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Canucks kick off long trip against slumping Leafs

by John Kreiser

CANUCKS (33-18-2) at MAPLE LEAFS (17-27-11)

Last 10 -- Vancouver 7-2-1; Toronto 2-6-2

Season series -- The teams are meeting for the second and final time this season. Vancouver beat the Leafs 3-1 at GM Place on Oct. 24. The Canucks have won the last five meetings since Toronto's 2-1 victory at the Air Canada Centre on Nov. 24, 2003.

Big story -- The trip is on! The Canucks are playing the opener of their 14-game road trip, the longest in NHL history, while the Winter Olympics take over GM Place. They won't play at home again until March 13, playing their last eight games before the Olympic break and the first six after it on the road. The visit to Toronto starts a three-game swing through Eastern Canada.

Team Scope:

Canucks -- Starting their long trip in Toronto on Hockey Day in Canada is special for most of the Canucks, but especially so for defenseman Shawn O'Brien, who grew up about 70 miles east of Canada's biggest city.

"It's definitely special," O'Brien told the team's Web site. "I grew up a Leafs fan and I remember going to Maple Leafs Gardens and when this building opened coming here with my dad to watch the Leafs play and every time I come back it's special. It's even better when we can win here, there's no better team to beat than the Leafs, it's a lot of fun."

Maple Leafs -- The Leafs can't win for losing. They overcame a two-goal deficit in the final 5:01 of regulation at New Jersey on Friday night, only to lose 5-4 on Travis Zajac's power-play goal with 46 seconds left in overtime. Alex Ponikarovsky and Matt Stajan beat Martin Brodeur to get the Leafs a point, but Luke Schenn's penalty with 68 seconds left in overtime gave the Devils a 4-on-3 power play -- and they cashed in to send Toronto to its fifth consecutive loss.

Who's hot -- Vancouver's Henrik Sedin, the NHL's leading scorer, has 9 points in his last five games despite being blanked on Wednesday. No. 2 center Ryan Kesler had 3 assists on Wednesday and has 5 in his last four games. Mason Raymond is coming off a 2-goal, 3-point night against St. Louis. … Ponikarovsky has back-to-back two-point games after getting a goal and an assist in New Jersey. Niklas Hagman has 5 points in his last five games.

Injury report -- The Canucks could get defenseman Sami Salo (groin) back, but another blueliner, Willie Mitchell, didn't make the trip due to a concussion. … For the Leafs, defenseman Mike Komisarek (shoulder), out since Jan. 4, may play against the Canucks while Mikhail Grabovski (broken wrist) is skating, but may not be back until after the Olympics.

Stat pack -- The Canucks have already made the longest single flight they'll take on their trip. The Vancouver-to-Toronto leg clocks in at just under 2,100 miles. The shortest comes early next week -- the Ottawa-to-Montreal leg is just under 100 miles. … The Leafs have the worst record in the NHL in games decided after regulation at 1-11, including an 0-9 mark in overtime.

Puck drop -- If you think the Canucks' players have it tough during the trip, consider the plight of equipment managers Pat O'Neill and Jamie Hendricks. They had to pack for the entire 14-game trip and every scenario imaginable (callups, different weather, etc.) because the team will have no access to GM Place during the entire trip. O'Neill will get some time at home, though -- he's also the equipment manager for Team Canada, which will use the Canucks' dressing room during the Olympics.

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