Canucks back to riddle in middle
With Kesler injured, Raymond will slot into centre against Kings
The Vancouver Canucks haven't played like a million bucks lately but Friday they looked like Millionaires as they modelled the 1915 throwback uniforms they plan to wear March 16 against the Detroit Red Wings.
Cyclone Taylor and his Millionaire mates won the Stanley Cup 98 years ago and Vancouver is still waiting for another. To further rub it in, the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings are the Canucks' next opponent, Saturday night at Rogers Arena.
The Kings are rolling with five straight wins and the Canucks are moving in the other direction with two straight losses and three straight at home.
The Canucks will also dress a work-in-progress lineup with Mason Raymond playing centre and waiver pickup Tom Sestito slotting into the fourth-line left wing spot. Kevin Bieksa may return from his groin strain. One thing we know for sure: Cory Schneider is starting in goal.
"The situation is no different than any other year," noted Canuck head coach Alain Vigneault. "Every year you have injuries, every year you have players in and out of the lineup. This is nothing new for the players and it's nothing new for the coaches. You get on the ice and who ever you are playing with, you play with. It's that simple."
Well, at least it sounds simple. The roster took another Twilight Zone twist Friday when the Canucks unexpectedly saw their waiver claim for Sestito accepted. The 6-5, 228-pound winger had been playing for the Philadelphia Flyers.
But the Canucks didn't have room for Sestito on their 23-man roster so Andrew Ebbett, who was called up Thursday to replace the injured Ryan Kesler, was re-assigned to the American League's Chicago Wolves without ever lacing up his skates.
This left Vigneault with only three natural centres - Henrik Sedin, Max Lapierre and rookie Jordan Schroeder - and necessitated moving Raymond into Kesler's spot between Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen.
"We're looking at different possibilities," said Vigneault.
Since Vigneault almost always begins a game the way he runs practice, he conceded Raymond might actually start at centre Saturday.
"I don't know, yeah, maybe," he said.
For what it's worth, Raymond fully expects to be in the middle against the Kings.
"I think that's how it's supposed to start," Raymond nodded. "I've played centre a little bit in the past and I look forward to the opportunity. It's a good opportunity."
Bieksa, who has missed two games with a groin strain, participated fully in Friday's practice and took first-unit reps on the power play. However, he was skating with extra Cam Barker during 5-on-5 drills.
He was unsure whether he would be able to play against the Kings.
"The first time skating obviously there is going to be some feeling there," Bieksa said. "But it felt good. I was happy with the way I felt today. We'll have to see how I feel when I wake up in the morning. We have a lot of games coming up in a short period here so I don't want to come back and have to leave again and leave my team short-handed. So I'd like to make sure that I'm ready if I come back."
Sestito, meanwhile, will bring a true heavyweight presence to the Canucks. A 25-year-old from Utica, N.Y., he is listed at 6-5 and 228 pounds. He was drafted 85th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2006 - a draft that was held in Vancouver - and also played for the Plymouth Whalers in the 2007 Memorial Cup at Pacific Coliseum.
There isn't much subtlety to Sestito's game. In 34 NHL appearances with the Blue Jackets and Flyers, he has four goals and 159 penalty minutes. Sestito makes $605,000 and will be a restricted free agent in the summer.
"It's bittersweet," Sestito told reporters before leaving Philadelphia. "I loved it here in Philly. I get a new chance and it's a great organization to go to. "
Canuck GM Mike Gillis admitted he was surprised to get Sestito as waiver claims are done in reverse order of the standings and the Canucks were ahead of 21 teams Friday morning. Sestito essentially replaces Aaron Volpatti, who was lost on waivers Thursday to the Washington Capitals. However, Volpatti's NHL roster spot had already been allocated to Steve Pinizzotto, who was promptly assigned to the Wolves on a conditioning stint after recovering from a groin injury. (Players on conditioning stints must remain on the 23-man roster.)
"We really liked Aaron and what he did here as a fourth-liner but, to stay in the league, you need to be able to kill penalties and do some things," Gillis explained.
"We wanted to get Aaron more playing time and unfortunately he got selected so we were in a position where we still wanted a player like that so we selected Tom from Philadelphia. He's a big guy, he plays aggressively and he has upside. When we lost Aaron, we wanted to find that as quickly as possible."
INSIDE THE GAME
Canucks vs. Kings
DRAWING BLANKS: With only three natural centres in their lineup, the Canucks might have a tough night on faceoffs against the likes of Anze Kopitar and Jarret Stoll. Kopitar has won 55.8 per cent of his draws this season and will take many in the offensive zone. Stoll, who has eaten up Canuck centre-men in the past, is at 52.8 per cent and will take many in the defensive zone. Without Ryan Kesler and Manny Malhotra, Henrik Sedin (50 per cent) and Max Lapierre (51.4) are the best Vancouver can offer. "I don't think I'm expected to win every draw," said fill-in centre Mason Raymond, who has taken 11 faceoffs this season and won fi v e .
KING STOPPERS? After a slow start, the champs are playing like champs again with five straight victories. During last season's playoffs, the Kings used their size to advantage to finish off the Canucks in five. Have the Canucks got enough to stay with them, especially without Kesler? Said Canuck head coach Alain Vigneault: "They're on a roll right now, they're playing big, they're playing heavy and, if we want to compete against them, we're obviously going to have to use our speed, use our skill and bring the best game that we have within this group right now."
ON THE SCHNEID: Cory Schneider, the starter, has not been putting up the numbers he did as Cory Schneider, the backup. He knows it and so does everyone else who scrutinizes the Canucks, which means the entire province. It's time for Schneider to be a difference-maker again. If not, he might find himself wearing a ball cap and watching Roberto Luongo get a run of games.
Players to watch
Mason Raymond, Nucks When Ryan Kesler was out for the first 12 games, Alex Burrows was moved into the middle. Now it's Raymond's turn. Even he was uncertain Friday whether this experiment - which is what it is - will last. "We'll see how long it carries on," he said.
Dustin Brown, Kings The L.A. captain is known for finishing his checks, getting into the goalie's face and embellishing the odd hit on him. Will he be at his agitating best and, if so, will he face a response from the Canucks?
Elliott Pap, Vancouver Sun
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
St. Louis Blues' Alex Pietrangelo, left, checks Vancouver Canucks' Mason Raymond in a recent game. Raymond looks forward to the opportunity to play centre against the defending Stanley Cup champion L.A. Kings.
Photograph by: Darryl Dyck, The Canadian Press, Vancouver Sun