GAME DAY NOTES
By Elizabeth Moffat, Canucks.com
Only two points separate the Vancouver Canucks from the Columbus Blue Jackets, but in a Western league as tight as it is, two points mean the difference between a division leading third place and an out of playoff contention eleventh.
“It’s just one point separating us from [not having ] a playoff spot, so it’s unique,” said Kevin Bieksa. “The West is doing a great job, everyone seems to keep winning, and that’s what you have to do.”
Vancouver came out on top in all but the first of four meetings with Columbus last season. Since then, the Blue Jackets have found a new head coach, Scott Arniel, who is a familiar face to the Canuck faithful, having served as the head coach of the Canucks AHL affiliate the Manitoba Moose for the last four seasons.
Arniel won’t be the only man in the arena reunited with old friends. Rick Nash will return to Vancouver for the first time since winning Olympic Gold with team Canada in February. Nash is the only Blue Jacket to have double digit goals (17-8-25). On the Canucks side, Manny Malhotra, Raffi Torres and Aaron Rome all used to call Columbus home.
“It’s always a hard fought battle,” said Bieksa. “We have the extra incentive of winning this for Manny and Raffi, they have friends on the team, and we want to beat them.”
Columbus started the season with an impressive 8-1-0 record on the road, and is 0-3-1 in their last four road games.
“I think we’re going to be mentally prepared off the bat,” said Bieksa. “We know what they bring. Everyone says they’re the hardest working team in the NHL, they’ve had a really good year, and exceeded expectations.”
If the Canucks stay disciplined, they can take advantage of special teams tonight. Both the Canucks’ penalty kill and powerplay continue to be among the best in the league. Columbus however, is another story. Their penalty kill is ranked 22nd in the league, and the only team with a powerplay percentage lower than their 11.7% is the Florida Panthers.
“ We expect it to be hard, physical, a lot of the game will probably be played along the boards or in the corners.”
“They’re an honest team, they play a smart game” said head coach Alain Vigneault. “They play a hard fore check, puck pursuit game and they go to their strength, their size and they play hard.”
The old adage that the best offence is a strong defense is proving true for the Canucks D-line this season.
Coming off of an injury plagued defensive core last season, the Canucks focused on building up their defensive depth during the summer with the signing of Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard.
The strengthened defensive line proved it’s value Sunday night in Edmonton. The team allowed only 12 shots against all game, only two more than a franchise record best of 10 shots achieved on April 4, 1975 against the Minnesota North Stars.
The Oiler offence was shut down throughout the game. The late third period goal scored by Jordan Eberle was the first and only shot of the period.
"I thought it was a two-for-one night on the (shot clock) board. For every two shots I had, they only put one up," said Roberto Luongo.