The Canucks (38-13-9) look for their third straight home ice win tonight as they host the Montreal Canadiens (31-22-7) at Rogers Arena.
In their last meeting earlier this season, Vancouver fell 2-0 to the Habs in Montreal. Head Coach Alain Vigneault was pleased with the Canucks’ performance though, crediting the Canadiens’ goaltending as the deciding factor.
“I thought we played a good game, but Carey Price was real strong, they’ve got some great goaltending, they play really well in front of them and their defense does a great job of blocking shots,” said Vigneault.
The Canucks welcome back injured defenseman Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard to their ailing back end tonight.
WIth Kevin Bieksa and Alexander Edler already out of the lineup, the Canucks were missing four of their top six defensemen for the past two weeks.
The team managed to string together a .500 record; an impressive feat considering that defensive replacements Yann Sauve and Evan Oberg had a combined two games of NHL experience before being called up.
“The young guys who came in and played did a real good job, and our forwards did a really good job tightening things up, playing responsibly and buckling down and the goaltenders played great,” said Ballard.
The Montreal Canadiens are facing a similar burden, with three regular defensemen out of the lineup, though they have not fared as well as the Canucks, going 1-4-2 in their last seven games.
“I think we had success because we play a really good team game with a team focus on defense,” said Hamhuis. “Our forwards to a good job, they’re a huge part of our defensive system, just as we try to be a huge part of the offensive system and I think that’s what’s helped relieve a lot of pressure off the young guys.”
The new look defensive pairings feature Ballard alongside Christian Ehrhoff, while Hamhuis will suit up with Sami Salo. Aaron Rome and Chris Tanev round out the final pairing.
This morning, Yann Sauve was sent down to Manitoba to make room for Ballard.
On the forward lines, Cody Hodgson begins his second audition for the full time fourth line centre position. He will be flanked by wingers Victor Oreskovich and Tanner Glass. Jeff Tambellini is the odd man out.
Despite playing with more truculent linemates than he’s accustomed to, Hodgson won’t change his style of play.
“I am going to keep playing the same way, create energy, get in on the forecheck, tire the other team out and not be a defensive liability, just try to create offense in the offensive zone and keep the puck down low,” said Hodgson.
The Canucks are 28-73-13 all time against the Habs, an imbalance easily attributed to the horrors of pitting an expansion franchise against the virtually unbeatable Montreal teams of the 1970’s. Vancouver, however, has won the last eight meetings against the Canadiens at Rogers Arena and is 6-0-1 at home against Eastern Conference teams this season.
Roberto Luongo gets the start tonight. He is 9-10-3 all time versus the Habs, with a 2.42 GAA and a .942 save percentage. He’ll play against BC native Carey Price. Price is having a bounce back season after a rough 2009-10. He is 27-20-6 with a 2.42 GAA and a .919 save percentage.
Canucks winger Mikael Samuelsson will play in his 600th game in the NHL tonight.
When the Montreal Canadiens come to town they bring memories of their illustrious history with them. 23 Stanley Cups. Richard, Beliveau, Dryden, Lafleur. And although the luster of championships has faded and the dynasties have been dismantled, the team remains an embodiment of hockey lore.
It’s a game circled on many a calendar, especially for a few Canucks players and coaches who have roots in Quebec.
“Growing up there and watching them play as a kid and watching them win the Stanley Cup in ’86 and ’93, so it’s nice to be playing against them tonight,” said Montreal native Alex Burrows.
Coach Alain Vigneault grew up in Quebec City, but he too lived in a Habs household.
“Montreal has always been my father’s favorite team, until a couple of years ago when I can to Vancouver, but, obviously as a francophone the Montreal Canadiens are a big thing,” said Vigneault.
While Roberto Luongo, a childhood admirer of Grant Fuhr, was a bit of rarity in Canadiens mad Montreal.
“It was always on the TV growing up, and as I got older I started liking Patrick (Roy) and the way he played the game, but I was always an Oilers fan,” said Luongo.
Goaltending coach Rollie Melanson, also has a history with the Canadiens, having spent twelve seasons as an assistant in Montreal.
VINTAGE NIGHT/LUONGO’S NEW MASK
It’s vintage night tonight at Rogers Arena.
The Canucks will don their original jerseys, while Roberto Luongo will sport a new vintage inspired mask.
“I wanted to do something for the 40th anniversary, it’s just something that commemorates a bit of the history and the beginnings of the jersey,” said Luongo.
The mask features a blue and green ‘V’ its lower half, with the famous stick logo emblazoned above.