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Posted On Monday, 12.26.2011 / 4:08 PM

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

Oilers to rest ailing Whitney against Canucks

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.

The expected lineup for the Oilers:

Taylor Hall - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Jordan Eberle
Ryan Smyth - Shawn Horcoff - Sam Gagner
Ryan Jones - Eric Belanger - Ben Eager
Darcy Hordichuk - Anton Lander - Lennart Petrell

Ladislav Smid - Tom Gilbert
Jeff Petry - Corey Potter
Theo Peckham - Alex Plante

Based on the morning skate, Nikolai Khabibulin will start after being the first goalie off the ice, with Devan Dubnyk, who was out late getting some extra work, backing up.
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Posted On Friday, 12.23.2011 / 4:38 PM

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

Sedin set to tie Canucks' ironman mark

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."
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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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