BLUE JACKETS (19-28-5) at CANUCKS (20-19-11)
TV: NHL.TV, FS-O, SNP
VANCOUVER - Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella isn't worried about how he'll be received in his first game back in Vancouver on Thursday at Rogers Arena (10 p.m. ET, FS-O, SNP, NHL.tv) since being fired after one season behind the Vancouver Canucks bench.
Tortorella, who missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Canucks in 2013-14, is too busy trying to turn around another struggling team.
"There are so many people chucking things at you as a head coach in the League that if you worry about (how fans react) you won't have time to coach your team," Tortorella said. "I probably won't even know if there is any good or bad reaction because I will be focused on my hockey club and trying to find a way to get some consistency."
Columbus is 19-21-5 since Tortorella was hired Oct. 21 to replace Todd Richards after the Blue Jackets lost their first seven games of the season. That includes the two wins over the Montreal Canadiens that Tortorella missed before the All-Star break break after breaking two ribs in a practice collision with forward Rene Bourque. He was back behind the bench for a 5-1 loss against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday and saw some familiar trends, pointing to a second period in which the Blue Jackets gave up four goals, including two in 29 seconds late in the period.
"It's eliminating the big mistakes and understanding when momentum is coming against us, we just have to stem it and play simple and try not to get hurt again," Tortorella said. "We've had struggles with that throughout the year, so that's what we need to improve."
The Blue Jackets, last in the NHL with 43 points, will try to do that against a Canucks team that is getting healthy for the first time since early November.
Center Brandon Sutter played the final game before the All-Star break after missing 33 games with a sports hernia, and top-line center Henrik Sedin will return against Columbus after missing four games with an upper body injury. Top-four defenseman Dan Hamhuis was also hoping to play against the Blue Jackets after missing two months with a broken jaw, but will have to wait until Saturday against the Calgary Flames.
Coach Willie Desjardins is eager to see how his lineup performs when the Canucks try to close a two-point gap on third place in the Pacific Division playoff race.
"Curious is a good word. I don't think you ever know," Desjardins said. "I'm excited to see where we're at and what is going to happen, but a lot of times when you've been injured and get healthy you think it's just going to happen. It's not. It's hard even when you get healthy. If you're not totally ready and playing hard you are not going to win."
Here are the projected lineups:
Brandon Saad - Alexander Wennberg - Nick Foligno
Boone Jenner - Brandon Dubinsky - Cam Atkinson
Scott Hartnell - William Karlsson - Matt Calvert
Kerby Rychel - Gregory Campbell - Rene Bourque
Ryan Murray - Seth Jones
Fedor Tyutin - Dalton Prout
Cody Goloubef - Jack Johnson
Injured: David Clarkson (upper body), Curtis McElhinney (ankle), David Savard (oblique), Sergei Bobrovsky (lower body)
Scratched: Jared Boll, Justin Falk
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Jannik Hansen
Sven Baertschi - Bo Horvat - Radim Vrbata
Derek Dorsett - Brandon Sutter - Jake Virtanen
Alexandre Burrows - Linden Vey - Emerson Etem
Alexander Edler - Christopher Tanev
Ben Hutton - Luca Sbisa
Matt Bartkowski - Alex Biega
Injured: Dan Hamhuis (jaw)
Scratched: Jared McCann, Yannick Weber, Adam Cracknell
Status Report: The Canucks sent veteran Brandon Prust sent to the Utica Comets of the AHL on Thursday after he cleared waivers, but general manager Jim Benning said this week he will continue to look for a trade partner for the gritty forward, who is in the final year of a contract worth $2.5-million. … Virtanen, who was expected to benefit the most in terms of playing time with Prust gone, practiced for two days on a line with Sutter and Dorsett, but there were some indications Thursday the 18-year-old might be scratched in favor of fellow rookie Jared McCann, 19. … Barring an injury Thursday, Vancouver likely will waive or demote a player from its current roster in order to activate Hamhuis from injured reserve.
Who's Hot: Tanev, known as a shutdown defenseman, has assists in three straight games. … Atkinson has four goals and an assist in his past three games.