The Canucks hit the midway mark of their season tonight when they welcome popular former teammate Eddie Lack and the Carolina Hurricanes to Rogers Arena.
A year ago as the Canucks approached the midway mark, they found themselves in a top-three position in their division and with 23 wins to their credit. It's a much different story this time around with Vancouver set to play their 41st game tonight. Not only are they eight wins behind their pace from a year ago, but they also find themselves outside the playoff picture after dropping a crucial four-point swing game to the Coyotes on Monday - a team they happen to be chasing in the standings. The playoff race will take a backseat somewhat tonight, however, with the main focus of tonight's game being the return of Eddie Lack to Vancouver for the first time since he was traded to Carolina in the off-season much to the disappointment of many of his fans.
The Hurricanes, coming off a 1-0 overtime loss in Edmonton on Monday, are in a very similar situation as the Canucks as they also find themselves currently outside the playoff picture and needing every point they can get to try and stay within striking distance of a spot. Also like the Canucks, they're dealing with injuries to key players including speedy forward Nathan Gerbe and stalwart defenceman James Wisniewski. The Canucks, however, will get some good news on the injury front with forwards Brandon Prust and Sven Baertschi expected to return tonight. Forwards Ronalds Kenins and Alex Grenier were sent back to Utica (AHL) yesterday in anticipation of the returning players. Defenceman Alexander Edler missed practice yesterday with the flu but should be able to go if he feels better today. Jacob Markstrom is expected to get his sixth straight start in place of the injured Ryan Miller. Markstrom won his lone career start against the Hurricanes while as a member of the Panthers way back in March 2013.
Puck drop at 7 pm PT – Live on Sportsnet Pacific, TSN 1040, or online at tsn1040.ca.
Regular Season Record
2015.16 Season Series
Last 10 games
Last 10 head-to-head
'Change is coming' was the slogan for the Canucks a year ago when Eddie Lack was a member of the team. Apparently he's brought that with him to Carolina. Since the 2005.06 season when Cam Ward took over as the number one netminder in Carolina and promptly led them to a Stanley Cup win, he has been mostly uncontested as the go-to-guy in net. But it would appear now he has a legitimate challenger in the form of former Canuck Eddie Lack. Lack didn't get his Hurricane career off to a strong note as he saw limited action and won just one of his first seven starts but since then he seems to have earned the trust of Coach Bill Peters. Lack started three straight games from December 8 to 12, and tonight will mark his third start in the last four games. It's hard to argue with letting him run with the ball right now if you're the Hurricanes. He's 4-0-2 in his last six outings and, in his last three starts, has allowed just five goals on 89 shots for a save percentage of .944. The Hurricanes as a team have been very stingy of late. They've held their opponents to two-or-fewer goals in eight of their last nine outings, while surrendering just one power play goal against in their last dozen games.
Their stingy defence coupled with strong goaltending has been the reason why they've managed to stay in the playoff race and pick up points because their offence has not found a way to keep up. Carolina ranks near the bottom of the league in goals scored although their 92 goals in 40 games played is just two behind Vancouver's 94 goals in 40 games. It appears the days of Eric and Jordan Staal being considered premier offensive players are over as both have struggled to hit the scoresheet although Eric is third in team scoring with 24 points despite being on pace to finish with his lowest point totals since his rookie campaign. Justin Faulk, who has emerged as one of the league's most consistent offensive blue-liners in recent years, is having another fine campaign. He leads the team with 30 points and is on pace to best his career-high of 49 points set last season. His 14 goals are also one shy of equaling his career-high and is second on the team behind only Jeff Skinner's 15. What's most notable is that Faulk leads the team in shots as well with 117. That's indicative of how good his offensive instincts are but also perhaps an indictment of the team's forwards and their struggles.
Keys to the Game
Win it 5-on-5. Few teams have surrendered as many 5-on-5 goals as the Hurricanes with 74. In fact, Carolina has a -13 goal differential at 5-on-5 (Vancouver is at -5). With special teams, especially the power play, being a struggle for both teams, the Canucks have to make their mark at 5-on-5 against a team that has not been great there either.
Draw some calls. In their first 30 games of the season, the Canucks averaged 3.8 power plays per game. In their last 10 outings, they've averaged just 1.9 per game. The power play hasn't been lights out but it has been streaky and after scoring last game has something it can build on.
Make it Eddie's night. Behind the goofy smile and fun-loving persona is an intense competitor. The Canes know how much winning this game would mean for their teammate so they'll want to step up their game as well to make sure Eddie has a triumphant homecoming.
Canucks Game Preview
By the Numbers
Game played needed by Linden Vey to reach 100 career games. He will reach that tonight if he dresses.
Straight head-to-head wins for the Canucks against the Hurricanes (last loss December 15, 2011).
USA-born defencemen on the Hurricanes roster. Carolina is 8-4-3 using an all-American blue-line full-time.
Straight home wins for the Canucks against the Hurricanes (last home loss October 15, 1999).
Minutes and 58 seconds of consecutive playing time without a goal scored by the Hurricanes entering play tonight.
Takeaways for the Hurricanes this season, tops in the NHL. (Vancouver has 194, near the bottom of the league).