Just under two weeks ago, the Vancouver Canucks were within a point of first place in the Northwest Division. With less than a month to go in the regular season, however, they are in danger of missing the playoffs completely.
The Canucks look to avoid losing five straight games for the first time in two years on Thursday when they host a Nashville Predators club they are chasing in the Western Conference standings.
Vancouver (32-24-10) appeared to be poised for a strong playoff push after running its winning streak to a season-high four games with a 4-1 victory over league-best Detroit on Feb. 23. That win brought the Canucks into a five-way tie for fifth place in the West and only one point behind Northwest-leading Minnesota.
|The Vancouver Canucks seek to avoid a fifth-straight loss for the first time in two years, while the Nashville Predators aim to hold down one of the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference when both teams face each other tonight at GM Place. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
However, they have since fallen five points out of the division lead by losing four in a row to match their longest losing streak of the season. Vancouver has dropped two points behind Nashville (34-25-8) and Colorado for the West's final two playoff spots.
A regulation loss in this game, coupled with an Avalanche win over Anaheim on Thursday, would push Vancouver four points out of the playoff picture with 15 games remaining.
The Canucks, who have not dropped five consecutive games since March 5-14, 2006, have scored just six goals during their skid following a 2-1 loss to Colorado on Tuesday.
"Our guys are squeezing their sticks a little bit on offense," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "It's not going in for us right now. Our guys are good hockey players and they are in a funk right now. We have to keep working."
Daniel Sedin leads Vancouver with 26 goals, but has gone a season-high six straight games without scoring and he has just four goals in his last 20. Twin brother and Canucks points leader Henrik Sedin has no points and two assists over the last six games. In that same span, Markus Naslund has failed to record a point.
The Predators have had no such problems on offense lately, scoring 26 goals over their last seven games.
They scored on two of their first three shots Tuesday in a 5-1 victory over Edmonton, improving to 2-1-0 on a season-high six-game road trip. Martin Erat got his first career hat trick after going five straight games without a goal.
"It's great, especially when there's only 15 games left and the points are so important for us," said Erat, who has two goals and an assist in three games against Vancouver this season. "But it doesn't matter who scores for us, we just need points."
The Predators have lost their last two games against the Canucks, but both of those meetings came in Tennessee. Nashville won the only matchup this season in Vancouver and has won three of its last four visits there.
The Canucks have lost eight of their last 12 home games after winning 11 of their previous 12 at GM Place.
Jason Arnott, who leads the Predators with 39 assists and 63 points, has four goals and five assists during a six-game point streak. Arnott has two goals and three assists in three meetings with Vancouver this season.
Predators goaltender Dan Ellis has made back-to-back solid starts, stopping 29 shots on Tuesday after making 24 saves in Saturday's 3-1 win at Dallas. Nashville coach Barry Trotz may give Ellis, who is 7-1-1 with a 2.41 GAA and one shutout in his last 11 games, another start on Thursday as starting goalie Chris Mason is 0-2-2 with a 5.17 GAA in his last five contests.
While Ellis is 1-1-0 with a 2.02 GAA versus Vancouver this season, Mason has lost all three starts he's made against the Canucks in his career.