ISLANDERS (26-12-1) at CANUCKS (22-12-3)
TV: MSG+, SNP
VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks are coming off a win against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, but that didn’t stop coach Willie Desjardins from shaking up his tops lines and goalie against the New York Islanders on Tuesday.
After six games on the fourth line, Alexandre Burrows will be reunited with Daniel and Henrik Sedin on the top unit for the first time this season. Leading goal scorer Radim Vrbata drops down to spark a struggling second line with Nick Bonino and Chris Higgins.
“We’re trying to find some balance in our lineup too,” Desjardins said, noting the 4-1 win against Detroit included two power-play goals and two into an empty net. “We’ve got to get other lines going as well. It's not like we were dominating so we’re still looking for combinations.”
Desjardins is hoping Vrbata can help the duo of Bonino and Higgins, who have combined for two goals and two assists in their past 14 games despite second line minutes and power-play time. Vrbata, who signed a two-year, $10-million contract to play with the Sedin’s, has scored a goal in three straight games and leads the team with 16.
“He’s been putting the puck in the net quite a bit for us so hopefully he keeps it going,” Higgins said.
While Vrbata will have to adjust to new linemates, playing with the Sedin’s will be an easy transition for Burrows, who averaged almost 30 goals in his first four full seasons on their right wing.
“I change it up a little,” said Burrows, who was still on the top power-play unit with the Sedin’s. “When I don’t play with them I maybe hold onto pucks a little bit more or make more plays, but when I am with them it's pretty easy. It's basically I try to give them the puck as many times as I can and then once they have the puck I try to bring a check to the net and go to the net and bring a net-front presence and that’s been one of the reasons we’ve had success in the past.”
Desjardins is also changing goalies, replacing Ryan Miller, who went 4-1-1 with a .950 save percentage while starting a season-high six straight games, with Eddie Lack, who hasn’t played since Dec. 17.
In addition to any rust from not playing in almost three weeks, Lack will try to shake off what he called his “worst game as a professional” against the Islanders on March 10 last season.
Lack gave up six third-period goals as Vancouver blew a 3-0 lead and lost 7-4, with the final New York goal into an empty net tying the Canucks franchise record for the most surrendered in a period.
“I was using that game as motivation training in the summer and obviously that’s the biggest game I wanted back from last year and it feels really good to get another shot at it,” Lack said.
The Islanders also made lineup moves after a 5-2 loss against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday that was their second regulation loss in 10 games (7-2-1). Speedy left wing Michael Grabner, who was originally drafted by the Canucks 14th in the 2006 NHL Draft, returns after missing nine games with a lower-body injury to play on the top line with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. Grabner takes the place of Josh Bailey, who is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
With Grabner coming off injured reserve, New York placed defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, who played 20:35 against the Oilers on Sunday, on injured reserve with an upper-body injury.
"His speed backs off opponents and gives Johnny and Kyle more space," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said of Grabner.
Grabner, who had hernia surgery before the season, played five games in early December but didn’t feel he had that speed.
“It just didn’t feel good,” Grabner said. “I feel a lot better than the first time. I feel good in practices. I feel pretty dynamic.”
Playing with Tavares and Okposo should ease his return. Doing it in the city where he started his career helps too.
“Its extra motivation,” Grabner said of playing in Vancouver. “I am just going to try to use my speed, create some room for [Tavares and Okposo] and just try to keep it simple and they’ll do the rest.”
Here are the projected lineups:
Michael Grabner - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Mikhail Grabovski - Brock Nelson - Nikolay Kulemin
Anders Lee - Frans Nielsen - Ryan Strome
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck
Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk
Thomas Hickey - Matt Donovan
Calvin de Haan - Travis Hamonic
Scratched: Eric Boulton, Brian Strait
Injured: Lubomir Visnovsky (upper body), Josh Bailey (lower body), Matt Carkner (back)
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alexandre Burrows
Chris Higgins - Nick Bonino - Radim Vrbata
Shawn Matthias - Brad Richardson - Zack Kassian
Derek Dorsett - Bo Horvat - Jannik Hansen
Alexander Edler - Christopher Tanev
Ryan Stanton – Kevin Bieksa
Luca Sbisa - Yannick Weber
Scratched: Linden Vey, Bobby Sanguinetti
Injured: Dan Hamhuis (lower body)
Status report: Vey, who has one point in his past 12 games, will be a healthy scratch for a second straight game and fourth time this season after Kassian returned from a broken finger on Saturday. Vey started the season on the top power play unit, which kept him in the lineup through some mediocre five-on-five results, but has since been replaced there by Burrows. … With Visnovsky on injured reserve Capuano chose to use Donovan, who has played eight games this season, ahead of Strait, who will be a healthy scratch for an 11th straight game Tuesday. “[Donovan] has played well for me,” Capuano said. “He gives us a dimension on the power play, he is a plus player on our hockey club. Brian obviously is working extremely hard, he’s a real good player for us and I’m sure he'll get in there. We have a lot of depth. There was going to be lineup changes either way after the Edmonton game. Even though we should have won the hockey game dominating the third period like we did, it's unacceptable.”
Who's hot: Vrbata has scored a goal in three straight games, but is being moved off the top line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin at even strength against the Islanders. … Tavares has five goals and four assists in his past seven games.