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Blues hope to find offense against Canucks

by Kevin Woodley

CANUCKS (24-12-6) at BLUES (23-16-2)


Last 10: Vancouver 7-3-0, St. Louis 6-4-0

Season series: This is the third of three meetings and the first in St. Louis. The Vancouver Canucks hold a slight edge in the season series so far, losing the first meeting 4-3 in a shootout on Feb. 17, and winning 3-2 on March 19.

Big story: The Canucks and St. Louis Blues finished 1-2 in the NHL standings last season, but are still looking to find their identity as the playoffs approach later this month.

Tinkering with the lineup, Vancouver seemed to find something Monday with a new-look second line featuring centers Ryan Kesler and Derek Roy playing together. The duo combined with Jannik Hansen for two goals and five points in a 5-2 win against the injury-ravaged Nashville Predators, but things figure to be a lot tougher against a St. Louis squad that has been incredibly stingy since adding defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold before the trade deadline.

A single point separates the Blues from the ninth-place Columbus Blue Jackets after consecutive losses over the weekend.

Team Scope:

Canucks: There was a lot of debate in Vancouver about the Canucks trying to load up a second line by moving Kesler to right wing for Monday’s game. It was a possibility floated by Canucks management after they acquired Roy from the Dallas Stars at the trade deadline, and again by coach Alain Vigneault when they lined up in practice Sunday with Kesler and Alexandre Burrows flanking Roy.

In addition to flying in the face of finally solving their lack of quality NHL centers, Kesler didn’t seem enamored with the idea of moving to the wing, dismissing the suggestion he played his best hockey alongside Mats Sundin four years ago.

Instead, it was Roy who moved over to the left wing, with Hansen on the right side and Burrows staying on the top line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

“We’re just trying to find some chemistry with the lines and I am just trying to fit in anywhere I can. If it’s going to be on the wing, if it's going to be goalie, wherever I can contribute it's going to be nice for wins,” Roy said during the intermission of a 5-2 win in which the line had two goals. “Just try to keep my game simple, get the puck out as quickly as possible and make plays in the offensive zone.”

Goaltender Cory Schneider will be back in net, possibly for the final six games of the season, after Roberto Luongo made 36 saves against the Predators.

Blues: It’s a good thing goaltender Brian Elliott has been so good of late for St. Louis because the Blues are struggling to do anything at the other end of the rink.

Elliott’s three-game shutout streak allowed St. Louis to win three straight despite scoring just four goals, but anything less than perfection in goal hasn’t been good enough for a Blues’ team that was shut out by the Chicago Blackhawks in a 2-0 loss on Sunday. It was the second straight loss for St. Louis, which has scored five goals in the past five games.

The Blues’ power play is 3-for-43 over the past 16 games.

“We’re in a position to shoot the puck, we stick handle it, try to put it through someone’s legs, five seconds later it’s in our net,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “Not the way you’re going to win against good teams. You’re going to have to funnel everything. You’re going to have to put pucks and bodies on the net and continue in that mind-set. It’s going to be no different against Vancouver.”

Who’s hot: Vancouver defenseman Dan Hamhuis extended his points streak to six games with an assist Monday, giving him two goals and four assists during that stretch. Fellow defenseman Jason Garrison scored for a second-straight game and now has two goals and four assists in his past six games, as well as a team-leading plus-17 rating. Kesler scored twice and now has three goals and five points in four games since coming back from a broken bone in his foot. Henrik and Daniel Sedin each had two assists against Nashville, giving the top-line twins 18 points in the past six games – 10 for Henrik and eight for Daniel. … Elliott’s three-game shutout streak was snapped at 214 minutes in the 2-0 loss to Chicago on Sunday, but he’s still won five of six after accepting a conditioning stint in the American Hockey League, giving up six goals since.

Injury report: Vancouver is expected to be without David Booth (ankle), Chris Higgins (knee) and Chris Tanev (ankle). … St. Louis forward T.J. Oshie (foot) skated with the team Monday, but remains questionable. Jamie Langenbrunner (hip), Scott Nichol (lower body) and Jaroslav Halak (groin) all skated on Monday, but are unlikely to play.

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