The Vancouver Canucks look to close out their six-game home stand on a high note when they host the always-entertaining Pittsburgh Penguins at Rogers Arena on Hockey Night in Canada.
The last time Ryan Miller and Sidney Crosby went toe-to-toe on Rogers Arena ice...well, just about everyone knows how that game ended. While tonight's game won't have quite the magnitude of that Olympic gold medal clash between Canada and the USA from five years ago, it figures to be just as important as far as the Canucks are concerned. Vancouver's ill-timed 5-1 loss to San Jose on Thursday not only prevented them from reclaiming second spot in the Pacific Division but now has them teetering on the edge of playoff picture in the second wildcard spot.
The banged-up Canucks, who were blasted by Coach Desjardins yesterday for their lack of intensity during practice, will likely be without Christopher Tanev once again tonight after the blue-liner skipped yesterday's on-ice session. Dan Hamhuis and Chris Higgins were absent as well although Hamhuis is expected to play. There was no official update on Higgins. Frank Corrado and Brad Richardson also remain out. There was no word if any changes are expected up front although one has to wonder whether Zack Kassian, who has been a healthy scratch for three straight games, will get a chance to slot back in possibly in Higgins' spot.
Puck drop at 7 pm PT – Live on CBC, TSN 1040, or online at tsn1040.ca.
Regular Season Record
2014.15 Season Series
Last 10 games
Last 10 head-to-head
One wonders how this season would have turned out had Willie Desjardins opted to take the vacant head coaching job in Pittsburgh during the off-season instead of joining the Canucks. The Penguins might not have been able to woo Desjardins but they certainly have to be happy with the work done by former Canucks associate coach Mike Johnston who, like Desjardins, is also in his first year as an NHL bench boss. Johnston has guided the Penguins so far to top spot in the Metropolitan Division despite injuries that has seen several of his superstars including Crosby, Malkin, Letang and Maatta sit out at various times of the season.
Consistency has been a problem for the Penguins since around Christmastime but they have a chance tonight to win three straight games for the first time since December 15 to 20. The Penguins were full value for their 4-0 win last night in Calgary and are riding back-to-back Marc-Andre Fleury shutouts. Despite the consecutive goose eggs, Fleury is expected to give way to Thomas Greiss in net tonight. Vancouver, meanwhile, is expected to go with Ryan Miller between the pipes. Greiss was in net back on December 4 when the Canucks blanked the Penguins 3-0 in Pittsburgh. Eddie Lack made 22 saves that night for the shutout.
Keys to the Game
Don't hang Miller out to dry. As ugly as Thursday's 5-1 loss was, it could have been a lot worse had Miller not kept his team in it for the better part of two periods. Going up against one of the most talent-laden teams in the league, the Canucks can ill-afford starting the same way as they did two nights ago even though they weren't burned early on.
Get to those rebounds. Coach Desjardins' assertion that his team was a half-step against San Jose might explain why the Canucks didn't seem to generate a single opportunity off a rebound. 'Shoot and crash the net' is about as basic a game plan as you can get. Vancouver needs to get back to making simple plays.
Think offence first. It's hard to fathom how, given all the offensively gifted stars the Penguins are blessed with, last night's four goal outburst marked just the second time in Pittsburgh's last nine outings that they've scored more than two goals. Given the Canucks' struggles to score lately, the Pens would be wise to turn up the pressure.
By the Numbers
Win percentage for the Penguins against Canadian teams this season (11-2-0). One of those losses came vs. VAN.
Point needed by Radim Vrbata to reach 500 in his NHL career.
Straight wins for the Penguins at Rogers Arena dating back to October 6, 2011.
Straight games the Canucks have allowed the first goal (9-15-1 record this season when trailing first).
Straight home games without a regulation loss (3-0-3) by the Canucks against the Penguins dating back to January 15, 2002.
Minutes and 40 seconds without a goal allowed by the Penguins in consecutive playing time entering play tonight.