After missing nine games due to a concussion, Willie Mitchell said today that he is ready to play tonight against the Red Wings.
Mitchell hasn't played since suffering the injury on October 21st by a hit from Jason Arnott in Nashville.
"I haven't had a lot of practice, I won't lie so I'll try to keep it simple," said Mitchell.
"I'm excited to get back in there and slowly find my game again. It's three weeks so it doesn't happen over night so I'll just have some fun with it."
The Canucks are 5-3-1 with Mitchell in the lineup and have been only 3-6-0 since the injury.
With Mitchell back in the lineup, his strong defensive presence will help the Canucks on the ice, who in nine games this season has 12 shots on net and one assist so far. Mitchell has been extremely active on the penalty kill logging 50:58 of ice time.
"On the ice, he's one of our most dependable defenceman, he kills penalties, blocks shots, and he's really a good presence in the room so obviously we're really happy to have him back," said Alain Vigneault.
Teammates share the same enthusiasm for Mitchell's return for reasons both on and off the ice.
"Willie's been out for along time and we know what he brings to the table so he's going to be a big addition, obviously, especially tonight against the Red Wings," said fellow blueliner, Sami Salo
"He brings a lot of atmosphere, first of all, in the locker room and on the ice," says Roberto Luongo
. "He's the type of guy who gets very excited."
Although Mitchell will not likely average the same 20 minutes per game he did prior to the injury, he will play regular shifts that will help out Mattias Ohlund, who is averaging over 25 minutes a game since Mitchell's injury. RED HOT WINGS
The Red Wings eight game winning streak would scare anyone, let alone the Canucks, who have scored two or less goals in six consecutive games. Detroit's averaging less than two goals against per game and their red hot goalie, six time Vezina winner, Dominik Hasek hasn't allowed a goal since November 4.
"I think the focus is to keep doing the things that we've been doing all year long and eventually we'll score some goals, [whether] if it's five on five or our powerplay," said Salo.
In the teams' first meeting this year, the season-opener for both teams, the Canucks won the battle 3-1 at Joe Louis Arena. That was before the Red Wings started their streak and before the Canucks got hit with injuries.
"They've found their game, they're one of the best teams in the league, except for their powerplay, every other part of their game is outstanding," said Vigneault. "That's why they haven't lost in eight games. They're only giving 20 shots a game, so it's a good challenge for us tonight."
The Canucks are averaging 31.4 shots on net in 18 games but only 22 in their last three. Detroit and Vancouver are one and two in the league in shots against with the Wings allowing just over 20 shots a game and the Canucks seeing 26 shots a night.
Coach Vigneault has a game plan that he hopes to instill tonight.
"We're going to need to get more than 20 shots on net, we're not going to score a lot of goals on a goaltender like that. Right now I'd like our guys to let their instincts go, they're getting a lot of chances, sometimes they over think, overanalyze things. If they play hard, they'll be fine tonight."
The philosophy for the Canucks this season hasn't changed and against a fired up Red Wings team, this is going to be even more important.
"I think the key is going to be hard work, outworking them, and obviously special teams are going to be key," said Salo. "We can't take stupid penalties against those guys because they're going to capitalize. Then obviously when we have a powerplay, we have to capitalize."
Detroit's powerplay, which was first in the league last year is struggling this year, ranked 28th in the league. The Canucks penalty kill in 18 games this season is seventh in the league will be an advantage for the Canucks, whose penalty kill has been perfect in ten games.
"You never want to give the other team nine powerplays no matter who you're facing," said Luongo. "Most of the time even if they don't score, they could get some momentum off of it so it's important we stay disciplined tonight." BRIGHT FUTURES
The young replacements called up from the Manitoba Moose have been creating a lot of buzz with their play in the last few games.
Alex Edler, who was called up to help fill a place on the blueline while Salo was sidelined with a knee injury, has been playing well but may go back to the Moose with the return of Willie Mitchell.
"We'll see how the game goes tonight, then we'll make a decision," said Vigneault.
Edler is averaging just over 15 minutes a game and has one point in four games with the Canucks. He has shown that he is a solid player and been effective on the penalty kill, averaging over two minutes a game and has an even rating.
"I think for a young kid coming up, he got some quality minutes," said Vigneault. "He knows or should have a better idea of what it's going to take for him to play at this level on a consistent basis. He's got a lot of raw talent, he's come a long way in two years. I think we've got a really good young defenceman for the future."
Patrick Coulombe, also called up from the Moose to help fill a gap caused by injury has been impressive playing the point on the Canucks powerplay.
"Our powerplay was two-for-six last game and I think that's the first time it happened this year and both times he was involved in the play and making the right pass," says Vigneault. "I like the way he moves the puck, I don't think he's 5'11, 180 pounds like it says in the book there but he competes hard and moves the puck well. The way the game's going now permits him to play."
"He sees the ice, he sees the available options and he done it in the games that he's play and hopefully he can keep doing it tonight against a really strong opponent. It's going to be a good measuring stick for him tonight."