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At the Rink blog

Vrbata a late scratch for Coyotes

Wednesday, 03.14.2012 / 6:46 PM

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

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At the Rink blog
Vrbata a late scratch for Coyotes
VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault has talked recently of experimenting with his lineup heading into the playoffs, tinkering with new options opened up by trade deadline acquisitions of Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani.

That said, the roster shakeup for Wednesday night's game against the Phoenix Coyotes -- which includes a new winger for struggling top-line twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin -- is all about shaking a 2-3-2 slump over the last seven games.

"It's got nothing to do with experimenting, it's got everything to do with getting our top players to play up to their level," Vigneault said after Wednesday's morning skate. "Until they do we're going to keep trying everything we can."

That includes moving struggling speedster Mason Raymond (0 points in six games) up to the top line to try and spark Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who have combined for just one assist the last eight games combined. Henrik, whose eight-game pointless streak is his longest since a November-December funk in 2003 and one game shy of his career worst from 2001, hopes the two days off after Saturday's 4-1 loss to lowly Montreal will rejuvenate a team that has looked tired – both mentally and physically – over the last few weeks.

"We're confident we're going to get out of this," Henrik, the Canucks’ captain, said. "It's just a matter of regrouping and getting ready for the stretch drive."

They've got 13 games left to figure it out, and that includes the defensive pairings, which were also shaken up after giving up way too many odd-man rushes, point-blank chances, and goals during the slide. Kevin Bieksa will play with a struggling Alexander Edler, while Bieksa's long-time partner, Dan Hamhuis, moves onto an apparent shutdown unit with steady youngster Chris Tanev, leaving veteran Sami Salo to play with newcomer Marc-Andre Gragnani against the Coyotes.

"When we analyze the scoring chances for and against and we see our top four defensemen in the minus category, it tells me we have to try something," said Vigneault of a theory that also applies up front. "It's pretty simple. We need our top players to play like top players. We're no different than any of the other 29 teams in the League. We've got a good team when our top players play the way they're supposed to play and, right now, for whatever reason, we've got a couple of guys who are off their game. They need to find it for us to get back on track."

Here are the expected lines -- at least to start -- as the Canucks try to do just that:

Daniel SedinHenrik SedinMason Raymond
Chris HigginsRyan KeslerDavid Booth
Alexandre BurrowsSamuel PahlssonJannik Hansen
Manny MalhotraMaxim LapierreZack Kassian

Dan Hamhuis – Chris Tanev
Alexander EdlerKevin Bieksa
Marc-Andre GragnaniSami Salo

Dale Weise, who hasn't played since Feb. 26, could get back into the lineup, almost certainly on the fourth line, but it wasn’t clear who might come out.
 
 
Roberto Luongo stays in goal despite some recent struggles, with Cory Schneider backing up.
 
Meanwhile, the Coyotes will be without 30-goal scorer Radim Vrabata. who was a late scratch due to illness. There's no word if he'll be ready to play Thursday night, when the Coyotes visit Calgary. The Coyotes say he's day-to-day

The good news for the Coyotes is that some of their injured players are returning or will be back soon.

Steady defenseman David Schlemko, who has missed 28 games following early January foot surgery, is expected to return in Vancouver on Wednesday night. Veteran defender Derek Morris, who recently rejoined the team after missing 14 games to attend to a family illness, isn't far behind, and key forwards Kyle Chipchura (wrist) and Martin Hanzal (upper body) are both with the team on the trip through Wsetern Canada and could return soon.

"When you're in a playoff stretch drive, you need as many bodies as you can, and that depth will be a real asset for our group," said coach Dave Tippett.

Tippett hopes it helps the Coyotes get back to the February form that saw them go 11-0-1, and end a 1-4-2 March funk that included an uncharacteristically wide-open 5-4 shootout loss to Nashville on Monday. That loss dropped them four points behind Dallas atop the Pacific Division, and just one point ahead of a four-way tie for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Tippett isn't telling his players to avoid NHL scoreboards.

"We always keep our eyes on the standings, it's a pretty tight race," he said. "You do lots of scoreboard watching … it re-enforces the fact we have to take care of ourselves."

Schlemko will likely take the spot of rookie Michael Stone, who was good as an emergency fill in, but minus-2 against the Predators in the last game.

"Poise," Tippett said of what Schlemko adds, "A steady, veteran presence."

Here are the rest of the expected lines as Phoenix tries to win the season series (it's 1-1-1 right now) despite only scoring two goals in the first three meetings:

Ray Whitney - Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan
Raffi Torres - Daymond Langkow - Lauri Lorpikoski
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Gilbert Brule
Mikkel Boedker - Marc-Antoine Pouliot - Paul Bissonnette
 
Keith Yandle - Adrian Aucoin
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Michal Rozsival
Rostislav KleslaDavid Schlemko

Mike Smith will start despite needing a while to shake off a shot off the mask during the morning skate, with Jason LaBarbera, who got the surprise start against his old team the last time the Coyotes visited, backing up.


Quote of the Day

I think you always have to look internally before you look externally to see, 'Do we have these players within our organization?' And I think we do.

— Ottawa Senators assistant general manager Pierre Dorion on the Binghamton Senators (AHL affiliate)