| || || || || || |
|Alexandre Burrows |
| ||LW - #14 |
|• Undrafted winger split his time between the ECHL and the AHL for three seasons before signing with Vancouver – and is now a fixture on the Canucks’ top line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin. |
• Despite being seen as an agitating checking forward, Burrows has put up hefty numbers the past three seasons – tallying 28 goals in 2008-09, 35 in 2009-10 and 26 last season.
• Teammates for two full seasons in juniors with Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek when the two players skated for Shawinigan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) from 2000-02.
|Chris Higgins |
| ||LW - #20 |
|• Turned pro in 2003 after two productive collegiate seasons at Yale and recorded three 20-plus goal seasons with Montreal to start his NHL career, notching personal bests in 2007-08 with 27 goals and 52 points. |
• Dealt to the Canucks from the Panthers just before the trade deadline on Feb. 28 in exchange for a prospect and a 2012 third-round draft pick.
• The former first-round selection (14th overall, Montreal, 2002) has played with four different teams (NY Rangers, Calgary, Florida and Vancouver) the past two seasons.
|Kevin Bieksa |
| ||D - #3 |
|• Canucks alternate captain signed a five-year, $23 million contract extension on June 27, foregoing potential unrestricted free agency to stay in Vancouver. |
• Heart and soul of the Canucks’ blue line, who finished last season with an impressive plus-32 rating, forms the team’s top shutdown defensive pairing alongside Dan Hamhuis.
• Played four collegiate seasons at Bowling Green State University – the same school Penguins coaches Dan Bylsma and Todd Reirden attended – from 2000-04, graduating with a finance degree.
|The Penguins drew quite a formidable foe for their 2011-12 season opener: the Vancouver Canucks. |
The Canucks are certain to be hungry and highly motivated after advancing all the way to the Stanley Cup Final last season – and suffering a heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Boston Bruins in their own arena.
Despite getting so close to the promised land and having nothing to show for it, the Canucks have returned most of their roster from a season that saw them finish at or near the top of most notable statistical categories, showing just how deep of a team Vancouver GM Mike Gillis has assembled.
The Canucks’ first line – composed of wonder twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin and winger Alexandre Burrows – is intact. Left wing Daniel won the NHL scoring title (Art Ross) last season with 102 points, while center Henrik won it in 2010 with 112 points. The gritty Burrows played big during the Canucks’ Cup Final run, netting nine goals and 17 points – including the Game 7 overtime winner in their opening-round series vs. Chicago.
But the Canucks will be entering Thursday’s contest missing two-thirds of their second line, as they’ll be without Ryan Kesler – the 2011 Selke Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defensive forward – to start the season as he continues to recover from offseason hip surgery. The 26-year-old center had a career year in 2010-11, scoring 41 goals, 73 points and finishing with a plus-24 rating.
They’ll also be without winger Mason Raymond, a fixture on the Canucks’ second line beside Kesler, as he suffered a vertebrae compression fracture during the Cup Final and isn’t expected back until November.
But while the Canucks will miss Kesler and Raymond, they’ll have both Mikael Samuelsson and Manny Malhotra back in the lineup for opening night.
Samuelsson underwent surgery to repair his adductor tendon and sports hernia in the middle of the Western Conference Finals, sidelining him for the remainder of the playoffs. The veteran Swedish sniper has scored a combined 48 goals the past two campaigns and should add to Vancouver’s already potent offense.
Malhotra, meanwhile, is back to full health after suffering a scary eye injury in March. He’s one of the game’s best defensive centers and is known for his faceoff proficiency – finishing last season with a 61.7-percent success rate in the dot, ranked second in the NHL.
They’ve also added Marco Sturm and Chris Higgins to the mix. Sturm, who entered the league in 1997, is a seven-time 20-plus goal scorer, while Higgins has shown flashes of offensive spark at the NHL level
Vancouver sustained their biggest offseason departure on the blue line in the form of defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who inked a 10-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres.
Ehrhoff’s offensive production from the back end (a combined 28 goals and 94 points in his two seasons with Vancouver) will be hard to replace. He was also a workhorse – logging 23:59 minutes per game, second-most on the team – and quarterbacked Vancouver’s top-ranked power play.
But Gillis made sure the rest of his blue line remained intact, re-signing Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo and Andrew Alberts after inking Dan Hamhuis to a six-year extension last summer. Bieksa, who finished last season with a staggering plus-32 rating, is the team’s heart and soul on the back end and will likely be joined by Hamhuis on the top pairing. Keith Ballard, Alexander Edler and Chris Tanev round out the back end.
Finally, Vezina Trophy finalist Roberto Luongo is back between the pipes for the Canucks. Vancouver is also returning highly capable backup Corey Schnieder, who went 16-4-2 with a .949 save percentage in his relief appearances.
- Last season Vancouver reached the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in franchise history (1982, 1994, 2011), losing to the Boston Bruins in seven games. The Canucks, who joined the league in 1970 as an expansion team, have yet to win the Cup.
- The Canucks were the first team in the NHL to clinch a berth in the playoffs in 2010-11, and clinched their division just two weeks later, winning their fourth Northwest Division title in five years.
- With a 54-19-9 record and 117 points, the Canucks also captured their first Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history, which guaranteed them home-ice advantage for the duration of the 2011 playoffs.
- Vancouver proved to be one of the most well-rounded teams in the league in 2010-11, finishing first in both goals for (258, an average of 3.17 per game) and goals against (180, an average of 2.20 per game). They were the first team since the 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens to manage such a feat.
- In addition, the Canucks had the NHL’s No. 1-ranked power play last season, capitalizing on 24.3 percent of their opportunities. To top it off, their penalty kill finished tied for second in the league with an 85.6-percent success rate.
- For the first time in franchise history the Penguins finished the 2010-11 regular season with the NHL’s No. 1-ranked penalty killing unit with a success rate of 86.1 percent. Prior to last season, the Penguins’ best finish was fourth overall in 1992-93. The Penguins’ 86.1-percent success rate was the highest percentage in team history (86.4 percent; 1997-98).
- Canucks winger Daniel Sedin captured the 2011 Art Ross Trophy after finishing the regular season with 104 points (41G-63A). He accomplished the feat just one year after his brother, Vancouver captain Henrik, did so in 2010. Henrik finished the season ranked fourth in the league with 94 points (19G-75A).
- The Canucks had an impressive 11 players finish with a plus-minus rating in the (positive) double digits, led by Kevin Bieksa (plus-32) and Daniel Sedin (plus-30). Close behind them: Dan Hamhuis (plus-29), Henrik Sedin (plus-26), Alexandre Burrows (plus-26), Ryan Kesler (plus-24), Christian Ehrhoff (plus-19), Alexander Edler (plus-13), Jannik Hansen (plus-13), Jeff Tambellini (plus-10) and Keith Ballard (plus-10).
- The Penguins concluded their 43rd National Hockey League campaign in 2010-11 by earning the second-most points (106) and wins (t-49) in franchise history. Pittsburgh’s 49-25-8 overall record placed it second in the Atlantic Division behind the Philadelphia Flyers (although the two teams were tied in points).
- Pittsburgh’s 106 points were five more than it recorded the previous season and seven more than the 99 it had during its 2009 Stanley Cup championship season. All that was accomplished despite the team suffering 350 man-games lost due to injury, including 119 to the team’s top-three offensive threats in Sidney Crosby (41 games missed), Evgeni Malkin (39) and Jordan Staal (39).
- As a result of the Penguins’ success, head coach Dan Bylsma became the first head coach in franchise history to win the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s most-outstanding coach. Canucks coach Alain Vigneault was one of the three finalists.
- The Penguins finished with the third-most (tied) points in the NHL and earned the No.-4 seed in the Eastern Conference, earning home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Pittsburgh fell to the Lightning, 4-3, in a closely-contested matchup.