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Canucks' Vrbata to play with Sedins against Capitals

by Kevin Woodley

CAPITALS (4-1-0) at CANUCKS (3-1-2)


VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Canucks forward Radim Vrbata will skate on a line with Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin for the first time this season Thursday against the Washington Capitals.

Vrbata is has zero points in his first six games. Playing most of last season with the Sedins at even strength, Vrbata led the Canucks with 31 goals.

"The reason I came here last year was to have a chance to play with them and at the beginning of the season we were scoring. So hopefully we can do the same thing now," said Vrbata earlier this week. He did not skate or talk to the media Thursday. "Hopefully it is going to help a little bit and we get some scoring going. But I don't think it was too much about playing with different guys or chemistry. It was about burying the chances and for the puck to go in. But obviously if we can play the same way we did last year and score some goals, that would help big time."

The Sedins could use some help too. After combining for two goals and two assists in the season opener, they have two points in the past five games.

Part of the problem is a power play ranked 28th in the NHL, with one goal in 20 chances so far this season. The power play, which has included Vrbata with the Sedins, was a focus in practice with three days between games this week.

"It helps to have that time just to work on things," coach Willie Desjardins said after the Canucks' optional morning skate Thursday.

The Capitals haven't had any scoring issues, and their lineup has gotten even stronger now that center Nicklas Backstrom has returned to the lineup after missing the season's first four games recovering from offseason hip surgery.

Despite coming back to a second line with new teammate Justin Williams instead of his old spot alongside Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom has three goals and two assists in his first two games.

"It helps for the confidence," Backstrom said of scoring right away. "[The hip] has been feeling good throughout and that's what gave me hope to get back quicker than maybe I should."

Backstrom's two assists came on a power play that features most of the same players as last season, with the exception of forward T.J. Oshie replacing the departed Troy Brouwer in front of the net. But Backstrom has scored his three goals at even strength, and for all the attention on not playing with Ovechkin, coach Barry Trotz thinks more should be paid to Backstrom's all-around game.

"A guy no one seems to talk about is Nick Backstrom," Trotz said. "I'm telling you, you guys out west don't see him enough. He is the best two-way forward I've ever coached. Everyone just thinks he's an offensive player. But he is as good as there is at both ends of the ice."

Here are the projected lineups:


Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Justin Williams

Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson

Brooks Laich - Chandler Stephenson - Andre Burakovsky

Brooks Orpik - John Carlson

Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner

Dmitry Orlov -Taylor Chorney

Braden Holtby

Philipp Grubauer

Injured: Chris Brown (hand)

Scratched: Michael Latta, Nate Schmidt, Stanislav Galiev


Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Radim Vrbata

Alexandre Burrows - Brandon Sutter - Jannik Hansen

Sven Baertschi - Bo Horvat - Jake Virtanen

Brandon Prust - Jared McCann - Derek Dorsett

Alexander Edler - Christopher Tanev

Dan Hamhuis - Matt Bartkowski

Ben Hutton - Luca Sbisa

Ryan Miller

Richard Bachman

Injured: Chris Higgins (foot), Jacob Markstrom (hamstring)

Scratched: Adam Cracknell, Yannick Weber

Status Report: McCann, 19, returns after missing one game because of an undisclosed injury and will center the fourth line in place of Cracknell. … Trotz said Grubauer will make his first start of the season Friday against the Edmonton Oilers in the second half of back-to-back games. … Higgins, who broke his foot blocking a shot in the first preseason game, skated for the first time this week but there is no timeline for his return.

Who's hot: Ovechkin has at least a goal in all four games he's played. … Hansen has five points in seven career games against the Capitals.

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