COYOTES (6-9-1) at CANUCKS (12-5-0)
TV: FS-A+, SNP
VANCOUVER -- First-year Vancouver Canucks right wing Radim Vrbata will return to the top line and power-play unit just in time to face his old team, the Arizona Coyotes, on Friday.
Vrbata said he never wanted to leave Arizona, but is more concerned with his own game than his old team.
"It's not so much about me proving something to them," said Vrbata, who missed the past two games with an undisclosed lower-body injury. "I left them on good terms."
Vrbata made it clear he preferred not to leave at all, saying he and the Coyotes talked about a contract extension before and during last season. He even circled back after becoming a free agent this summer before signing a two-year, $10-million contract with the Canucks.
"I was looking for the next best choice and it was Vancouver," he said.
The chance to play with Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin played a big part in that decision, and it's paid off for all involved so far. With seemingly instant chemistry from the first day of training camp, Vrbata scored five goals in the first eight games before cooling off with one in the past six prior to his injury. He has 13 points in 15 games.
Vrbata has helped revitalize the Sedins, who are each near a point per game so far, and a power play that has improved from 26th last season to 17th so far this season. But the scoring at 5-on-5 and on the power play dried up a bit shortly before the recent injury, and Vrbata said his line will have to continue to adjust.
"You score a couple goals as a line early in the season and the other teams start to pay attention to you," he said. "So now you need to find different ways to create chances."
A game against his old team might help -- if Vrbata recognizes even them.
Several Canucks referred to Arizona as a tight-checking, defense-first team after their morning skate. That has certainly been the reputation under coach Dave Tippett, but the Coyotes come into Vancouver off a third straight loss, 5-3, against the Calgary Flames on Thursday night, and have the NHL's third worst goals-against average at 3.44.
"That's what I talk about too," Tippett said of the defensive reputation, cracking a rare smile during an otherwise terse media session after meetings at the hotel. "Just sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't. … We've been inconsistent in all parts of our game. That's goaltending to defending to offensive play to all of the above."
Tippett would not confirm his starting goaltender against the Canucks, but Mike Smith has already played on consecutive nights during his current run of five straight starts and they were two of his better starts this season. Smith stopped 37 shots in a 3-2 shootout win against the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 7 and made 32 saves in a 1-0 shutout loss to the New York Islanders the next night. Smith, who comes in with an .889 save percentage, was also 3-0-2 with a .930 save percentage against the Canucks last season.
Playing Smith in Vancouver might allow Devan Dubnyk to play against his old team, the Edmonton Oilers, to wrap up a three-game road trip Monday.
Here are the projected lineups:
Lauri Korpikoski - Antoine Vermette - Mikkel Boedker
Rob Klinkhammer - Martin Hanzal - Martin Erat
Tobias Rieder - Sam Gagner - Shane Doan
Kyle Chipchura - Joe Vitale - B.J. Crombeen
Keith Yandle - Connor Murphy
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Zbynek Michalek
Brandon Gormley - Michael Stone
Scratched: Brandon McMillan, Chris Summers
Injured: David Moss (upper body)
Daniel Sedin – Henrik Sedin – Radim Vrbata
Chris Higgins – Nick Bonino – Alexandre Burrows
Shawn Matthias – Brad Richardson – Nicklas Jensen
Derek Dorsett – Linden Vey – Jannik Hansen
Alexander Edler – Christopher Tanev
Ryan Stanton – Kevin Bieksa
Dan Hamhuis – Yannick Weber
Scratched: Bo Horvat
Injured: Zack Kassian (lower body), (leg), Luca Sbisa (lower body), Tom Sestito (groin)
Status report: With Dorsett returning to the fourth line after missing two games with a lower body injury and Vey back centering it after being bumped back down the lineup by Vrbata's return, the rookie Horvat, 19, will be a healthy scratch after playing 5:56 against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday. That was the lowest single-game total of any Canucks forward under new coach Willie Desjardins and his four-line philosophy this season. … Kassian practiced with the team for a second straight day at the morning skate but is expected to miss a fifth game with a suspected knee injury. Sbisa still isn't skating and will miss a third game Friday with a lower-body injury. … Coyotes general manager Don Maloney confirmed defenseman David Schlemko, who played his first game Thursday after five straight as a healthy scratch, has been placed on waivers, but would not comment further.
Who's hot: Vancouver's second line continues to be its most consistent of late, with Bonino scoring three goals and two assists in his past five games, and Burrows scoring twice and assisting on another goal in four games since returning from a suspension for a high hit. … Vermette had a goal and an assist in Calgary on Thursday, leads the Coyotes with 12 points and usually plays well against the Canucks, including scoring six of Arizona's 10 goals against then last season.