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At the Rink blog

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

Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 4:57 PM

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

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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:
 
CANUCKS
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.
 
AVALANCHE

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.
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Not only is it a great idea, but if you don't [start using analytics] you're going to fall behind. You have to be on the cutting edge. It was [Arizona Coyotes assistant general manager] Darcy Regier who said, 'If you didn't invent it, you have to be the second- or third-best copier, because if you're fourth or fifth you've got no chance.'

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