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Canucks Report - Game night in Calgary

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks

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The Vancouver Canucks (27-21-8) and the Calgary Flames (33-18-5) face off tonight in a key divisional battle. The players expect it to be an intense and physical game.

The Canucks are in Calgary for the first game of their four-game Canadian road trip. The team has found their stride and look to rein in the Northwest division leading Flames.

Head coach Alain Vigneault is not expected to make any changes to the lineup.

Defenceman Sami Salo did not practice yesterday because of a hamstring problem, but will play tonight. Shane O'Brien and Kyle Wellwood will also suit up, while Rob Davison and Mason Raymond will be healthy scratches.

After sitting out for four games as a scratch O'Brien returned for the 4-3 win over Phoenix and in the past three games has tallied two assists and accumulated no penalty minutes.

"[O'Brien] can stay [in the lineup] consistently if his play stays consistent," said Vigneault. "With Shane I think it's a matter of him playing with the edge that he needs to play with and staying out of the box for cheesy penalties that I call the little hooks or slashes or holdings. He's got to be physical and move the puck quick. When he moves the puck quick and he closes the gap, he's a good defenceman and if he does that he can stay in the lineup."

The Western Conference playoff race remains very close. The Canucks have picked up their game and look to close the gap between them and the Flames.

"I think right now we're just trying to win games and get points," said Kevin Bieksa. "The standings are so tight that, if you have a bad game and don't get any points and everyone else wins, all of the sudden you're out of the playoff race.

"So the main focus is to win games and kind of glance a bit at Calgary. If we beat them in the two games we have left against them, we're only five points behind and then they're definitely within our reach. We know this is probably the biggest game of the road trip."

The Canucks are 2-2-0 against the Flames in their four previous meetings this season and sit in seventh position in the Western Conference, nine points behind the third place Calgary squad.

Tonight's match up is a measuring stick for the Canucks as they compare their improved play to one of the top teams in the West.

"I look at this game more as an opportunity to measure ourselves against the best team in our division and one of the best teams in the NHL for probably close to two months," Vigneault said. "They really got on a tear. I know they lost a couple of games a couple of weeks ago but, prior to that, they were in the San Jose-Detroit-Boston category.

"So it's going to be interesting to see where we are against that team.

Tonight’s game faces off at 6:30pm PST and can be seen on Rogers Sportsnet Pacific.


Calgary head coach Mike Keenan suggested this morning following his teams morning skate that Canuck defenceman Willie Mitchell uses an illegal stick. Keenan would not confirm whether he would call for a measurement tonight.

Mitchell told reporters who brought the accusation to his attention that Keenan was wrong, his stick in 63 inches the NHL maximum. The assistant captain took Keenan's worry as a compliment.

"When people say I've got a good stick, it's because I'm in the right place at the right time. But that's good, that's he worrying about me.

"That's what happens when one player has a lot of success against [Jarome Iginla]. I'm taking it as a compliment because he’s worried about me playing against Jarome.”

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