Pavol Demitra fully participated in practice this morning and looks ready to make his 2009.10 season debut after off-season shoulder surgery sidelined him for the first 47 games.
“I’m excited,” said Demitra, who underwent two operations to repair front and back rotator cuff tears. “I finally I got a line, and got to play with the guys, it’s a good feeling. The last couple days I’ve felt great on the ice and just going to see how it goes tomorrow morning in the skate.”
If all goes well tomorrow, the 34 year-old Slovak will join a line with Kyle Wellwood and Jannik Hansen.
“My hope is that if I get to play with [Demitra] that he starts getting some goals, putting up points and that I get to keep him on my line,” said Wellwood. “He’s got a great shot, good passer, and he’s quick.”
Aaron Rome returned to practice for the first time since head blow from a Taylor Pyatt hit against the Coyotes January 7th that resulted in a gash on his cheek. Vigneault said he expects Rome to be available for tomorrow’s game against the Pittsburg Penguins.
Ryan Johnson also participated in practice but is still a week away from joining the team. He’s expected to dress next Wednesday against the Oilers at the earliest.
Of more concern, both Steve Bernier and Willie Mitchell left practice early.
Mitchell’s back was still bothering him after a big hit from Derek Boogaard against the Wild on Wednesday, while Bernier is still nursing a sore groin. He’s missed the last two games and the Canucks’ forecheck has suffered as a result.
“Steve’s groin is not quite there yet so he’s going to need a couple more days,” said Coach Alain Vigneault. “We’ll figure out what the line is going to look like tomorrow.”
As for lines, the coaching staff left the combinations un-touched, save for the third line where Demitra slotted in for Tanner Glass who dropped down on a grinding unit with Rick Rypien and Darcy Hordichuk.
PENGUINS BACK IN VAN
The Pittsburg Penguins are back for the first time since December 8, 2007 when they topped the Canucks 2-1 in shootout.
The Penguins, last year’s Stanley Cup Champions, currently sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with 61 points (30-18-1).
Pittsburg goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury did not attend the practice in Vancouver today due to a fractured left ring finger, and is considered day-to-day. He suffered the injury in Thursday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers.
“It doesn’t happen very often, it just kind of squeezed between my gloves and my pads and got me in a bad spot,” said Fleury.
Fleury hopes to be well enough to play tomorrow against the Canucks. If not, John Curry will step in.
“I was kind of looking forward to play here and to play against the Canucks,” said Fleury. “We’ll see tomorrow.”
Though a negative for the Penguins, this could be a positive for the Canucks. So far this season Fleury has played 41 games, with a 24-14-1 record, and a .908 save percentage. He ranks fourth in the NHL for number of wins.
Curry, 25, was called up January 11th to replace Brent Johnson. Curry made his NHL debut last season playing in three games for Pittsburgh where he posted a 2-1 record, 2.40 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.
All the talk after the Penguins skate today at General Motors Place was of Sydney Crosby’s return to Vancouver, and his penalty shot in the match two years ago on December 8, where he was shut out by Roberto Luongo.
“It was a great atmosphere,” said Crosby. “It’s the only time I’ve ever played here. Getting that penalty shot, it would’ve been nice to put it in. It was a great game I remember everyone pretty much standing in overtime. It was an exciting game and it’s a great atmosphere to play here so we’re all excited and looking forward to it.”
Crosby leads his team with 57 points (30-27-57) this season. He will also be joining his current opponent, Roberto Luongo on Team Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Tomorrow will be his first taste of being in Vancouver and playing at GM Place, and causes him to begin to think about the upcoming Olympics.
“It’s hard not to, you see the countdown everywhere,” said Crosby. “You see everything being built and things like that so it’s pretty hard not to think about it a bit. But once you get into a game day it’s pretty easy, but it’s nice and it’s exciting to see all that stuff coming up.”
Former Canuck Matt Cooke is also excited to be back in Vancouver, and to play the Canucks.
“My family made Vancouver home for a long time,” said Cookie. “The fans were amazing to me and my family. I just want to share what happened last year with my friends in Vancouver.”
Since joining the Penguins in 2008, Cooke has settled in nicely and so far this season has 21 points (9-12-21).
“I do enjoy the opportunity to be out there,” said Cooke. “I’ve been fortunate enough to play 15, 16, sometimes 20 minutes a game. To be counted on and depended on like that is amazing and I really enjoy that.”
The Penguins have won five out of their last six games, but do not take Vancouver lightly. The last game between the two teams resulted in a 3-1 win for the Canucks.
“We want to finish well. For the most part our game has been there and this is going to be one of the bigger tests we’ve had so far.”