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At the Rink: Canadiens at Canucks

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com

VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks shut down center Manny Malhotra midway through the 2012-13 season citing concerns for his safety because of the lingering effects of a serious 2011 eye injury.

Malhotra returns Thursday as the Montreal Canadiens fourth-line center and the NHL faceoff leader at 63.6 percent.

So much for Malhotra's career being over; as the second-worst faceoff team in the League, the Canucks could still use him.

"When you have a guy like Manny in your lineup it really takes a lot pressure off," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said. "Penalty kill, end of games, if you have a guy like that who can win the faceoff clean and get it down the ice it takes 25 to 30 seconds off right away."

By taking care of almost every key defensive-zone draw, Malhotra was also used to free up the Sedins to start more shifts in the offensive end during his time in Vancouver. He has helped do the same for Tomas Plekanec in his first 10 games in Montreal, combining with Lars Eller, who ironically may be a healthy scratch Thursday, to reduce Plekanec's defensive faceoff responsibilities.

"That's one of the main reasons for signing here, having a real good talk with [coach Michel Therrien] before signing, knowing what was expected, where I was slotted in the lineup," Malhotra said. "It was a really good fit, and I'm pleased how things have gone so far."

Malhotra has also had a positive impact on Montreal's faceoffs. The Canadiens are fifth in the League as a team at 53.7 percent. David Desharnais has improved to 56.5 percent and Eller is up to 52.6.

"In practice you work against your own teammates, and a guy like that gives you tips and other resources that help," Desharnais said.

Vancouver is tied for 28th in faceoffs at 45.7 percent, with Sedin (51.4 percent) the only center winning more than he loses. Brad Richardson is even at 50 percent, Nick Bonino is winning 43.8 percent, Shawn Matthias is at 39.5 and Linden Vey is at 38.2. The other centers' low faceoff win rates has forced Sedin back into his own end to take more draws and made it harder to play a puck possession game because they rarely start with it.

"It's tough, especially with young guys," Sedin said. "A lot of older guys have a lot of tricks up their sleeves. It's a skill to be good at faceoffs but I think you have to go through it. It's something you have as a young guy or you don't and you have to work at it."

Malhotra, who started last season without a contract before working his way back on an American Hockey League tryout, has moved on and is focused on good memories from Vancouver.

"I've turned the page," Malhotra said. "Playing makes it easier. I am so grateful for the opportunity I was given to continue my career and being here in Montreal, it's a special place to play. I have too many good things in my life to be happy about to dwell in the past."

Here are the projected lineups:

CANADIENS

Max PaciorettyDavid DesharnaisBrendan Gallagher

Alex GalchenyukTomas PlekanecPierre-Alexandre Parenteau

Rene BourqueBrandon PrustMichael Bournival

Travis MoenManny MalhotraDale Weise

Alexei EmelinP.K. Subban

Andrei MarkovTom Gilbert

Nathan BeaulieuMike Weaver

Carey Price

Dustin Tokarski

Scratched: Lars Eller, Jiri Sekac, Jarred Tinordi

Injured: None

CANUCKS

Daniel SedinHenrik SedinRadim Vrbata

Chris HigginsNick BoninoAlexandre Burrows

Brad RichardsonShawn MatthiasZack Kassian

Derek DorsettLinden VeyJannik Hansen

Alexander EdlerChristopher Tanev

Dan HamhuisKevin Bieksa

Luca SbisaYannick Weber

Ryan Miller

Eddie Lack

Scratched: Tom Sestito

Injured: Ryan Stanton (lower body)

Status report: Based on the Canadiens lines in morning skate it appears Eller will be a healthy scratch against the Canucks. Eller, who has one goal and one assist in 10 games after signing a four-year, $14-million extension in the summer, was benched in the third period and played 5:46 against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday. Bournival is expected to play his first game of the season in Eller's place … Stanton practiced for a third straight day after missing six games with a groin injury. He won't return Thursday but is close enough to returning that spare defender Frank Corrado was sent back to the AHL.

Who's hot: Price returns to his home province having won his past five starts and giving up one goal in each of the past three, including 37 saves in a 2-1 win against Calgary. … Canucks captain Henrik Sedin (two goals, three assists) and Vrbata (two goals, four assists) each have points in five straight games.

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