For a team that prides itself on being defensively sound, the Vancouver Canucks have suffered several recent ignominies: Not only have they given up hat tricks to their last two opponents (Edmonton’s David Perron and Phoenix’s Antoine Vermette), they were also on the wrong end of a 9-1 drubbing by the Anaheim Ducks earlier this month. Head Coach John Tortorella is still serving a 15-day ban for an off-ice confrontation outside the Calgary Flames dressing room on Jan. 18. All of this, along with a 4-7-2 record so far in January, might indicate a team on the ropes, but sometimes those can be the most dangerous opponents.
The Canucks have been without captain and scoring co-leader Henrik Sedin for the last four games, but other team leaders have stepped up offensively in his absence. Chris Higgins, who ranks fourth on the squad with 30 points in 53 games, has four points (2G, 2A) in his last three games, while defenseman Kevin Bieksa scored twice in Sunday’s 5-4 overtime win over Phoenix to double his goal output this season. Meanwhile, U.S. Olympian Ryan Kesler has posted four points in his last five games, including his team-leading 18th goal of the season.
Vancouver lost 4-2 to Edmonton on Monday, but the silver lining was the return of 23-year-old Jordan Schroeder, who came back from a broken ankle after missing the last 44 games. The 2009 first-round pick netted a pair of goals—his first points of the season—in 14:53 of ice time, and the Canucks hope Schroeder can continue providing an offensive spark for a team that has scored more than two regulation goals just once in its last nine games.
The Blackhawks and Flames staged a throwback last night at Scotiabank Saddledome, exchanging eight goals through the first two periods and utilizing two netminders each, but it was the home side that emerged with a 5-4 overtime victory. The result marked Chicago's 13th overtime or shootout loss of the season, a league high; the Blackhawks are 0-6 in the extra five minutes of 4-on-4 play. Marian Hossa scored twice, including a shorthanded tally that tied the game late in the second period, and now has six goals in his last six games. He now leads active NHL skaters with 29 career shorthanded goals.
Center Brandon Pirri was recalled from the American Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs for the start of the six-game road trip and started last night’s contest on the second line with Patrick Kane and Kris Versteeg. He did not record any shots in 15:05 of ice time and won four of nine draws. Pirri has 11 points (6G, 5A) in 25 games with the Blackhawks this season; he has also collected 13 points (4G, 9A) in 16 games with Rockford and was named to the AHL All-Star Game on Feb. 12.
Games between the Blackhawks and Canucks have historically been tense affairs, and their previous two meetings this season have fit the pattern, with Chicago grinding out a 2-1 win on Nov. 23 at Rogers Arena and Vancouver taking an eight-round 3-2 shootout victory at the United Center on Dec. 20. The clash between the Blackhawks' high-powered offense and the Canucks' stubborn, physical defense should provide a dramatic backdrop for a high-stakes game, as both teams want to get back to winning ways.