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Posted On Friday, 12.23.2011 / 3:58 PM

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

Irving gets second start, Bourque back for Flames

Here's how the Calgary Flames' lineup could look tonight against the Vancouver Canucks:

Curtis Glencross - Olli Jokinen - Jarome Iginla
Blake Comeau - Mikael Backlund - Lee Stempniak
Rene Bourque - Roman Horak - Paul Byron
Tim Jackman - Brendan Morrison - Tom Kostopoulos

Chris Butler - Jay Bouwmeester
Derek Smith - Scott Hannan
TJ Brodie - Cory Sarich

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."



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Posted On Friday, 12.23.2011 / 3:56 PM

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

Status of Edler, Ballard uncertain for Canucks

Here's how the Vancouver Canucks' lineup could look for tonight's game against the Calgary Flames:

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

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Andrew Alberts - Alexander Sulzer

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.






 



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Posted On Wednesday, 12.21.2011 / 6:40 PM

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

Wings and Canucks psyched for showdown

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."

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Posted On Wednesday, 12.21.2011 / 5:05 PM

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

Projected lineups for Canucks, Red Wings

Here are how the lineups could look when the Vancouver Canucks host the Detroit Red Wings tonight at Rogers Arena:

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

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Andrew Alberts - Alexander Sulzer

Roberto Luongo, 6-0-1 in his six starts since coming back from injury, is in goal again, with Cory Schneider backing up.

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:

Ebbett, out since November with a fractured foot suffered in the same game he scored his first goal of the season, returned to the ice last week and took part in his first full practice Tuesday. He'll return to game action Wednesday as the Canucks look to add skill against the Red Wings, replacing the bigger Mark Mancari in the bottom six.

RED WINGS

Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Danny Cleary - Darren Helm - Drew Miller
Cory Emmerton - Justin Abdelkader - Tomas Holmstrom
 


Nicklas Lidstrom - Ian White
Niklas Kronwall - Jonathan Ericsson
Brad Stuart - Jakub Kindl
 


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.
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Posted On Monday, 12.19.2011 / 5:08 PM

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

Canucks, Wild both dealing with injuries

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.

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Posted On Monday, 12.19.2011 / 5:06 PM

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

Projected lineups for Canucks, Wild

Here's how the lineups could look tonight when the Vancouver Canucks host the Minnesota Wild:

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

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alex Edler - Sami Salo
Andrew Alberts - Keith Ballard

Roberto Luongo, 5-0-1 in his last six, starts in goal, with Cory Schneider backing up.

WILD
Dany Heatley - Pierre-Marc Bouchard - Matt Cullen
Cal Clutterbuck - Kyle Brodziak - Darroll Powe
Jed Ortmeyer - Warren Peters - Jarod Palmer
Colton Gillies - Nick Johnson - Brad Staubitz

Nick Schultz - Mike Lundin
Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon
Marek Zidlicky - Clayton Stoner

Niklas Backstrom starts in goal, and could play again Tuesday in Calgary, where he always excels, because Josh Harding hasn't played since a neck injury on Dec. 6.

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Posted On Tuesday, 12.06.2011 / 5:20 PM

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

Avalanche without Stastny against Canucks

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.

Here's how the lineup projects tonight:

David Jones - Matt Duchene - TJ Galiardi
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Milan Hejduk
Daniel Winnik - Jay McClement - Chuck Kobasew
Kevin Porter - Brandon Yip

Kyle Quincey - Shane O'Brien
Ryan Wilson - Erik Johnson
Jan Hejda - Ryan O'Byrne
Stefan Elliott

Semyon Varlamov, who is 4-2 with a .939 save percentage in his last six starts, is back in goal with Jean-Sebastien Giguere as the backup.

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.
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.06.2011 / 3:48 PM

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

Red-hot Hansen gets promotion in Canucks' lineup

With Vancouver Canucks forward Chris Higgins now listed as day-to-day with a foot infection, Jannik Hansen gets a chance to continue his career-best goal pace with a move up to the second line.

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.

Here's how tonight's Canucks lineup could look:

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

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Keith Ballard - Aaron Rome

Roberto Luongo makes his second-straight start after watching five in a row, with Cory Schneider returning to his backup role for now.

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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 6:35 PM

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

Infection sidelines Canucks’ Higgins

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."

Chris Higgins
Left Wing - VAN
GOALS: 8 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 17
SOG: 62 | +/-: 2
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.
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Posted On Sunday, 12.04.2011 / 6:26 PM

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

Luongo gets the start against Flames

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."
 
Canucks expected lineup:
 
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin – Alex Burrows
David Booth - Ryan KeslerChris Higgins
Mason Raymond- Cody Hodgson -– Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre - Dale Weise
 
Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alex Edler – Sami Salo
Keith Ballard - Aaron Rome
 
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.
 
Flames expected line-up:
The only anticipated change one day after winning in Edmonton is in goal, with backup Henrik Karlsson replacing Miikka Kiprusoff.

Curtis Glencross- Olli Jokinen - Jarome Iginla
Alex TanguayRoman HorakRene Bourque
Blake ComeauMikael Backlund - Lee Stempniak
Tim JackmanMatt StajanTom Kostopoulos
 
Scott HannanTJ Brodie
Jay BouwmeesterChris Butler
Joe PiskulaDerek Smith

Karlsson is expected to start after Kiprusoff played Saturday.


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