The Toronto Maple Leafs have their hands full trying to hold onto eighth place in the Eastern Conference against a Canucks team trying to stay close to Detroit atop the western standings. Not only is Vancouver 8-0-3 in the last 11 despite not always playing its best hockey during that stretch, but the Canucks haven’t lost to the Maple Leafs since 2003, a stretch they’ll try to extend to 10 wins Saturday.
Here’s a look at the expected lineups for a 4 p.m. start Saturday in Vancouver:
Vancouver’s forward lines will start against Toronto the way they finished against Colorado on Wednesday, with Cody Hodgson moved back up to the Triple-H third line with Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen that produced the winning goal.
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Alexandre Burrows
Mason Raymond – Ryan Kesler – David Booth
Chris Higgins – Cody Hodgson – Jannik Hansen
Manny Malhotra – Maxim Lapierre – Byron Bitz
Dale Weise is ready to return after missing four games with a minor injury, but for now appears to have lost his fourth-line spot to Bitz and will be scratched.
Assuming coach Alain Vigneault was being honest when he said Kevin Bieksa, who was hobbling slightly around the hallways while his teammates skated on Friday, will play against the Leafs, the only change is Chris Tanev’s call up from the AHL and insertion onto a third pairing that has struggled at times lately.
Dan Hamhuis – Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler – Sami Salo
Aaron Rome – Chris Tanev
Andrew Alberts and Alexander Sulzer, who skated with Hamhuis in practice, are the expected scratches. As for Keith Ballard, who has missed four games already with a mysterious head/neck issue that sounds a lot like a concussion, he isn’t expected to make a road trip that starts the next day, after suffering a setback trying to skate on his own during a team day off Thursday.
“Didn’t pan out the way he wanted and the way our medical staff wanted,” said Vigneault. “Keith told me this morning he’s got ‘upper-body symptoms.’ It's from the neck up so we're going to keep him behind here and try to sort that out.”
Roberto Luongo is back in goal, with Cory Schneider backing up and confirming the roles would be reversed to start a six-game road trip Sunday in Edmonton.
The sight of defenseman Carl Gunnarsson out on the ice turning laps before the Zamboni was even off it in Vancouver on Friday was a welcome one for Maple Leafs brass concerned he might have suffered a high ankle sprain four days earlier.
Instead of missing a month, though, it looks now like Gunnarsson won’t be out much longer than the mandatory week from being placed on injured reserve, and could be back as early as Tuesday, but perhaps more likely Thursday.
In the meantime, the Leafs already have a glut of defensemen to sort out, one that left Luke Schenn a surprised healthy scratch in Edmonton on Wednesday.
“It’s never fun sitting out,” said Schenn, who has also had to deal with seeing his name in trade rumors around the NHL. “Sometimes it’s from the approach of get a player going. If that’s what it is them when I get back in, make the most of it.”
Coach Ron Wilson confirmed Schenn would get back in against the Canucks on Saturday night, but said the decision to sit him was also about getting fellow defenseman Mike Komisarek, who was chatting with general manager Brian Burke after practice Friday, playing time in back-to-back games after the veteran sat out four of the previous five as a healthy scratch.
“With seven, eight defensemen who are NHL capable the hard part is keeping everyone involved,” Wilson said. “Luke had been off for a couple of games. … He’s just got to keep the game simple and be physical.”
While the back end rotates, the Leafs forward lines are expected to be the same:
Joffrey Lupul – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur – Mikhail Grabovski – Nikolai Kulemin
Matthew Lombardi – Tim Connolly – Colby Armstrong
Darryl Boyce – David Steckel – Mike Brown
Joey Crabb and Jay Rosehill are the healthy scratches
Schenn moves back onto a pairing with rookie Jake Gardiner, who Wilson said may be the “most consistent defenseman the last 15 or 20 games.”
"He gets back to pucks and he makes good decisions with the puck," Wilson said. "He's fearless physically – and he's not a very big guy – but he uses his body really well, he protects the puck and he just bumps it along. He's been well coached along the way. And he's very reliable back there. He's going to make a mistake every once in a while, like everybody in our League, but he's minimized the mistakes and he hasn't made the kinds of mistakes you would expect someone so young – he hasn't made many of those rookie mistakes."
Keith Aulie - Dion Phaneuf
Jean-Michael Liles - Cody Franson
Jake Gardiner - Luke Schenn
Carl Gunnarsson remains on injured reserve, while Mike Komisarek is expected to be a healthy scratch.
After alternating the last few starts with Jonas Gustavsson, James Reimer gets a chance to follow up his 29-save, 4-3 overtime win in Edmonton on Wednesday with another start Saturday. Reimer has given up three or more in his last four starts, with the only two wins in that stretch both coming against the lowly Oilers.