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Canadiens aim to extend Canucks' struggles

by Arpon Basu

CANUCKS (27-22-9) at CANADIENS (30-21-6)


Last 10: Vancouver 3-7-0; Montreal 4-5-1

Season series: This is the second of two games between the Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks. They haven't met since the Canadiens won 4-1 in Vancouver on Oct. 12.

Big story: Neither of the two men involved wants to look that far, but this game pits the two favorites to earn the starting job in goal for Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Canadiens goaltender Carey Price and his Canucks counterpart Roberto Luongo will likely have an opportunity to battle it out during the preliminary round to see which will be given the starter's job by coach Mike Babcock as Canada moves further along in the tournament.

This game could be seen by many as the first chapter of that battle, but it's definitely not being looked at in that way by Price and the Canadiens.

"It's the Canadiens against the Canucks, two teams involved in playoff races," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said Wednesday. "I don't see this as a showdown to see who will be the starting goaltender for the Canadian team. Absolutely not."

Team Scope:

Canucks: To say the Canucks are struggling would be an understatement. Vancouver has lost its past five games in regulation and is 4-11-3 in its past 18 games. The Canucks have been held to two or fewer goals in 12 of those 18 games and lost 10 of them.

"If we're not scoring goals, it's tough to win games," captain Henrik Sedin said after a 3-1 road loss to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, "and that's where we are."

Sedin, who returned for the past two games after missing six with bruised ribs, is back on the shelf. He'll miss the final two games prior to the Olympic break as well as the tournament itself with the lingering injury. On the plus side, forwards Chris Higgins and Brad Richardson will return.

Offense was not the only problem Tuesday. Luongo took the blame for the loss even though he allowed three goals on 32 shots, hardly a poor performance.

"I think this one's 100 percent on me," Luongo said. "I wasn't feeling too good out there tonight. I wasn't tracking well, my reads were off. I think I made a big mistake. Last night, we got in late, so I didn't skate this morning. And I just didn't feel like myself out there. So a disappointing performance from me here. I thought the guys deserved better."

Canadiens: Montreal appears to be coming out of a rough patch with one regulation loss in its past five games, and a lot of the improvement has to do with the play of Price. He has two shutouts in four starts and has stopped 130 of the 134 shots he has faced in that span, a save percentage of .970.

But Therrien, without taking anything away from Price, said it's the team's defensive play that has made a big difference over the past five games.

"Our defensive game, when we were struggling, was something we tried to pay a lot of attention to and I believe we've only allowed five goals in five games," Therrien said. "So that's a great sign. The players are paying attention to detail, so that means their focus is there."

Who's hot: Canucks defenseman Ryan Stanton has four assists in five games… Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty has two goals and two assists in five games.

Injury report: Canucks forwards Henrik Sedin (bruised ribs), Mike Santorelli (season-ending shoulder surgery) and Brad Richardson (undisclosed) and defensemen Dan Hamhuis (undisclosed), Kevin Bieksa (foot), Christopher Tanev (thumb), Yannick Weber (undisclosed) and Andrew Alberts (head) are out. … The Canadiens are without defenseman Davis Drewiske (shoulder), and forwards Alex Galchenyuk (hand) and Travis Moen (lower body).

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