VANCOUVER — It's up to goalie Cory Schneider to stop the bleeding tonight as the Vancouver Canucks attempt to snap a two-game losing streak against the surging St. Louis Blues (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1040).
The Blues have won three straight and five of six. To further rub it in, they'll bring the NHL's best power play to Rogers Arena for the nationally televised game and they're fresh, having been off since Saturday. Puck drop is actually at 7:15 to accommodate a TSN doubleheader.
With the Canucks' offence in the dumper these days, Schneider will likely have to be among the three stars if Vancouver is to prevail.
“Every game I play, I want to be the difference maker,” said Schneider, who lost his last start 4-2 to the Wild in Minnesota on March 10. “I want to be the guy who helps my team win as opposed to, you know, isn't as good as the other guy, or is the reason my team loses. We've accepted that role of having to steal a game every now and then and keeping our team in it.”
The Canucks did receive some good news on the medical front today as hulking right-winger Zack Kassian has recovered from a sore back and will suit up against the Blues. He's missed the last two games. He was among a small group of Canucks who skated this morning.
“I felt good out there,” said the 22-year-old. “It was just a tweak in the back and that was pretty much it. There is no getting into details. It is what it is. It was holding me from going and now it's good and I'm excited to get back.”
Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault, usually forthcoming with his lineup, was coy today and wouldn't reveal who would come out for Kassian.
“We'll see tonight,” he stated.
Vigneault admitted the Canucks are being challenged as a group, especially at the centre-ice position where they are lacking proven scoring and getting eaten alive on faceoffs.
“I believe we're being challenged as a group,” he said. “That should be evident to everybody. I believe, and I think our team believes, that we played well enough to win the last two games. We out-chanced both opponents almost 2-1 ... but we didn't score and they were able to jump on the few mistakes we made.”
The Blues, who were the NHL's best defensive team last season, have struggled in that department this year and enter the night tied for 19th with a 2.82 goals against average. Lately coach Ken Hitchcock has turned to rookie Jake Allen, playing him ahead of both Jaro Halak and Brian Elliott. Allen, 22, is 8-1-0 with a 2.19 GAA and . 920 save percentage and has won five straight. One of Allen's earlier victories came over the Canucks, a 4-3 shootout decision Feb. 17 at Rogers Arena.
“I'll tell you, Jake has played sound and I don't think this is a fluke,” Hitchcock said. “I don't think this is a one-hit wonder. I think he's got some great individual skills that are really enhancing our team right now.”
Offensively, the Blues are being led by NHL player of the week Chris Stewart, who has 14 goals and 28 points. Stewart has eight more points than the next best Blue, David Perron. Stewart is expected to skate tonight on a line with captain David Backes and Alex Steen.
The Blues are also expected to have speedy forward Andy McDonald back in their lineup. He's missed 10 games with a knee injury.
ICE CHIPS: The Blues' power play is clicking at a 24.7 per cent clip, which is tied with the Anahiem Ducks atop the rankings while the Canucks are wallowing in 27th spot at 14 per cent ... St. Louis is 14th on the penalty kill and the Canucks 16th ... On faceoffs, the Blues are 18th and the Canucks are 27th ... Referees for tonight's game are Kyle Rehman and Eric Furlatt.
INJURIES: The Canucks will continue to play without C Ryan Kesler (foot) and LW David Booth (ankle) ... The Blues are without RW T.J. Oshie (ribs) and RW Jamie Langenbrunner (hip).
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun