A HEALTHIER BLUELINE
Heading into game one, the Canucks blueline is a little bit healthier. Sami Salo skated with the team again today and is ready to dress for Thursday's match against the Los Angeles Kings, where he will likely skate alongside Alex Edler.
Shane O'Brien will also return to the lineup for Thursday's game and will likely be paired with Christian Ehrhoff, and Kevin Bieksa with Andrew Alberts. Bieksa played an impressive game last Saturday against the Calgary Flames recording three points (two goals, one assist).
"From Kevin we need to a see a good balance between defence and offence," said head coach Alain Vigneault. "We need to see him being physical and solid defensively, but when that opportunity is there to join the rush, we need to see that from him. He has really good instincts and really good vision. With Andrew, we need him to stay back, have a physical presence, and be a stay at home type defender."
Defenceman Aaron Rome skated on his own again this morning but is still day-to-day with his injury.
"My expectations towards him are still day-to-day," said Vigneault. "I'm not holding a really high percentage for him [to play] tomorrow."
With the return of key defencemen, Vancouver Canucks President & General Manager Mike Gillis announced today that defenceman Evan Oberg has been re-assigned to the AHL's Manitoba Moose.
The 22 year old has played 70 games with the Moose this season recording 26 points (3-23-26) and 64 penalty minutes. He led all the Moose defenceman in scoring. He appeared in just two games with the Canucks this season.
The 6'1", 180 lbs defenceman from Forestburg, AB, was signed as a free agent on April 7, 2009.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SPECIAL TEAMS
With the increased pressure in the post-season, staying out of the box, killing penalties, and taking advantage when on the power-play is crucial.
The Canucks and the Kings were neck and neck when it came to the power-play and penalty killing during the regular season. The Canucks were 20.9% on the man advantage, while the Kings finished at 20.8%. On the penalty kill, Vancouver was 81.6% and LA closed out the season at 80.3%.
Vancouver has recorded 68 power-play goals this season. The Kings aren’t far behind with 64, and both teams have let in six short-handed goals. Kings’ lead scorer Anze Kopitar netted 14 power-play goals this year, more than any Canuck. Vancouver is fifth in the league for penalties (461), while the Kings are 16th with 391. To excel against an equally strong team when it comes to the PP and the PK, the Canucks will have to step it up a notch in both areas and try to stay out of the box.
Alex Burrows may find himself on not just the PK, but the PP as well. He has proved he plays one of the biggest roles on the PK, scoring the most short-handed goals in the league (5), and putting him on the power-play could provide more scoring opportunities.
"In that situation, it's just him or Bernier," said Alain Vigneault. "It's about a net-front presence. We have two defencemen there who shoot the puck really well. For that shot to be effective, we need a good net-front presence. Bernier's really good, and Alex likes to go there too. It just depends on our feel during the game."
Burrows has scored four power-play goals this season, the same number as line mate Henrik Sedin, who is seen regularly on the PP.
"It gives us a different look with a lefty out there," said Ryan Kesler. "Him and Bernie do the same job, stand in front and try to take the goalie's eyes away. If he does get in, we're going to need him to produce, and he knows that."
With Ryan Johnson out 4-6 weeks with a broken foot, Matt Pettinger will have to fill his shoes as an experienced penalty killer. Before becoming a Canuck, Pettinger played seven seasons with the Washington Capitals where he recorded eight short-handed goals.
"I think he's ready, he has a lot of experience," said Kyle Wellwood. "He's played with a few different teams. He's a good guy, he's solid, and he knows what he needs to do out there. There's no doubt he'll be ready."
Having averaged 3.6 more penalty minutes per game than the Kings, it’s important for the Canucks to take advantage of every power-play opportunity and perfect their special teams.
"Obviously you want to be out there to try and put the team ahead, especially the special teams that are such a big part of the game," said Burrows. "If I can help out on the power-play, that's great. At the same time the penalty kill's as important and I have a big role in that department. I've been double shifting on the PK lately, that's fine with me. Whatever Alain feels is the best way to manage the minutes, my ice time, and for the team to be successful, I'm willing to do whatever it takes."