VANCOUVER – Vancouver Canucks defenseman Adam Clendening is looking forward to his first game against Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.
How close the rookie actually gets to Penguins stars could depend on the health of top-pairing defenseman Christopher Tanev.
"It will be fun, grew up watching [Crosby] and Malkin," Clendening said. "I don’t know how much I will see of those guys. That’s usually [Alexander Edler] and Tanev’s job, but if I see them, great, I am up for the challenge. And if not, I get a front-row seat to it."
Tanev, who took a couple of big hits against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday, is a game-time decision with an undisclosed injury that kept him out of a 5-1 loss against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday. He did not practice on Friday, but skated Saturday.
"Just going to take it hour-by-hour until the game," Tanev said. "Those guys are super skilled and some of the best players in the game, so whoever is playing against them has got to be good on them."
Tanev teamed up with Edler as part of a shutdown pairing that helped shut out the Penguins 3-0 on Dec. 4, but as Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins pointed out on Saturday, a lot has changed since then.
"That was a while back and both teams have changed since then so I don’t think there is a lot we can build on," Desjardins said.
For starters, Vancouver was third in the NHL at 18-7-1 after defeating Pittsburgh on Dec. 4. But they lost the next five, are 10-12-2 since and are now clinging to the final wild-card spot for the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference.
The Penguins have added forward David Perron in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers since then, and put him on their top line with Crosby and Chris Kunitz. Perron has eight goals and 12 points in 14 games with Pittsburgh, and the trio combined for three goals and eight points in a 4-0 win against the Calgary Flames on Friday.
It was the second straight shutout for Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who also shut out the Edmonton Oilers 2-0 on Wednesday to open a three-game road trip through Western Canada. Fleury has eight shutouts this season, surpassing Tom Barrasso's single-season franchise record of seven set in 1997-98, but Pittsburgh is still expected to start backup Thomas Greiss in Vancouver.
The Canucks will counter with Ryan Miller in goal despite Eddie Lack’s shutout performance on Dec. 4. Of course, it probably won’t matter who plays goal if the offensively-challenged Canucks can’t find some of the intensity that was strangely absent in an important game against Pacific Division rival San Jose on Thursday.
"If you don’t play intense I don’t think you have a chance to win in this League," Desjardins said. "We have to make sure we raise our intensity level. Pittsburgh is going to come hard. They have their game going again and for us to compete we have to be intense."
Here are the projected lineups:
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – David Perron
Mark Arcobello – Evgeni Malkin – Patric Hornqvist
Nick Spaling – Brandon Sutter – Steve Downie
Zach Sill – Maxim Lapierre – Craig Adams
Paul Martin – Kris Letang
Rob Scuderi – Simon Despres
Derrick Pouliot – Robert Bortuzzo
Scratched: Beau Bennett, Scott Harrington
Injured: Pascal Dupuis (blood clots), Olli Maatta (illness), Blake Comeau (wrist), Christian Ehrhoff (head)
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Shawn Matthias - Nick Bonino - Radim Vrbata
Chris Higgins - Linden Vey - Zack Kassian
Derek Dorsett - Bo Horvat - Jannik Hansen
Alexander Edler - Christopher Tanev/Yannick Weber
Dan Hamhuis - Luca Sbisa
Ryan Stanton - Adam Clendening
Scratched: Ronalds Kenins, Yannick Weber
Injured: Frank Corrado (undisclosed), Kevin Bieksa (broken hand), Brad Richardson (lower body)
Status update: Despite playing on back-to-back nights and coach Mike Johnston saying earlier in the week he would try to get forward Beau Bennett into the lineup on this road trip, the Penguins are not expected to alter their forward lines or defense pairings from Friday. … Corrado, who was originally listed as being out with illness on Tuesday against Winnipeg, will miss a third straight game with what is now being described as an injury, but there is no timetable for his return. “I think he’s going to be out for a little while longer,” Desjardins said. “He’s probably got a little bit longer injury for sure.” … Desjardins said right wing Zack Kassian will get back into the lineup after three straight games as a healthy scratch, but wouldn't say what line he will be on. Whatever line it ends up being, Derek Dorsett is expected to move from the right wing to the left wing on the fourth line to make room for Kassian’s return. Kenins, who has two goals in his first four NHL games, will be scratched.
Who's hot: Vrbata has two goals and two assists during a four-game point streak, including his 20th goal to spoil San Jose’s shutout with 1:57 left on Thursday. … Letang has nine assists in his past six games and 14 in his past nine.