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Canucks host Red Wings in marquee matchup

by Brian Hedger
RED WINGS (21-10-1) at CANUCKS (20-11-2)


Last 10:
Detroit 7-3-0; Edmonton 7-2-1

Season series:
This is the second of four games between Detroit and Vancouver, with the Wings winning the first one 2-0 on Oct. 14 at Joe Louis Arena. Jimmy Howard earned the shutout by stopping all 25 shots he faced and the Wings were paced offensively by goals from Justin Abdelkader and Valtteri Filppula. Detroit outshot Vancouver 37-25, including 24-8 in the second period -- when both goals were scored. This will be the first of two meetings at Vancouver's Rogers Arena.

Big story: The Red Wings have been carried most of the season by the star forwards on the top two lines, plus some outstanding defense and goaltending by Howard. However, the role players on the bottom two lines have started to make their presence felt in the past couple games. After scoring 2 goals in a rout of the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday, Drew Miller came up big once again on Monday night in Edmonton by potting the game-winning goal in the third period of a 3-2 victory.

The Canucks, meanwhile, appear to be over the hangover from their crushing Stanley Cup Final loss last season. Despite some injuries on the back end, Vancouver is back to overwhelming opponents with the slick skating, crisp-passing offensive game that helped the Canucks win the Presidents' Trophy for the League's highest point total last season. Goalie Roberto Luongo is also rounding back into form after shutting out the Minnesota Wild 4-0 Monday at Rogers Arena, making 33 saves and improving his record to 6-0-1 in his last seven starts.

Team Scope:

Red Wings:
Progress in road games this season is measured in baby steps for Detroit, which has been mostly sub-par away from Joe Louis Arena. That's why Monday's 3-2 win against the Oilers at Rexall Place was a big lift for the Wings, who evened their road record to 8-8-0 thanks to Miller's game-winning goal late in the third. Jiri Hudler and Danny Cleary also got on the score sheet with goals for the Wings, who are locked in a tight battle for second in the Central Division with the St. Louis Blues and only a few points behind the division-leading Chicago Blackhawks.

Howard became the first goalie in the NHL to reach the 20-win mark and Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom had an assist on Miller’s game-winner. Lidstrom is having another great season with 22 points (7 goals) and an impressive plus-17 rating, but he was happy to see the third line of Miller, Darren Helm and Cleary having success recently -- including scoring two of the three goals against the Oilers.

"We were tied heading into the third on the road and we just wanted to grind it out and not open ourselves up defensively," Lidstrom said. "We wanted to wait for our opportunity and our third line had a great night. It was great to see Miller get that winning goal. It's something we have to continue to build on."

Canucks: Vancouver has definitely righted the ship and is back to its old ways of dominating puck possession and making life stressful for opposing goalies. The Wild faced the Canucks on Monday night without four injured top-six forwards, but the scary thing is that it might not have mattered in the Canucks' dominating 4-0 victory.

Not only did Luongo pitch a shutout, but the Sedin twins showed that Daniel doesn't have to do the scoring and Henrik doesn't just dish out assists. Daniel set up three of the Vancouver goals, including one to Henrik -- who added a couple of assists of his own. Ryan Kesler, Alexandre Burrows and Jannik Hansen also scored for the red-hot Canucks, who have won two in a row, 11 of their last 14 and are 6-1-1 in their last eight games to move within the top eight in the Western Conference. They also trail Minnesota by just a few points in the Northwest Division, which is what they care about most.

"It was a huge game for us," Luongo said in the Vancouver Sun. "We wanted to close some gap in the standings. I thought that in the last 40 minutes of the game we really played well as a team and the way we want to be playing."

Who's hot:
Howard has a 1.80 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in his last 15 games, Ian White leads the NHL with a plus-23 rating and Henrik Zetterberg has scored points in 12 of the last 15 games, including a current six-game streak for Detroit. … Burrows has scored goals in three straight games, Kesler has points in seven of his last 10 games and Henrik Sedin has piled up 15 points (1 goal, 14 assists) in the last 10 contests for the Canucks.

Injury report:
Forward Jan Mursak (broken ankle), forward Patrick Eaves (broken jaw) and Chris Conner (fractured hand) are all on IR for the Wings; Defensemen Aaron Rome (broken thumb) and Keith Ballard (back spasms) missed Monday’s game against the Wild, while forwards David Booth (knee) and Aaron Volpatti (shoulder) are also out for the Canucks.

Stat pack: Detroit is one of the League's least-penalized teams with just 282 minutes spent in the penalty box, which is almost half as much as Vancouver's 465 penalty minutes -- ranking the Canucks near the bottom of the NHL in that category. The Wings will probably need to stay out of the box against Vancouver, because the Canucks have the League's top-ranked power play, which is clicking at a 26.1 percent success rate.

Puck drop:
In the first game between the Wings and Canucks this season, they combined for a total of seven shots on goal in the third period -- with Detroit leading 2-0. The Wings outshot Vancouver in that third by a paltry 4-3 count.
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