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At the Rink blog

Canucks shake up lines, search for offense

Saturday, 10.29.2011 / 4:15 PM

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

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At the Rink blog
Canucks shake up lines, search for offense
The Canucks’ new American Express line is no more.

With the offense racking up a deficit, Vancouver cut up that card after just two games together, leaving David Booth, the newcomer that made it possible, with fellow Michigan native Ryan Kesler on the second line, but dropping New York native Chris Higgins down to the third unit.

It is not, however, an indictment of Higgins' play. Rather it is an indication of how well he's playing, and the Canucks acknowledging they need more balance on a struggling third line.
With the Washington Capitals in town Saturday night, Cody Hodgson will move back to the second line -- this time on the right side -- after centering the third for two games, and Higgins switches over to his natural left wing on the third unit, a spot he played last season and a move he openly welcomes.

“I played 95 percent of eight years on the left side of the rink,” Higgins said. “I’m way more comfortable on the left side. Going to the right side you are picking passes off your backhand. Pucks round the boards are a different look. It’s more a comfort thing. Responsibilities are exactly the same but your look on the ice and the way you position your body is completely different.”

The focus amidst the lineup change is on offense.

Shutout for the third time in just 10 games Wednesday after leading the League in scoring last season, and having given up the first goal in eight of 10 after scoring it 49 times last season, the Canucks now sit 20th in scoring.

Ask Daniel Sedin though, and he says the problems start in their own end. While much of the focus has been on the struggles of goalie Roberto Luongo, who is back in against Washington, he’s not alone in the blame game. After patiently waiting for other teams to make mistakes and then capitalizing on the turnovers last season -- Vancouver topped the NHL in goals against last year but is now 22nd -- Sedin said his team has been the one trying to force the issue too often.

“The last few games a lot has been said about us not scoring the first goal and it’s almost like we’ve been cheating to get the first goal and that cannot be the case,” he said. “We have to get back and play real good defensively. That’s our game, that’s’ how we win games. Usually it’s tight going into the third period and the other team has to take chances and we score some more goals.”

That focus should come easier against a Capitals team that is getting it done at both ends after paying more attention to their own the last two seasons. Washington had its perfect 7-0-0 start ended with a 2-1 loss in Edmonton on Thursday, but remains fourth in the League defensively and first in scoring.

“We like to be strong defensively but especially when you have a team that have four lines that can score goals,” Alex Burrows said. “You gotta make sure you are strong in that area, limit their time and space, and make sure you have more numbers than they do. It will be a challenge but we are looking forward to it.”

The Capitals were similarly complimentary of the Canucks, focusing on their Presidents’ Trophy and run to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, rather than a 4-5-1 start to this season and consecutive losses this week.

“It’s a great gauge for us because we’re playing as good a team as there is in the NHL,’’ coach Bruce Boudreau said, “And we’re going to get their best game, so we’ll see how good we can be. We’ll see if we can rise to the occasion.”

As for his own team, Boudreau acknowledged teams usually start slipping before a win streak comes to an end, but stressed that wasn’t the case this time.

Washington outshot Edmonton 35-19 but couldn’t solve Nikolai Khabibulin.

“Usually at the end of a winning streak you are ready to lose, that’s why losing streaks follow winning streaks,” he said. “But I would say the last three games we played have been our best three out of the eight we’ve played. So hopefully we can have a continuation of that, because we’re going to need it.”

Here are the projected lineups for both teams:
 
VANCOUVER

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alex Burrows
David Booth - Ryan Kesler - Cody Hodgson
Chris Higgins - Manny Malhotra - Jannik Hansen
Aaron Volpatti - Maxim Lapierre - Dale Weise

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alex Edler - Sami Salo
Keith Ballard - Alexander Sulzer
 
Sulzer will play a second straight game ahead of Andrew Alberts after impressing coach Alain Vigneault in his Canucks’ debut on Wednesday.
 
“He showed a lot of poise,” Vigneault said. “I liked the way he handled the puck and moved the puck and thought in one-on-one situations he was really solid.”
 
Roberto Luongo is back in goal after getting pulled from his last start in Edmonton on Tuesday, and watching Cory Schneider get his fourth start Wednesday against St. Louis. Schneider didn’t start his fourth game until mid-November last season.
 
WASHINGTON
 
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Troy Brouwer
Alexander Semin - Marcus Johansson - Mike Knuble
Jason Chimera - Brooks Laich - Joel Ward
Matt Hendricks - Jeff Halpern - Mathieu Perreault
 
Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Dennis Wideman
Jeff SchultzSean Collins
 
Tomas Vokoun makes his eighth straight start while backup Michal Neuvirth continues to work his way back in practice from a bruised foot, with boudreau indicting he’ll play in one of the back-to-back games next week.

“Michal had two good practices under his belt in the last two weeks and you’d like to see him have another good one or two before he gets a chance to play again,” Boudreau said. “I think next week would be a really good time.”
Quote of the Day

One player does not make your team. One player can help your team, but one player does not make your team. We're not a bare-bones organization.

— Columbus Blue Jackets president John Davidson
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