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Vancouver first destination on Penguins' Canada trip

by Brian Hunter

PENGUINS (31-12-1) at CANUCKS (23-13-8)


Last 10: Pittsburgh 8-2-0; Vancouver 4-3-3

Season series: This is the second and final game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Vancouver Canucks. Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz each had a goal and two assists, and Evgeni Malkin had the shootout winner in Pittsburgh's 4-3 win at Consol Energy Center on Oct. 19. Kevin Bieksa assisted on all three Vancouver goals.

Big story: The Canucks have goaltending questions once again after Roberto Luongo returned Saturday from a three-game absence, stopped 46 shots in a 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, but came away ailing again, to the point where 43-year-old Rob Laurie had to be signed as an emergency to back up Eddie Lack against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday. TSN's James Duthie reported late Monday afternoon that Luongo has an ankle injury, but it's not believed to be serious. He underwent an MRI and was seen walking without a limp.

Team Scope:

Penguins: This is the start of a three-game road trip through western Canada for Pittsburgh, which got two key pieces to the puzzle back Sunday against the Winnipeg Jets. Kris Letang, who had been sidelined since Dec. 13, saw 24:31 of ice time and picked up an assist. Malkin, out since Dec. 14, scored twice and added an assist. Matt Niskanen scored with 7:22 remaining as the Penguins won 6-5 in a back-and-forth affair.

"We have a good structure here. We're always going to have a good chance to win because of that," defenseman Rob Scuderi said in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "But you can't teach what those guys have. Their vision, the ability to make guys miss, to open up space for someone else. That's strictly a feel thing. They have it. That's why they're special."

Canucks: Lack was 1-1-1 in three starts during Luongo's previous injury absence and Joacim Eriksson, who served as his backup during that stretch, was recalled again from the American Hockey League on Monday.

The Ducks edged the Canucks 4-3 on a Corey Perry goal in the final seconds of overtime, leaving Lack winless in three straight starts, but for a second consecutive night Vancouver made life difficult on its goaltender by allowing nearly 50 shots. Lack made 45 saves to help the Canucks secure a point.

"Giving up that many shots, it's not one or two things," defenseman Dan Hamhuis said in the Vancouver Province. "It's a lot of collective things and aside from the actual details and specifics, a lot of it is a mindset too."

Who's hot: James Neal has six goals and six assists in his past five games for the Penguins. Jussi Jokinen has three goals in the past two games. Crosby has three goals and six assists during a five-game point streak. Kunitz (three goals, five assists) and Niskanen (two goals, two assists) have four-game point streaks. … Ryan Kesler has goals in consecutive games for the Canucks. Henrik Sedin had a goal and two assists against the Ducks, while Daniel Sedin had three assists.

Injury report: Pittsburgh forward Chuck Kobasew (lower body) is day-to-day. Goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot), defenseman Paul Martin (leg) and forwards Beau Bennett (wrist), Andrew Ebbett (ankle), Jayson Megna (lower body), Pascal Dupuis (knee) and Chris Conner (hand) are on injured reserve. … Luongo (ankle) remains day-to-day for Vancouver along with forwards Chris Higgins (flu-like symptoms) and Zack Kassian (undisclosed). Defenseman Andrew Alberts (concussion) has missed the past four games. Defenseman Alexander Edler (lower body) and Ryan Stanton (ankle) and forwards Jordan Schroeder (ankle) and Alexandre Burrows (jaw) are on injured reserve.

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