February 04 2013 01:00PM
Photo Credit: The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver got a break this weekend from their early season meat grinder schedule - the club played their first eight games in twelve days - and presumably used the footage from Friday night's uninspired shootout win over the Chicago Blackhawks to help them get some additional shut-eye too!
Over the past eight games the Canucks have faced a bevy of quality teams in the Kings, Blackhawks and Sharks, and a couple of playoff bubble teams in the Oilers and the Ducks. Also they played games against the Flames and the Avalanche. The Canucks have emerged from their tough, treading water stretch with a 4-2-2 record which is good for their best start to a season since 2005 (hilarious). I'd say the record so far, inflated as it is by the loser point, is reason for some optimism especially in light of the club's injury woes.
Read on past the jump.
Luckily for us the Canucks schedule relaxes at least for this week - both in density and difficulty. On Monday night the Canucks will face an Oilers team that defeated them in a dramatic comeback win a couple of weeks back, then they've got two days off before facing the improved Wild at Xcel on Thursday night. The club will then return home for a Hockey Night in Canada matchup against the Flames on Saturday and we can only hope that the combination of some time off and some inferior defensive opponents results in a more scintilating brand of hockey than the ultra-conservative, low-event, loss-management pablum the Canucks have been serving up for the past week.
Ah, but who really cares? So long as the Canucks reassert their Northwest Division preeminence this week, I'm guessing Canucks fans can handle being the New Jersey Devils West (only without the Stanley Cups).
Puck Drop: 6:30 PM PST
Television: Rogers Sportsnet Pacific
Radio: The Team
The Canucks appear to be using the exact same lineup they've used over the past couple of games tonight, and that includes Roberto Luongo - the NHL's third star of the month in January - in net for his fourth straight game. It's so, so controversial (but not really, at least not so long as Roberto Luongo is stopping pucks the way he's done so far this season).
The Oilers meanwhile are banged up and will be without Shawn Horcoff and defenseman Ryan Whitney for tonight's contest. While it sounds like the loss of a capable tough minutes centreman like Horcoff could potentially cause the Oilers some matchup issues on Monday night, Krueger didn't really use Horcoff all that much against the twins in the first meeting of the season between the two clubs (Nugent-Hopkins drew the primary Sedin matchup instead). Same goes for Ryan Whitney, whose pairing barely sniffed the ice against Vancouver's top-line.
Either way, the Oilers are now playing Lennart Petrell as their third line center, which to some extent should reduce some of the matchup advantages Edmonton enjoyed when the teams first met in January. Also, outside of the Jeff Petry and Ladislav Smid pairing, you'd have to think that the Sedins and Zack Kassian should be able to capitalize on some soft coverage from the likes of Potter, Fistric and Justin Schultz. That is of course if they're on their game.
The Oilers superficially appear to be a special teams juggernaut and a weak five-on-five team but that's skewed by some unfortunate bounces for the Oilers at even-strength so far. So tonight, Luongo's unsustainably high five-on-five save percentage meets Edmonton's unsustainably low even-strength shooting percentage, as Luongo and the Canucks hope to stave off regression for another game.
The Oilers will roll with Devan Dubnyk in net, so that's too bad (because Khabibulin equals free points) and I'd think that they'll be able to swim with the Canucks so long as Vancouver is down both Ryan Kesler and David Booth. Vancouver's been resilient so far, and have managed to win games largely thanks to stellar goaltending. They'll need that again from Luongo tonight, and some spark on the power-play would be a sight for sore eyes as well.
Update: it looks like I was wrong when I said that Alain Vigneault would stick with the lines he's used the past week. From practice per Dan Murphy it appears that the Alex Burrows as center experiment is over: he'll bump over the right wing and skate alongside Jordan Schroeder and Mason Raymond on an ostensible "second line." Maxim Lapierre meanwhile will rejoin the top-9, and skate inbetween Jannik Hansen and Chris Higgins on the checking line. Meanwhile Dale Weise's run as a third line forward appears to be over for the moment, he'll skate with Aaron Volpatti and Manny Malhotra on the fourth line. I like this adjustment, I have to say.