The Vancouver Canucks (30-10-9) will host a hot Nashville Predators team (27-16-6) in their final game before the all-star break tonight at Rogers Arena.
Nashville has won 10 of their last 13 games, averaging 3.5 goals per game during the span. It’s the first meeting between the two clubs this season, with the teams splitting their head to head matchup two games apiece last season.
The Canucks are 27-15-3 all time against the Predators, including a 14-6-2 mark at home, their third best home record among teams in the Western Conference.
Nashville sit 4th in the Western Conference this year, a surprise for many who criticized the team’s lack of offensive depth at the beginning of the season. The Predators are winning through team defense and scoring-by-committee; they feature 10 different players who’ve registered between 6 and 15 goals this season.
“They are really well structured in all three zones, they compete real hard and obviously they’ve been getting great goaltending this year,” said Coach Vigneault. “We’re going to have to play our best game on the ice tonight”.
This evening’s matchup could be a defensive battle; it features two teams tied for 3rd place in Goals Allowed. The Canucks, however, are far ahead in the Goals For department, having scored 30 more than the Predators this season
Goaltender Pekka Rinne has been spectacular for the Predators this season, going 17-12-4, and sitting 2nd in the NHL in Goals Against Average (2.11) and Save Percentage (.928).
The Canucks are no slouches in the goaltending department either; quietly, Roberto Luongo is dominating, going 15-1-5 with a 1.96 GAA and a .936 save percentage in 21 games since late November. He will start in net tonight for the Canucks.
Vancouver is coming off a 7-1 drubbing of the Dallas Stars last Monday night, which saw 14 different players register at least a point.
“It would be nice to feed off of last game, it was a big stepping stone for us after some mediocre hockey and we’d like to follow it up with a strong performance heading into the all-star break,” said Kevin Bieksa.
Alex Edler is suffering from back spasms and is a game time decision. If he can’t go, defenseman Lee Sweatt will get his first NHL start. He has 14 points for the Moose this season in 41 games played.
After the game the Canucks have the rest of the month off, resuming play in Dallas on February 4th.
Dan Hamhuis plays his first game against the team that drafted 12th overall in 2001 tonight. Hamhuis played in 483 games for the Nashville Predators, registering 32 goals, 129 assists and 161 points in six seasons.
“Certainly there will be a little bit of emotion in the game for me, but I’m going to approach it the same way I approach every game,” said Hamhuis. “I just have to make sure I change into the right bench tonight”.
The game also marks the return of former Canucks defensemen Shane O’Brien to Vancouver. O’Brien was traded this offseason along with Dan Gendur to Nashville for Ryan Parent and Jonas Andersson. In 47 games for the Predators this season, he has eight points and 43 penalty minutes.
Tonight is the first time 2010 Olympian, and BC native Shea Weber will play in Vancouver since winning gold last February for team Canada. Weber is having another Norris trophy caliber season for the Predators, leading the team in scoring with 29 points in 49 games.
“He’s got one of the hardest shots I’ve ever seen, he doesn’t get out of position,” said Olympic teammate Roberto Luongo. “Hes’ not a guy that’s flashy and usually for a defenseman that’s a good sign”.