‘Tis the game before Christmas as the Vancouver Canucks (21-11-6) host the Winnipeg Jets (16-16-5) at Rogers Arena. Actually it’s only the game before Christmas for the Canucks as the Jets move on to face Edmonton tomorrow night before their holiday break.
Both teams are coming off victories on Friday night. Vancouver beat Chicago 3-2 in an eight-round shootout in the Windy City while the Jets downed Florida 5-2 on home ice.
The Canucks are 8-1-1 in their past 10 games and a huge reason for that that is a five-game home ice win streak after sweeping their last homestand. The Canucks are 6-1-1 in their last eight at Rogers Arena. Kevin Bieksa will play in his 500th regular-season NHL game tonight.
Daniel Sedin’s third period goal on Friday was his 12th of the season matching his total from the lockout-shortened season a year ago. The Canucks are now 10-2 when Daniel scores a goal. Mike Santorelli logged a healthy 10:04 of ice time in the third period on Friday night. The best penalty kill in the NHL (90.2%) held Chicago’s red-hot power play to just two shots on four opportunities and is now 29/30 (96.7%) in 10 games in December.
Eddie Lack made 24 saves during Friday’s game and seven more in the shootout to improve to 5-2 on the season with a sparkling 1.98 GAA and 92.7% save percentage. He’s now in the top five in the NHL among rookie netminders in all three of those statistical categories. Lack will likely watch from the bench tonight as Roberto Luongo is expected to return to the net after getting pulled in the third period in Dallas on Thursday.
The Jets fly into town for their second visit to Vancouver since returning to the NHL at the start of the 2011-12 season. The Canucks were 3-2 winners in the only other meeting on March 8, 2012. Although they beat Florida on Friday, the Jets arrive here 2-3-1 in their last six games and with six victories in their past 16 (6-7-3). North Vancouver’s Evander Kane led the way on Friday with a 1+1=2 in the win over Florida. Bryan Little leads the team with 14 goals and 31 points. Dustin Byfuglien is the team’s top set-up man with 20 assists and is 4th among NHL defensemen with 26 points. Rookie Mark Schiefle, the 7th pick in the 2011 draft, had two assists Friday and carries a five-game point streak (3+4=7) into tonight’s action.
Winnipeg keeps things tight -- 14 of their past 18 games have been decided by two or fewer. Only Calgary and New Jersey have played more games this season decided by a single goal than the 21 the Jets have played.
Winnipeg had its fourth multi-PPG game of the season on Friday. The Jets are 7/23 (30.4%) in their last six games. However, they have scored the fewest road power play goals in the league this season 4/53 (7.6%).
Should this game go to a shootout, the Jets are ready. They’ve been to the skill-competition nine times already this season. Andrew Ladd is tied for the league-lead in shootout goals with six in nine attempts. And Ondrej Pavlevec leads the NHL with five shootout victories.
There are many Winnipeg connections in the Canucks organization: assistant general manager Laurence Gilman is from Winnipeg and worked for the original Jets franchise. Dale Weise hails from the Manitoba capital. Kevin Bieksa, Chris Tanev, Ryan Kesler, Jannik Hansen and Eddie Lack (along with injured players Alex Burrows, Alex Edler and Jordan Schroeder) all spent time in Winnipeg with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. Mike Santorelli played 10 games with the Jets last season. And Daniel and Henrik Sedin along with Roberto Luongo all competed in the 1999 World Junior Hockey Championship in Winnipeg.