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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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Posted On Thursday, 12.01.2011 / 4:35 PM

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

Kostitsyn out; Predators skates no longer optional

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.
 
Colin Wilson - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist
Martin Erat - Mike FisherCraig Smith
Jordin TootooJerred Smithson - Nick Spaling
Matt HalischukKyle Wilson - Brian McGrattan

Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Jack Hillen - Kevin Klein
Jonathan Blum - Roman Josi

Pekka Rinne will start in goal, and is hoping for better luck after being victimized by terrible bounces during a 5-1 loss in Vancouver in late October, while Anders Lindback will back up.
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Posted On Thursday, 12.01.2011 / 3:07 PM

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

Raymond making return after scary injury in Cup Final

Cory Schneider is back in goal for a seventh straight start Thursday against the Nashville Predators, but the team in front of him has changed with the return of Mason Raymond up front and Aaron Rome back in for an injured Sami Salo on defense.

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
 
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 – Aaron Rome
Andrew Alberts - Keith Ballard
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Posted On Wednesday, 11.30.2011 / 10:43 PM

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

Schneider gets another start; Raymond ready for Canucks

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.

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Posted On Wednesday, 11.30.2011 / 4:49 PM

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

Raymond to return, Schneider staying in net

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.
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Posted On Tuesday, 11.29.2011 / 5:14 PM

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

Hometown kid Johansen set to face Canucks

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.
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Posted On Tuesday, 11.29.2011 / 5:12 PM

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

Blue Jackets expected lineup

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.

Vinny Prospal - Jeff Carter - Rick Nash
R.J. Umberger - Mark Letestu - Ryan Johansen
Antoine Vermette - Samuel Pahlsson - Derek Dorsett
Derick Brassard - Derek MacKenzie - Jared Boll

Fedor Tyutin - Nikita Nikitin
Marc Methot - James Wisniewski
John Moore - Grant Clitsome

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.

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Posted On Tuesday, 11.29.2011 / 2:56 PM

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

Canucks expected lineup

VANCOUVER -- Alexandre Burrows needed four stitches to close the cut on his left hand, but will be back on the top line against Columbus tonight, leaving the other lines intact:
 
Defenseman Alexander Edler left Saturday's game in San Jose early after a big hit from Jamie McGinn, but was back on the ice Monday and Tuesday and also appears ready to play the Blue Jackets:
 
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
David Booth - Ryan Kesler - Chris Higgins
Cody Hodgson - Maxim Lapierre - Jannik Hansen
Aaron Volpatti - Manny Malhotra - Dale Weise
 
Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Keith Ballard - Aaron Rome
 
Cory Schneider makes his sixth-straight start in goal, while Roberto Luongo watches a fourth consecutive game from the bench, his longest stretch as a healthy backup in six seasons in Vancouver.

For more on tonight's game, check out the preview here.
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Posted On Tuesday, 11.29.2011 / 2:52 PM

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

Canucks' Raymond still waiting for chance

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."
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Posted On Sunday, 11.20.2011 / 9:32 PM

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

Auld gets surprise start for Senators

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.
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