The Canucks welcome a new face into the lineup to play against the Wild. Nathan Smith was recalled
from the Manitoba Moose.
Smith suffered an injury at the beginning of the season, which limited his ability during training camp and took some time to get going but has now earned 34 points (16-18-34) in 58 games with the Moose.
Teammates, Brad Moran, Jesse Schultz, Brandon Reid, Rick Rypien, Lee Goren, and Tyler Bouck have all been recalled earlier this season. Smith finally gets his chance and at a pivotal point in the season against a divisional rival.
"It's all a player want is to try to get an opportunity and I was very excited when I got the call," says Smith.
He's been impressing Moose coach Scott Arniel in Manitoba in past two months and Canucks coach Alain Vigneault is aware of his abilities from his time in Manitoba last year.
"I talked to Scott and asked him who's the best guy right now, as far as playing solid two-way and giving us a bit of grit for our fourth line position that can kill some penalties," said Vigneault.
"[From what I know of him last year] I know he's going to compete real hard, he's going to stand up for his teammates, stand up for himself and as you get down to the final push here, you need guys who have that character and he's got that."
Smith understands his role and knows what he's going to do when he steps onto the ice tonight.
"I think work hard, finish all my checks, be good on faceoffs, reliable defensively and if I can chip in offensively, I think that would be a bonus but I'm just looking to play a strong two-way game and be as physical as I can."
Tommi Santala hurt his shoulder in Anaheim and will sit out tonight. Vigneault doesn't expect him to miss too much action.
"It's not separated or anything it's more of a spasm," said Vigneault.
Santala started practice yesterday but didn't finish and didn't skate with the team today. GETTING READY
Willie Mitchell will not play tonight in the last game against his former team because of a recurring groin injury.
"It's probably in my best interest to [sit out tonight]," said Mitchell. "I had problems with my left groin earlier in the year and I pushed it and it ended up being close to about a three week injury. I went out and skated this morning before the guys and it just wasn't quite good enough."
Rory Fitzpatrick, who's been a healthy scratch since the acquisition of Brent Sopel, will take Mitchell's place in the lineup tonight.
"It's not an easy position to be in," says Fitzpatrick. "I think you have to act like you're playing even though some days you know you're not playing. It's not fun and it's not an easy job and you have to be ready."
"That's the whole point of being ready and thinking that you're going to play even though you're not because you know the season's not going to go perfect and healthy all the time but you have to be ready. It's difficult to go through that process but it's one I've been in before."
Fitzpatrick's got 5 points (1-4-5) in 46 games and is an impressive plus-seven, which ranks fifth on the team.
Mitchell continues to lead the team in blocked shots (103) and time on ice while shorthanded averaging just under five minutes a game.
"Obviously Willie's been a big part of our defensive group and our record with him in the lineup and with him not in the lineup is different," said Vigneault.
Mitchell's missed 19 games this season and while he was out of the lineup the Canucks were a 6-6-3. KILLING IT
The Canucks have given up power-play goals in ten of their last 11 games and while they may be struggling slightly, there's no real cause for concern for their penalty kill that still sits first in the league.
Their penalty kill at 87.2% may have slipped slightly but is still almost two percent ahead the second ranked team, which incidentally is Minnesota.
The Wild have been perfect on their penalty kill in nine of their last ten games, where their record has been 7-1-2.
With the Wild only two points behind the Canucks, this matchup will be more than just a divisional matchup but an important game for the overall standings.
"I think regardless if it's a two point gap or a four point gap, it's still a big game," said Brendan Morrison. "You want to come into these games and assert yourself and show what your team's capable of doing."
The Canucks have converted on just three of their last 28 power-play opportunities but are still 5-2-1 in that span. The Canucks have scored power-play goals in 40 of their 69 games and are 30-8-2 when scoring a power-play goal.
Tonight the Canucks will try to improve their special teams, which will play a big part against the Wild and pat special attention to what's been just short the last couple games.
"A lot of times it's just attention to details," said Morrison. "We're overlooking small things and the little things like having your stick in the right position on the penalty kill, clearing pucks when they should be out. As far as the power-play, it's about getting shots through. A lot of times you're looking to make the perfect play or guys with wide open back doors."
In 25 games where the Canucks penalty killing has been prefect, their record is an impressive 25-8-2 and having a season-high six-game perfect PK streak from January 13 to January 28.
"Penalty killing is a lot like power-plays sometimes you get on a roll and you're getting the right save at the right time or the right bounce at the right time," said Vigneault. "Right now we're going through a bit of a tougher stretch and I think that's just going to make us stronger."
While the Wild are excelling and improving on their penalty kill, the Canucks are focused on one thing.
"Our game plan tonight - we're going to go in worrying about ourselves and how we're playing," said Morrison. "If we play the way we're capable of, we should be alright."