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Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 4:57 PM

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Canucks still looking for right third-line mix as Higgins returns

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.

Rather than return to a second line with fellow U.S.-born forwards Ryan Kesler and David Booth, a trio that has done well in limited time together, Higgins will debut on a new-look third line with Maxim Lapierre and Jannik Hansen.

How long that lasts, however, remains to be seen.

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:
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Chris Higgins - Maxim Lapierre - Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra - Cody Hodgson - Byron Bitz
Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Andrew Alberts - Aaron Rome
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.
There hasn’t been much of an update on Keith Ballard, who will miss a fourth game with what is either a concussion or neck injury. He has been riding an exercise bike the last couple of days.

David Jones - Paul Stastny - Milan Hejduk
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Peter Mueller
Daniel Winnik - Jay McClement - Chuck Kobasew
Cody McLeod - David Van Der Gulik - T.J. Galiardi
Kyle Quincey - Erik Johnson
Jan Hejda - Ryan O’Byrne
Shane O’Brien - Tyson Barrie
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.
Posted On Monday, 02.13.2012 / 10:08 PM

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Morris scratched with groin injury

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 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.

Posted On Monday, 02.13.2012 / 5:42 PM

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Ballard still out, still being evaluated

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.

Coach Alain Vigneault said Ballard was still being evaluated.

"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.

Posted On Monday, 02.13.2012 / 5:28 PM

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Higgins skating, eager to return to Canucks' lineup

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."

Posted On Monday, 02.13.2012 / 4:20 PM

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Coyotes go for sixth straight with LaBarbera in net

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.

Here are the projected lineups:


Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Lauri Korpikoski - Boyd Gordon - Shane Doan
Mikkel Boedker - Daymond Langkow - Taylor Pyatt
Raffi Torres - Kyle Chipchura - Gilbert Brule

Keith Yandle - Adrian Aucoin
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Rostislav Klesla
Michal Rozsival - Derek Morris

Jason LaBarbera
Mike Smith

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - David Booth
Jannik Hansen - Cody Hodgson - Byron Bitz
Mike Duco - Manny Malhotra - Maxim Lapierre

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Andrew Alberts - Aaron Rome

Roberto Luongo
Cory Schneider

Posted On Wednesday, 02.08.2012 / 7:41 PM

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Henrik Sedin in walking boot, sits out practice

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.

Henrik Sedin
Center - VAN
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 46 | PTS: 57
SOG: 76 | +/-: 16
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.

Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 4:54 PM

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Loss of Higgins could leave Canucks' lines scrambled

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.

Vigneault also said Roberto Luongo would start again in goal.
Posted On Thursday, 02.02.2012 / 10:05 PM

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Higgins a late scratch for Canucks

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.
Posted On Thursday, 02.02.2012 / 7:15 PM

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Detroit's Howard gets practice off, but not game

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.

“I’m young,” he said with a smile.
Posted On Thursday, 02.02.2012 / 7:01 PM

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Hodgson looks to build on Rookie of Month honor

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.”
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