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Take Nothing For Granted

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks



The Oil will be without leading goal-scorer Ryan Smyth and right-winger Ales Hemsky in their first road game in 18 days.

Smyth fractured his thumb in the first period of a 4-0 loss to Columbus on Saturday. That should keep him out of the lineup indefinitely. Hemsky will miss at least another week after suffering a shoulder injury Tuesday against Anaheim.

"Obviously Ryan's a big part of their team and Hemsky's a big part of their powerplay - both of them are - so it's one of those things that they're going to have to come out and guys that don't normally get the opportunity are going to try to prove themselves," said Matt Cooke.

Smyth has 22 points, including a team-high 16 goals, and Hemsky has 18 points and a team-high 14 assists.

The injuries haven't changed the Canucks' game plan tonight.

"I think that's the worst mistake that we can make is that just because they have a couple guys out to take things for granted so we've got to work hard," said Roberto Luongo. "Those guys are aware that they have a couple key guys injured and they have to step up."

"I think all teams are always banged up to a certain extent, obviously they're missing a couple of their key elements but they're still a really strong team," said Alain Vigneault.

In their previous two meetings, Symth and Hemsky failed to register a point, which means the Canucks aren't out of trouble yet with Petr Sykora and Joffrey Lupul still in the lineup.

"These guys have quite a bit of depth up front," said Brendan Morrison. "Obviously two key guys are out but they're going to view it as a challenge, it's an opportunity for other guys to come in and step up."

After losing to the league's worst team Saturday, the Oilers are ready to face a hungry Canucks' side that's fresh off a big win over the division rival Avalanche.

The Oilers are 3-6-1 on the road this season and have a 1-1 record against the Canucks.


What used to be the toughest divisions in the league has become merely average.

The entire Northwest division shakes out in the middle of Western Conference pack, ranked sixth to tenth.

Two points separate the Oilers at the top, and the bottom-feeding Flames. Every night a win could mean a shift of two spots or more. And that's exactly what's at stake tonight.

"We haven't been doing as good as we thought we would but at the same time, other teams have been losing too so we're right in it," said Sedin. "If we get a win tonight then we'll in good position."

Good position, as in first place in the division good. Edmonton and Vancouver are the only Northwest teams in action tonight, so if the Canucks can pull two points from Edmonton, they'll vault into top spot - at least tomorrow when the other three teams take the ice.

"It's very exciting so every game's important, especially against your own division," said Luongo. "We've got a lot of those this month and tonight's another test for us and we've just got to keep moving in the right direction."

The Central division is separated by 21 points while a league high 28 points separate the top and bottom in the Pacific.

Last year, first and last in the Northwest was separated by 19 points, the fewest of all the divisions. In the 2003-2004 season, there was a difference of 18 points and was again the fewest of all divisions and where Vancouver topped the division by one point over Colorado.

"I don't know if it'll stay this close but I'm sure probably top to bottom will be within about 10 points at the end of the year," says Morrison.


After being sidelined last game with an upper body injury, Matt Cooke returns to lineup and skated with the team this morning.

"I feel better today than I have the past couple days," said Cooke. "Probably good enough to go."

Cooke, who brings a physical presence to the team, isn't worried about the injury and feels confident he can find his top gear tonight.

"If it was limiting me, I wouldn't play. Obviously I have to play the way I can and if it was stopping me from playing the way I can, then I wouldn't play."

"I don't there's been a game my whole career where I haven't had some sort of pain, but it's manageable."

Cooke has one goal and four assists in 26 games this year.

With Cooke back in the lineup Coach Vigneault has not decided who will sit out, but both energy forwards Rick Rypien and Tyler Bouck will see ice.


After being told not to fight by Vigneault in his first game of the year Saturday, Rick Rypien promptly went out and fought Colorado's Ian Laperriere in his first shift.

He drilled Brett Clark into the end boards, then jawed with Laperriere before skating to center ice and dropped the gloves. After thorwing six or seven square left-handed shots, Rypien wrestled the Colorado plugger to the ice.

It's not that he doesn't want to adhere to Vigneault's laws, he just can't back down.

"I think I've done it pretty much all my life so I'm not going to change anything. I'm just going to keep doing what I do."

Although he was called up last season, he played just five games before breaking his ankle. A thumb injury cut his training camp short this season, and though he impressed Vigneault and was always at the top of the call up list, a groin injury down on the farm further delayed his NHL career.

"At the start of the year, I had an injury there again," he said. "I got hurt last year when I got called up so it's pretty frustrating that way, so hopefully I got that out of my system and I'm ready to go."

After Saturday it's obvious he's ready to go and that makes Vigneault happy. He's made no secret about his feelings for Rypien's style of play.

"Rypien is an honest, hardworking, gritty player," said Vigneault. "By the way he plays on the ice, and by the way he's aggressive and into the play, things happen. People might be offended. He might not be very big but he can take care of himself and that's what he does."

And if someone happens to be offended again, it's more than likely Rypien will get right back in there.

"If it happens, I probably would [fight]," he said. "It might not be the smartest thing, but I took one on the nose there last game and the game before I got a stick in the face. I've taken a few in the nose and in the face so it's all part of it."

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