COYOTES (24-48-8) at CANUCKS (46-29-5)
TV: FS-A, SNP, SNV
VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller is ready to return after missing more than six weeks with a knee injury, but he won’t start against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday (10 p.m. ET; FS-A, SNP, SNV).
Miller will dress as the backup for Eddie Lack against the Coyotes, and is expected to make his first start since Feb. 22 when the Canucks finish the regular season against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday.
“We can’t have him on the bench if he is not an option,” coach Willie Desjardins said. “Obviously when you haven’t played for quite a while it would be nice to get a game in and play so that’s something we’d like to happen and get a look at him. He played really well for us before he got hurt and we’d like to get him going.”
Miller didn't talk after skating Thursday, but he is no longer wearing his custom knee brace on the ice, and said after practice Wednesday that he hoped to get into a game before the season ended.
“I was pushing trying to get back for one of the last games,” Miller said. “I’m excited for the possibility here. I’m just going to take it day by day and work my way into becoming an option first.”
Once he does, the question will be which goalie will start the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Miller, who signed a three-year, $18-million free agent contract last summer to be the No.1 goalie, was 28-15-1 with a .913 save percentage before spraining the MCL in his right knee in a collision with teammate Jannik Hansen. Lack is 17-13-4 with a .919 save percentage this season, and 11-6-2 with a .924 save percentage while playing in 21 of 22 games since Miller was injured.
Desjardins hasn’t committed publicly to a playoff starter yet.
Lack said he is more focused on helping the Canucks secure home-ice advantage when the playoffs start next week. Vancouver is second in the Pacific Division, two points ahead of the third-place Calgary Flames, and each team has two games remaining.
“It's always nice to open at home so obviously we want to get that and winning tonight is a big step,” Lack said.
The Flames have a tougher schedule left, with each game against teams still trying to lock up a playoff berth. Calgary plays the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday and the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.
Vancouver’s remaining schedule is easier, at least on paper.
The Coyotes are last in the Western Conference, have the second-fewest points in the NHL, and will be without captain Shane Doan, who is out with a lower-body injury after playing 10 minutes in Calgary on Tuesday. But Arizona has given the Canucks problems this season, winning two of four games against Vancouver.
“We don't want to overlook any team, obviously Arizona has played us hard the last times we’ve played them and we don't expect anything different,” said Canucks forward Derek Dorsett, who signed a four-year, $10.6 million contract extension Wednesday. “We want to try and lock in the home-ice advantage, and obviously to get to 100 points in the National Hockey League as a team is a pretty big accomplishment so we still have a lot of things to play for.”
Other than spoiling the Canucks hopes, Arizona is playing mostly for pride and possibly jobs next season, and top defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson has a little added incentive. Ekman-Larsson is tied with Phil Housley for the franchise record for goals by a defenseman with 23 this season, and would like to break the record against Lack, who is a good friend and former teammate in Sweden.
“I would love to score a goal on him tonight,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I have a chance to break the record so I have a lot to play for.”
Here are the projected lineups:
Tobias Rieder - Mark Arcobello - Henrik Samuelsson
Martin Erat - Sam Gagner - David Moss
Craig Cunningham - Kyle Chipchura - Jordan Szwarz
Tye McGinn - Joe Vitale - B.J. Crombeen
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Michael Stone
Klas Dahlbeck - Andrew Campbell
John Moore - Connor Murphy
Injured: Shane Doan (lower body), Mikkel Boedker (upper body), Martin Hanzal (upper body), Lauri Korpikoski (upper body)
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Chris Higgins - Nick Bonino - Radim Vrbata
Ronalds Kenins - Bo Horvat - Jannik Hansen
Sven Baertschi - Linden Vey - Derek Dorsett
Alexander Edler – Christopher Tanev
Dan Hamhuis - Yannick Weber
Luca Sbisa - Kevin Bieksa
Scratched: Brandon McMillan, Ryan Stanton
Injured: Shawn Matthias (upper body), Brad Richardson (ankle), Zack Kassian (back)
Status report: Arizona called up Samuelsson, a 21-year-old rookie forward picked 27th in the 2012 NHL Draft, from the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League on an emergency basis to replace Doan. It will be the third NHL game for Samuelsson, who has 14 goals and 35 points in 65 AHL games this season, and he will move into Doan’s spot on the top line and top power play unit. “It's a good opportunity for him,” coach Dave Tippett said. It may also be a short one. Tippett said Doan, who skated briefly Thursday morning, could be back for the season finale in Arizona on Saturday. … With Miller ready, the Canucks had to send goalie Jacob Markstrom back to the AHL because he was up on an emergency recall. … Baertschi will take the place of Matthias and play his second game for the Canucks since arriving in a trade from Calgary prior to the NHL Trade Deadline. Matthias is expected to return Saturday.
Who's hot: Twin brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin have combined for three goals and seven points in the past two games.