Looking for First
The Canucks will try to ride the momentum from their perfect four game road-trip and win their fifth straight game with the Columbus Blue Jackets visiting Vancouver. It will be the third and final match-up between the two squads who played twice in a week in Columbus earlier this month, a pair of 2-1 games the teams split in overtime.
The Blue Jackets arrive in Vancouver, for their second game of a four game road trip, winners of eight of their last eleven games but were beaten soundly, 5-2 at the hands of the Nashville Predators on Saturday. They are currently 11th in the tightly-packed Western Conference but are just two points out of the eighth and final playoff position.
Having played two tight-checking games that required overtime to find a winner, Alain Vigneault doesn't expect anything different tonight.
"They are what our conference is all about. They are strong, competitive, hard-working group with balance up front and size on defence and right now they have probably one of the best goaltenders in the league who gives them a chance every night," said Vigneault.
The Canucks forward lines remain unchanged from Sunday's 3-2 win in Colorado where Chris Higgins swapped places with Alex Burrows to take the wing beside Henrik and Daniel Sedin, while Burrows slid in with Andrew Ebbett and transplanted defenceman, Keith Ballard.
Ballard earned strong reviews from his coaches and teammates following the two games he has played up front.
"He's been real effective offensively and defensively and he's going to continue to do that for us," said Vigneault, who joked that Ballard's history as a defenceman aids the transition. "I don't want to say that defenceman have to be smarter than forwards, but he's been really receptive and has done a really good job"
Kevin Bieksa, who played four games as a forward in 2010, knows what adjustments Ballard must make.
"You have a lot less responsibility, I know that," smirked Bieksa, who did not play in either game against Columbus this season. "You have to think like a forward and think about getting open and being an option. The defensive responsibility is not the same but both positions are pretty challenging."
Ballard admits that it's been the mental part of the game that has been hardest, but says he's enjoying the time to be more offensive.
"Trying to understand all the reads you need to make, you need to take a step back and get your positioning first," said Ballard who did play forward in minor hockey before making the switch to defence as a sixteen year old. "It's been fun, you never know maybe this is the start of a ten year career as a winger."
The hottest line on the Canucks at the moment is the Raymond-Schroeder-Hansen grouping which has combined for 11 points over the Canucks four game winning streak, with Schroeder and Raymond recording points in all four.
"Jannik's seeing the ice well. Jordan's looking better and better every game and the more we work as a line the more effective we are," said Raymond, who's 18 points are just two short of matching his total from all of last season.
Alex Edler will be patrolling the Canucks blue-line after serving his two game suspension for his collision with Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith last week. The all-star defenceman's return sends Cam Barker back to the press box.
Cory Schneider will get his fifth consecutive start and for good reason; the 27 year old is 4-0-0 allowing just five goals over the span.
A win for the Canucks would move them back into first place in the Northwest division with 42 points, two points clear of idle Minnesota.