FLAMES (17-15-2) at CANUCKS (18-11-2)
VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames will try to end long slumps that are threatening to derail surprising starts when they face each other at Rogers Arena on Saturday.
Calgary’s 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars on Friday was its seventh straight in regulation, a skid that has dropped the Flames outside the Western Conference cutoff for the Stanley Cup Playoffs following an impressive, but unexpected, 17-8-2 start to the season.
Vancouver is winless in five games and facing a similar drop after an equally unforeseen 18-7-1 start and is two points ahead of the ninth-place Flames, though Calgary has played three more games.
“They’ve been losing some games lately, so have we,” Canucks forward Jannik Hansen said. “Obviously both teams are desperate to turn the streak around.”
Neither team has won since Dec. 4, and Calgary is playing the second half of back-to-back games with travel, but that doesn’t mean they will approach their first meeting since the season opener cautiously.
“It will be really high-paced, a lot of hard work,” Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows said. “Both teams are going to be really aggressive.”
To end their funk, one team is going to have to start scoring.
The Flames, whose losing streak is the franchise’s longest since 1974-75, were leading the Western Conference in goals before the slump, but have scored 11 goals in their past seven losses.
The Canucks have two goals in their past three games, including a 2-0 loss to the Stars on Wednesday. But the focus in Vancouver has been on defensive structure that had slipped while giving up 17 goals over four games before a tighter effort against Dallas.
“We’ve gotten away from what was making us successful early on,” Hansen said. “When you get sloppy and you are winning you kind of overlook it, but now that we’re losing we’re trying to correct them a little but harder than maybe if we would have gotten away with it.”
Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins tweaked his forward lines a little, dropping Burrows to Hansen’s place on the fourth line, and moving Hansen up to the second line. But the Canucks don’t want to change much from the loss to Dallas, where they forced Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen to make several great saves, especially early in a first period Vancouver dominated.
“Experience has shown if you keep peppering goalies and get traffic and get tips and rebounds normally you’ll get a goal at the end of the night,” Burrows said. “You have to have an aggressive mindset but at the same time you have to be smart defensively.”
Here are the projected lineups:
Joe Colborne - Sean Monahan - David Jones
Johnny Gaudreau - Josh Jooris - Jiri Hudler
Curtis Glencross - Markus Granlund - Paul Byron
Mason Raymond - Lance Bouma - Brandon Bollig
Mark Giordano - TJ Brodie
Kris Russell - Dennis Wideman
Raphael Diaz - Deryk Engelland
Scratched: Corey Potter, Matt Stajan, Brian McGrattan
Injured: Sam Bennett (shoulder), Mikael Backlund (abdomen), Ladislav Smid (upper body)
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Radim Vrbata
Chris Higgins - Nick Bonino - Jannik Hansen
Shawn Matthias – Brad Richardson - Linden Vey
Derek Dorsett - Bo Horvat - Alexandre Burrows
Alexander Edler – Christopher Tanev
Luca Sbisa – Yannick Weber
Ryan Stanton – Kevin Bieksa
Scratched: Alex Biega, Tom Sestito
Injured: Zack Kassian (finger), Dan Hamhuis (lower body)
Status report: The Flames did not skate in Vancouver on Saturday but coach Bob Hartley talked to the media at the team hotel and confirmed Hiller would start for a second straight night after Ramo was unable to skate Friday morning because of illness. Hartley also said Jooris will be a game-time decision after blocking a shot against the Stars on Friday. That could affect the status of Stajan, who was a healthy scratch against Dallas. … Hamhuis, who has been out since Nov. 20 with an unidentified lower body injury, skated in sweat pants on Saturday. Hamhuis had resistance bands strapped to him and a trainer holding on to them from behind as he skated, but there is no firm timeline for his return.
Who's hot: Hansen has two assists in his past three games. … Giordano has the only active scoring streak with one goal and one assist in his past two games and continues to lead NHL defensemen with 32 points in 34 games, including three goals and five assists in his past 10 games.