The Vancouver Canucks saw enough good things from new-look forward lines in a 5-4 loss to Phoenix on Wednesday to stick with them as they try to bump their worst slump of the season. The defensive pairings are a different story.
After surrendering double-digit odd-man rushes to the Coyotes, Vancouver has again changed things up on the back end, with newcomer Marc-Andre Gragnani out for Aaron Rome, who was a healthy scratch the last three games.
"I'd say 75 per cent of those were caused by bad reads by our defense," coach Alain Vigneault said of all the odd-man chances against. "They're reads you have to make. Is the third-man high? Is he not high? What type of puck control do we have? Do we have good puck control? Am I supposed to be stepping in, or not? A lot of times our guys decided to make decisions without the puck to either stay in or to go in for the outlet pass that were the wrong decisions.”
As for the forwards, Alexndre Burrows moved from the first to the third line, and it became the Canucks’ best, scoring a goal and drawing a couple of power plays that were converted by a new-look, four-forward unit he’s also a part of.
“They spent quality time in the other team’s end and were creating quality chances and wearing the other team down,” said Vigneault. “They were very dependable through the neutral zone and I was very pleased how that worked out. But we’re on a game-to-game basis. Can it work consistently?”
They’ll find out Saturday against the Blue Jackets, though it’s not the only thing being tested. Henrik and Daniel Sedin combined for three points against Phoenix after managing just one assist between them the previous eight games, and were part of a core group of veterans singled out by the coach, who suggested their poor play on the ice made it challenging for them to be leaders off it.
“All their games are a little bit off and makes it a different element to influence a group in a positive way and push buttons in the dressing room,” said Vigneault, who also included Ryan Kesler, Manny Malhotra, Kevin Bieksa and Roberto Luongo, who won’t play Saturday, in that group. "Our core group of players is being challenged. It's a different element when you're depended on to be leaders, to lead a group, to ensure your actions are the right ones to influence.”
Here are the rest of the expected lines as the Canucks try to end a 2-4-2 skid and avoid their first three-game losing skid at home since 2009:
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Mason Raymond
Chris Higgins – Ryan Kesler – David Booth
Alexandre Burrows – Samuel Pahlsson – Jannik Hansen
Dale Weise – Maxim Lapierre – Zack Kassian
Manny Malhotra, who missed the last game for personal reasons, is back with the team but won’t play Saturday night.
Alexander Edler – Kevin Bieksa
Dan Hamhuis – Sami Salo
Aaron Rome – Chris Tanev
Cory Schneider, who is 8-0-1 since mid-December, will start in goal ahead of Roberto Luongo, who has given up 25 goals in his last eight starts.
The biggest change for the last-place Blue Jackets, who had been playing well up to a 3-0 loss in Edmonton on Wednesday, is in goal, where Steve Mason returns from a deep cut on his blocker hand that kept him out for three games and ended his own recent run of solid play between the pipes. The only other change is Ryan Russell coming in for Dane Byers on the fourth line:
R.J. Umberger – Derick Brassard – Rick Nash
Vinny Prospal – Mark Letestu – Cam Atkinson
Colton Gillies – Ryan Johansen – Derek Dorsett
Ryan Russell – Darryl Boyce – Jared Boll
Jack Johnson – James Wisniewski
Aaron Johnson – Nikita Nikitin
John Moore – Brett Lebda
With defensemen Radek Martinek (concussion) and Marc Methot (jaw) out the rest of the season, and fellow blue liner Fedor Tyutin still out indefinitely with a hand injury, the Blue Jackets only have six healthy defenders, and have already checked flights in case they need to add another one from the AHL in time for Sunday’s game in Calgary.
Steve Mason, who has won four straight starts, is back from the skate cut on his right hand to take over from backup Curtis Sanford, who has lost six straight.