VANCOUVER – Despite surrendering nine goals in his last two starts, Roberto Luongo will be back between the pipes tonight for the Canucks in their crucial Northwest Division meeting with the Minnesota Wild at Rogers Arena (7 p.m., Sportsnet Pacific, Team 1040).
Even Luongo seemed a bit surprised, although his record at home against the Wild has been sterling. Bobby Lou beat the Wild 2-1 on Feb. 12 and had three home shutouts against them prior to that.
“Like I said before, I never try to figure it out,” Luongo shrugged following the team's morning skate. “We have a back-to-back here so usually we split those, so I just get ready to play.”
Presumably Cory Schneider, who turned 27 today, will get the start Tuesday when the St. Louis Blues visit Rogers Arena. In the meantime, the Canucks will have to figure out a way to knock off the Wild with their patchwork lineup. The teams are tied for first in the Northwest Division at 32 points but Minnesota is ranked first based on the league's tie-breaking formula.
Both David Booth (ankle) and Zack Kassian (back) are out tonight while Jordan Schroeder has been summoned from the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves to play centre, likely between Chris Higgins and Steve Pinizotto based on the lines in the morning skate.
The Sedin twins with Alex Burrows will remain intact. So will Andrew Ebbett between Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen. The Canucks' fourth line this morning was Tom Sestito, Max Lapierre and Dale Weise, although Weise and Pinizzotto might be flip-flopped.
On defence, Keith Ballard returns from the press box, replacing Andrew Alberts. He'll skate with usual partner Chris Tanev.
According to Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault, Wolves counterpart Scott Arniel recommended Schroeder as the best candidate for a call-up. The diminutive centre was sent down just last Monday and had four points in three games with the Wolves.
“I asked Arnie who his best forward was at this time and he felt Schroeder was,” said Vigneault.
Schroeder, who played a Sunday matinee for the Wolves and had one assist, was flying in today and was not at the skate.
Vigneault, meanwhile, admitted every aspect of the Canucks' performance needs to improve. Vancouver sits seventh in the Western Conference, just two points above the playoff bar. He also repeated his long-held belief that people who expect the Canucks to dominate every night are under-estimating the quality of the opposition.
“Coming into this season, with the difference components and dynamics, I knew that it was going to be a real challenge,” he explained. “I don't think enough credit is given to the teams in this conference. You take Anaheim and Chicago out of the equation and the other 13 teams are fighting their little tushies to get in. It's competitive and it's hard.
“Right now, we're trying to get our goaltending where it needs to be for us to have success. We're trying to get our specialty teams where they need to be for us to have continued success and our 5-on-5 play.”
These are the sad numbers for Vigneault's skaters: the power play, on a 0-for-34 swoon, ranks 27th in the league; faceoffs are 23rd; penalty killing 15th; team offence 14th and team defence 14th.
The Wild, by contrast, are fourth in faceoffs, fifth on the penalty kill, eighth in team defence, 20th on the power play and 23rd in team offence. They are healthy, too, with the exception of fourth-line winger Mike Rupp.
“You look at the standings every day and every game is huge,” noted Wild coach Mike Yeo. “I said this the last time we played Vancouver and the same thing holds true. They're not going to hand out first place tonight but, having said that, this would be a nice one to get.”
Nick Backstrom is scheduled to start in goal for the Wild. He's 13-7-2 with a 2.40 GAA and .911 save percentage. Luongo is 7-3-3 with a 2.42 GAA and .905 save rate.
ICE CHIPS: Neither team has shown much comeback ability this season when trailing after two periods. The Canucks are 1-6-2 and the Wild 1-6-1 ... Zach Parise leads the Wild in goals with 11 while Ryan Suter leads in points with 23 and in assists with 21 ... Referees for tonight's game are Brad Meier and Justin St. Pierre.
INJURIES: The Canucks will be without C Ryan Kesler (foot), LW David Booth (ankle) and RW Zack Kassian (back). The Wild will be missing RW Mike Rupp (lower body) plus backup goalie Josh Harding, who remains out indefinitely due to MS symptoms.
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