ALBERTS SLOTS IN
New Canuck defenceman Andrew Alberts will dress tonight when the Canucks face the Chicago Blackhawks.
He will skate with Aaron Rome leaving Nolan Baumgartner out for tonight's game.
"He's obviously going to play a regular shift on D, and get an opportunity to kill a little bit of penalties,” said head coach Alain Vigneault. “He's a stay-at-home type D, and we're going to use him to his strengths."
All other lines from last match against the Detroit Red Wings are intact, and once again Darcy Hordichuk will be the healthy scratch.
GAME DAY NOTES
Today the Canucks play in the windy city against the Chicago Blackhawks. After winning their first two matches since the Olympic break, the Canucks hope to extend their streak tonight.
It will be the fourth and final match between the Canucks and the Hawks this season. The series is 2-1 in favour of the Canucks, and in their last meeting on January 23 the Canucks came out on top winning 5-1.
Last season the series was even at 2-2 before the playoffs where the Canucks lost to the Hawks in the second round in six games. The Hawks went on to play the Detroit Red Wings in round three but were defeated.
The Blackhawks (42-16-5) sat first in the West until the San Jose Sharks (41-14-9) inched ahead of them by two points after a 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens Thursday, putting them in second. The Canucks (39-22-2) sit in third place and are only nine points shy of the Blackhawks, and with 19 games left in the season there is a chance to catch up.
The Hawks had a nine game winning streak earlier in January, but as of late have given up four or more goals in seven of their past 16 games, including three of their past four.
Even so, the Canucks know the skill and potential that the Blackhawks possess as they’ll be facing not only highly skilled players, but friends and former teammates of the 2010 Olympics.
Canuck forward Ryan Kesler will face former USA teammate and good friend Patrick Kane, who leads the Hawks in scoring with 72 points (26-46-72).
“He doesn’t have a weakness, he is a great playmaker, has some of the best hands I have ever seen and a quick shot,” Kesler told Brad Ziemer of the Vancouver Sun. “And obviously you guys know he has lots of speed, so he’s a very dangerous player.”
Pavol Demitra reunites with Slovakian line mates Marian Hossa (18-18-36) and Tomas Kopecky (4-8-12), while Roberto Luongo will be blocking shots by former Canadian teammates Jonathan Toews (20-33-53), Duncan Keith (11-45-56), and Brent Seabrook (3-19-22).
Luongo had a 3.52 GAA in the playoff series last season against Chicago, but is 4-1-0 with a 1.41 GAA in his last seven regular-season starts against them.
A win for the Canucks today is crucial in order to keep first place in the Northwest division and rise in the West as the playoff push begins.
LOOKING TO THE CUP
After missing the playoffs two years ago and being knocked out last season by the Blackhawks in round two, could this be the year that the Canucks go all the way?
The Stanley Cup remains elusive to Vancouver, despite a magical run in 1994 when the Canucks came in at seventh in the West, before succeeding in the first few rounds defeating the Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs. The New York Rangers were too much in a final series that went a full seven games.
Before the Olympic break, the Canucks had 76 points (37-22-2). They had 194 goals, 126 that were scored by the Canucks top two lines, and only 33 scored by the third and fourth lines.
Yet in their first two games back after the break, the third line has scored three goals, two from Kyle Wellwood (9-9-18) and one from Mikael Samuelsson (22-19-41).
The Canucks were also unsure of where Pavol Demitra would fit in after he returned from his shoulder injury. After his impressive performance in the 2010 Olympics becoming the lead scorer 10 points (3-7-10), he has moved to the second line with Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond and has scored one goal.
Even before the Olympics, Ryan Kesler (18-39-57) was on a five game point streak and extended that into the two post-Olympic games scoring two goals and one assist.
The Canucks have developed a reputation of losing to bottom feeders with a 21-14-1 record against the teams currently below the top eight, and an 18-8-1 record against the top eight teams. For the last 19 games left, 12 of them are against teams currently in the top eight spots, and if the Canucks continue to excel against potential playoff opponents in both the regular season and the playoffs, there’s no doubting that they have a chance.
The Canucks hope that the addition of defenceman Andrew Alberts and anticipated return of Kevin Bieksa will create a talented and healthy blue line. If the Canucks’ top two lines continue to produce, and if the third and fourth line follow suit, the Canucks could be a strong contender in the playoffs.