in my life. I phoned our trainer at 1:30 a.m. and he said try and let it run its course. By 4 a.m. I was getting ready to go to the emergency room.”
Dorsett, who was getting IV treatments by Tuesday, said after practice Friday that he’d gained half the lost weight back after getting back to solid meals, and after missing the Edmonton game – the closest he plays to his hometown of Kindersly, Saskatchewan – was looking forward to taking on the Canucks on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night, then playing in Calgary on Sunday.
A team that’s last in the NHL by a long shot and winding down a miserable season, the Blue Jackets will take any extra motivation they can find.
“It’s always fun,” said captain Rick Nash, who missed two practices this week to rest a nagging lower-body injury but plans to play the remaining games. “This is what you grow up watching as a kid, every Saturday night basically stuck in front of the TV … so any chance to be a part of this is special.”
That said, Nash, who has spent much of the last two months mired in ongoing trade talk, made it clear a rare appearance on Hockey Night in Canada isn't the only motivating factor for the Blue Jackets. The team set an internal goal for points down the stretch, and Nash credited coach Todd Richards for keeping the group focused, saying it led to four-straight wins after the trade deadline before Columbus lost its last three games, including two to NHL-leading St. Louis.
“It was impressive the coach came out and said ‘you are playing for yourselves, and for contracts and jobs’ and I thought that really hit home to a lot of guys,” said Nash, who is expected to be traded this summer. “We’re trying to win for our fans, for ourselves, for our organization -- and it is kind of fun to play spoiler.”
Columbus goalie Steve Mason still has more than 20 stitches in his left hand after a skate cut him all the way to the bone just below the outside of his pinky finger on the blocker side in Los Angeles four games ago.
It won’t keep him out against the Canucks on Saturday night, though.
Mason is eager to get back between the pipes to continue a recent run that’s as good as he’s had in the past three years. So after testing the hand in practice the last two days – and despite having to leave one briefly Friday to have the bandage over the stiches redone – Mason will play in Vancouver.
“There’s no pain right now,” he said after Saturday’s morning skate.
Mason was talking about the hand, but he could have been talking about the rest of his body too. Because if there’s been one key to Mason’s recent turnaround – he is 7-3-1 with a .922 save percentage in the last 10 after going 1-7-1 with a .880 save percentage the previous 10 – it’s a change in his equipment.
After wearing smaller pants and chest/arm protection his first three-and-a-half seasons in the League, Mason got permission from Kay Whitmore and the NHL to don bigger gear more suitable to his 6-foot-4, 217-pound frame. The difference was immediate. Not only did he feel and look bigger, but more importantly he was no longer feeling every shot off his upper body, which he said had actually – and shockingly – left him flinching and turning away from the puck at times.
“It makes a huge difference. If you are getting hit by pucks and it’s hurting, it's human nature to kind of turn away from it and not really square up as much as you can,” Mason said. “You'd almost try and turn to cushion it. That’s not the way to play the game and with the new stuff it's given me the peace of mind to face the shot square on and that’s the way the position is supposed to be played.”
Mason said the models haven’t changed, just the size, and the bigger pants allow him to still tuck in a larger chest protector without pulling it tight to his torso. The air between the gear and his body helps cushion the blow, whereas before it was like a bulletproof vest – it may save your life, but you’re going to feel it. Mason said he often finished practices with bruises all over his ribs and even shoulders.
“You should have seen me some days, my entire rib cage would be black and blue,” Mason said. “For sure it affects your confidence. A lot of times on pucks up (at the shoulder) I would turn away because it hurt and human nature. Now I just face it square on, and if it hits you so be it, the padding will take the force.”
Turning away from shots not only made Mason appear smaller in the net but it also often left him more exposed if the puck was tipped on the way in. Now not only does he looks bigger because he’s staying square, but he feels bigger too, something he noticed right away with the new gear back on Feb. 11.
“My first game in the new gear there was a play where I was down and moving to my right and my arm was out a bit and I was still able to get a piece of the puck, where before I knew for sure that was going in the net,” he said. “But it got a bit of my arm, dropped down in front of my pad and was an easy cover up.”
Mason had won four straight before the skate cut, his longest run in more than a calendar year, and he credits the new equipment for playing a big role.
“It gives you more confidence out there,” he said. “It just seems you look bigger, gives the guys less to look at when they are coming down the wing and any time you can have a competitive advantage like that it definitely helps.”
Especially when it also means you no longer have to flinch.
After going four months without losing two straight in regulation, the Canucks have dropped consecutive games twice during a seven-game homestand that wraps up against last-place Columbus on Saturday night. Vancouver is 2-4-2 the last eight, and now six points behind St. Louis for the top spot in the Western Conference.
So they'll turn to impressive backup goalie Cory Schneider, who hasn't lost in regulation since mid-December (8-0-1) and has posted a 3-0-1 record and .951 save percentage during the past three weeks. Luongo has given up 25 goals in eight starts over that same stretch, posting a .888 save percentage and leading to talk again of a controversy in the Canucks crease.
“It’s easy to say when you're winning everything is good and all of sudden you lose a couple of games and it becomes an issue,” Schneider said of only getting one other start over 17 days. “Yeah, [Luongo] hasn’t played as well as he’d like to the last couple of games but we as a team haven’t played that well either, so I’m not sure if I would have been a difference in any of those games opposed to him.”
As Schneider indicated, Luongo hasn’t been to blame exclusively, not with the team loose defensively and giving up countless odd-man rushes of late.
“A lot of the damage against us has been self inflicted,” Schneider said.
Despite sporadic starts, Schneider continues to build on an impressive rookie season, going 15-6-1 with a 2.09 goals-against average and .932 save percentage as a sophomore. Those numbers are all better than his counterpart’s (27-14-1, 2.48, .916) though Schneider is the first to correctly point out Luongo was the team’s best player from December through the end of February.
“A little more comfortable, a little less of the unknown,” Schneider said of his own game. “Every start last year was really exciting. This year I came back with more confidence and really locking my game down and not having too many off nights and games where you don’t know what you're going to get. I’ve tried to work on my consistency and being strong every night. I like where my game is at, where it’s come since the beginning of last season and hopefully I can continue it.”
Some Canucks fans would like to see it continue into the playoffs. Coach Alain Vigneault, who included Luongo among a long list of top players and veteran leaders that need to be better down the stretch, insists he’s not looking past the next game, but if the recent trend continues over the final 11, he may have a tough goaltending decision to make once the postseason starts.
The Vancouver Canucks saw enough good things from new-look forward lines in a 5-4 loss to Phoenix on Wednesday to stick with them as they try to bump their worst slump of the season. The defensive pairings are a different story.
After surrendering double-digit odd-man rushes to the Coyotes, Vancouver has again changed things up on the back end, with newcomer Marc-Andre Gragnani out for Aaron Rome, who was a healthy scratch the last three games.
"I'd say 75 per cent of those were caused by bad reads by our defense," coach Alain Vigneault said of all the odd-man chances against. "They're reads you have to make. Is the third-man high? Is he not high? What type of puck control do we have? Do we have good puck control? Am I supposed to be stepping in, or not? A lot of times our guys decided to make decisions without the puck to either stay in or to go in for the outlet pass that were the wrong decisions.”
As for the forwards, Alexndre Burrows moved from the first to the third line, and it became the Canucks’ best, scoring a goal and drawing a couple of power plays that were converted by a new-look, four-forward unit he’s also a part of.
“They spent quality time in the other team’s end and were creating quality chances and wearing the other team down,” said Vigneault. “They were very dependable through the neutral zone and I was very pleased how that worked out. But we’re on a game-to-game basis. Can it work consistently?”
They’ll find out Saturday against the Blue Jackets, though it’s not the only thing being tested. Henrik and Daniel Sedin combined for three points against Phoenix after managing just one assist between them the previous eight games, and were part of a core group of veterans singled out by the coach, who suggested their poor play on the ice made it challenging for them to be leaders off it.
“All their games are a little bit off and makes it a different element to influence a group in a positive way and push buttons in the dressing room,” said Vigneault, who also included Ryan Kesler, Manny Malhotra, Kevin Bieksa and Roberto Luongo, who won’t play Saturday, in that group. "Our core group of players is being challenged. It's a different element when you're depended on to be leaders, to lead a group, to ensure your actions are the right ones to influence.”
Here are the rest of the expected lines as the Canucks try to end a 2-4-2 skid and avoid their first three-game losing skid at home since 2009:
Cory Schneider, who is 8-0-1 since mid-December, will start in goal ahead of Roberto Luongo, who has given up 25 goals in his last eight starts.
The biggest change for the last-place Blue Jackets, who had been playing well up to a 3-0 loss in Edmonton on Wednesday, is in goal, where Steve Mason returns from a deep cut on his blocker hand that kept him out for three games and ended his own recent run of solid play between the pipes. The only other change is Ryan Russell coming in for Dane Byers on the fourth line:
With defensemen Radek Martinek (concussion) and Marc Methot (jaw) out the rest of the season, and fellow blue liner Fedor Tyutin still out indefinitely with a hand injury, the Blue Jackets only have six healthy defenders, and have already checked flights in case they need to add another one from the AHL in time for Sunday’s game in Calgary.
Steve Mason, who has won four straight starts, is back from the skate cut on his right hand to take over from backup Curtis Sanford, who has lost six straight.
That said, the roster shakeup for Wednesday night's game against the Phoenix Coyotes -- which includes a new winger for struggling top-line twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin -- is all about shaking a 2-3-2 slump over the last seven games.
"It's got nothing to do with experimenting, it's got everything to do with getting our top players to play up to their level," Vigneault said after Wednesday's morning skate. "Until they do we're going to keep trying everything we can."
That includes moving struggling speedster Mason Raymond (0 points in six games) up to the top line to try and spark Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who have combined for just one assist the last eight games combined. Henrik, whose eight-game pointless streak is his longest since a November-December funk in 2003 and one game shy of his career worst from 2001, hopes the two days off after Saturday's 4-1 loss to lowly Montreal will rejuvenate a team that has looked tired – both mentally and physically – over the last few weeks.
"We're confident we're going to get out of this," Henrik, the Canucks’ captain, said. "It's just a matter of regrouping and getting ready for the stretch drive."
They've got 13 games left to figure it out, and that includes the defensive pairings, which were also shaken up after giving up way too many odd-man rushes, point-blank chances, and goals during the slide. Kevin Bieksa will play with a struggling Alexander Edler, while Bieksa's long-time partner, Dan Hamhuis, moves onto an apparent shutdown unit with steady youngster Chris Tanev, leaving veteran Sami Salo to play with newcomer Marc-Andre Gragnani against the Coyotes.
"When we analyze the scoring chances for and against and we see our top four defensemen in the minus category, it tells me we have to try something," said Vigneault of a theory that also applies up front. "It's pretty simple. We need our top players to play like top players. We're no different than any of the other 29 teams in the League. We've got a good team when our top players play the way they're supposed to play and, right now, for whatever reason, we've got a couple of guys who are off their game. They need to find it for us to get back on track."
Here are the expected lines -- at least to start -- as the Canucks try to do just that:
Meanwhile, the Coyotes will be without 30-goal scorer Radim Vrabata. who was a late scratch due to illness. There's no word if he'll be ready to play Thursday night, when the Coyotes visit Calgary. The Coyotes say he's day-to-day
The good news for the Coyotes is that some of their injured players are returning or will be back soon.
Steady defenseman David Schlemko, who has missed 28 games following early January foot surgery, is expected to return in Vancouver on Wednesday night. Veteran defender Derek Morris, who recently rejoined the team after missing 14 games to attend to a family illness, isn't far behind, and key forwards Kyle Chipchura (wrist) and Martin Hanzal (upper body) are both with the team on the trip through Wsetern Canada and could return soon.
"When you're in a playoff stretch drive, you need as many bodies as you can, and that depth will be a real asset for our group," said coach Dave Tippett.
Tippett hopes it helps the Coyotes get back to the February form that saw them go 11-0-1, and end a 1-4-2 March funk that included an uncharacteristically wide-open 5-4 shootout loss to Nashville on Monday. That loss dropped them four points behind Dallas atop the Pacific Division, and just one point ahead of a four-way tie for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Tippett isn't telling his players to avoid NHL scoreboards.
"We always keep our eyes on the standings, it's a pretty tight race," he said. "You do lots of scoreboard watching … it re-enforces the fact we have to take care of ourselves."
Schlemko will likely take the spot of rookie Michael Stone, who was good as an emergency fill in, but minus-2 against the Predators in the last game.
"Poise," Tippett said of what Schlemko adds, "A steady, veteran presence."
Here are the rest of the expected lines as Phoenix tries to win the season series (it's 1-1-1 right now) despite only scoring two goals in the first three meetings:
Mike Smith will start despite needing a while to shake off a shot off the mask during the morning skate, with Jason LaBarbera, who got the surprise start against his old team the last time the Coyotes visited, backing up.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault figures he can try whatever he wants to try and fix a power play mired in a two-month slump.
Since going 4-for-11 in a big Stanley Cup rematch win against Boston on Jan. 10, the Canucks are just 6-for-68 with the man advantage, falling from first in the League (by a healthy margin) to third heading into a game Saturday against Montreal. It prompted Vigneault to try using four forwards on his top unit.
“If you look at the way our power play has been since the Boston game, I think it's fair to say I can try whatever I want,” Vigneault said.
That included moving Ryan Kesler away from the front of the net, where he managed to score 15 goals for the League’s best power play last season, and back to the point for the first time in his eight-year NHL career.
The new-look power play only got one chance in a 3-2 win against Winnipeg on Thursday, and failed to score. But they did manage six shots, Kesler hit one of his two posts on the night, and looked as good as it has in months.
For Kesler, playing the point gives him a little more time and space to get off a shot he worked tirelessly to improve before scoring a career-high 41 goals last season. It’s something he feels other teams have tried to take away this year.
“They are. Scoring 41 goals last year, teams are going to key in on me more and play me harder and it's harder minutes and they are taking away my time and space to shoot so you gotta find other ways to use the shot,” Kesler said.
One way to do that is to move back to the point, which also reduces the number of hard minutes Kesler, who is also a top penalty killing forward, has to play down the stretch after a long playoff run and offseason hip surgery last season.
“It’s taxing at times,” Kesler said. “It’s a little different playing the point, but at the same time I think I can use my shot more and help the power play that way … I get the puck a little more. My job is to shoot obviously first.”
Kesler is also hoping the long-awaited re-unification of the American Express line with fellow U.S.-born forwards David Booth and Chris Higgins will help him get that shot away more often. The speedy trio, split up because of injuries and illness after a promising December debut, combined for 16 shots against the Jets.
“When we come up the ice with speed it backs off the D, which allows me to shoot the puck more,” said Kesler, who had seven shots and two more off the iron that didn’t count. “We played like a line that wants to stay together."
Montreal’s miserable season will continued without injured top-line center David Desharnais on Saturday night in Vancouver, but the Canadiens could get their top defenseman, Andrei Markov, back for the first time all season.
Markov, who has only played seven games in the last two seasons as he tries to come back from two major knee surgeries and another arthroscopic procedure, was activated from the injured-reserve list Saturday morning and could play against the Canucks, according to coach Randy Cunneyworth.
“He’s activated and available to us and should everything go as planned he will be in our lineup,” said Cunneyworth, adding the decision will be made after pre-game warm up, which will include 12 forwards and seven defensemen. “If he’s feeling the same way tonight as he is today, then we certainly will (play him).”
Markov averaged 55 points from 2005-2009, including a career-high 64 in 2008-09. But the 33-year-old Russian only played 45 games in 2009-10 and just seven last season before tearing his ACL in a Nov. 13, 2010, game against Carolina.
It’s been a long road back for the puck-moving, power play specialist. He practiced in November, but was shut down after the knee swelled up, and wasn’t cleared again for contact until Monday. He skated alongside Tomas Kaberle on Friday, but won’t speak to the media until after Saturday’s game – if he plays.
“I believe his condition is to a point where he can help out the team and do the work he feels will help our team be successful,” said Cunneyworth, who has indicated he will monitor the Russian defender’s minutes closely. “We’ll figure out best way to manage his ice based on how the game is going and how he is feeling. It's another step in the right direction for a guy we know is a very good player, but we don’t want to throw too much on his plate.”
Fellow Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges knows better than most what Markov is going through after having season ending surgery in January of 2011 and having to wait until the start of this season to make his return. That was an eight-month wait. Markov hasn't played a game in 16 months.
“I don’t expect him to be at his 100 per cent best first game back after this long a break,” Gorges said. “The timing of things has to come back, but mentally he just has to get out there, get a couple shifts early, keep them short, keep them quick, get the feel for the puck, for the timing. Probably the best thing to do would be take a hit, take a big hit, and to know that he can keep going, his knee will be fine and mentally he can overcome that obstacle and he’ll be fine.”
That said, Gorges believes it will be a big morale boost for the Canadiens, who are last in the Eastern Conference, to see Markov finally return.
“It will be a great boost to everyone just to see him playing,” Gorges said.
The news was almost as positive on Desharnais, who suffered a lower-body injury early during a win Thursday in Edmonton and won’t play in Vancouver.
Cunneyworth said the injury to Desharnais, whose 52 points are second in team scoring only to linemate Max Pacioretty (54), isn’t serious, and he could be back as early as Monday in Buffalo. In the meantime, Tomas Plekanec moves up to the top line between Pacioretty, who took the team scoring lead with two goals and an assist against the Oilers, and Erik Cole.
“There’s some chemistry, they've largely stayed together much of the season,” Cunneyworth said of the top line, “But you adapt and others take on the responsibility. It’s a good challenge for our group.”
Louis Leblanc, who was sent down to Hamilton of the American Hockey League on Wednesday, has been called back up and will play on the fourth line against the Canucks.
When it was suggested the Canadiens could have tried recalling top prospect Brendan Gallagher, who plays his junior hockey locally, on an emergency basis, Cunneyworth said it never crossed his mind.
"With Louis Leblanc he comes back with the knowledge of our system and he's able to step right in and not miss a beat," he said.
Assuming the Canadiens dress 12 forwards, the lines will look like this, with Leblanc most likely to sit should Markov play as one of seven defensemen:
After a rare night off in Edmonton, Carey Price gets the start – his 59th in 69 games – with an estimated 20-30 family members making the trip from his hometown in Northern B.C. Peter Budaj is back to being the back up.
The only change for the Canucks is the return of Roberto Luongo in goal against the team he grew up cheering after Cory Schneider played Thursday.
VANCOUVER -- Canucks captain Henrik Sedin was doing his best Alfred E. Newman after his team's first consecutive regulation losses in four months: What -- me worry?
Sedin downplayed the losses, a 1-2-2 run, and the ongoing struggles of both the power play and the top line he centers alongside twin brother Daniel.
The rest of Vancouver may be panicked over a man-advantage unit that has one goal in seven games and a success rate below 10 percent the last two months, or seeing the Sedins, who combined for the last two NHL scoring titles, manage just 1 assist between them the last six games, but Henrik isn't.
"It feels like we're the least-worried guys in the city," Henrik said after practice Wednesday before exercising the option to skip Thursday's morning skate.
As several teammates suggested Thursday, there might be panic if it was April 8 instead of March 8. There is still more than a month to prepare for the playoffs, but there are things that need fixing, including a power play that led the League by a wide margin after going 4-for-11 during a big 4-3 win in Boston back on Jan. 10, but is just 8-for-68 in the 25 games since then.
That drought has also played a role in the Sedins' slide. In addition to his first six-game pointless skid since 2003, Henrik is pointless in 10 of the last 13, while twin brother Daniel has been blanked in nine of those same contests over the last month. And while history and head coach Alain Vigneault suggested it was just a blip and nothing to worry about, a lot of fans in Vancouver clearly are.
"We just have to execute a little bit better," said Alexandre Burrows, the Sedins' regular linemate at even strength. "I think teams are desperate, they play five guys in front of their net and we just have to create more and be more assertive with the puck and make sure we get to the net with traffic there."
Beyond the Sedins, there are other areas of concern that pre-date the current two-game skid and 1-2-2 stretch. The Canucks were 13-1-3 before that, but nine wins came in overtime and shootouts, and stellar goaltending often masked the defensive breakdowns that finally came to roost during a 5-3 loss to Buffalo on Saturday and a 5-2 loss to Dallas on Tuesday filled with odd-man rushes.
"We're certainly not as sharp as we need to be," defenseman Dan Hamhuis said. "It's simple things -- bad passes, poor defensive coverage -- that should be more of an automatic thing by now. Some of those are mental mistakes, maybe a little bit of lack of execution out there, and we need to be better at that."
Part of the problem may be simply matching the other team's intensity.
Both the Sabres and Stars -- and the Jets on Thursday -- are fighting for their playoff lives, while the Canucks have a 16-point cushion atop the Northwest Division and are practically guaranteed a top-two seed with a 13-point gap on the top Pacific Division team. The only question is securing the top spot in the West and chasing a second straight Presidents' Trophy.
"It's tough, we've seen it the last five-six games, teams that are working hard for playoff spots," said backup goalie Cory Schneider, who starts against the Jets. "But we should be able to match that, no problem. We're a team that knows how to play our 'A' game and ratchet up the intensity when we have to, and I think these are the type of games we are going to be playing from here on out and into the playoffs, so we better get comfortable playing desperate teams."
Vigneault even spoke publicly this week about experimenting with his lines over the final 15 games to get a better feel for his options come playoff time. The tinkering will continue with a reunited all-American second line and new third pairing against the Jets, but the coaches and players met beforehand to talk about the need to stay focused for each game.
"Sure, we're not in a battle to make the playoffs, but we need to take pride in how we play and do the right things," Hamhuis said. "If we don't, if we get lazy or start making bad habits, that's not the way you want to go into a postseason."
That said, Hamhuis didn't disagree with his captain's assessment from the day before that it might not be a bad thing to lose now instead of a month from now, if only because it forces the team to assess its shortcomings, especially after being able to get away with them, and win despite of them, earlier this season.
"Sometimes losing is a good thing," Hamhuis said. "When you go through adversity and tough times, that's when you get stronger and it certainly highlights some of the areas in our game that aren't where they need to be, execution being one of them and focus being another. Some of our plays that should be routine aren't right now, and you realize that when you start losing games."
The Canucks continue to tinker with their forward units and defense, re-uniting the American Express line of U.S.-born forwards Chris Higgins, Ryan Kesler and David Booth as they attempt to bump their worst slump in four months.
That it’s a two-game losing streak in regulation -- four of five (1-2-2) if you throw in overtime and shootout losses that sandwiched a win over St. Louis -- says a lot about expectations surrounding a Vancouver team that ran away with the Western Conference last season, but comes into this game second.
Still, there are improvements needed, so the changes continue against the Jets on Thursday night, with newcomer Marc-Andre Gragnani now on a third pairing with youngster Christopher Tanev while the more established Aaron Rome joins fellow veteran Andrew Alberts in the press box as healthy scratches on defense.
Cory Schneider, who cut his professional teeth in Winnipeg with the Canucks' AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, is back in goal after watching Roberto Luongo start the last three.
In addition to the goaltending change, the re-unification of the American Express second line that showed so much promise earlier in the season also changes up the third and fourth units, with the struggling speedster Raymond now on a checking unit, and big trade addition Kassian moving back to more of a crash-and-bang fourth line after a game-plus experiment on that second line.
No lineup changes for a Jets team that built most of its recent 6-1-2 run during a long homestand, but showed some improvement with a 4-3-0 record the last seven road games. That's a notable number considering they have lost 21 of 32 road contests this season.
The Dallas Stars will rest their top goaltender against the top team in the Western Conference Tuesday. But the decision to start rookie backup Richard Bachman isn't just about saving workhorse No.1 Kari Lehtonen for an important Pacific Division showdown with San Jose back in Dallas on Thursday.
It's also a reward for the role Bachman played in the Stars' current 6-0-1 run to a playoff position.
Bachman's only other start in the last 16 games was a 26-save, 3-1 win over Chicago 12 days ago -- the second game in the ongoing point streak.
"You look at our schedule, we'll probably rely on Kari quite extensively, and this is maybe a day where we've got travel, and it sets up good to play San Jose," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said after practice in Calgary on Monday. "And you look at our little run we've been on, the game in Chicago, Richard Bachman was a part of it to get us going, and he's 6-3 with a .916 (save percentage)."
Bachman, who was playing in the ECHL just two seasons ago, won the Stars' backup job from ex-Canuck Andrew Raycroft with an impressive call-up earlier this season. He also has a 2.58 goals-against average despite being matched with Sabres rookie backup Jhonas Enroth as the shortest goaltender in the NHL at just 5-foot-10. That, says Gulutzan, forces him to prepare differently, relying more on developing his smarts because he can't just rely on his size.
"Even practicing with our guys, NHL shooters, he's getting better by virtue of being here," Gulutzan said of the Colorado College grad. "He's a cerebral kid, he's a smart college kid, he's mature and he's a goalie that has to study the game to be good at the game, because he's not a big blocker."
That doesn't mean he can't come up big for Dallas down the stretch.
The Stars are counting on it against the Canucks on Tuesday.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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."
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:
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."
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.”
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
Canucks defenseman Chris Tanev has been called up from the AHL to play against the Maple Leafs on Saturday, but the move has nothing to do with Keith Ballard’s head injury or Kevin Bieksa’s surprise day off the ice Friday.
With Bieksa expected to play despite limping slightly off the ice during what his coach called a “maintenance day,” Tanev’s recall is more about assessing the 22-year-old’s ability to fill a long-term hole on the right side of the defense than filling any immediate gaps on a team already carrying two spare defenders.
“It’s another opportunity for us here with the trade deadline nearing to continue to evaluate some of our personnel,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “Obviously the two points are very important but we’re still trying to sort different aspects of our team, where the pieces might fit in, and Chris is somebody that’s on our radar.”
Tanev wasn’t on anybody’s radar three years ago. Since then he’s gone from Tier-2 Junior in his native Toronto, to one year of NCAA hockey, to playing Game 7 in last summer’s Stanley Cup Final after signing with the Canucks as an undrafted free agent out of college.
He showed remarkable poise as a rookie, but was sent down after three games this season, in part to play more after some early stumbles and in part because he was the only one of nine defenders that didn't require waivers. He’s been up for only one game since, filling in for Sami Salo in January after the others defensemen struggled to shift to the right side.
Now he’s back for a longer look. With Ballard not ready to travel, the plan is to take Tanev on a six-game road trip that starts Sunday in Edmonton, and use the time to determine if he’s ready to fill the biggest depth hole Vancouver has left before the impending Feb. 27 trade deadline: right-side defensemen.
Tanev doesn’t have much to say about such implications, but it’s safe to assume a player Bieksa once said could play the game with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, isn’t phased by much. His third-pairing partner for Saturday, Aaron Rome, says that's part of what makes it so easy to line up alongside Tanev.
“We joke with him that he’s sleeping out there, but it’s like he’s playing the game in a rocking chair,” Rome told NHL.com. “It comes so easy to him, just his body language and everything. It’s great to see, especially for a young guy. I was actually thinking about it today in practice how easy he is play with. He moves well out there, he’s good with positioning. Maybe he’s not the flashiest guy but he’s patient, and maybe he’s not the biggest, most physical guy, but he closes quick on guys, he gets the puck away and he’s really easy to read off.”
The Canucks hope Tanev makes it easier to read their needs before the Feb. 27 deadline.
VANCOUVER -- Colorado forward Peter Mueller was a late scratch for the Avalanche against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night with a torso injury.
Mueller, who has 5 goals and 7 points in his last nine games, missed practice in Colorado on Tuesday for what was described as a maintenance day. He took the pre-game skate Wednesday night before being scratched.
Mueller missed all of last season and 40 games this season because of a concussion. The 23-year-old returned to action on Jan. 12.
Colorado is also still without top forward Matt Duchene, though he is travelling with the team and close to coming back from a Dec. 29 knee injury.
VANCOUVER -- Canucks forward Chris Higgins returns to the lineup after missing six games and losing more than 10 pounds because of a bad reaction to medication for back-to-back staph infections. But he won’t be back on the American Express line -- at least to start.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault has juggled lines consistently while looking to both spark a team that hasn’t played as well as its current 7-0-3 run might indicate -- only two wins since Jan. 7 have come in regulation -- and trying to find a playoff-worthy third line capable of playing more of a checking role.
"If you look at our template from last year, which was pretty effective, we had two offensive lines with (Henrik) Sedin and Ryan Kesler and a real strong line with Manny (Malhotra) and whoever would play with him," Vigneault said Tuesday, adding he had "a couple more weeks" before the trade deadline to figure it out.
"That enabled me to play them head-to-head against one of the other team's top lines, which freed up either Ryan or Hank to play against a third or fourth line. When we're capable of doing that, it can make it real challenging for the opposition. So we're still trying to figure out where the pieces fit, whether that's the ideal way of doing things or if there is something else out there."
Part of the problem this season is Malhotra has struggled coming back from a career-threatening eye injury that required more surgery and limited offseason training. The other problem is what to do with promising rookie Cody Hodgson, who added an offensive element as the third line center (tied for fourth among first-year scorers with 31 points and second with 15 goals despite playing just 12:45), but has been spending more time on the fourth line of late.
Here are the rest of the expected lines as the Canucks try to extend a 12-0-2 run against the Avalanche that included a shootout win in Colorado 11 days ago:
Roberto Luongo is back in goal and hoping to avoid a seventh-straight shootout, a run that includes beating the Avalanche in the post-overtime tie-breaker. Cory Schneider is the back up.
With Higgins back -- he said he's put gained eight of the 11 or 12 pounds he lost -- the Canucks sent energy forward Mike Duco back to the American Hockey League. Dale Weise also returned to practice Tuesday after missing three games after blocking a shot, only to take a puck off the face and be forced to leave early for stitches. He was back on the ice for an optional morning skate Wednesday wearing a visor, but won’t return against the Avalanche.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere is back in net after Semyon Varlamov stopped a career-high 41 shots in a 3-2 overtime loss to St. Louis on Sunday.
Colorado center Matt Duchene returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since suffering a knee injury Dec. 29 and joined the team for its three-game road trip, but won’t play when it kicks off in Vancouver on Wednesday.
Ryan Wilson played as a seventh defenseman against the Blues on Sunday, with T.J. Galiardi out of the lineup as a healthy scratch and just 11 forwards in it. But Galiardi will get back into action as the Avalanche try to avoid being shut out by Vancouver for a third time this season after losing 3-0 and 6-0 in their first two matchups. Wilson is expected to sit against the Canucks, allowing rookie Tyson Barrie to play his fourth NHL game in front of more than a dozen family and friends ferrying over from Vancouver Island.
VANCOUVER -- Phoenix defenseman Derek Morris was a surprise late scratch for Monday night's game at Rogers Arena with a groin injury.
Spotted talking on his cell phone outside the arena just 35 minutes before the game, Morris had a good chuckle when asked if it had anything to do with the impending trade NHL deadline. The 33-year-old took the morning skate and was expected to play.
"Just old, bumps and bruises," Morris told NHL.com before confirming the groin injury.
Morris, under contract another two seasons with a $2.75-million salary cap hit, has one goal, nine points and minus-10 rating 48 games.
VANCOUVER -- The Canucks aren't sure why yet. All they know Keith Ballard is out indefinitely.
The veteran defenseman missed the final two games of Vancouver's four-game road trip after a hit led to headaches -- and the possibility of a concussion -- and still wasn't back on the ice as the team prepared to host the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday night.
"We're not sure if it's neck-related or concussion-related, so docs are checking into the neck and if that's causing the headaches that he has now and then, or if it's as simple as it being a concussion," Vigneault said. "He's out until we figure out exactly what we got."
The line between head and neck injuries -- and relationship between the two -- has been blurred of late, with news Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby was suffering from a soft tissue injury in the neck, which could have masked themselves as the post-concussion symptoms first believed to have sidelined him.
VANCOUVER -- Chris Higgins rejoined the Canucks for Monday's morning skate -- at least what's left of him.
Higgins has lost more than 10 pounds in his ongoing fight with staph infections, which caused him to twice miss games in December and left him unable to play the last five games because a poor reaction to medication made it hard to keep any food down.
The good news for Higgins, who also missed games while with Florida last season with a staph infection, is the latest absence was more about treating the infections than another return of them. That has him feeling somewhat confident the worst is past.
Higgins, who skated on his own three times before joining teammates, won't play against the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday night, but could return as early as Wednesday against the visiting Colorado Avalanche.
"It was just something that could have happened due to the medication I was taking for the back-to-back staph infections," Higgins said. "It was one of the reactions that was possible from taking medication for such a long time."
Higgins, who was among the Canucks' best forwards early this season, missed two games in early December when his foot swelled up after a three-point night for him and an eight-point outing for the second line. He returned for eight games before missing another three when the infection returned, but struggled with his energy levels after that, failing to score in 11 games in January while battling the draining effects of medication.
Higgins talked about finally getting back to normal before being a surprise late scratch in the last game of a recent home stand, and then missing all four games on the road.
"I'm just glad it's behind me, and looking forward to feeling normal again, like I did before the staph infections in December, and even the month of January was pretty tough for me physically. Hopefully my energy and weight comes back quickly," he said.
Higgins has already regained most of the lost weight -- a relatively enjoyable rehab.
"Going up in weight is more fun that trying to shed it," he said. "I'm enjoying desert after meals and don't have to worry too much about how many calories I'm taking in."
Now he's only focused on shedding his reputation the last two months.
"I don't want to be known as the sick guy, that's kind of sticking with me," said Higgins, who has 10 goals and 26 points in 45 games. "I want to shed that image."
VANCOUVER -- Mike Smith is the hottest goaltender in the League and the NHL's First Star of the Week, but the Coyotes will try to continue their sizzling streak without him Monday night, turning instead to backup Jason LaBarbera against the Canucks, who are on a roll of their own.
LaBarbera is 4-1-0 against a Vancouver team he played nine games for in 2008-09, but Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett said the decision was more about getting Smith some time off to work with Coyotes goaltending coach Sean Burke. Smith, who hasn't lost in five February games while posting a 1.19 goals-against average and .962 save percentage, has started 11 straight, and 16 of 17 since returning from injury on Jan. 3.
"It's a combination of a four day break mentally and physically and two days to work with Sean Burke and tune things up," said Tippett, whose Coyotes don't play again until Thursday in Los Angeles. "It's important for any goaltender, and when you are playing so many in a row it's hard to find those times where you can tweak your game."
Phoenix has used its first five-game win streak of the season to move into eighth place in the tight, tough Western Conference, but has little margin for error against a Canucks team that hasn't lost in regulation since mid-January amid a 6-0-3 run of their own.
LaBarbera knows how dangerous their attack can be, but looks forward to facing it.
"I don't know about local knowledge, it's just exciting for me to play here," he said of past success. "I grew up here, got to play here and it's a fun building to play in."
For the Canucks, defenseman Keith Ballard will miss a third straight game with what could either be a concussion of neck injury -- coach Alain Vigneauilt said the team still isn't sure -- and Chris Higgins is skating again but not quite ready to return after an adverse reaction to medication for recurring staph infections caused him to lose more than 10 pounds.
So expect the Canucks to start against the Coyotes the same way they finished in a 3-2 shootout loss in Calgary on Saturday, though the way Vigneault has been playing Yahtzee with his forward lines, they may not finish that way.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault split identical twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin for parts of the last three games, a rare move designed to spark both the brothers and the team. Vigneault may not have that option Thursday night against the Wild in Minnesota.
Captain Henrik Sedin missed practice Wednesday and was scheduled to have a CT scan after taking a slap shot off the outside of his right ankle early during Tuesday's 4-3 shootout win in Nashville. Multiple media reports said Sedin was seen limping around in a large walking boot at the team's hotel in St. Paul.
"They did an x-ray and couldn't tell from the x-ray and he was just obviously in a lot of pain so just doing a follow up," Vigneault told reporters after practice Wednesday.
Sedin dropped to the ice after blocking the shot and could barely skate off on his own -- but was back after a few minutes in the locker room and had two assists later in the period. Despite not having any extra forwards, they had not called up anyone from their Chicago of the American Hockey League as of yet.
Henrik leads the League with 46 assists and is fifth in NHL scoring with 57 points. He is also second to only Calgary defenseman Jay Bouwmeester with an ironman streak of 552 consecutive games played and hasn't missed a game in more than six seasons.
"It just shows how effective and durable and demanding Hank is on himself and hopefully the streak will continue tomorrow," Vigneault said.
The last time one of the Sedin twins missed an extended period was two seasons ago, when Daniel's left foot was broken by a teammate's shot early in the season. Henrik responded by stepping out of his comfort zone as a pass-first setup center, scoring 10 goals in the 18 games his brother missed en route to an NHL-leading 112 points and the Hart Trophy as League MVP.
Vancouver forward Dale Weise was also having a CT scan Wednesday after blocking a shot and needing stiches the night before, and the Canucks were already missing top-six winger Chris Higgins, who is struggling with the draining effects of medication to help with recurring staph infections.
VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks rushed out of the rink after practice Friday morning, eager to get to a charter flight bound for Colorado ahead of a snowstorm that was already causing plenty of flight problems ahead of their early Saturday afternoon game against the Avalanche.
The problem is second-line winger Chris Higgins wasn't with them to kick off a four-game road trip after missing Thursday's 4-3 shootout loss to Detroit with the flu. And according to coach Alain Vigneault, the Canucks may not be able to call up 6-foot-5 winger Byron Bitz from Chicago of the American Hockey League in time because the weather has cancelled commercial flights in and out of Denver.
If Bitz can't make it, Mason Raymond will again move up to the second line -- they were scrambled in the third period Thursday after being badly outplayed, with Daniel and Henrik Sedin split up, but back together at practice. But instead of defenseman Andrew Alberts dressing as a spare part forward on the fourth line again, it appears fellow defender Keith Ballard will move up this time and play third line left wing.
As for Higgins, Vigneault said it was not a return of the staph infection that cost the winger five games over two separate stints in December and six games in Florida last season, but admitted the medication Higgins was taking because of it may have left him more susceptible to the flu. He said Higgins, who struggled with fatigue because of the medication and didn't score in January, could join the team on the road.
VANCOUVER -- Canucks forward Chris Higgins was a surprise late scratch Thursday against Detroit with what a team official called an “illness.”
There was no word if it was related to the Staph infection that caused Higgins to miss five games over two separate absences earlier this season. The second-line left winger, who has 10 goals and 26 points in 45 games, missed two games in early December after his foot swelled up suddenly overnight, and three more late that month when the symptoms returned.
Higgins, who was one of Vancouver's better forwards in October and November, struggled after returning from the second infection, failing to record a point in his first six games, and going without a goal through all 11 games in January. Both he and head coach Alain Vigneault, who was expected to update Higgins' status after Thursday’s game, said at the time that the gritty winger struggled with his energy levels as a result of medication he was taking. Higgins also missed six games with a Staph infection last season while with the Florida Panthers.
The Canucks are only carrying 12 forwards on the roster, and without enough time to call one up from the American Hockey League, were forced to dress extra defenseman Andrew Alberts, who has skated as a forward a few times already this season.
VANCOUVER -- Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard leads the NHL in wins with 31.
Yet his 43 games played ranks only sixth.
Still, with an increasing tendency League-wide to use a goalie tandem – and Howard on pace to play an exhausting 69-game schedule – the Red Wings’ stopper knows the importance of taking time off. So there was little protest when head coach Mike Babcock ordered both Howard and fellow All-Star Pavel Datsyuk to not only miss Wednesday’s practice in Vancouver, but to stay away from the rink entirely.
“Pavel and I just went and walked round Vancouver, it was nice,” Howard, 27, said after Thursday’s morning skate.
“I feel good. I don’t feel tired at all. Mike is really good giving us days off. He realizes it's key sometimes to pull back on the reigns rather than being out there going, going, going. We always get an ample amount of days off.”
Howard is seventh with a .925 save percentage, and fifth with a 2.01 goals-against average, well ahead of veteran backup Ty Conklin, who is just 3-5-0 with a 3.20 and .896. But Conklin has won two of his last three starts, and could see more time down the stretch. If not, Howard is ready to keep taking breaks on off days, then playing the next.
VANCOUVER -- Canucks center Cody Hodgson said all the right things about being named the NHL Rookie of the Month for January, crediting his linemates – despite the fact both are struggling – and the team, despite an inconsistent month overall.
Hodgson did his best to deflect any praise after a team-high six goals and 10 points in 11 games in January despite averaging less than 13 minutes of ice time. But associate coach Rick Bowness thinks it’s just the start of a long run for the promising 21-year-old.
“I always knew he had the hands, the creativity. Now there is the confidence to use it,” Bowness said before Thursday’s game against Detroit. “He’s holding the puck, looking to make plays and putting the puck in the right spot. That comes with experience and having success. He’s worked very hard on his game, always one of the last guys off the ice, always out there working on his puck skills. He’ll continue to grow and get better.”
Hodgson is fourth in rookie scoring with 30 points despite playing around five minutes less per game than the three guys ahead of him. And he’s second in goals with 14, a total that includes one game- and one shootout-winning goal in the two games prior his appearance at the All-Star Game, and the tying goal against Chicago on Tuesday.
It hasn't seemed to matter that wingers Mason Raymond, with one goal in 12 games, and Jannik Hansen, with none in six, are struggling. Hodgson was quick to point out both are drawing attention and backing down defenses with their speed, but Bowness wants more.
“We’d like to see a little more finishing the chances but it will come,” he said. “The chemistry of the line isn’t quite where we want it to be. Sometimes a line just needs a little time to become a true line and not three individuals playing together.”
If the others are struggling, it hasn’t hurt Hodgson’s confidence.
“I feel more and more comfortable every game and every day, just fitting in with the team and having fun,” said Hodgson, who was picked 10th overall in the 2008 Entry Draft but lost an entire season of development to a back injury two years ago.
“Confidence is a huge part of the game and might be underestimated by a lot of people, but in the hockey community everyone knows if you don’t have confidence in can be tough to play the game,” Hodgson said. “It’s been a good month I’ve had a lot of fun and things are going well with the team. Hopefully I have an even better month in February.”
VANCOUVER -- The Red Wings and Canucks typically play exceptional, entertaining games.
With two of the League's top teams loaded with skill and eager to control the puck, there has rarely been a shortage in fast-paced hockey full of quality scoring chances and great saves, and Thursday's meeting between No. 1 and 2 in the Western Conference promises more of the same.
“It's always fun to play the good teams,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said.
That was again the case when they last met on Dec. 21, but the tone changed after Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall caught Vancouver center Ryan Kesler with his head down. The thunderous open-ice check -- deemed legal both on the ice and by those in charge of supplementary discipline -- added an edge to the rest of the game, starting with Kesler trying to fight Kronwall right after getting up.
Kesler ended up with the only penalty, but the Canucks scored a crucial insurance goal shorthanded after Jannik Hansen wiped out Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard on a partial breakaway. Howard responded by popping up and chasing down a celebrating Hansen, and perhaps a real rivalry was born.
"It's almost become a little bit of a rivalry, really, a lot of emotions out there," Kronwall said, adding he hadn't thought about potential carry over from his hit. "Any time we play Vancouver we know it's going to be a physical game. A lot of times it's more of a playoff character game really, not a lot of room and hard fought."
That last game finished with a knee-on-knee collision between Kesler and Henrik Zetterberg. Afterwards Kesler called out Kronwall for not backing up his hit with a fight, and Howard sounded off about the lack of protection from crease crashers.
"This game is all about emotion and it got a little bit of the best of me last time," Howard said. "It always is (a great game) whenever we play them. Both teams play similar, both want possession of the puck and both make it hard on the opposing goalie and D. Whenever we play here they are always crashing the net and got guys trying to take my sightlines away but it's on me to try and find it out there and not lose sight of the puck."
Kesler, whose job includes doing just that on the Canucks' power play, didn't have much to say on the Kronwall hit now, and expects a spirited but clean game.
"I completely forgot about it until you brought it up again, so that's how much it's on my mind right now," Kesler said of the hit. "I think you expect a hard-fought game, you expect two teams to battle hard and battle clean, that's what you're going to see."
As for Babcock, he couldn't even figure out what the fuss was about.
"I didn't know the game was chippy last time until some of the guys told me about the articles. There was a hit and the guy reacted, that happens in the NHL a lot -- so what?" he said.
Coach Alain Vigneault would like them to imitate Detroit in front of the net too.
With his team struggling slightly not only on the power play -- it's relative when you lead the League -- but also just to generate man advantages, Vigneault stressed the need for improved net presence from his Canucks. Not only should it help a power play that hasn't scored in six chances over three games, but it should create more chances after Vancouver failed to get even one advantage during a 3-2 overtime win over rival Chicago on Tuesday.
"I'd like to take a page out of Detroit's book," Vigneault said. "I feel they're the best team in the League as far as net presence and always having somebody there -- square to the puck and making it hard on the goaltender. We need to screen the goalie more than looking to tip pucks. And they have so many big bodies that like to do that and go in those tough areas. They're one of the most physical teams in the League."
Detroit also has one of the NHL's best net-front presences in Tomas Holmstrom, who returns to action against the Canucks after missing a game with swollen knees. He's a player that Vancouver's Ryan Kesler has tried to learn from since taking over that hard role atop opposing creases last season, a job his coach believes will be key to ending the Canucks' 3-for-23 skid over the last eight games.
"I try to get better at that every day, it's still pretty new to me," said Kesler, a center who used to anchor the second unit. "I always try to pick up little things and he's pretty good at it. Tips is one thing, just learning how and when to take the goalie's eyes away."
VANCOUVER -- Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom will play Thursday night after missing one game with swollen knees, and plans to go straight to his usual spot in front of Vancouver's net. The 39-year-old isn't worried about his health.
The knees are a long way from the heart.
"I play my game, I like the game I play, and it's a good spot to be, the puck is going to be there sooner or later," Holmstrom, who didn't play in Calgary on Tuesday and was hobbling around with ice on his knees, told NHL.com. “I never think about if I take a beating.”
Holmstrom has taken plenty of pounding during 14 NHL seasons establishing himself as the League's best net-front presence. He's a fourth liner now, but remains invaluable on the first power-play unit, screening opposing goalies and scoring on tips and rebounds.
For Holmstrom, it's an easier job now -- even at his age -- then when he first started.
"After the lockout it seems like you can get to the net much easier, you can't do the cross checking before you get to the net, but when the puck comes there, hell still breaks loose," he said with a smile. "But back then you got three cross checks to the neck before you get to the paint, and then you get cross-checked again. So it's a huge difference."
Detroit was 0-for-3 on the power play without Holmstrom against the Flames, though his replacement, Jan Mursak, who will come out of the lineup against the Canucks on Thursday, did set up a goal in just 7:32 of ice time on the fourth line.
Here are the rest of the expected lineups and changes for the Red Wings and Canucks:
As the Canucks wrap up a six-game homestand broken up by the All-Star break, the only change is in goal, where Roberto Luongo returns after watching Cory Schneider's often-spectacular 37-save effort in a 3-2 overtime win over Chicago on Tuesday.
The win included a highlight-reel diving save to take away an empty net after he gave the puck away behind his own net, prompting Luongo to joke about trying to top his partner with a "backhand sauce up the middle and then dive back to see if I can get it."
VANCOUVER -- One of the first things Brendan Morrison did after getting traded from Calgary to Chicago was buy his wife and four kids some Blackhawks apparel. The next step may be warning them not to wear it this summer, when he typically returns to his hometown just outside of Vancouver.
"They're safe, they're in Calgary," Morrison said of having his family wear Hawks' attire. "We'll just have to hide it in the summertime."
As Morrison prepared to make his first start with his new teammates Tuesday night, he didn't need any history lessons on their long and often bitter rivalry against his old Canucks team. After three straight playoff meetings, the mutual dislike is well documented.
"Nothing like getting thrown into the fire first game," joked Morrison, who started his NHL career in New Jersey but established himself in the League during eight seasons with the Canucks.
Chicago is Morrison's fifth team in less than four seasons since leaving Vancouver, but he still comes home in the summer and is familiar with the rivalry against the Blackhawks. Most are.
"I don't think it takes anybody long to figure out the history between these two teams," said Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who will return to the lineup after missing a game and a half with a wrist injury. "Now he's on our side, so he's got to get his priorities right."
The rivalry started three seasons ago with a line brawl and grew when they met in the playoffs soon after. It's continued to grow through two more post-season meetings, with the Canucks finally winning in the opening round last season - in overtime of Game 7 after blowing a 3-0 series lead -- after dropping second-round series in each of the two preceding years.
If the Vancouver's nasty Stanley Cup Final series against Boston last year created a new, equally bitter rival for the Canucks, it felt very familiar to Toews.
"It just seems to get worse every year," he said. "Watching that seven-game series, you see a lot of things that went on between Boston and Vancouver that happened between our two teams as well."
Things were slightly tamer during the first two meetings between the Canucks and Blackhawks this season - Vancouver won the first 6-2 in Chicago on Nov. 6 and the Hawks returned the favor 5-1 here 10 days later.
"Not every game is going to be line brawls and physical," cautioned Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa. "But it usually doesn't matter what time of the year it is, they are playoff-type games and physical and emotional and always fun to play in."
Of course, both games this season were played before checking center Dave Bolland went on a Chicago radio station and - with some prompting from the hosts and a live audience - called the Canucks' identical twin forwards Daniel and Henrik Sedin "sisters," joking they would never be Blackhawks and slept in bunk beds.
Canucks' coach Alain Vigneault responded by mocking Bolland's IQ and looks. Neither side wanted to talk much about it before Tuesday's game, though Vigneault explained his reaction a day earlier.
"Any time you attack two players with the class that Henrik and Daniel have and what they do not just for the game, but for outside the game, it's crossing the line," he said. "That said, we've moved on."
Whether it adds to the rivalry on the ice, Vigneault wondered how it "could be more intense than it already is." Toews wasn't as sure, but at least hoped it would bring the best out of Bolland, who has long owned the Sedin line. As if playing the Canucks isn't enough.
"We'll find out I guess," Toews said. "There's always some stuff going on back and forth in the media and that's nothing new. We all know Bolly is one of those guys that likes to get under his opponent's skin, especially this team so I'm sure we'll see his best game tonight."
As for Morrison, he has no problems with the ever-changing rivalries that come in switching teams. His last season ended prematurely with a serious knee injury suffered against the Blackhawks, and Morrison was upset after being mocked by the Chicago bench. But all is forgotten now.
"To me it's a done deal, it's over with," said Morrison, who has played just 28 games this season because of his recovery from the ACL surgery that followed. "The one guy that I made eye contact with when something was said is not here, so there's no issues."
VANCOUVER -- The Chicago Blackhawks kick off a season-high nine-game road trip in Vancouver on Tuesday night with three lineup additions, none bigger than captain Jonathan Toews and sniper Patrick Sharp, who both return from left wrist injuries in time to face their biggest rivals.
"It's a good way to get started," said Sharp, who has been out just over three weeks. "You never want to sit out these games, whether it's a playoff game or regular season, it's always a great atmosphere. Two teams that are great teams that obviously don't like each other, but it's a lot of fun to play these games. I think both sides will say that, so I wouldn't miss this one for the world."
Toews only missed a game and a half and doesn't expect to miss a beat on the top line, but Sharp returns sooner than expected and to a new-look second line anchored by ex-Canucks center Brendan Morrison. Acquired by the Blackhawks from Calgary over the All-Star weekend, Morrison will start with his new team playing between Sharp and fellow sharp-shooter Marian Hossa.
"This guy is third in the League in scoring right now, and talking to some guys in here they feel he could be the best player in the League right now," Morrison said of Hossa. "He's a game-breaker. There's a lot of guys in here -- (Patrick) Kane, Toews, Sharp, (Duncan) Keith, (Brent Seabrook) -- I look around the room and there's a great supporting cast. … I have been lucky over the years to play with some pretty high-end talent, guys like Markus (Naslund) and Todd (Bertuzzi) and Jarome (Iginla). Just to be in that mix and be a part of it should be fun."
With three new bodies on the top lines, there are changes on the bottom two as well. Dave Bolland is back in his usual spot as a third-line checking center, flanked now by Marcus Kruger, who slides down and over from the second-line center spot taken by Morrison, and rookie Andrew Shaw.
"We're comfortable with (Kruger) against anybody and Shaw has played extremely well -- there's upside offensively and defensively," coach Joel Quenneville said, warning the new looks may not last too long. "It's something we're going to try and we'll see how long it goes."
Michael Frolik, who was made a healthy scratch for the first time in Chicago’s last game before the All-Star break, returns on a fourth line with veterans Jamal Mayers and Andrew Brunette, with Bryan Bickell coming out of the lineup as a healthy scratch. Rookies Jimmy Hayes, Ben Smith and Brandon Pirri have all been sent back to the American Hockey League since playing in Chicago's last game before the All-Star break, and the Blackhawks know they have little margin for error as they prepare to spend the next 19 days on the road, a trip Quenneville has broken into three segments.
"From Game 48, where we were first in the League, to Game 50, where we are sixth in the conference, it's pretty amazing the ground we lost," he said. "Our division is going to be tough to the end."
Nothing changes except the goalie for the Canucks, who will start Schneider for the first time in three weeks, in part, coach Alain Vigneault said, because he was able to work out during the All Star break, while Luongo traveled with family.
Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo would prefer to go into the All-Star break feeling good about his health rather than worrying about it.
So the oft-injured blueliner will return from a concussion Tuesday against Edmonton.
The veteran Salo has missed six games and 17 days after getting sent head over heels by a low hit from Boston’s Brad Marchand on Jan. 7. As for the thinking one more missed game would mean an extra week off with the upcoming All Star weekend, the 37-year-old would prefer to go into the break with a game under his belt.
"I just look at like try to get back as soon as I can and get back with the team as soon as I can," Salo said. "There's no better scenario for me. Once I'm ready, I'm ready."
There's little question the Canucks missed Salo's calming influence, despite managing a 3-2-1 record without him. Despite having two extra bodies on the back end, none were comfortable on the right side of Alexander Edler on an important second pairing.
There were long stretches without Salo when they struggled with defensive coverage and getting out of their own end smoothly, leading to the recall of second-year pro Christopher Tanev to play alongside Edler in Saturday's win over San Jose.
"He's able to contribute both offensively and defensively," coach Alain Vigneault said Monday of Salo. "He's such a smart player both with the puck and without the puck that he makes our groove so much better, and that's why he's going to play (against the Oilers)."
The threat of Salo's shot at the point -- once dubbed "The Finnish MacInnis" by Curtis Joseph, he won the Canucks' hardest shot contest Sunday with a 102.7 mile-an-hour blast -- should also help a struggling power play. Still ranked first in the NHL at 23.3 percent, Vancouver has only converted 3 of 21 chances with the man advantage since Salo was hurt -- and two of those goals were scored by the second unit.
"His big shot on the power play really helps our set up," said forward Alexandre Burrows, who filled in for Salo on the point of the top unit. "He's so reliable back there and seems to have that calming influence on everybody, and on the power play you miss that big shot and his poise when dragging that blue line and making plays."
With Salo back, Tanev was sent back to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League -- a short trip since they were playing in nearby Abbotsford -- but Vigneault made it clear he has a future with the big club, possibly by playoff time.
"He confirmed what we knew," Vigneault said of Tanev, who played 29 games as a rookie last season, including five in the playoffs and three in the Stanley Cup Final.
"We know we've got a real strong young man there that is real close to playing in the NHL on a regular basis, and in our minds we think he's got the possibility one day to maybe play in the top-four. But he's only 22. He needs to play a bit more."
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault confirmed after practice Monday that Sami Salo will return to the lineup after missing six games and 17 days as the result of a concussion suffered after a low hit from Boston's Brad Marchand on Jan. 7.
Most Oilers didn't skate in Vancouver on Tuesday morning after a shootout win over San Jose on home ice the night before, but Ryan Whitney did, and said afterward he would return after missing 13 games since Christmas because of lingering tendonitis from an ankle surgery more than a year earlier.
What they are getting back, however, could be very different.
Salo doesn't think it will take long to get back up to speed, which means the Canucks get back a steadying influence on the back end at even strength and on the penalty kill, as well as a powerful point shot for a power play that has struggled in his absence.
There are more questions surrounding Whitney's return, both short- and long-term.
Is it the Whitney who had 27 points and a plus-13 rating in 35 games while playing a team-high 25 minutes a night before the ankle surgery? Or the one that didn't return until five games into this season, missed another 13 with a knee injury, has just 3 assists in 17 games, is minus-6, and averaged just 18:38 of ice time while trying to find his game and health? Whitney sure didn't sound convinced his ankle was back to normal.
"It feels OK, it's kind of one of those things now where we're going to have to figure it out hopefully at the end of the year," Whitney said. "Everyone telling me wait until you are 100 percent, while I don't know if it will ever be 100 percent again, so you gotta just try playing at some point. It feels better than it did a month ago, I've tried taping it a little different and just got to give it a go at some point."
It hasn't been easy for a player counted on to lead the Oilers out of their own end and contribute offensively at the other end.
"It's frustrating, but days like this, when you are playing, I really try not to think about it," he said. "You have to change your game a little bit, but I'm just happy to be playing again. I can't really get frustrated that it hasn't healed as i hoped. It's in the back of my mind, just not on days I am playing."
Even with Whitney back, the banged-up Oilers are still missing two top-four defenders, with Tom Gilbert out since the new year with a knee injury and Cam Barker missing his 34th game since mid-November because of an ankle injury of his own.
Roberto Luongo is in goal for a fifth straight start, a bit of a surprise given backup Cory Schneider has only played three times in more than five weeks -- and won them all -- and, with the break, will have gone three weeks without a start by the time he next plays.
No changes up front, though the top line is hoping to be better than the last few games, with Henrik Sedin on his first three-game drought of the season. Thankfully for Canucks fans, Hodgson continues to roll, with 2 goals, including the winner, in his last game, and a team-high 9 points in January. And a reunited second line is showing signs of the promise demonstrated before Booth's sprained knee split them up for six weeks. He has 2 goals since returning three games ago, and with Higgins feeling like himself after antibiotics to cure a staph infection robbed him of energy, Kesler, who also scored Saturday, now has better options on the wing.
OILERS Taylor Hall - Sam Gagner - Jordan Eberle Teemu Hartikainen - Shawn Horcoff - Ales Hemsky Ryan Smyth - Eric Belanger - Magnus Paajarvi Lennart Petrell - Anton Lander - Ryan Jones
Devan Dubnyk gets a second-straight started ahead of Nikolai Khabibulin, and the chance to build off an impressive 44-save, 2-1 shootout win over San Jose Tuesday.
"You want to be a No. 1 in this league, you have to nail a couple of these together to get your team going," coach Tom Renney said Monday night after Dubnyk also stopped three of four in the shootout. "This is a good one to feed off of and build off of. He has to seize the moment."
The forward lines, still missing top rookie scorer Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, should be the same as against San Jose the night before as there is no indication Hemsky will face further discipline for the kneeing major that knocked San Jose defenseman Brent Burns out of Monday night's game with a knee injury.
Taylor Chorney is the likely scratch on defense with Whitney's return, with Petry dropping down from a pairing with Smid to play alongside Sutton, who was suspended the last time these teams met in Vancouver on Dec. 26.
The Canucks aren’t worried about starts Saturday against the Sharks – their own or a rare 1 p.m. local time at home.
Vancouver spent most of the last two first periods being badly outshot – 10-3 in the opening period of a 4-2 loss to Anaheim on Sunday, and 15-0 in the early stages of a 3-2 shootout loss to Los Angeles on Tuesday, surrendering more than a half-dozen odd-man rushes to the Kings in the first eight minutes alone.
Coach Alain Vigneault correctly pointed out the Canucks scored first in 10 straight games before their recent letdowns out of the gate, which came on the heels of a draining Eastern road trip. Having San Jose in town also helps, given a rivalry that heated up in the Western Conference finals last season.
“I would safely say the last two starts are blips on the radar,” Vigneault said. “This group prepares themselves really well, they get ready to play, as prior games showed. … San Jose is coming in here, one of the top teams in the League, they are always competitive and real tight games that could probably go one way or another so I expect another hard fought battle and I expect my guys to be ready for it.”
That includes starting goalie Roberto Luongo, who was the only reason the Kings didn’t run away with the game early Tuesday. A creature of habit who often takes part in game-day skates even when most of his teammates are given them off, Luongo suffered a rare groin injury during an early afternoon game in Pittsburgh way back in 2008, and is still answering questions about whenever the Canucks have an early start time.
“It’s unfortunate that a lot of times people remember what happened a long time ago and that kind of sticks with you,” said Luongo, who never did link the injury, suffered stretching for a quick redirection that caught him moving the wrong way, with not going through his normal game-day routine. “I’m comfortable with afternoon games, I’ve played major ones since in the Olympics and one against the Sharks (in the playoffs) last year.”
As for not being able to go through his normal morning-skate warm up, Luongo, who has been known to show up early morning to take shots on the rare occasions the Canucks have a 4 p.m. start, said he’s adjusted to going without.
“Over the years you kind of develop a routine for different times,” he said. “I don’t mind afternoon games any more. You just get up, eat breakfast and come to the rink so you don’t have time to think about it too much and sometimes that’s a good thing.”
Veteran Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo was back at practice Friday and taking contact for the first time since a experiencing a concussion as the result of Brad Marchand’s low hit in Boston on Jan. 7, but he won’t play Saturday in a matinee against San Jose.
Instead, second-year pro Chris Tanev will make the rare jump from the American Hockey League to a top-4 spot, taking Salo’s spot alongside All-Star Alexander Edler on the second pairing. It’s a jump Tanev earned with his poise during 29 games last season as a rookie just two years removed from Tier-2 junior and after only had one season of college hockey.
Part of it is being a right-shot and comfortable on the right side, something none of the Canucks’ left-shot defensemen that took a turn in Salo’s spot were able to demonstrate.
“Nobody else that’s here has taken the bull by the horns in Sami’s absence and said my play will keep me in that spot,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “We’ve tried a number of guys, and not that they’ve played bad, but they haven’t played to that ice time. That ice time gets obviously more minutes so we’ll try Chris and see what he can do.”
Tanev, whose offense has been limited in two pro seasons, won’t replace Salo on the top powe- play unit – forward Alexandre Burrows is back there for now – but should get the bulk of action five-on-five.
David Booth was demoted to the third line for the third period Tuesday and scored the tying goal there in a shootout loss to Los Angeles, but the Canucks see enough promise from the “American Express” combination with Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins to put it back together Saturday.
San Jose practiced at home before flying north Friday afternoon, and there were no game-day skates with the 1 p.m. local start time, so there are no guarantees when forecasting a lineup hit hard by injuries of late.
The latest was to rookie Tommy Wingels in a 4-1 loss to Ottawa on Thursday night. The upper-body injury is expected to keep him out through the All Star break, and is a tough blow after he earned a top-line forward spot with Martin Havlat and Ryane Clowe already out of the lineup and on injured reserve.
The good news is Andrew Desjardins was back Thursday after clearing concussion protocol to center the fourth line against the Senators. And based on reports out of San Jose’s practice, Desjardins should at least be one player to get a look in Wingels’ spot alongside the two Joes – Thornton and Pavelski.
It looks like John McCarthy will take Desjardins' place on the fourth line. McCarthy was reportedly recalled and expected to join the team in Vancouver. He leads Worcester with 27 points (11 goals), but has just four points in 41 games for the Sharks in the past two seasons.
San Jose does have an extra body in defenseman Jason Demers, who came out of the lineup when Colin White was activated from the injured list Thursday. Jim Vandermeer is also getting close to returning after missing 20 games with an upper-body injury.
Antti Niemi is expected to start, with Thomas Greiss backing up. Antero Niittymaki is expected to make another conditioning-stint start in Worcester after stopping 23 shots in a 3-2 loss to Providence on Friday.
OK, so the Canucks' hour-long practice on Thursday wasn't quite that bad, but after apathetic starts led to two-straight losses that were followed by a day off, there was a lot of hard, conditioning skating and battle drills when the players returned to the rink.
None of which was enough to wipe the smile off Tanev's face, not after being called up from Chicago of the American Hockey League the night before and dropped into a top-four pairing with All-Star Game-bound Alexander Edler.
"Got in last night for a tough practice today, but happy to be here," Tanev said with a sheepish grin.
It's a phrase Tanev repeated several times during a five-minute session with the media. The 22-year-old also admitted he was "a little" surprised to get called up to a Canucks team already carrying seven healthy defensemen. But with Sami Salo still out because of a concussion after a low hit Jan. 7 from Boston's Brad Marchand, they are short on defenders comfortable playing the right side -- hence the recall of the right-shot Tanev.
The inability to replace Salo on the right side of a second pairing with Edler has been a big part of the sloppy defensive zone coverage and turnovers in transition, leading to lopsided shot totals and grade-A scoring chances against.
"We felt bringing up a right-handed defensemen at this time would help our puck-moving ability," coach Alain Vigneault said. "A lot of times, left-handed defensemen on the right side, it's tough to see the opening, the cross-ice seams, because you gotta turn and move. Some guys are comfortable doing it. Some guys have played the off side all their lives. Right now we're having trouble with our puck movement."
The departed Christian Ehrhoff was a left-shot defensemen comfortable on the right side. But neither Keith Ballard nor Aaron Rome looked good on the right side of Edler, and Tanev played well enough on that side on a third pairing as a rookie last season to deserve a look.
"We need to get a little bit better chemistry there," Vigneault said. "I'm looking for a little better stability with the puck. … Chris is a solid puck mover with a lot of confidence and makes really good reads."
Tanev was just two years removed from tier-2 junior, and coming off one season of college hockey at the Rochester Institute of Technology when the Canucks signed him as a free agent in the summer of 2010. But he impressed enough in 29 regular season games last year to earn five more in the playoffs, including three in the Stanley Cup Final, demonstrating so much poise and patience with the puck that fellow defenseman Kevin Bieksa once quipped that he could "play the game with a cigarette in his mouth."
Tanev struggled in three games to start this season, though, and with eight other NHL-proven defenders on the roster -- and a contract and games-played status that made him the only one that didn't require waivers -- was sent to the AHL to get more playing time and continue developing.
"I was a little disappointed, but you move on fairly quickly when you gotta play hockey the next day," said Tanev, who got hurt his first game with Chicago and missed a month. "Obviously I wanted to stay, but I'm happy to be here now and trying to take advantage of this opportunity."
Tanev has just a single assist in 32 NHL games, and had 12 assists but no goals in 25 AHL games this season despite increased special teams opportunities, so he won't replace Salo's 100-mile-an-hour point shot on the first unit power play. But he's also yet to take a penalty in the NHL, and has just 22 minutes in two AHL seasons, so Tanev may have the best chance to mimic the veteran's calm, steadying influence.
"Try to make smart plays and be a smart player and move the puck," Tanev said. "It's definitely more comfortable than last year. I'm not going to try and force things. There are enough guys in this room that know how to score. But if opportunity is there I want to contribute in that way.”
That opportunity may only exist for the two remaining games before the All-Star break, as Salo skated on his own for a second straight day Thursday. But if Tanev can help get the puck out of Vancouver's end as easily as he did late last season, there will be plenty more chances to impress, likely even this season and into the playoffs.
"One of our strongest assets is our transition, defense to offense," Vigneault said.
"Yes he is," Vigneault responded with a chuckle Tuesday morning when asked if his Selke Trophy-winning second-line center would be in the lineup against the Los Angeles Kings later that night.
Asked what he made of the attention given the media-driven back-and-forth between himself and Kesler, Vigneault added, "I think we all need to move on here."
It shouldn't be hard to do given how little there was to the situation.
Asked after Sunday's miserable 4-2 loss to Anaheim what was missing in Kesler's game, the coach offered a 42-second, 88-word response stressing the center's importance to the team, ending it by saying it wasn't "the right thing to do" to point fingers at Kesler on a night after the entire team played so poorly. But only the middle part about using "players around him a little but more" made it back to Kesler's locker the following day.
Kesler bristled when asked when about the coach saying he needed to do so.
"Utilize my players?" Kesler, who didn't talk Tuesday, retorted on Monday, seemingly surprised by the question. "Obviously, I don't know what he means by that and if he wants to say that he can come to me and talk to me about it. I'm going to play my game, the thing that's made me successful. I know what that is and if he wants to come talk to me, he's more than welcome."
The response, which was abrasive even by the often-prickly Kesler's standards, sparked talk of a rift between player and coach. But after missing training camp and the first five games of the season before returning - likely too soon, he admits now - from offseason hip surgery, Kesler has 12 goals and 31 points in 41 games, well off the career-best 41 goals he scored last season. He only has one assist - and two goals - while playing with a variety of wingers the last eight games.
So frustration may have played a role, according to Vigneault, who also carefully pointed out Monday that several other top Canucks have struggled of late.
"In Ryan's case what happens is he has shown that high, high-end level at really critical times the type of player he can be," Vigneault said. "And that's a really tough thing to be able to maintain in an 82-game schedule. Everybody is looking to Ryan to do that on a consistent basis. That's not easy for any player to do. Ryan being the competitive individual that he is will always try to achieve that standard. It's not easy so he's working on trying to get himself there and get himself there on that consistent basis."
VANCOUVER -- Jonathan Quick's nose started bleeding during the national anthem before the Kings' game in Edmonton Sunday. It's one of the few times all season he's been leaky.
"Out of respect for the anthem you don't skate over to the bench right when it happens," Quick, who played the first period with gauze stuffed up his nose and then changed out of the blood-stained jersey at the intermission, said after the morning skate Tuesday in Vancouver. "You just kind of try not to leak too much during the anthem."
Quick, who blamed dry weather for the blood, said the gauze didn't bug him.
Not much has this season.
Quick is already a worthy All-Star selection, and a strong midseason Vezina Trophy candidate in just his fifth NHL season. Imagine if he had more offensive support.
As impressive as Quick's overall statistics look -- he leads the League in shutouts with six, and is fifth in save percentage at .933 and third in goals-against average at 1.95 -- his record would undoubtedly be a lot better than 19-11-8 if the Kings weren't also the lowest-scoring team in the NHL with a 2.15 goals-per-game average.
Quick's physical tools have always been as obvious as the explosive cross-crease pushes and full-split saves that turn up on highlight reels around the League. But the fact he isn't bothered by the lack of support -- including a total of just 14 goals scored in his 11 regulation defeats -- says a lot about his mental development.
"Some goaltenders might go into every game thinking, 'I have to make 35, 40 saves to win,'" Kings forward Jarret Stoll said. "I don't think he even thinks about us scoring or not scoring. It's just the way he is. I know for a fact he doesn't think that way."
It's not an easy approach to achieve for some goalies. Almost all will tell you they can't afford to think about it, but getting to a point where they don't can be a process.
"Absolutely," Quick said. "Maybe a guy in their first or second year may think about it a little bit more than some guys in their 10th year, and that's just the natural progression of being a goalie in this League and just learning the game a little bit more."
Like a PGA Tour player talking about taking it one-shot-at-a-time and trying not to think too far ahead or about their score, it all starts with the first save for Quick.
"You can't go in thinking about it," he said. "You just go in trying to make the first save and then you worry about making the second save. That's personally how I prepare for each game. Whatever the score is, you just have to make the next save. If you let it get to you, maybe it could, but I feel like your job is you just gotta stop the puck whether you are up 5-0 or down 5-0, just make the next save. You have to look at it as a challenge."
It's one the Kings, who are 7-1-5 since Darryl Sutter took over as head coach, are hoping to make less challenging. They scored a whopping 13 goals over three games before losing 2-1 in overtime against the Oilers on Sunday. Not that Quick noticed.
"He's been the man for us, especially this year the way the scoring is going," Stoll said. "Hopefully he can keep it going. Hopefully we can help him out a little bit more."
As for Sutter, who got many similar performances from Miikka Kiprusoff behind a goal-challenged Flames team during his time in Calgary, he wasn't overly impressed.
"I wouldn't call it a challenge, I didn't know the best goalies in the NHL were supposed to give up more than two goals a game," said Sutter, rightly pointing out the Kings don't give up a lot of great chances. "I'm not a goalie and I've never been. I couldn't tell you. There are 10 guys that are aces in this League and that's what they do, right?"
Which in its own way says a lot about how far Quick has come.
VANCOUVER -- The Canucks are happy to be home after a four-game road trip, and eager for a more relaxed stretch of their schedule after playing 22 games over 46 days, including two separate swings through the Eastern Conference since the start of December.
"It was tough and we were on the road a lot during that stretch, so that takes a toll," Daniel Sedin said. "We're used to that, so to some degree we're not as affected by it, but at the same time when you get home and get a few days off, I think you realize you need it."
Vancouver now hopes to recharge during a stretch that, starting with Tuesday's game against the Los Angeles Kings, will see them play just three games -- all at home -- over the next two weeks, including the five-day NHL All-Star break next weekend.
"I think it will be good for us to get some home time and some time away from hockey," continued Daniel, who, along with twin brother Henrik, defenseman Alexander Edler and rookie Cody Hodgson, will have the break shortened by participating in the All-Star Game in Ottawa. "It's been really hectic pretty much December until now. It will be good for us to get some practice and even some time in the gym, too, so it will be good."
But the players stressed a relaxed schedule didn't mean they could relax, a point proven by Sunday's lackluster, mistake-filled loss to Anaheim.
"We're obviously going to get some days off here, but when we practice we have to be sharp and when we're playing we have to make sure we're not coming out sloppy," defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "It's a fine balance, but it's something you need over the course of an 82-game schedule."
As for claims the Canucks have been guilty of overlooking lesser opponents since an emotionally-charged Stanley Cup Final rematch with Boston back on Jan. 7, they won't have that excuse with a rematch of the Western Conference Finals against San Jose next up Saturday. And games against archrival Chicago and Detroit right after the All-Star break should also have their full attention.
"There are important games in the next couple weeks that we have to take care of," goalie Roberto Luongo said. "It gives us a chance to work on some stuff in practice. We always want to keep improving as a team and there's no better time to work on things."
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault had his forward lines in a blender by the end of Sunday's lackluster 4-2 loss to Anaheim, a game in which his team produced two even-strength shots the first 35 minutes. Expect them to be back the way they started against the Kings Tuesday.
That includes the reunited second unit -- the American Express line -- of David Booth, Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins, whose second-unit power play assist against the Ducks was his first point in eight games since coming back from a second blood infection.
"In Chris' case he'd be the first one to tell you that energy-wise, since his second infection, he doesn't feel quite the same," said Vigneault, adding the pills Higgins continues to take daily are taxing his energy levels. "We've got to work with him here and try to get him back to that same energy level where he was one of our most effective players."
Vigneault said it will also take time for Booth, who missed almost six weeks with a knee injury, to get back to top speed, but saw enough promise from the line before Booth's early December injury to give the trio an extended look together. The rest of the lines are also expected to remain intact:
Things will be different on the back end, where it's clear the Canucks miss the calming presence of veteran Sami Salo, who will miss a fifth game Tuesday after suffering a concussion when flipped by a low hit from Boston's Brad Marchand back on Jan. 7.
Vigneault said Sunday that Keith Ballard, Andrew Alberts and Alexander Sulzer are all competing for two spots on the third pairing -- and confirmed Tuesday morning that Alberts will come out of the press box to replace Sulzer in the lineup against LA after Ballard sat out the previous game in St. Louis -- but after a minus-3 outing for Aaron Rome, the bigger problem is a fit alongside Salo's usual partner, Alexander Edler.
As for Salo, he still hasn't skated since the contentious hit, which cost Marchand a five-game suspension, but Vigneault said he talked to him Tuesday and "he is feeling much better and starting the concussion protocols so everything is on the right track."
There was no timeline for a return, but also little question the coach would like to see Salo back soon: Vancouver is 3-5-0 without the oft-injured 37-year-old Finn, and 25-10-3 with him, but more telling are the defensive scrambles and miscues without him.
"We've all said this many, many times -- and the proof is in the stats -- that whenever Sami is in the lineup, we seem to be such a composed team," Vigneault said. "Our breakouts seem to be cleaner and quicker. He's a very important part of our mix. When he's in there, he makes a huge difference to our group."
Leading-scorer and captain Anze Kopitar was given a rare day off Monday in Vancouver, which always raises eyebrows given his workhorse, former ironman status with the Kings. But after taking a beating in back-to-back games against Calgary and Edmonton the previous two nights, it was understandable and easy to buy the "maintenance day" explanation offered up by assistant coach John Stevens, who ran things after head coach Daryl Sutter stayed an extra day in Alberta to attend to some to some family matters.
Sure enough Kopitar and Sutter were back on the ice Tuesday to prepare for the Canucks, so the roster is expected to remain intact as Los Angeles tries to go 2-0-1 as they wrap up a tough Western Canadian road trip with their third game in four nights:
With the NFL playoffs in full swing Sunday it was fitting Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau used a gridiron analogy to explain the Ducks improving defense.
Anaheim didn't give up a goal in regulation the last two games – the only goal was in overtime of a 1-0 loss in Calgary – and just nine during a 4-0-1 streak, more than a goal-a-game less than a season average of 3.07 that ranks near the bottom of the NHL.
Boudreau, who took over as head coach Nov. 29 and immediately noticed giveaways through the middle of the ice were a problem, said it starts with the Anaheim forwards coming back. That allows the Ducks' defensemen to make shorter breakout passes, thus reducing risk of interception.
"We call them shares," Boudreau said. "We're bringing everybody back so you don't need to make the long passes anymore. Teams are too good now. They see it and they're all like free safeties back there, they can step up and intercept them and when you intercept them in the middle of the ice it's already a scoring position. The shorter the pass, the easier the pass, and the easier the play, the less chance of a mistake."
Boudreau said it's not surprising the buy-in from forwards improved when No.1 goalie Jonas Hiller was hurt four games ago. With backup Dan Ellis already out, Iiro Tarkki won in relief and call-up Jeff Deslauriers won his start before Hiller returned to backstop the last two games on back-to-back nights.
"It's a coincidence but it is a fact," Boudreau said. "When you're bringing up goalies you know you have to tighten up because your No.1 goalie isn't in there."
Ryan Getzlaf, who had four assists in a 5-0 win in Edmonton on Friday, said it helps at both ends.
"When you start doing the right things defensively, things start clicking offensively," he said.
To continue doing so, they will have to continue their 4-0-1 run, built against teams not currently in the playoffs, against the Western Conference-leading Canucks in Vancouver Sunday night. It could be a measuring stick or a reality check.
"This is the best team of the lot we faced and if you ever wanted to measure yourself against a really good team, this would be the team you measure yourself against," said coach Bruce Boudreau, who was still behind the Washington Capitals bench for a 7-4 October loss in Vancouver, and in Anaheim for a 5-2 loss on Dec. 29.
"They toyed with us," Boudreau said of the loss in Anaheim. "When you have the best defense, and the best offense, and the best power play and the best penalty killing it's pretty hard to defeat that. You look at guys being out of the lineup and they still throw six defenseman you would love to have on your team. They throw forwards out of the lineup and still have top-nine forwards you would love to have. Their depth is overwhelming."
So how are the Ducks second-last in the west with a 14-22-7 record?
Getzlaf no longer wants to think about a stretch before this streak that included just five wins and a coaching change over 29 games and two months.
"Not anymore," said Getzlaf. "I spent a lot of time looking at it at the start of the year. It was a frustrating time and not what we wanted for sure."
As for the future, Anaheim would have to win 30 of their final 39 games to get to 95 points – and Dallas missed the playoffs last season with 95 points in the west.
Selanne, however, isn't ready to totally write off the season just yet.
Not with the talent around him.
"That's why this has been the hardest," Selanne, who leads the Ducks with 43 points at age 41, told NHL.com. "Because if I look around this dressing room and said ‘we have a bad team,' we have to live with it. But that's not the case. When you feel you have a good team, you have all the tools here and you're still not winning, that's most frustrating."
Now that they're winning, the frustration level is down – for now.
"We just fight as long as we have a chance and try to stay hot right now for a while to give us a chance and hopefully we can get back in the hunt," he continued. "Because the worst scenario would be the season is over in February -- that sounds terrible."
David Booth is back and the American Express line is together again in Vancouver.
Just don't expect them to come "charging" out of the gates.
Booth, out since Dec. 6 after a knee-on-knee hit that sprained his MCL and led to a four-game suspension for Colorado's Kevin Porter, talked cautiously about jumping back onto a line with fellow Americans Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night. The speedy trio combined for two key goals and eight points in their last full game together, and had been showing promising signs even before then, but Booth has now been out almost exactly as long as he's been with the Canucks.
"It is a little bit (like starting over)," said Booth, who was acquired in a trade with Florida on Oct. 22, and didn't find his groove in Vancouver until shortly before getting hurt.
After failing to score and recording just three assists his first 12 games of the season, including six with Florida before the trade, Booth recorded five goals and 10 points in his last 12 full games, and three goals and five points the last five, before getting hurt.
"It's always tough when you miss five, six weeks, so the best thing to do is kind of keep it simple at the start and not try to do too much," Booth said after Sunday's skate. "I'm playing with good players so if I just keep my game simple they'll help out a lot."
Head coach Alain Vigneault is hoping it works both ways. Higgins is pointless in six games since returning from a blood infection, and was dropped to the third line.
"Chris since coming back from the second infection, and Ryan the last couple of games, have not been as good as we all know they can be so maybe by putting them all together tonight can lead them to the right path," Vigneault said. "Obviously we all saw some real positive things when those three were together and we'll start that way tonight."
The positives typically included Booth using his speed effectively and going hard to the net. The latter is how he got hurt, and the former is the reason he waited a week after receiving medical clearance to return before pronouncing himself game ready.
"Skating is the number one part of my game so that's why I felt I just couldn't rush back," Booth said. "I gotta use my speed, and play the body and get to the net. … Reacting to game speeds is always different than practice. That will take time but I feel like the knee can handle that now. Before I really don't think it was ready."
The Canucks' lines get juggled with the return of David Booth after missing six weeks with knee sprain, and the re-unification of the American Express line with fellow US-born forward Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins, who moves back up from the third line.
Cody Hodgson moves back to center the third line, Maxim Lapierre slides down a spot to the fourth, and Mike Duco drops all the way back the American Hockey League, sent down to the Chicago Wolves Sunday morning after playing the last three games.
On the back end Keith Ballard returns after being a healthy scratch for the first time this season in St. Louis on Thursday, replacing Andrew Alberts on the third pairing while Alexander Sulzer plays a fourth straight after being scratched for 34 of the first 42.
Head coach Alain Vigneault said the decision to sit Ballard, who is making $4.2 million a season, was more about the physical Blues than the smallish defenseman's play of late.
"He's probably playing his best hockey since he's been with us," he said of Ballard, noting he's competing with Alberts and Sulzer for third-pairing time. "That being said, sometimes like in St. Louis it depends on the opposition, it depends what you are looking for as far as match ups. Tonight we feel Keith coming in will give us a right elements."
Anaheim's top-two lines remain intact after dominating a 5-0 win in Edmonton Friday, but based on Sunday's morning skate there appears to be changes on the bottom two:
Rod Pelley is back in centering the fourth line after sitting out Friday for the first time since being acquired from New Jersey in mid-December. Tough guy George Parros will likely play alongside him in place of Kyle Palmieri, who was out skating hard long after most of his teammates had come off the ice, showered and talked to the media.
Nugent-Hopkins made the short drive from suburban Burnaby after spending the three-day break with family and friends in his nearby hometown. It was a drive the 18-year-old made before to watch the Canucks team he grew up cheering, but one that felt different as he prepared for his first regular season game against them at Rogers Arena.
"It's pretty cool," said Nugent-Hopkins, who played in Vancouver during the preseason, and has already faced the Canucks twice in Edmonton, scoring a hat trick in the first meeting. "I watched a ton of games on TV here and came to quite a few to actually watch live, so it's going to be pretty exciting to step on in the ice here."
There will be some familiar faces in the stands, as Nugent-Hopkins said he's on the hook for "quite a few" tickets for family and friends. Hopefully they help him feel at home, because while Nugent-Hopkins is second in team scoring with 34 points -- an incredible point-a-game pace -- he has just nine points in 17 road games, where opponents are better able to match up against him and top-line wingers Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.
The trio has 92 points combined, but just 30 of those have come on the road, which will have to change as the Oilers start a seven-game road trip while Edmonton co-hosts the World Junior Hockey Championships.
For now, though, Nugent-Hopkins was content to just enjoy the rare trip home, and a chance to unwind after a hectic year that included being picked first overall in the summer's draft. Ironically -- perhaps amazingly given how he's playing now – about the only think Nugent-Hopkins didn't do last season, was play World Juniors after getting cut from Team Canada.
"Just seeing the family," he said when asked what the best part of his Christmas was. "I haven't seen them too much, not even last summer because of all the draft stuff, so just seeing them was great. Most of the time, it was down time. They understand I only get a couple of days off, so they just wanted me to rest and hang out."
VANCOUVER -- The Canucks still have the League's best power play by a considerable margin.
After leading the League last season, Vancouver's man advantage is clicking at 25.7 percent this season, but their lead over second place Nashville (22.5) is shrinking, in part because the Canucks aren't getting enough chance to use their power play.
The Canucks didn't get a single chance with the extra attacker in last Wednesday's 4-2 win against Detroit, and the first of two against Calgary on Friday didn't come until late in the second period. Overall, Vancouver has just seven power plays in five games, and more than two just once in that span, when the Canucks went 2-for-3 against Minnesota.
Part of the problem is opposing teams know they can't afford a parade to the penalty box, a point driven home when it was quickly identified by Edmonton coach Tom Renney prior to the Oilers' road game against the Canucks on Monday night.
"We need to be real smart here -- do everything we can to stay out of the penalty box and still be firm and decisive in our own game," Renney said after the morning skate.
That would be nothing new to the Canucks.
"Teams know coming in they are going to have to stay away from the box," said Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin. "And when you have that during a long stretch, you don't get into the rhythm of getting out there and making plays, so that's been tough for us."
The last of chance may also be proof a potent power play is a weapon against opponents taking liberties, something the Canucks claimed when questions about a lack of glove-dropping toughness emerged after a few teams did during a recent road trip.
"I think teams realize that's one of our assets so maybe they are being a little bit more cautious," said Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa, adding the onus was on his team to do more to draw more penalties. "We've learned maybe we have to be a little bit grittier taking pucks to the net, making their defense turn and force teams to take penalties on us. Maybe the last few games we haven't really gone to the net as hard as we're capable of."
VANCOUVER -- The Canucks won't make any changes up front when the Edmonton Oilers visit tonight, but defenseman Keith Ballard returns after missing three games with a back injury. Ballard was listed as injured for the first two, but appeared to be a healthy scratch -- a flashback to last season's struggles -- Friday against Calgary after pronouncing himself good enough to return earlier that day.
It turns out both "healthy" and "scratch" were relative terms.
Ballard saw himself as neither.
With fellow defender Alexander Edler, who had back surgery last season, also a question mark for the last pre-Christmas game, Ballard felt good enough to step in if needed. But with eight defensemen, he wasn't in a rush when Edler was able to play.
Edler did and Ballard didn't, prompting some to wonder if the latter was back to being a $4.2-million spare part. Ballard, scratched several times, including Game 7 of the Cup Final, during a miserable first season with the Canucks didn't see it that way.
"I didn't really look at it as anything remotely close to last year," he said Monday. "I felt prior to getting injured I had been playing my best hockey since I came here. I'm pretty comfortable with where my game has been the last month and half."
After spending the last two days up at the Whistler ski village -- a nice family Christmas break for a Minnesota native that played most of his career in Phoenix and Florida -- Ballard said the back feels good and he's ready to get right back to that form.
"It's been going on for a month," he said of the injury. "It's something we wanted to get to the bottom of and make sure it wasn't one step forward, one step back every day."
The only other change is in goal, but it's not who will play, it's what he'll wear. Roberto Luongo, who was the Canucks' best player early against Calgary despite losing in regulation for the first time in nine starts (7-1-1), debuted a new vintage-themed tribute mask that he plans to wear with the Canucks' retro third jerseys, starting Monday.
Painted by FX Allaire, the son of Toronto Maple Leafs goaltending consultant Francois Allaire, who has also worked with Luongo for years, the new mask looks like one Curt Ridley wore in the 1970s, with the original stick-in-rink logo crossing his face.
Cory Schneider, who also wears a Ridley tribute, will back up for a fifth straight game.
VANCOUVER -- Edmonton Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney won't play against the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night after developing what coach Tom Renney labeled "tendonitis" in the surgically repaired right ankle that cost him most of the last calendar year.
Edmonton will also be without Ales Hemsky, who continues to struggle with an illness that kept him out of the last pre-Christmas game. But already missing veteran defenseman Andy Sutton for two more games of an eight-game suspension, the bigger concern -- both against the offensively loaded Canucks and perhaps in the long term, too -- is Whitney.
"It's sore and it's weak and we're going to do the precautionary thing," Renney said after the Oilers flew into Vancouver just in time for a quick morning skate on Monday. "There's no real structural damage where the surgery was at all, but he's having some difficulty with it so we're going to rest him tonight."
Renney offered no timeline beyond that, seemingly downplaying the significance of the setback by talking only about missing Monday's game against the Canucks, and pointing out it provided "five or six days off" when combined with the Christmas break. But given the amount of time Whitney missed after surgery late last December, and his struggle to rediscover the form he was showing before that, lingering issues may be a bigger concern.
Whitney had 27 points and a plus-13 rating in 35 games while playing a team-high 25 minutes a night when he went under the knife. He didn't return until five games into this season, and would miss another 13 with a knee injury, but has just 3 assists in 17 games, is minus-6, and is averaging just 18:38 of ice time while trying to find his game and health.
"It's been a little bit weak and as he's really tried to push himself to get back to what he wants to be, it's inevitable there's going to be some residual pain," Renney said of Whitney, who has played just 17 games in the last calendar year. "The most important thing is there is no damage. He's just developed some tendonitis having to push it."
The Oilers called up Alex Plante from the AHL to take Whitney's spot. As for Hemsky, who didn't play in Thursday's 4-1 win over Minnesota because of what was labeled the flu, he was out to start the morning skate, but left early and is doubtful against the Canucks.
"Ales still with the sinus issues, he's having some dizziness and as you elevate the heart rate that becomes more clear so it doesn't look like he's going to go," Renney said.
None of which bodes well for a team that has one win in five games against a Canucks team that had a 7-1-1 run halted by a poor effort against Calgary on Friday night.
"Just making sure that we understand we can beat them," Renney said of the keys to beating the Canucks. "We're not coming here with our hat in our hand. We're coming here to win a hockey game."
They'll just have to do it without two of their most experienced defenders and one of their most skilled forwards.
VANCOUVER -- It's amazing the lengths Henrik Sedin will go to just to one-up brother Daniel.
The Canucks captain will match a franchise record by playing in his 534th consecutive game Friday night against Calgary, a more that seven-year streak that he happily points out to his identical twin.
"It's amazing nowadays with the physicality and the speed and all that stuff, that you could stay healthy for so long -- all just to show off how much tougher he is than his brother," said goaltender Roberto Luongo, joking about Henrik's ironman streak.
Henrik credits luck, preparation and being tougher than his younger-by-minutes sibling for a run of good health that dates back to March 21, 2004.
"Of course," he said with a laugh directed at Daniel. "But you've got to be lucky. You got to be prepared. In the summertime, you've got to prepare for a grind. I've been fortunate to not have the groin injuries or the hip flexors and stuff like that. So it's been good."
It's fitting he'll tie the Canucks' record against the Flames, and not just because Calgary defenseman Jay Bouwmeester is the only player with a longer active NHL streak (by eight games). Former Vancouver teammate Brendan Morrison, now playing for the Flames, set the Canucks' mark from March 16, 2000 through Dec. 10, 2007.
"He was a major part of that core group that (taught) us how to be professional and how to treat the ups and downs through the seasons," Henrik said. "He was always a smile on his face, it didn't matter if he hadn't played well for a few games, he was always positive and really loved the game. He's been a big part of our success that way."
That success includes back-to-back NHL scoring titles for the Sedins. But their durability often gets overlooked by critics. Shots from his brother aside, Daniel missed 18 games with a broken foot two seasons ago but has only missed three other games -- including one eight days ago because of back spasms -- since Henrik's streak started.
"When people talk about the twins not being tough I laugh, because these are two of the toughest guys I've ever played with," defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "With the punishment they take, you rarely see them in the trainer's room. They couldn't be any closer to Canadian."
It was a sentiment echoed by Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, who has yet to fill out a roster card without Henrik.
"It takes incredible determination and will to be able not just play games, but play at the level he does every night," Vigneault said. "To put your body out there and play hard and efficient, and it takes a very extraordinary person and obviously a little bit of luck too. That's part of the equation, too, but I do believe you make your luck and Hank is a great example of a player that puts in a tremendous amount of time with his conditioning and preparation. … It says a lot about his mental toughness and his overall toughness."
Leland Irving is expected to make just his second career NHL start while Miikka Kiprusoff gets a rare night off after playing three games in the last five days. Irving wasn't talking to reporters, another sign of his preparation to play.
The Flames held a sparsely attended, coach-free morning skate in Vancouver after a 3-2 win in Detroit the night before, so roster adjustments are somewhat uncertain, including the status of Alex Tanguay, who was a surprise scratch against the Red Wings.
There's no question, though, that they'll find a spot for Rene Bourque, who returns from a two-game suspension for his hit on Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook during a game Sunday.
Bourque, who could return on the third line despite being tied for second on the team with 11 goals this season, is trying not to change anything about his game.
"A little early vacation, but I'm ready," Bourque said. "It's only been a few games, so I am not really worried about losing a step. … I've moved on from it. Obviously it wasn't the cleanest hit, and I still feel bad about it, but what can I do now? I've just got to make sure it doesn't happen again and worry about getting myself ready to play tonight."
Especially against a Canucks team that has won five straight against Calgary, including two straight by 5-1 scores, and is 10-0-2 in the last 12 against the Flames.
"We have to believe before the puck drops we have a chance to win and we've just got to compete," Bourque said. "Everybody has to play with an edge and with emotion."
That shouldn't be a problem for Irving, who was drafted by the Flames with the 26th pick in Vancouver in 2006, and has played the last three seasons for their AHL affiliate down the road in suburban Abbotsford. Even his call-up is because regular backup Henrik Karlsson sprained his knee in a game in Vancouver Dec. 4. No wonder some teammates thought it was a homecoming for their 23-year-old rookie despite being born in Alberta.
"I'm sure he's pretty excited to be playing in his home province, and I think everyone knows how big the game is for him," forward Blake Comeau said of Irving, who played well before losing his first NHL start 3-2 in a shootout in Florida a week earlier.
"He never gives up on pucks," Bourque said. "He made a lot of big saves against Florida off second and third chances. He's really well-positioned in net and he's a competitor, he never gives up and plays hard in practice, and we have confidence in him."
Roberto Luongo, 7-0-1 in his six starts since coming back from injury, is in goal for a fourth-straight game, with Cory Schneider backing up.
The Canucks will start the same forward lineup that scored four times -- one from each of the first three lines and another shorthanded -- in a 4-2 win over Detroit on Wednesday, with Ebbett back on the fourth line again after missing the previous six weeks with a broken foot, and temporary fill in Mark Mancari sent back down to the AHL.
The uncertainty comes on the back end, where Edler, who scored the shorthander early in the third period but missed the end of that win over Detroit because of back spasms, said he was ready to return after taking the morning skate -- only to have coach Alain Vigneault declare him a game-time decision. Keith Ballard also skated after missing the last two games with back spasms, and while he declared himself a game-time decision, Vigneault said he was ready to return, but wouldn't say if he will.
"We've got a couple of decisions on our back end," Vigneault said. "Pleasantly surprised how Alex Edler came in today, skated this morning and felt all right. Once we know about Alex then we'll be better suited to tell you who will be in lineup and who won't be."
If Edler can't play, Ballard will take his spot in the top-4 alongside Sami Salo. If Edler plays, the top-four stays intact and the question is who comes out of the bottom pairing to make room for Ballard, who has struggled there with Alberts on the right side and played his best with Aaron Rome, who is out since breaking a thumb Saturday in Toronto.
There's not a lot to choose from between the streaking Canucks and Red Wings right now -- and that has both sides excited to play each other on Wednesday, another in what has traditionally been an entertaining series between two teams with plenty of talent, speed and scoring ability.
"Two teams that play the right way," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said after Wednesday's morning skate. "Detroit plays a high-paced game and they like to play fast. There are a lot of components to our game that are probably similar to theirs."
Detroit is 21-10-1 this season, has scored 107 goals and leads the Western Conference with a plus-36 goal differential. The Red Wings have won five of six. Vancouver is one point behind in the standings at 20-11-2, has scored 110 goals, is second in the West and third in the NHL at plus-30, and is on a 10-2-1 run.
"They've been going good, we've been going good. They've got a real good team, they're organized, I like the way they play," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "It's fun to be in this building. It should be a good game, but we've got to hold up our end of the bargain. We've got to play well."
The similarities continue in the crease, where Jimmy Howard leads the NHL with 20 wins, ranks fifth with a 1.92 goals-against average, and 10th with a .928 save percentage. At the other end, Roberto Luongo has overcome his annual October struggles, and is 6-0-1 with a .949 save percentage in seven starts since coming off injury. Keeping those numbers down Wednesday won't be easy -- Detroit has 30 goals in their last six games, while the Canucks are averaging more than four the last 10 games -- but both sides are up to trying.
"You always get really psyched up for these games," Vigneault said. "Fast-paced, lot of tempo, lot of skill on the ice. It makes for great hockey games for the players and for the fans."
Ballard skated briefly again Wednesday after leaving Monday's game-day session early because of back spasms, but won't play. Add in the broken thumb Aaron Rome suffered Saturday in Toronto and the Canucks will use a new third pairing again:
Jimmy Howard starts in goal, with Ty Conklin backing up, an order that could be reversed when the Red Wings return to Alberta to play in Calgary on Thursday night. Detroit has won five of its last six.
Monday night's battle atop the Northwest Division has turned into a war of attrition.
The Canucks announced on Monday defenseman Aaron Rome will be out 3-4 weeks after breaking his thumb blocking a shot during Saturday's win in Toronto to wrap up a five-game road trip, and fellow blueliner Keith Ballard won't play against the Wild after suffering back spasms in the morning skate. Even Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault had to leave the rink early because he wasn't feeling well.
"He has had a tough time," associate coach Rick Bowness, who took Vigneault's place addressing the media, said of Rome's second broken thumb already this season. "We get him back in the lineup, he finds his game and then gets hurt again."
Ballard is expected back in time for Wednesday's game against Detroit, so Bowness said he didn't expect the Canucks, who were already carrying eight defensemen, to recall any more from the AHL -- even if injuries up front forced them to twice play a rearguard up front on the fourth line during the recently completed 3-1-1 road trip.
They shouldn't expect any sympathy from a Minnesota Wild team that led the Canucks by five points atop the Northwest Division, but limped into Vancouver with several key players nursing injuries, and a handful more called up from the AHL to fill in.
The list includes four, arguably five, of their top-six forwards, and is topped by captain Mikko Koivu, who is out with a leg injury suffered Wednesday against Chicago. They are also missing Devin Setoguchi (lower body), Guillaume Latendresse (concussion), and Casey Wellman (wrist), but Pierre-Marc Bouchard returns after missing two games with a broken nose suffered while being checked head first into the boards Tuesday in Winnipeg.
Bouchard will be counted on to replace some of the missing offense for a Minnesota team that has dropped three straight -- the last two in shootouts -- for the first time all season.
"We're missing some skill in the lineup and he brings that," coach Mike Yeo said. "And he was playing so well before he got hurt, so I'm really hoping he can come back at that level and also what he brings to the power play will be a help for us."
Koivu and Bouchard both took part in practice Sunday after missing a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Islanders the night before, and were back on the ice in Vancouver late Monday morning. While Koivu won't join Bouchard in returning against the Canucks, he did skate hard at the end of Monday's session, and still hopes to play before Christmas, perhaps Tuesday in Calgary or Thursday in Edmonton to wrap up a three-game trip.
"He looks really good out there," Yeo said of Koivu
It would be a welcome return for a team that will use its 34th different player this season when AHL call up Jed Ortmeyer makes his season debut against the Canucks. It could have been 35, but call up Chad Rau, a Minnesota native, isn't expected to play, instead watching as a healthy scratch along with defensemen Greg Zanon and Justin Falk.
VANCOUVER -- Paul Stastny made the trip to Vancouver, but the Avalanche's top-line center won't play against the Canucks on Tuesday night because of a torso injury.
Injured after scoring in Sunday's win over Detroit, Stastny skated before the Avalanche kicked off a three-game western Canadian trip, but is listed as day to day.
Without Stastny, top-line winger Matt Duchene slides over from the left wing to his natural center spot, with David Jones on one side and TJ Galiardi on the other. They were understandably hesitant to break up a second line anchored by Ryan O'Reilly, who has 4 goals and 7 points during the Avalanche's current three-game win streak.
Colorado will dress seven defensemen and just 11 forwards for a second-straight game, with wingers Kevin Porter and Brandon Yip getting a revolving center on the fourth line.
Chuck Kobasew returns after missing one game with a minor injury.
Johnson's return Sunday coincided with the first off night for Elliott, but those first signs of struggles will not keep the rookie from playing in his hometown -- and against the Canucks team he grew up cheering -- for the first time Tuesday. That said, the 20-year-old Elliott, who had 2 goals and 3 points in his first four games, only played 8:57 against the Red Wings and was held pointless for a second straight game.
Hansen has goals in consecutive games and seven overall, just two shy of his career high despite a terrible start, with only one goal in the first 14 games.
The upward movement on the right side of the forward lines continues with Dale Weise promoted into Hansen's old spot on the third line, and Victor Oreskovich called up from Chicago of the AHL to play on the fourth unit. It's a position Oreskovich lost to Aaron Volpatti with an inconsistent preseason that didn't include nearly enough physical play for his head coach's liking, prompting the Canucks to claim Weise off waivers from the New York Rangers.
"Every player has a different skill set, every player brings something different to the table," coach Alain Vigneault said. "Every player has to figure out to play in this League what he has to do. And every player has to figure out on certain teams, 'for me to play on that team, what's the role I might have to do?'"
With Volpatti now in need of shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, the 25-year-old Oreskovich gets another chance to use his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame more effectively, and earn back a role he played for 35 games last season, including 19 in the playoffs.
"He knows what he had to do and he has to do it consistently," Vigneault said.
As for Higgins, medication reduced the swelling in his foot and he's improving, but the team isn't yet sure if he'll travel to start a five-game road trip that opens Thursday.
VANCOUVER -- Chris Higgins isn't expected to play Tuesday against Colorado because of a possible foot infection.
Higgins was fine talking to the media after scoring the winning goal and setting up two others in Sunday’s 5-1 win against Calgary; but, according to coach Alain Vigneault, the winger woke up with a swollen foot.
Higgins, who missed six games with a Staph infection last season while he was still with the Florida Panthers, was going to see an infection specialist, Vigneault said, adding he didn't expect Higgins to play again the Avalanche based on how his foot looked Monday morning.
"Chris came in this morning and his foot was all swollen up. According to what he is telling us, he had the same thing happen to him last year in Florida," Vigneault said. "They initially thought it was a skate bite and then they thought it was a spider bite and then they finally figured out it was a Staph infection. Hopefully with their experience in the past they can get this under control real quick."
Higgins said last season that they never did figure out what caused his last infection.
"I got a big zit on my foot, it was disgusting," Higgins said shortly after arriving in Vancouver in a trade. "I've never seen anything like it, it just came out of nowhere and I guess it was pretty dangerous. They tried a couple of different antibiotics, didn't work right away, and then after the third or fourth one it worked.
"It was scary because it came out of nowhere and my foot was like five times the size of normal in hours -- from a dot to totally blown up."
Higgins was offered a variety of possibilities for why he suffered the infection, but was surprised it happened to him given how frequently he cleans his gear.
"I washed my equipment more than anybody else I've ever seen, even before I got the Staph infection. I was it two or three times a week and there are guys that never wash it," he said last season. "It's scary that something like that can happen. I felt something weird and then after the game I took my boot off and it swelled up in two hours."
Without Higgins, who has 8 goals and 17 points in 26 games, the Canucks recalled Victor Oreskovich from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.
But judging from practice, Danish speedster Jannik Hansen, who also scored Sunday, is more likely to takes his spot on the "American Express Line" with Ryan Kesler and David Booth.
Manny Malhotra likely moves back up to the third line with Cody Hodgson and Mason Raymond, who is another candidate to play with Kesler and Booth in his second game since returning from a broken back. Oreskovich will take the fourth-line spot left open by Aaron Volpatti’s torn labrum, which requires surgery.
VANCOUVER --Roberto Luongo is back in the Vancouver Canucks' net and hoping the extra practice time that came from a recent run as the backup will help him win back the starting job.
Luongo will make his first start since Nov. 13 when the Canucks host Calgary on Sunday night. Injured in a win against the New York Islanders that evening, Luongo returned after missing two games -- only to watch a suddenly-sizzling Cory Schneider start the next five ahead of him. Luongo finally got back in goal Thursday, after Schneider gave up three goals on five shots, but ended up losing after giving up three of his own.
Now Luongo is hoping to pick up where he left off before the upper-body injury – on a 4-2 run with a .923 save percentage in early November after his usual struggles in October – and thinks some extra practice time with goalie coach Roland Melanson will help.
"I felt I was right where I wanted to be. I was getting on a bit of a roll there, so I'm hoping I can just pick up where I left off and pretty much win some hockey games," Luongo said. "I was able to get some good practices in and spend some extra time working with Rollie. So we were definitely able to work on some things that, maybe, we don't have a chance to when I'm playing. Hopefully those will help me out down the line."
Luongo should benefit from the return of Sami Salo after missing one game with a groin injury – and watching the Canucks give up 6 goals and fall to 1-3-0 without the veteran defenseman this season. And there should also be an emotional lift from the return of speedy winger Mason Raymond from fractured vertebrae suffered during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Raymond was supposed to play Thursday, but had the rug pulled out from under him when a paperwork deadline was missed and he couldn't play. He admitted it wasn't easy to hear, but is moving forward.
"At end of the day, what it I've gone through and what I see now, if I'm out there having fun and really enjoying it I'm going too play well," Raymond said Sunday.
The questions about Raymond's readiness are no longer physical.
"Physically everything is good," coach Alain Vigneault said. "Mentally it will be interesting to see how he goes to the areas you need to go to be successful. He's done it in practice and now he's got to find a way to find a way to do it against the opposition."
The Canucks may need the speedy, skilled Raymond, who left on the second line but returns on the third, to find those areas more often than in the past. That's because they lost some grit on the fourth line with the announcement winger Aaron Volpatti, who scored his first goal Thursday after the paperwork snafu put him back in the lineup, needs shoulder surgery and will be out for the rest of the season.
With Manny Malhotra dropping down into that spot to make room for Raymond on the third line, the fourth line has lost some toughness, which has to be a concern for a team many already thought was bullied by Boston in the Cup Final last summer.
"It's going to be a different line with Manny there right now," Vigneault said. "In my mind it's going to be a different identity but it's going to be fine."
Salo is expected to return to the lineup after missing one game with a groin injury, stabilizing a top-4 that struggles without him, giving up 6 goals on Thursday. Aaron Rome, who drew in for Salo, stays in on the third pairing in place of Andrew Alberts, allowing Keith Ballard to play the left side, where he’s more comfortable.
Luongo makes his first starts since an upper-body injury Nov. 13 after coming on in relief Thursday against Nashville after Schneider, who got the nod in seven straight, the last five ahead of a healthy Luongo, finally struggled.
Top-six Nashville forward Sergei Kostitsyn wasn’t on the ice Thursday morning, but for a change it wasn’t because the Predators’ game-day skate was optional.
Kostitsyn will sit out in Vancouver on Thursday night with what coach Barry Trotz labeled an upper-body injury suffered during a 1-0 loss in Calgary on Tuesday. The rest of the Predators skated, something they hadn’t always been forced to do lately.
“Our skates aren’t optional anymore,” Trotz said. “I changed it because our games started becoming optional so we won’t have optional skates until we get this corrected.”
“This” is a 1-4-1 stretch that includes the shutout loss to the Flames and just three goals in their last three games. Losing Kostitsyn might hurt if he was playing like the guy tied for team lead in scoring last season, but he only has three goals on the season and none in the last 11 games, a stretch in which he only had points (three assists) in one game.
Trotz said “a plethora” of wingers will replace him on the second line, but atop the list for the first shot is rookie Craig Smith, who leads the team with seven goals and 17 points, and has shown signs of chemistry with center Mike Fiscer. Kyle Wilson, called up from the AHL after Blake Geoffrion was hurt in Edmonton on Monday, will make his season debut centering the fourth line, but Trotz isn’t expecting him to help a sputtering offense. He does expect his forwards to spend more time in front of the opposing net.
That’s especially true against a goalie as hot as Canucks starter Cory Schneider.
“He’s seeing the puck right now, everything seems to be in slow motion for him,” said Trotz, who did give his team Wednesday off before wrapping up their second five-game road trip already this season in Vancouver. “You have to get to the net and take his eyes away. A goaltender is less of a goaltender if he can’t see the puck.”
According to Trotz, too many goalies are seeing it too easily against his team.
“We were just too light on the puck, staying on the perimeter too much. We’re going to gave to get to the interior tonight,” continued Trotz, citing Patrick Hornqvist as the one of the few that does it enough. “We need more guys to do that, we’ve got some guys that don’t want to go there. … We have to be a bit more determined to get pucks to the net. We don’t have that shot first mentality, we got a pass-first mentality, a turnover mentality and we just gotta put pucks into that blue paint and go get them.”
Here are the lines Trotz will likely use at Rogers Arena tonight.
Salo tweaked his groin kicking a puck out of his skates during Tuesday’s 4-1 win against Columbus and was listed as day-to-day by coach Alain Vigneault, who doesn’t think the injury is serious.
Salo’s spot alongside Alexander Edler on the second pairing will be taken by Rome, who hurt his hand blocking a shot four games ago but was ready to return for the last one. With Vancouver winning a season-high five straight, however, he couldn’t get back into the lineup.
“It’s been a mixture of both,” Rome said after a heavily optional game-day skate Thursday morning. “My hand is feeling well but the coach has to make a decision and the guys are playing well and you don’t want to change anything.”
That includes the goaltending, with Roberto Luongo on the bench for a fifth consecutive game as the backup because Schneider has stopped 164 of 168 shots during a win streak that started with Luongo hurt. But it does not extend to the forward group, where Mason Raymond will play his first game since breaking his back in Game 6 of the Cup Final.
Raymond, a top-6 forward with 40 goals over the last two seasons, comes back on a third line with rookie Cody Hodgson at center and fellow speedster Jannik Hansen on the other side. As for what to expect from Raymond, even coach Alain Vigneault wasn’t sure.
“I know physically he feels good,” Vigneault said. “It will be interesting to see mentally how he handles a game. Practicing and playing are two different elements.”
Raymond said he can only control how hard he works, but may feel better after a hit.
“I’ve had some good practice and I’ve had some good bumps but that (first hit) will be a little bit of a benchmark to see how I really feel,” Raymond said of his first game since June 13. “I may feel a little more at ease once I get that first bump.”
Canucks expected lineups:
Malhotra drops down to the fourth line to make room for Raymond, with Aaron Volpatti coming out of the lineup as a healthy scratch
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault has been loath to tinker with a winning lineup, but after watching his team get outshot 48-34 in Tuesday's win against Columbus he's willing to make changes.
But those changes won't include the goaltender -- not after Vigneault labeled Cory Schneider the best player on the ice in a 4-1 victory against the Blue Jackets. So it was no surprise to hear Schneider will make a seventh straight start - his fifth while playing ahead of a healthy Roberto Luongo -- against visiting Nashville on Thursday, even if Luongo is already tiring of the topic.
"I know this is a big story but I don't want to keep addressing it every day," Luongo said after practice Wednesday. "I appreciate the appetite for it, but I'm a team guy, I'm behind Cory, we're winning games, all is good. I'll be ready to go when it's my turn and that's the bottom line. It's all about the team. It's not about me. … I know you guys have a lot of interest but it's not something we want to be talking about every day. We've got two great goalies here. We both can play. We're both No.1s."
Vigneault, who insisted Luongo is his No. 1 goalie a day earlier, actually called him 1A and Schneider 1B on Wednesday, but with Schneider No. 1 in the entire NHL over the last five games while stopping 164 of 168 shots, it's hard to argue with his decision. Still, the coach understands it could become a testy one for the incumbent.
"I understand how unpleasant it could become," Vigneault said, "But at the end of the day he's a professional, it's part of his responsibilities. Knowing him, he wants to win, team is winning right now and I'm sure when we need him he's going to be ready."
While the goalie remains the same, the players in front of Schneider will change.
Mason Raymond will play his first since breaking his back in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Raymond, who was cleared for contact more than a week ago and told the coaches he was ready to return Saturday, will debut on the third line alongside Cody Hodgson and Jannik Hansen. Judging from practice Wednesday, Manny Malhotra drops to the fourth line and Aaron Volpatti heads for the press box as a healthy scratch.
The speedy Raymond spent most of the past two seasons on the second line, scoring 25 goals in 82 games two years ago and 15 in 70 last season. But he hasn't played since June 13, when an awkward hit from Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk left him with broken vertebrae in his back, and in a body brace for two months, giving him a new perspective on a game he wasn't sure he'd play again. Being patient with his comeback is part of it.
"It's a little like starting from scratch," he said. "I just went from Game 6 of the Stanley Cup playoffs to Game 25 of the regular season. It's going to be different. Once I get into the game I will feel more comfortable. But is that going to take some time to get back to game shape and game mode? Yeah, but I'm very pleased with the process."
The defense may also change, with Sami Salo skipping practice after tweaking his groin Tuesday and leaving in the third period. He will be reevaluated Thursday, with Aaron Rome most likely to come back into the lineup after three games if Salo can't play.
VANCOUVER -- Canucks coach Alain Vigneault has been loathe to tinker with a winning lineup, but after watching his team get outshot 48-34 in Tuesday's win, he's willing to make changes.
They won't include the goaltender. Not after Vigneault labeled Cory Schneider the best player on the ice in a 4-1 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets. But while Schneider makes his seventh-straight start -- and fifth ahead of a healthy Roberto Luongo -- Thursday against visiting Nashville, but the forward lines get a significant addition.
Mason Raymond will play his first since breaking vertebrae on an awkward hit by Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Raymond, who was cleared for contact more than a week ago and told the coaches he was ready to return Saturday, will debut on the third line, alongside Cody Hodgson and Jannik Hansen. The speedy winger spent most of the past two seasons on the second line, scoring 25 goals in 82 games two seasons ago and 15 in 70 last season.
The defense also may change, with Sami Salo skipping practice after tweaking his groin Tuesday and leaving the win in the third period. He will be re-evaluated Thursday.
VANCOUVER -- Columbus rookie Ryan Johansen is right at home in Vancouver, but the 19-year-old will have a new vantage point Tuesday against the Canucks team he grew up cheering.
Johansen, who returned to his nearby hometown of Port Moody to watch his younger brother play hockey and eat with family on Monday night, was a spectator at Rogers Arena as recently as Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. Now the fourth pick in the 2010 NHL Draft will be counted on to slow down a Vancouver team finding its groove again.
"For a kid like that to be able to come home, he's pretty excited, he'll have lots of family in the building, and hopefully it's a big night," Columbus coach Scott Arniel said. "It took him a while to get the feel of the NHL and what it takes to play every night, but he's been dangerous. He's shown a lot of the skill for the size that he has, and an ability to score some big goals. It would be nice to see him get rewarded in front of the home crowd."
It hasn't necessarily been an easy transition for Johansen, who was scratched four times during a miserable October in Columbus. But shortly after shifting from center to right wing while Jeff Carter was out, Johansen scored the winning goal in the Blue Jackets' first three victories, and now has 5 goals, 10 points and a team-best plus-4 rating.
"There was a lot on his plate early on, especially playing center in the National Hockey League. As an 18-year-old, there was a lot to grasp," Arniel said after practice Monday. "The switch to right wing seemed to make him really comfortable and all of the sudden we started to see the offense and the big power forward we were hoping for."
Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, they will face a goaltender that also benefitted from some tough Arniel love early in his career. Canucks backup Cory Schneider, who will make his sixth-straight start Tuesday and is coming off NHL Second Star honors for his play last week, credits Arniel for giving him a "kick" during his rookie AHL season.
"I'd like to kick him right now," Arniel joked.
Ironically, Schneider faces Curtis Sanford, his playing partner when the Canucks' AHL affiliate went to the Calder Cup Finals in 2009. It's a scenario few would envisioned a few weeks ago, when Schneider was still the backup to Roberto Luongo, Sanford was hurt and the Blue Jackets' third-stringer, and Arniel was listening to regular speculation about his job being in jeopardy while Columbus struggled. Even if they didn’t see Tuesday's matchup coming, Arniel and Sanford both foresaw success for Schneider.
"Everybody envisioned he was going to be a good NHL goaltender," Arniel said. "He's a guy that’s very driven and very confident, a big goalie that's also very athletic."
Size isn't on Sanford's size, but that hasn't kept the 5-foot-10 goaltender from getting back to the NHL three seasons -- and several serious injuries -- after his last game with Vancouver. With a 3-1-2 record, 1.39 goals-against average and .947 save percentage during six-straight starts, the popular journeyman has made the most of this unexpected opportunity, sparking a Columbus turnaround.
VANCOUVER -- Derick Brassard gets back into the Columbus Blue Jackets' lineup for just the third time in the last nine games after being a regular scratch, with Cody Bass coming out. Coach Scott Arniel pledged to get the sixth pick from the 2006 NHL Draft more ice time, but it won't be easy on the fourth line.
Curtis Sanford, who backed up Roberto Luongo in Vancouver for two years, will make his seventh straight start while Steve Mason, recently cleared to return after suffering a concussion in from a shot off the mask in practice, is at least backing up again.
VANCOUVER -- Goalie Roberto Luongo isn't the only player that can't get back into the Canucks' lineup after missing time with injury.
While Luongo watches backup Cory Schneider make a sixth-straight start Tuesday against Columbus -- four since Luongo was deemed healthy from an upper body injury -- Mason Raymond also sits on the sidelines waiting his turn.
Raymond hasn't played since Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, when an awkward hit from Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk left him with broken vertebrae in his back, a body brace and a new perspective about a game he wasn't certain he'd play again.
"You don't realize how lucky you are to have the use of your arms and legs, to be able to put your clothes on and get in and out of bed," he said. "That was a long time, so to be able to do that and get to the point where every-day life was good but you can't compete at a level in the sport we do, you look back at a lot of things in life and how much bigger the big picture is. I'm very lucky and thankful to be in the position I am now."
That position includes being cleared for contact the last week, and telling coach Alain Vigneault he was ready to play just before Saturday's game with San Jose. But with the Canucks on a four-game win streak, getting back in the lineup won't be easy.
That Vancouver added a similarly skilled player in David Booth in a trade with Florida while Raymond was out doesn't improve his odds of cracking the top-six when he does. There was some thought he'd move up to play with Daniel and Henrik Sedin on the top line after practicing there Monday while Alexandre Burrows received stitches for a tough-to-close gash on his finger, suffered on a slash from Sharks center Joe Thornton. But with Burrows ready to play tonight, Raymond will have to keep waiting.
Raymond, who scored 25 goals in 82 games two seasons ago and 15 in 70 games last season, isn't picky about where he goes back in -- the speedy forward played well on the fourth line after missing time last season -- but admitted to some anxiousness about getting back into total game shape and rhythm, both physically -- and perhaps more so -- mentally.
"I haven't played hockey since June 13, no training camp, missed out on a lot, worked real hard to get to this point, been through a lot of stuff, but very pleased with where I’m at," Raymond said. "I'd be lying if I said there wouldn't be a little nerves. … The game might be 70 percent mental, so it's not going to be an easy transition, but it's something I'm working at and I think I'll be stronger from what I've had to go through."
VANCOUVER -- Ottawa backup Alex Auld was a surprise starter in Vancouver Sunday night after Senators No. 1 Craig Anderson's neck stiffened up following the morning skate.
Anderson, who was scheduled to make his seventh-straight start against the Canucks, is listed as day-to-day, a team spokesman said, and felt well enough to sit on the on the bench as Auld's back up. Ottawa doesn't play again until Friday, when they wrap up a six-game road trip in Pittsburgh.
Anderson is 9-6-1, including three-striaght wins, a 3.25 goals-against average and .895 save percentage in his first full season in Ottawa. Auld, who played his first four NHL seasons in Vancouver, is winless in three starts with a 4.23 goals against average and .823 save percentage this season.
Cory Schneider is hoping to turn consecutive starts into the rhythm missing from his game so far. The Canucks' backup might have to do it behind a patchwork defense.
Schneider will be in goal for a second-straight game Sunday night against Ottawa while No.1 Roberto Luongo continues to recover from a still-unidentified upper body injury, but won't know until just before the game exactly who is playing in front of him.
Keith Ballard is definitely out after suffering a back injury early in Wednesday's 5-1 loss to rival Chicago, and will be replaced by Andrew Alberts on a third pairing with Aaron Rome. Alexander Edler was a late scratch from the morning skate with back spasms of his own and is listed as a game-time decision. Alexander Sulzer is ready to replace him, but the fact Edler might still play was at least a positive sign it isn't serious for a valuable top-4 defender that missed more than two months after back surgery last season.
"Alex came in this morning with stiffness in his back," head coach Alain Vigneault said after the game-day skate. "So we're working on him right now."
No matter who plays on defense, Schneider is preparing himself mentally to see more odd-man rushes, something the normally stingy Canucks have surrendered more of during an inconsistent 9-9-1 start to the season. Add in a 13-day break between his last two starts, and Schneider admitted he is struggling to find his form from last season.
"Today is a good opportunity to bounce back and have a solid effort," he said. "We need this one badly so I think we'll be ready to go and for my personally to get back on a more consistent level that I am used to playing at and sort of solidify the back end there."
As for the rush chances, Schneider said he and Luongo, who skated for a second straight day Sunday but will cede the backup job to AHL call up Matt Climie, need to be more aggressive on the puck carrier, and trust their defense to take care of the pass option.
"Just reading certain situations and maybe handling rushes differently," Schneider said. "We seem to be giving up more rush chances, so that's something we're going to have to adjust to and maybe be a little more aggressive on those ones. And for me just keep the focus for 60 minutes and not having that mental lapse where a bad goal goes in."
With a .904 save percentage, he wasn't getting any arguments from his coach.
"Our whole team needs to be better and can be better," Vigneault said. "That being said it's very evident when teams get on rolls in the NHL, one of the key components to that success is goaltending. We need our goaltenders to give us the same thing."
With Ryan Kesler feeling well enough to play after taking a practice off because of right shoulder stiffness from a hard crash into the end boards, the forward lines are expected to stay the same, at least to start. Vigneault had them in a blender pretty quick in the last game.
The Senators won't have any problem getting up to play in Vancouver Sunday night. Not only is there the "measuring stick" aspect of facing a team that went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last summer, but they've already got a pre-game speech ready