VANCOUVER -- Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman is off to a great start this season as the NHL's top-scoring defenseman with seven points in his first four games. But the 6-foot-6 Swede knows he'll face a different challenge in his own end on Saturday night.
Countrymen Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin are also off to a hot start on the Vancouver Canucks new top line with Radim Vrbata, and Hedman expects to see a lot of them on the top pairing.
Hedman is from the same hometown of Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, and skated with the Sedin twins for a month before the season, but after watching them combine with Vrbata for six goals and 17 points in the first three games, he's not sure that familiarity will help much.
"They have a lot of tricks in their sleeves, so it's going to be a tough challenge," Hedman said. "You can see how they started the season, we have to make sure we stay on the right side of the puck and make sure we stay physical as much as we can on them."
For all the compliments Hedman and Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper paid the Sedins and the instant chemistry they appear to have found with Vrbata, there was just as much praise for Hedman going the other way. The biggest will be how hard new Canucks coach Willie Desjardins works to keep his top line away from the big 23-year-old defenseman.
"He's come a long ways, you watch him on video and he's a real good defenseman, he's turned into a real good player," Desjardins said of Hedman. "The twins know they have to play against anybody at home or on the road, and they'll probably see their share of him tonight, but at the same time we'll try to get the twins in the best situation we can for them to score."
The Sedins and Vrbata didn't skate Saturday morning after combining to score both goals in a 2-0 road win against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday. Ryan Miller, who made 28 saves in Edmonton for his first shutout as the Canucks new No. 1 goalie, did skate in the morning but will watch Eddie Lack make his first start of the season against Tampa Bay.
Just as Hedman was focused on the Sedins, Lack knows he has to pay special attention to Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who has three goals in his first four games.
"He's probably the best player in the world, or one of the three up there, so I have to be aware wherever he is," Lack said.
Lack is coming off an impressive preseason that saw him stop 57 of 58 shots for a .983 save percentage, but hasn't played a game in 16 days. Lack said he isn't worried about rust. He started last season playing sporadically behind Roberto Luongo, staying sharp in practice with game-situation drills from goalie coach Roland Melanson and posting a .925 save percentage that played a role in the Canucks trading Luongo to the Florida Panthers at the NHL Trade Deadline. Lack struggled while starting 19 straight games after that, but is back in a comfortable spot now.
The only concern was if Miller's shutout would change his start.
"I was a little bit worried when he got a shutout, like, 'Oh, this might change things,'" Lack said with a smile. "But me and Rollie have been talking all week and this is the start I have been looking forward to."
Even with Stamkos set to fire away at the other end.
Here are the projected lineups:
Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Ryan Callahan
Alex Killorn - Valtteri Filppula - Tyler Johnson
Nikita Kucherov - Vladislav Namestnikov - J.T. Brown
Brenden Morrow - Brian Boyle - Brett Connolly
Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman
Matthew Carle – Jason Garrison
Andrej Sustr – Eric Brewer
Scratched: Mark Barberio
Injured: Radko Gudas (lower body)
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Radim Vrbata
Chris Higgins – Nick Bonino – Alexandre Burrows
Brad Richardson – Linden Vey – Zack Kassian
Derek Dorsett – Shawn Matthias – Jannik Hansen
Alexander Edler – Christopher Tanev
Dan Hamhuis – Kevin Bieksa
Luca Sbisa – Yannick Weber
Scratched: Tom Sestito, Frank Corrado
Injured: Ryan Stanton (lower body), Bo Horvat (shoulder)
Status report: Stanton won't play after pulling up favoring his left leg late in the first period of the 2-0 win against the Oilers on Friday. The Canucks called up Corrado from the American Hockey League on Saturday morning, but it will be Weber playing his first game of the season in Stanton's place against the Lightning. Weber will most likely pair up with Sbisa, a teammate on the past two Swiss Olympic teams. "We're good friends, so if we end up playing together I am sure the chemistry will be there," Weber said. … Gudas will miss a second straight game with a lower-body injury, but he skated on Saturday and Cooper said he would play during the five-game road trip that starts against the Canucks. … Cooper said he saw highlights of the game-winning goal Lightning rookie Jonathan Drouin scored in his first professional game on Friday on a two-week conditioning stint in the AHL. Drouin, 19, who was the third pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, also had two assists and finished plus-3. "It was great to see him go down there and have success in his first pro game," Cooper said of Drouin, who missed most of training camp with a fractured right thumb. "This is his preseason."
Who's hot: The Canucks new top line of Vrbata with the Sedins has scored in all three games so far, combining for six goals and 17 points, including both goals against the Oilers. … Stamkos was blanked in a 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils, but had a hat trick in the prior game against the Montreal Canadiens. Hedman scored a goal in each of his first three games and had seven points total being held off the score sheet by the Devils.