PREPARING FOR CROSS COUNTRY TRIP
The team held a practice this afternoon, a few hours before they were scheduled to be on a plane heading to Calgary for the beginning of their four-game road trip. Defenceman Sami Salo
was notably absent. Lawrence Nycholat skated in his place.
“[Salo's] got a hamstring problem,” said head coach Alain Vigneault. “We’re hoping by giving him today off and working on him that he should be alright tomorrow. So we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”
Nycholat has missed six games with a groin injury and while he is not ready to return to the lineup he will join the team on the road and continue practicing.
“From what I saw, [Nycholat's] better, but he’s still not where he needs to be. This was his first skate in the last couple of weeks, I don’t think he’s as close as he [needs to be]. He’s going to take some time.”
The practice focused on penalty killing, an area that hasn’t been up to the team's standards. The Canucks are currently 25th in the NHL at 78.4 percent on the penalty kill.
“It’s very important, we’ve been saying it for quite some time that it is one area of our game that needs to improve,” said Vigneault. “[It starts with] winning the draw, to clearing the puck, to getting the save, to blocking shots and blocking lanes. Those are all things that we need to do better.
“We’ve got the personnel to easily be in the top three and we were number one a couple years ago, so there is no reason for us not to aim to get back to those standards.”
The Canucks made significant improvement last night in their effort to take fewer penalties as they head into a week long road trip and face stiff competition in Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal. The Canucks didn't take a single penalty against the Canadiens Sunday night.
“[Not giving up one power play in a game is] something that doesn’t occur very often in today’s NHL,” said Vigneault. “We have been stressing to our players, keep your feet moving, keep your sticks on the ice. We’ve been doing that for quite some time and last night, obviously not going in the box was an important thing [in the outcome].”FOCUSING ON CALGARY
Reporters were eager to talk to Mats Sundin about returning to Toronto for his first game against his old club since joining the Canucks. And while the Swedish centre is excited to return, he is taking the same approach that Vigneault is advocating, focusing on one game at a time.
“We’ll start with Calgary. It should be fun, it’s a big rivalry. We’ll start there and go from there,” said Sundin.
“It’s not going to be hard not to look ahead [to the Toronto game on February 21st]. I mean look where we are in the standings, every game is a playoff-type game right now. There are so many teams around us in the standings, and you’re trying to secure a playoff spot, so that’s where I’m going to use my energy on just making sure we play the next game and when the Toronto game comes up we’ll worry about that.”
The Canucks hope to continue climbing the Western Conference standings on this all-Canadian road trip and improving their impressive February record of 5-1-0.
“This is a nice tour as far as staying within Canadian cities and playing in real big hockey environments,” said Vigneault.
“That being said it’s going to be very important, and I’m going to stress this tomorrow to our group, that we’re going to think about Calgary, we’re going to focus on that, we’re going to get that done and then we’ll focus on the next game. But we’re not going to look ahead here. It’s Calgary tomorrow and that’s what we’re going to concentrate on.
“We’ve got an opportunity tomorrow to measure ourselves against the best team in our division. The best team here in the NHL for probably close to two months… It’s going to be interesting to see where we are against that team and that’s what we’re going to focus on tomorrow.”
Coming off a 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens Sunday night at GM Place the Canucks are re-establishing the confidence that they had earlier in the season.
“Unfortunately every team goes through a down-phase in the season and I think we’ve been through ours and now we can refocus on playing our game, collecting wins, and obviously entering the top eight,” said captain Roberto Luongo
. “Right now entering every game we have the confidence that we can win no matter if we’re ahead or trailing or what the scenario is. We just stick to our game plan and we’ve been pretty successful.”