PREDATORS (34-21-13) at CANUCKS (26-28-12)
TV: 10 p.m. ET; FS-TN, CBC, NHL-TV
VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Canucks will have captain and top-line center Henrik Sedin back in the lineup when they try to end the Nashville Predators' franchise-record 14-game point streak on Saturday.
Sedin missed two games with an upper-body injury, but was back at practice for the past two days and will be reunited with twin brother Daniel Sedin against Nashville. With their regular right wing Jannik Hansen still out with a rib injury, 19-year-old rookie Jake Virtanen will get his first chance to play with the Sedins since the preseason.
Coach Willie Desjardins called it "an experiment just to see how guys fit," but Henrik said it's also a chance for young players to face tougher defensive matchups.
"Down the stretch, if you can put the young guys in a position like this I think it is good for them going forward," Henrik said. "It's not so much producing now; it's more about facing [top defensive pairings] and seeing what it takes shift to shift to go up against them."
Virtanen, who has scored four of his six goals and three of his six assists in the past 13 games, said he learned from his one chance with the Sedins in the preseason how to fit into their unique brother-to-brother passing game down low in the offensive zone.
"Willie told me, 'Just don't get in the cycle with them because you are just going to screw it up,' so I was going to the net every time," Virtanen, who was picked sixth in the 2014 NHL Draft by the Canucks, said with a laugh of the preseason game. "When I first played with them, I was always trying to get in the cycle with them but watching them throughout the year I think I just have to go to the net, find open space in the slot and they'll find me."
The only change Nashville is expected to make coming off a 3-2 overtime loss against the Calgary Flames on Wednesday is in goal, where Pekka Rinne will start after Carter Hutton started the second half of back-to-back games in Calgary. The rest of the Predators lineup should remain intact, hardly a surprise for a team that is on a 9-0-5 run and has not lost in regulation since Feb. 9, the NHL's longest active streak.
Nashville's top line has struggled through much of that streak, including one goal and six assists in 16 games for No.1 center Ryan Johansen. But with other lines chipping in offensively, the Vancouver native said it's been easier not to force things offensively.
"You don't want to get away from the system and team play and the game plan," said Johansen, who has five goals and 14 assists in 28 games since arriving in a Jan.6 trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets. "Sometimes you want to cheat the game and maybe fly the zone and look for a breakaway, but it's more important to be responsible and understand if you just take care of your own zone, you are helping your team win."
Here are the projected lineups:
Calle Jarnkrok - Ryan Johansen - James Neal
Filip Forsberg - Mike Ribeiro - Craig Smith
Miikka Salomaki - Mike Fisher - Viktor Arvidsson
Colin Wilson - Colton Sissons - Austin Watson
Roman Josi - Shea Weber
Anthony Bitetto - Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm - Petter Granberg
Injured: Gabriel Bourque (upper body), Paul Gaustad (upper body), Eric Nystrom (broken foot)
Scratched: Barret Jackman
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Jake Virtanen
Sven Baertschi - Markus Granlund - Radim Vrbata
Alexandre Burrows - Bo Horvat - Derek Dorsett
Jared McCann - Linden Vey - Emerson Etem
Dan Hamhuis - Yannick Weber
Ben Hutton - Luca Sbisa
Matt Bartkowski - Alex Biega
Injured: Christopher Tanev (upper body), Jannik Hansen (ribs), Brandon Sutter (broken jaw), Alexander Edler (fractured tibia)
Scratched: Nikita Tryamkin, Brendan Gaunce
Status Report: Tanev will miss a third straight game with an unidentified upper-body injury, but skated Saturday morning for the first time since sustaining the injury March 5 and said he might play Monday against the Winnipeg Jets. … Tryamkin, a 6-foot-8 Russian defenseman who signed with Vancouver on Wednesday after his Kontinental Hockey League season ended, had his first practice Friday but the 21-year-old won't play against Nashville because the Canucks want to give him time to get comfortable in a new system and with new teammates. … Jackman, who signed a two-year free agent contract in Nashville last summer, will be a healthy scratch for the sixth straight game.
Who's Hot: Smith had his point streak ended at five games against the Flames but still has five goals and five assists in his past six games. … Baertschi has one goal and four points in his past four games.