VANCOUVER — Defenceman Kevin Bieksa will be in and Robert Luongo will be back in tonight when the Vancouver Canucks attempt to extend their very modest one-game win streak against the Nashville Predators at Rogers Arena (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1040).
Bieksa has missed seven games with a lingering groin issue. The Canuck lost the first six without him before prevailing 2-1 in a shootout Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Bieksa dismissed suggestions that he is that big a difference to the team.
“I don't think I'm a saviour,” Bieksa stated following the Canucks morning skate. “I think the answer is definitely in this room right now. I've had some long injuries before where the team has done very well so I wouldn't buy that argument.”
Bieksa did say his groin feels fine. He had one false start before with this injury, playing March 2 against the L.A. Kings (a 5-2 Canucks win) after sitting out two games. This time he has missed five.
“I wouldn't say I came back too early last time,” Bieksa said. “Everything was telling me that I felt good. It was a matter of taking a hit in that game. I'm feeling good now. I've had probably 5-6 days of being pain-free so I think that's a good thing. I'm eager to get back in to help the team out. It's been a tough stretch at times but we're coming off a gritty, chippy win in Columbus and we're looking to build on it.”
With or without Bieksa in the lineup, no one is predicting a high-scoring game against the Predators. The Canucks have had all kinds of trouble scoring lately, due in part to a wretched power play (0-for-26), and tonight will face Pekka Rinne, who leads the NHL in shutouts with five. Rinne's goals against average is 2.00 and he has a save percentage of .924.
The Predators can't score either. In their first 26 games, they have tallied less than two goals 13 times, excluding shootouts.
“I think we have to be ready for those low-scoring games from now on,” said Daniel Sedin, who has just two assists in his last five games. “Most teams in the Western Conference are playing pretty well defensively. If we're ready for the low-scoring games, nothing will surprise us. Nashville is a very good team defensively.”
With Bieksa almost certainly coming back in tonight, Cam Barker will join Keith Ballard in the press box as Andrew Alberts stays in the lineup. Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said he might also insert Chicago Wolves call-up Steve Pinizzotto even though the latter played an American Hockey League game Wednesday night in Grand Rapids, Mich., and had to fly in today.
Pinizzotto, a 28-year-old agitating fourth-line winger, has never played an NHL contest.
“I haven't made up my mind yet but there's a chance he'll play tonight,” Vigneault said. “As a 28-year-old rookie, he should be pretty excited. What I remember about him from training camp (in 2011) is that he was an energy player, he gets in real hard on the forecheck, he had physical edge to his game and a real decent skill set.”
The Predators will be missing injured forwards Colin Wilson, their leading scorer with 19 points, as well as Patric Hornqvist and Paul Gaustad. They are coming off a 4-0 shutout win Tuesday in Dallas.
“Everybody is missing people, it is what it is,” shrugged Nashville coach Barry Trotz. “That the way it is in the National Hockey League right now. I always say to the guys it doesn't matter who's in the lineup, there is always a way to win that game. The group that is in there has to do the best job they can.”
ICE CHIPS: Nashville is 10-0-5 when scoring first ... The Canucks have surrendered the first goal in four straight games ... The Canucks’ power play is ranked 25th in the league while the Preds are tied for 14th ... The Canucks’ penalty kill is 15th while the Preds are tied for 23rd ... Referees for tonight's game are Steve Kozari and Graham Skilliter.
INJURIES: The Canucks will be without C Ryan Kesler (foot) ... The Predators will be missing forwards Colin Wilson, Patric Hornqvist and Paul Gaustad, who are all out with upper body injuries.
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