BACK TO REALITY
The Canucks skate today in Columbus to start the second half of their epic road trip. The Olympians fly in to join them after an amazing 3-2 overtime victory for Team Canada Sunday afternoon over the United States.
It was announced yesterday that defenceman Nolan Baumgartner has been recalled to the Canucks after being re-assigned to the Manitoba Moose for the the two week Olympic break.
Baumgartner has played eight games with the Canucks this season, scoring one goal on February 12 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He has appeared in 37 games this season with the Moose accumulating 12 points (3-9-12), five of which he recorded during the Olympic break (3 goals, 2 assists).
Defenceman Kevin Bieksa is travelling and skating with the team after being out for 21 games with an ankle laceration.
"I planned all along to join the team on the road after regardless if I was playing or not, but the best thing right now is to skate with the team," said Bieksa. "I'm able to do that so staying away from the contact for the next little while, I can do pretty much anything else."
Whether or not Bieksa will find himself on the ice for any of the six upcoming road games is uncertain, but nonetheless he is healing quicker than he had anticipated.
"He's looked real good on the ice," said coach Alain Vigneault. "Obviously the tendon is still only 50 or 60 percent healed, so I would say there's a minute chance that he might play on this trip, probably the logical thing to assume is maybe when we get back, the first time when we get back home would be more realistic."
However defenceman Willie Mitchell has not re-joined the team after experiencing continued concussion symptoms. He has missed 13 games since suffering his injury and remains day-to-day.
RAYCROFT TO START AGAINST BLUE JACKETS
Andrew Raycroft will start in net tomorrow against the Blue Jackets giving Roberto Luongo a break after playing straight through the Olympic games and winning gold with Team Canada.
Raycroft has played 14 games that included nine starts with five wins in those nine games and one win in a relief effort against his former team, Toronto in late January.
The last time Raycroft started was against the Blue Jackets, where he recorded a 4-3 win in Columbus. He did see action in the Canucks final game before the Olympic breakas well in Minnesota on February 14, where he played just under 12 minutes in a 6-2 loss to the Wild. He let in one goal on nine shots in that appearance.
He has a .912 save percentage and 2.31 GAA so far this season. Last season he played 31 games with the Colorado Avalanche with 12 wins and 16 losses.
Luongo was exceptional despite the high pressure gold medal game against the Americans Sunday. In the five Olympic matches Luongo was undefeated and had a save .927 percentage, and a 1.76 GAA.
Luongo will face Canadian teammate Rick Nash (28-29-57), who recorded five points in the Olympic games (2-3-5) and the Blue Jackets welcome back their captain, who they hope can carry the momentum he had during the Olympics into the playoff stretch.
"We want to use a guy like Rick, he's a world class player, and have him with the puck and around the net as much as we can," assistant coach Gary Agnew told Jeff Rimer of Jackets TV. "You put those things together and hopefully we'll get a successful power play."
Though the Olympics was a break for most Canuck players, it was an confidence booster for Canuck forward Pavol Demitra, who was the leading scorer of the Games with 10 points (3-7-10).
Demitra returned to the team on January 16 after missing the first half of the season with a shoulder injury. Since his return, he is a plus-3 and has a goal and three assists in 11 games. In the 2008-09 season with the Canucks he recorded 53 points (20-33-53).
The Canucks hope his recent Olympic successes will translate back to the team as the team prepares for the playoff push.
FIGHT FOR THE NORTHWEST
Before the Olympic break, the Canucks (37-22-2) found themselves tied with the Colorado Avalanche (35-20-6), with 76 points each.
The Canucks have two more wins than the Avs, giving them the slight edge and currently, first place in the Northwest but with Colorado in action tonight, that could change immediately. They begin their quest for the post-season tonight against the Detroit Red Wings.
The teams in the West from third place to eleventh are separated by only nine points, and teams from fourteenth place to eighth place also separated by nine points, meaning the last few playoff spots could be taken by any of those teams. With not much breathing room, the Canucks will have to work extremely hard to ensure a playoff position.
Last season held a similar situation where Vancouver finished the regular season in third place with 100 points (45-27-10) in the West, and the teams from sixth to twelfth place were separated by only nine points, where all of those teams fought for the last few playoff positions.
In one month and ten days consisting of 21 games, the Canucks hope to hold their playoff spot, and that begins with a match against the Blue Jackets tomorrow.