Canucks Game Day: Surging hosts won’t take West cellar-dwelling Avalanche for granted

 

 
 
 
 
Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche rides Andrew Ebbett of the Vancouver Canucks into the players' bench during last Sunday's National Hockey League game at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo., a 3-2 Canucks victory. The teams meet for the second time in five days Thursday night, this time at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
 

Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche rides Andrew Ebbett of the Vancouver Canucks into the players' bench during last Sunday's National Hockey League game at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo., a 3-2 Canucks victory. The teams meet for the second time in five days Thursday night, this time at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.

Photograph by: Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images), NHLI via Getty Images

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VANCOUVER — On paper, it appears to be “guaranteed win night” for the Vancouver Canucks when they face the Colorado Avalanche at Rogers Arena (7 p.m., Sportsnet Pacific, Team 1040).

The Canucks have won five straight and are playing airtight defensively. They haven't trailed for even one second during their win streak and goalie Cory Schneider has posted two shutouts in his last three starts.

The Avalanche, by contrast, are last in the Western Conference, have lost three straight and seven of eight. They are the NHL's worst road team with only two victories in 16 games (2-11-3) and have dropped 10 straight away from Denver. Their last road victory came Feb. 14 in Minnesota when they edged the Wild 4-3 in a shootout.

The Canucks have also dominated the Avs in recent seasons and haven't lost to them in regulation in their last 19 meetings (17-0-2). Naturally, the Canucks weren't willing to dismiss tonight's game as an automatic.

“You can never take any team in this league lightly, we've learned that before,” said Canucks winger Alex Burrows, who is expected to again skate with the Sedin twins, at least based on the morning practice. “Colorado has a lot of firepower up front and they can score a lot of goals. If you're not ready for them and start cheating your system, they're going to make you pay for it. You have to make sure you're strong all over the ice.”

With Burrows almost certainly moving back to the first line, Chris Higgins will drop back to the third unit and skate alongside Andrew Ebbett and Steve Pinizzotto. The latter returns after missing four games due to dehydration and exhaustion.

The Canucks’ second and fourth lines will remain intact and see Jordan Schroeder between Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen while Max Lapierre centres for Tom Sestito and Andrew Gordon.

Based on the morning skate, the Canucks will again shuffle bodies on their 29th-ranked power play (13.1 per cent) as Alex Edler rejoins the first unit with Jason Garrison, the twins and Hansen. The second unit will feature Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis on the points with Schroeder, Raymond and Burrows or Higgins up front.

Daniel Sedin, who is mired in a scoring slump — no points in four games and one goal in 13 — figures the Avalanche might be somewhat desperate with their playoff hopes virtually gone. Colorado is 10 points in arrears of eight-place San Jose.

“They are probably looking at this as their last chance to get things going here,” said Daniel. “You can't say this is automatic. I know they are last in our conference but, on any given night, anyone can beat anyone in this conference and it will be the same tonight.”

With Pinizzotto healthy again, defenceman Keith Ballard will come out of the lineup, although it is not a performance-based issue. According to Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault, Ballard suffered a “very, very, very” minor foot fracture Tuesday while playing forward against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Ballard actually skated with the full team this morning, which seems to indicate the injury is truly “minor” in nature.

“If this was playoff hockey, he'd probably be able to suck it up and play but considering that it is quite painful right now, we're going to give him a couple of days here," Vigneault explained. "It is not something that is going to be long term.”

The Avalanche, who played Wednesday night in Calgary and lost 4-3, did not have a morning skate. It is expected that Semyon Varlamov will start in goal.

ICE CHIPS: Right-winger P.A. Parenteau, a free-agent acquisition, leads the Avalanche in scoring with 33 points, followed by centre Matt Duchene with 32 ... Colorado has used nine different defencemen and they have combined for just two goals ... The Avalanche enter play tonight ranked 11th on faceoffs (51.1 per cent) while the Canucks are 28th (47.2 per cent) ... Referees for tonight's game are Tom Kowal and Don VanMassenhoven.

INJURIES: The Canucks will be missing C Ryan Kesler (foot), LW David Booth (ankle surgery), RW Dale Weise (shoulder) and Zack Kassian (back) ... The Avalanche will be without C Paul Stastny (foot), RW Steve Downie (knee) and D Ryan Wilson (ankle) while LW David Jones (knee) is listed as questionable.

epap@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/elliottpap

 
 
 
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Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche rides Andrew Ebbett of the Vancouver Canucks into the players' bench during last Sunday's National Hockey League game at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo., a 3-2 Canucks victory. The teams meet for the second time in five days Thursday night, this time at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
 

Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche rides Andrew Ebbett of the Vancouver Canucks into the players' bench during last Sunday's National Hockey League game at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo., a 3-2 Canucks victory. The teams meet for the second time in five days Thursday night, this time at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.

Photograph by: Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images), NHLI via Getty Images

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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