After suffering from a tweaked groin on January 9 against the Calgary Flames, Steve Bernier is back after missing three games and will play tonight against the Edmonton Oilers.
Bernier’s return shakes up the lines as he is expected to join Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond. That moves Mikael Samuelsson, who will likely centre a line with Pavol Demitra and Tanner Glass. This leaves Kyle Wellwood out of the line-up tonight.
Before his injury, Bernier had 18 points (10-8-18), and chipped in last season with 32 points (15-17-32) in 81 games.
Ryan Johnson did travel with the team but will not play tonight to ensure full recovery of his foot.
Defenceman Willie Mitchell did not travel with the team to Edmonton, still recovering from a hit from Pittsburg Penguin forward Evgeni Malkin, and leaves a gap in the Canucks defensive line.
This makes room for Aaron Rome, who will make his return to the lineup after suffering a concussion on January 7 against the Phoenix Coyotes. Rome skated with Brad Lukowich at Tuesday’s practice, while Sami Salo skated with Alex Edler, and Christian Ehrhoff with Shane O’Brien.
"I got through all the tests and I am ready to go," said Rome to Brad Ziemer from the Vancouver Sun. "They put me through the paces this week. I am just preparing to play like any other day."
Rome has played 16 games for the Canucks this season.
GAME DAY NOTES
Tonight the Canucks play their fifth game of the season against the Oilers, and hope to excel the way they did on Saturday when they beat the Pittsburg Penguins 6-2.
The two points would move the Canucks to 60 points in the standings. That would move them out of a second place tie with the Flames (26-18-6) in the Northwest Division, and creep closer to the first place Colorado Avalanche (28-15-6).
The Canucks have beat the Oilers three out of the four games this season, 2-0 on October 25, 7-3 on November 28, and 4-1 on December 26. The first match against the Oilers on October 19 was a close one but ended at 2-1 in favour of Edmonton.
The success of the Canucks against the Oilers this season is a definite transition from the win-lose-win-lose pattern the two teams faced last season. Out of the six games between them in 2008-09, the victories alternated, leaving both teams with three wins and three losses. Even though the Canucks have triumphed in their last three matches against Edmonton, they do not take this team lightly.
“They’re the guys you’ve got to be extra careful of because obviously they’re going to be playing angry and it’s always a battle against those guys,” said Ryan Kesler. “We’ve got to worry about us and put a solid game on the ice.”
The Oilers have had a difficult time this season, and currently stand in last place in the Western Conference with 37 points (16-27-5). Their last match on Monday against Colorado ended in 6-0, and was the Oiler’s eighth loss in a row.
The Oilers have earned only three points in their last 16 games, one point on January 5 against the Coyotes in OT, and their only win during that span on December 30 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. In their last seven, the Oilers have given up at least three goals per game.
The Oilers’ lack of success this season could be rooted in the number of injuries the team has faced. Out right now due to injury is goalie Nikolai Khabuilin (back surgery), defenceman Steve Staios (concussion), and forwards Mike Comrie (mononucleosis), Gilbert Brule (flu), Ethan Moreau (neck), Ales Hemsky (shoulder surgery) and Ryan Stone (knee).
The Canucks know what it’s like dealing with injuries, and know that a team can still play strong even in the absence of players.
“The league is so tough, get a few injuries, and it’s tough to win in this game,” said Daniel Sedin. “They’ve had a tough season but I’m sure they want to win a lot of games and show everyone that they can play in this league. They’re not going to give us the win, we’re gonna have to go there and play the same way we did against Pittsburg.”
The Canucks expect a hard fought game from the Oilers and hope to gain a fourth consecutive win against them. They know never to underestimate the underdog, and play as hard as they would do against any team in the NHL.
“We’ve always felt that Edmonton is a good team,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “Our games against them are always, and I’ve said this every time we’ve played against them, they’re always emotional, they’re always very physical, they’re always very intense. Yes, their record as of late has not been real good but against us they seem to get up and they seem to play a tough brand of hockey, and it just makes us get ready for it. That’s what I think our guys are expecting.”