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by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks


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The Canucks probably couldn't get a tougher opponent for their home opener than the San Jose Sharks - maybe the '72 Soviets or the '86 Oilers, but then neither of those teams had Joe Thornton.

The Sharks are 3-1 having dropped a 6-4 decision in Edmonton last night. Jonathan Cheechoo scored a natural hat trick.

Not that Cheechoo, Thornton, and company worry the Canucks defence.

Luongo's goals-against average is a miserly 1.73, and his save percentage is .941.

"He's obviously made some big saves," said coach Alain Vigneault, "but in a game like [Minnesota's] where obviously he was a factor, he had a lot of shots, but he had only eight scoring chances against him. The players in front of him are playing really hard too."


They'll have to play even harder against the Sharks.

Sami Salo's gone with a groin strain he suffered early in camp.

"He thought it was gone, but then he started to feel that dreaded tweak in Minnesota," said Vigneault. "That's been bothering him for awhile. I told him to take as much time and do whatever it takes to get 100 percent."

Yes, missing Salo will hurt the back-end, but it forces shuffling in the offensive zone too.

A Canuck power play that's scored three times on 17 chances, is suddenly without the most imposing point threat.

In steps second-year blue liner Kevin Bieksa - who has yet to score a goal in the NHL in 47 games.

"Hopefully Kevin can fill in and help us," said Vigneault. "It's a great opportunity for him."

"With Kevin it's a matter of playing with a little more urgency now and then. He's a little nonchalant sometimes. He doesn't mean to be, but it's just the way it is."

"When he plays with urgency he's really effective in breaking the puck out of the zone, and he's a strong, strong kid."

Salo's groin means rookie Luc Bourdon gets another start. He had eight minute spread over 12 shifts in his NHL debut against the Wild Tuesday.

Vigneault says home-ice will make a difference tonight as the Canucks get last change and will be able to keep Bourdon away from the Thornton-Cheechee tandem.

"Obviously at this stage right now we feel Luc can play against the third and fourth lines and do well."


Despite all 235-pounds of Kurtis Foster's shoulder driving his bucket into the dasher in Minnesota, Vigneault says Ryan Kesler will bounce back and dress against San Jose.

"I never felt like that in my life," said Kesler. "I think a couple of screws got loose."

Kesler screamed deep into the Wild end and leaned in to fish a puck out of the corner when Foster caught him. Kesler was about four feet out from the boards.

Despite wobbling to the bench on a trainer's arm, Kesler wanted to go back out and finish the game. Medical trainer Mike Burnstein said no.

"They knew the adrenalin was going and it would be best for me to stay off the ice for the rest of the game and see how I was in the morning."

Vigneault says Kesler will dress.

"He practiced today and he looked good to me."

"I had no symptoms last night, so it looks like, all it's systems go, next step is playing, so we'll see how it goes," said Kesler after practice today.


Despite sitting out with a sore shoulder against his old foe in Minnesota, centre Marc Chouinard will play tonight against the Sharks in place of Tommi Santala says Vigneault.

"He's ready to go and theoretically will be in the line-up Friday," said the coach. "He's one of the best face-off guys in the league and he'll definitely help us there."


Despite allowing less than two goals per game in their first four, Vigneault shivered in a post-game press conference when a beat reported suggested the Canucks now play the trap.

"Anyone who's been watching knows we aren't trapping," he said. "People might perceive it that way, but we're creating an identity of being a hard-working team in all three zones."

"I just want our guys to compete. So far it's resulted in low-scoring games, but I think the goals will start to come."

"So I guess my real answer is, I don't really care as long as our guys compete."


Although Luongo will start in net tonight, it won't be too much longer before backup Dany Sabourin will get some ice time.

"I would expect him in the next week to ten days that he's going to get a start," said Vigneault. "Dany's worked extremely hard and I talked to Ian [Clark] about how we want to use him, we're lookin at the scedhule here and we're going to sort this out."


Last year's unclaimed prize money ($48,902) will be rolled into tonight's jackpot estimated to hit $75,000. Buy a ticket. Proceeds go to the Canucks Place Children's Hospice.


Forward Lines
D. Sedin H. Sedin M. Naslund
J. Bulis B. Morrison M. Cooke
A. Burrows R. Kesler T. Pyatt
J. Green M. Chouinard T. Linden
Defence Pairings
K. Bieksa M. Ohlund
L. Krajicek W. Mitchell
R. Fitzpatrick L. Bourdon
R. Luongo - S D. Sabourin



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