Another new face will sit on the Canucks bench tonight, Jesse Schultz, who was called up from the Manitoba Moose Monday, will make his NHL debut tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Schultz joined the team for practice on Monday morning, where he was skating with Brendan Morrison and Taylor Pyatt.
"I was really excited and really nervous too but any time you get a chance to come up and play it's a good feeling."
With the Canucks scoring woes, Schultz, who has five goals in his last five games with the Moose, will hopefully help boost the team's offence.
"I've been playing a lot better and scoring some goals," said Schultz. "I hope to come up here and contribute any way I can."
Schultz continued to develop his skills after a disappointing training camp. While with Manitoba, he earned 14 points in 19 games, proving that he can generate offence and hopefully contribute to the Canucks' struggles in that area.
"It's another opportunity, another chance for me. I don't think much has changed [since training camp], I was brought in here to do is hopefully to provide a bit of offence. I'm hoping to do that."
"It's come along a little bit, I started slow when I came down and then I started shooting the puck more and obviously that led to more chances and more goals. Things have started going in for me lately."
The Canucks powerplay continues to be a sore spot, ranked 27th in the league at 12.3 percent. Schultz will likely see some time on the second powerplay unit.
"For him to come up and have success you have to put him in his role and he's an offensive player," said Coach Alain Vigneault. "Offensive players have to play on an offensive line and on the powerplay, we're going to give him that opportunity. We've given everyone else the opportunity and nobody's stepped to the front and grabbed it so we're going to try him."
With all the talk about scoring and what he was brought in to do, he sounds confident and focused on the task at hand.
"I don't think I got in the scoring area where I needed to be to score goals, I've got to get in front of the net and get my body in there and score some ugly goals. I think I was too much on the outside and wasn't getting on the inside and getting the job done that way."
After the morning skate, Schultz seems relaxed and poised as he talk to the media, all smiles and ready to play tonight.
"I'm definitely excited, I slept fine. If you think too much about it, I'm going to get too nervous so I'm trying to take it like any other game and get prepared that way."
"I try not to put pressure on myself, I try to go out there and play my game, work hard and try to create things and that didn't happen so right now it's another opportunity and I'm just trying to make the most out of this one."
Last season Schultz scored 37 goals with the Moose and had a team high 67 points (37-30-67) in 80 games.
A NEW JACKET
The Columbus Blue Jackets will also have a new face behind the bench tonight. Former Philidephia Flyer head coach, Ken Hitchcock, will be leading the Blue Jackets into GM Place tonight after beating the Minnesota Wild in their last game.
Hitchcock's debut behind the Columbus bench was spoiled by his former team in a 3-2 loss but with Saturday's win, his team broke an eight game losing streak to start off a five-game road trip.
Although the last time the two teams met, the Canucks edged out the Jackets 3-2 in overtime, this time, under a new coach, the team will try to carry the momentum of a win and the excitement of a new coach with them into tonight's game.
"I saw their last game and they were really sharp, they were playing hard and they were aggressive on the puck," said Vigneault. "The game we played in there was sort of the same type game. They were up 2-0 and they were playing hard but we played extremely well and came back to win it in OT." "You have to be in all areas of your game have got to be really sharp for you to win, that's how competitive it is, game in and game out."
After letting in 10 goals in the last two games, Roberto Luongo is not worried about the other team though. Always the optimist, he looks forward to playing a better game and focuses on the more important things.
"I think tonight is more about ourselves than anything else," he said. "We want to focus on things we have to do to be successful to win a hockey game. We know on the other side they got a new coach and they'll be pumped up so their energy level will be high but we have to take care of our end to be successful."
"They've got some skilled guys on the other side and we have to play a good system game."
Columbus has scored 7 goals in the last two games with Hitchcock but has only scored 49 goals this season, which ranks 29th in the league. Last season, the Jackets scored 15 goals in four games against the Canucks.
"We've always felt that Columbus has had a very good offensive team," said Trevor Linden. "I think that having a quality type coach behind the bench is going to make a huge difference for the team so we're going to have to be prepared for a really good team tonight."
"I think that when you bring a guy like Hitch in with the history that he has as a Stanley Cup winner, the type of systems he coaches, he commands a lot of respect right away, I would imagine it's a real learning curve for the group over there. It's probably a breath of fresh air, they're probably enjoying seeing a different look at things."
GETTING BACK UP
All season long, it seems the issue with the Canucks is scoring but they've been praised for their strong defensive play. However, in their last two games, even that part of their game has been a little sloppy.
"I think that's the main goal for us tonight is just to worry about the way we play as a team and make sure we execute a high level like we were doing in previous games," says Luongo.
The Canucks penalty kill, which is ranked seventh in the league, has suffered four goals on 15 powerplay opportunities for the opponent in the last two games.
"I think it's just adhering to the principals of playing good defensively and we've kind of gotten away from that," said Linden. "Maybe we're trying to press for the offensive side of things but that's a dangerous path to go down because I don't think it works that way. Regardless of what you're doing offensively, your defensive posture has to remain the same, especially for this team right now."
GETTING THEM IN
Scoring is still an issue, which brings Schultz into the picture but other players still need to step up. Alex Burrows, Marc Chouinard, and Tommi Santala are yet to register goals, although the chances are there. Burrows had numerous chances on Saturday against the Avs but didn't finish.
Vingeault remains hopeful and firmly believes their work ethic will eventually provide results they've been working on all season.
"We've got confidence in this group, we think we've got a good team, we've got them working really hard. We need to keep working hard and smart and as soon as that other phase of our game kicks in, like I think our last two games in Nashville and Colorado, we got off to great starts, our guys were ready to play, ready to compete and the fact that they didn't score took away from them."
The Sedins and Naslund have 20 of the Canucks 54 goals and have a combined 61 points. They rank in the top three point leaders on the team but Vigneault hopes to see more from the rest of the team.
"I think the skill level is there, Dave made that assessment last year. He doesn't want the players, whether it be the Keslers, the Burrows, the Cookes, the Josh Greens, the Linden, whoever, the three other lines other than the Twins and Nazzy, he doesn't want any of those guys to overachieve, he wants those guys to just achieve the numbers they had last year. If they do that, we should get enough goals to win, we should get the three goals a night a team usually needs to be on the winning side. Right now those guys are not putting the puck in the net. Burrows had five unbelievable chances in Colorado and didn't put one in. The chances are there."
"We know that right now, we have one line that's generating a lot offensively, the other three lines are looking to generate more and produce more. Hopefully one line can get going, they can get confidence and build off that."
BREAKING THE DIVIDE
The Canucks are starting a five-game homestand tonight, which will feature two divisional games. Eight of their next nine will be at home but the story is their 1-6-1 against teams in the Northwest division. December will see nine divisional battles, including four against Calgary.
All eyes are on the next stretch of games to see if the Canucks can pull out some wins against some tough teams and key games that will eventually measure up in April.
"It's no doubt about it, it's a huge one," said Markus Naslund. "We have to get the same momentum that we had before we went on the road. It's funny how momentum switches, we had a couple of tough nights here but we'll bounce back and hopefully we'll do it tomorrow."
"All we can ask is that we're working hard and we're working smart. We have to make better decisions, the penalty battles we have to win and after that, if we don't win still then we've given the best possible effort. There are still things we're not doing well enough to win."
For now, however, the Canucks have to focus on one game at a time, maintaining the same level of play they started the season with.
"Every game is different and different scenarios are going to happen but tonight I think is a big game for us as far as the team goes and preparation and executing the full 60 minutes," said Luongo.
Five points separates first and last place in the tough Northwest division. With such a tight conference, divisional games may hold more significance than other games. Although every point counts, every point between division rivals means another notch in the standings.
"On this next homestand here, all these divisional games, we've got to get going here," said Vigneault. "I think we've made that clear to our group of players, I'm sure they understand the importance or the urgency of the situation. We're in a tough conference, we're in a tough division. There's a lot of parts of our game that I really like and we need one and we've mentioned over 100 times since the beginning of the year - we need to score more goals. If we do that, we're going to win a lot of hockey games, if we don't it's going to be very challenging."