The Vancouver Canucks resume their season following the NHL All-Star break tonight when they host the league-leading Anaheim Ducks for the second time this season.
When last we left the Canucks, things seemed to be on the upswing once again. Despite dropping a 4-1 decision in Tampa Bay to close out the five-game road swing, it was still a successful trip all things considered for Vancouver which finished with a 3-2-0 record and, as a result, were able to enter the break sitting in sole possession of third place in the Pacific Division, one point behind San Jose while still holding three games in hand on the Sharks. Thing weren't all rosy for Vancouver, however, as they lost Kevin Bieksa with a broken hand in the game against the Lightning and will now be forced to play without one of their top blue-liners for the foreseeable future. Brad Richardson, who missed the two games prior to the All-Star break with a lower body injury, appears ready to return to the lineup. Zack Kassian, who skated on the top line with the Sedin twins at yesterday's practice with All-Star Radim Vrbata in transit back from Columbus, seems likely to be the odd-man out up front.
The Canucks begin a critical stretch of their schedule starting tonight when they play the first of six straight games at Rogers Arena against the Ducks. While most teams would relish the opportunity to try and rack up some points with a string of games at home, Rogers Arena has not been too kind to the Canucks of late. They are 11-8-1 on home ice and have lost two in a row on home ice and three of their last five overall. Look for Ryan Miller to pick up his fifth consecutive start. He made 29 saves on 31 shots back on December 28 in a 2-1 overtime loss in Anaheim the last time the two teams met.
Puck drop at 7 pm PT – Live on Sportsnet Pacific, TSN 1040, or online at tsn1040.ca.
Regular Season Record
2014.15 Season Series
Last 10 games
Last 10 head-to-head
The Ducks emerge from the All-Star break as the runaway leader in the Pacific Division, not to mention in first place overall in the NHL, and were on quite a roll prior to the stoppage riding a five-game win streak and with seven victories in their last eight games overall. They haven't just been winning games lately, they've been steamrolling their opponents. Over their five-game win streak, they've out-scored their opponents by a combined 21-10 and have scored four-or-more goals in four of those outings.
Although the Ducks offence has been firing on all cylinders, don't expect this game to produce goals in bunches. If the previous games in the season series are any indication, this one will be a tight defensive affair and will come down to the wire. All three previous games have gone beyond regulation – the Ducks lead the series two wins to one – and the teams have combined for just 11 total goals. Frederik Andersen has been the netminder on record for all three meetings and he figures to get the nod again tonight. This is the fourth of five meetings between the Canucks and Ducks this season. They will wrap up the season series on March 9 at Rogers Arena.
Keys to the Game
Don't stop pushing. In their last two meetings against the Ducks, the Canucks have held a lead only to allow Anaheim to claw back and tie. In both instances, you can accuse the Canucks of trying to sit back and protect a lead. The key for Vancouver is to keep forcing the issue and play in Anaheim's zone as much as possible.
The D group steps up. It's not easy to replace someone of Bieksa's calibre both in terms of ability and leadership qualities but that's the situation the Canucks need to deal with beginning tonight and for reportedly the next couple of months. There's no better time for the defence to prove they can get the job done without #3 than by doing so against the mighty, um, Ducks.
Get Perry involved. The Canucks have been fortunate to avoid Corey Perry for all-but-one game so far in the season series but now he's healthy and red hot with four goals and seven points in his last four outings. He's also looking to extend his personal six-game point streak against the Canucks (5-6-11).
By the Numbers
Win percentage for the Canucks last season without Kevin Bieksa in the lineup (0-6-0).
Regulation losses for the Ducks this season when they score first (21-0-5), the only team left in the league left with that stat.
Points (1-3-4) for Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf in the season series, leading all players on both teams.
Power play goals this season for Anaheim's Sami Vatanen, leading all Ducks players and second among NHL D-men.
Straight head-to-head meetings without a regulation loss for the Ducks against the Canucks (8-0-1) dating back to April 25, 2013.
Straight games at Rogers Arena without a regulation loss for the Ducks (7-0-2) dating back to December 8, 2010.