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On the road again

Canucks begin five-game trip in New Jersey Tuesday

by Daniel Fung @daniel_fung / Canucks freelance writer

To say the Canucks were reeling at the time they embarked on their first extended road trip out East back in early November would be an understatement.

At the time they had just completed a 0-for-3 home stand, part of a five-game winless streak overall, and that dark cloud hovering about them would follow them for much of their trip as they managed to win just a single game on six-game trek.

Thankfully things are much rosier these days for the Canucks and they embark on this upcoming five-game trip having won three of their last four contests, even though they only narrowly escaped with a shootout victory in their home stand finale on Saturday against the Maple Leafs.

It means the Canucks should expect to emerge with more than a single win on this trip and, if they're fortunate, maybe gain a returning player or two from off the injured reserve list.

Here's a look at their five opponents on the trip:

New Jersey Devils - December 6

Last Visit: 3-4 OT loss - November 8, 2015

Last 5 Visits: 3-1-1

The Devils are far from being world-beaters this season but where they have been nearly impregnable is on home ice. The Devils are the only team in the league that has yet to drop a regulation game in their own rink going 7-0-2 at the Prudential Center. For that, they can thank ex-Canuck Cory Schneider who has started eight of those home outings and is responsible for all seven of those wins.

As good as Schneids has been at home, a team struggling to find offence like the Canucks will be glad to see their former teammate's numbers aren't as gaudy as it has been in past years. But these aren't the same Devils that they're used to seeing either. They've got a flashy new offensive superstar in Taylor Hall, the ex-Oiler who has 26 points in 29 career games against the Canucks and who recently returned to the lineup after an eight-game absence recovering from knee surgery.

Tampa Bay Lightning - December 8

Last Visit: 2-1 win - December 22, 2015

Last 5 Visits: 2-3-0

There are very few easy nights at the Amalie Arena for visiting teams although most of the Lightning's opponents these days have to feel like they're catching a break with Tampa missing their most potent offensive superstar in Steven Stamkos, who is sidelined long-term with a knee injury. Keep in mind, though, that the Lightning managed to get all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final last spring without the services of Stamkos. They are 4-5-1 since the injury to Stamkos.

Tampa, despite being held to one-goal-or-less in four of their last five outings, remains one of the top scoring teams in the league but where they've struggled is defensively. It doesn't mean the Canucks should try to run and gun with the Lightning necessarily but let's just say it's advantageous for the Canucks to get their lone visit to Tampa out of the way before the Lightning, including netminder Ben Bishop, get back into form.

Florida Panthers - December 10

Last Visit: 4-5 SO loss - December 20, 2015

Last 5 Visits: 3-1-1

Trips to Sunrise, Florida are usually chockfull of storylines thanks to the Canucks' history of swapping players with the Panthers over the years and this visit will be no different with Erik Gudbranson making his first return to the place he called home for the first five years of his NHL career. The Panthers, though, have little time to worry about superfluous storylines. They're still reeling after the recent firing of head coach Gerard Gallant, a coach-of-the-year finalist just last season who had the team off to an 11-10-1 start when he received his pink slip.

General Manager and now interim head coach Tom Rowe favours an up-tempo style game so that might mean this game could have a little more free-flowing action than we're used to seeing. Florida still needs to get goals from somewhere, however. Star forward Jonathan Huberdeau was injured in pre-season and has yet to play this season, while Nick Bjugstad only recently returned to the lineup after also being dinged up in pre-season but has been off to a rough start. As for the young, former first rounder they acquired in the Gudbranson trade from the Canucks in offensively-gifted centre Jared McCann? They sent him to the minors after a tough start. Oh yeah...did I mention Roberto Luongo will be there too? Talk about storylines.

Washington Capitals - December 11

Last Visit: 1-4 loss - January 14, 2016

Last 5 Visits: 2-3-0

While there's never such a thing as a write-off game, you'd have to figure the Canucks would ideally want to have a few wins under their belt on this trip before visiting the U.S. capital to play their second game in as many nights facing arguably the toughest team on this trip and one that already has earned 5-2 win over them this season.

Although you'd be hard-pressed to find many holes in the Caps lineup, they're hardly unflappable and have hit a bump in the road in recent times. Don't expect that to last, and certainly by the time the Canucks reach D.C. they could very well be back on the upswing. It goes without saying the Canucks will need to dig deep in this one and to find a way to neutralize the dynamic duo of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. They did that fairly well in the loss at Rogers Arena limiting them to a single assist combined, although they probably didn't count on Marcus Johansson picking up the slack and burning them with a two-goal, three-point effort, not to mention being shut down by backup goalie Philipp Grubauer.

Carolina Hurricanes - December 13

Last Visit: 3-2 OT win - January 15, 2016

Last 5 Visits: 3-2-0

It's easy to look at the Hurricanes' record and think this would be an easy two points for the Canucks to grab to close out the road trip. But while it's no question the Hurricanes have had their struggles this season, and the Canucks have already knocked them off once this season at Rogers Arena coming back from a 3-0 deficit in that game to win 4-3 in overtime, the Hurricanes have found a way lately to make the PNC Arena a tough play for visiting teams and have knocked off some of the league's elite including the Capitals, Sharks and Canadiens.

The good thing for the Canucks is the PNC Arena has been very kind to them over the years. They haven't lost in Carolina since 2011 winning in each of their last three visits there. They've had a lot of success overall against the Hurricanes and will put a seven-game head-to-head win streak on the line in this contest.

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