Some Canucks characters still need roles before curtain rises in Calgary

 

First line and netminding appear cast, but Desjardins has some tough decisions to make by Wednesday

 
 
 
 
Vancouver Canucks defenceman Chris Tanev (top) and Edmonton Oiler Will Acton tangle along the boards during the second period of their NHL pre-season game at Rogers Arena on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014.
 
 

Vancouver Canucks defenceman Chris Tanev (top) and Edmonton Oiler Will Acton tangle along the boards during the second period of their NHL pre-season game at Rogers Arena on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014.

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, PNG

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VANCOUVER — New Vancouver Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins doesn’t like to reveal much when he has a microphone in his face, but his practices tell another story.

Throughout the National Hockey League pre-season, which the Canucks concluded Saturday with a 3-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers, Desjardins has deployed the same line combinations in games that he used in practice the day, or days, before.

So it seems more than likely Desjardins will unveil much of his opening-night lineup at practice on Monday morning. The Canucks begin their 2014-15 regular season Wednesday in Calgary.

Injuries, as always, will be a factor. A banged-up Brad Richardson missed the final three pre-season games but is likely to play Wednesday after he skated Friday and Saturday. Kevin Bieksa, meanwhile, has been off skates since Thursday’s self-inflicted wound trying to clobber Oilers’ forward Tyler Pitlick and is questionable for the opener, Desjardins admitting: “I’m not sure, we’ll see what happens. Kevin thinks he is going to be ready.”

It doesn’t appear Bo Horvat or Frank Corrado, both injured, are in the mix for an opening-night spot. Injuries notwithstanding, neither has shown well enough to displace a veteran.

So the intrigue comes down to the Canucks’ bottom three lines, the ones that will follow the Sedins and Radim Vrbata. Will Chris Higgins stick with Nick Bonino and Alex Burrows on the second line? Who will centre the third line? Shawn Matthias? Linden Vey? Richardson? Where will the enigma that is Zack Kassian wind up? Do they need Tom Sestito’s heavyweight toughness? Will Nicklas Jensen stick around and, if he does, will he be in the press box on Wednesday, or on the ice?

Kassian was so-so Saturday and testy when queried about perhaps squandering another opportunity to be a top-six forward, which is where he began training camp.

“I’m actually sick of hearing it,” Kassian said. “You guys run with that story, not me. We have to focus on the team and what’s best for the team. I’m ready to play wherever.”

Matthias, meanwhile, is trending upward after two strong games at centre, his natural position. He began camp on the wing.

“It’s like this every year for me,” said Matthias, one of the Canucks’ biggest bodied forwards at 6-4 and 216 pounds. “It takes me a little while to get my legs going. Yeah, I’m more comfortable at centre, but I also think it’s really just a matter of having more games, more practices and more time to get used to the systems. I’m not going to worry about where I play Wednesday, I’m just going to prepare to play.”

Jensen, the only forward still on the roster who doesn’t require waivers, didn’t consider his final audition Saturday among his best performances, but he did finish the pre-season with two goals and two assists in six games.

“It’s up to the management and coaching staff to make the decision,” said Jensen, 21. “Hopefully, I’ll stay. This is where I want to be.”

Pre-season did confirm the widely held notion the Canucks appear strong in goal and that Vrbata is an excellent fit with Daniel and Henrik. The trio combined for 15 points in four games, Henrik with six assists, Daniel with a goal and four assists and Radim (The Dream) with three goals and one helper.

Vrbata is tickled pink with the way things have gone.

“I feel like the twins play a similar style, so from that standpoint I’m not all that surprised,” Vrbata said. “But, of course, I was still nervous if it was going to work out and how it was going to be. I don’t think I could ask for more. Hopefully, we can carry it into the regular season.”

Ryan Miller, in his final tune-up, stopped 27 of 29 shots Saturday, including all 12 in the third period as the Canucks sat on a 3-2 lead. Although he surrendered six goals in pre-season to just one for Eddie Lack, Miller will almost certainly start Wednesday in Calgary. He is ready for it, he says.

“I’m always going to be working (on things), but I’m happy with the pre-season as far as getting through these games, getting more comfortable with the team and having good positioning on the puck,” he said. “I think I’m starting from a position of strength in the crease and that I’m giving myself a good chance to be in the play when the puck is moved around. I think that’s a good way to start and we’ll keep tinkering and toying and go from there.”

The biggest fear for Desjardins might be the team’s work ethic. They were outshot 26-10 in the final 40 minutes Saturday against an Oilers group minus two of its biggest weapons in Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

“That’s not the team we want to be,” said the Canucks’ coach. “We want to be able to sustain it for 60 minutes and we didn’t. If it’s mental or physical, we have to figure it out because we won’t win a lot of games if we play like we did in the second and third periods.”

ICE CHIPS: The Canucks finished the pre-season with a record of 5-2-0 … Ryan Miller’s save percentage in pre-season was .912 while Eddie Lack came in at a sublime .983 … Ryan Stanton was plus-3 against the Oilers.

epap@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/elliottpap

 
 
 
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Vancouver Canucks defenceman Chris Tanev (top) and Edmonton Oiler Will Acton tangle along the boards during the second period of their NHL pre-season game at Rogers Arena on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014.
 

Vancouver Canucks defenceman Chris Tanev (top) and Edmonton Oiler Will Acton tangle along the boards during the second period of their NHL pre-season game at Rogers Arena on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014.

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, PNG

 
Vancouver Canucks defenceman Chris Tanev (top) and Edmonton Oiler Will Acton tangle along the boards during the second period of their NHL pre-season game at Rogers Arena on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014.
Vancouver Canucks goalie Ryan Miller stretches to make a save against the Edmonton Oilers during the first period of their NHL pre-season game at Rogers Arena on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014.
Vancouver Canucks goalie Ryan Miller skates in front of his net after the Canucks scored on the Edmonton Oiler in the second period of a preseason NHL hockey game at Rogers Arena, Vancouver October 04 2014.
Edmonton Oiler #23 Matt Hendricks earned a penalty as he wraps his stick around  Vancouver Canucks #5 Luca Sbisa in the second period of a preseason NHL hockey game at Rogers Arena, Vancouver October 04 2014.
Vancouver Canucks #18 Ryan Stanton and  Edmonton Oiler #26 Mark Arcobello look for the rebound in front of Oiler g#30 Ben Scrivens in the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game at Rogers Arena, Vancouver October 04 2014.
Edmonton Oiler #27 Boyd Gordon knocks Vancouver Canucks #2 Dan Hamhuis toy the ice in the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game at Rogers Arena, Vancouver October 04 2014.
Vancouver Canucks #36 Jannik Hansen ( R ) and  Edmonton Oiler #85 Martin Marincin ( C ) eye the puck flying above Oilers #30 Ben Scrivens ( L ) in the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game at Rogers Arena, Vancouver October 04 2014.
Edmonton Oiler #30 Ben Scrivens sprawls in front of the net during play against the Vancouver Canucks  in the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game at Rogers Arena, Vancouver October 04 2014.
Vancouver Canucks #9 Zack Kassian ( R ) slides along the Oilers bench after checking Edmonton Oiler \o39 ( L ) in the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game at Rogers Arena, Vancouver October 04 2014.
Vancouver Canucks #22 Daniel Sedin ( L ) and #17 Radim Vrbata ( C ) and #33 Henrik Sedin celebrate Daniel's goal on Edmonton Oiler #30 Ben Scrivens in the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game at Rogers Arena, Vancouver October 04 2014.
ancouver Canucks #22 Daniel Sedin ( L ) and #17 Radim Vrbata ( R) celebrate Daniel's goal on Edmonton Oiler #30 Ben Scrivens in the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game at Rogers Arena, Vancouver October 04 2014.
Edmonton Oiler #14 Jordan Eberle (R ) gestures as he frees his stick from Vancouver Canucks #33 Henrik Sedin ( L ) as they chase after the puck in the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game at Rogers Arena, Vancouver October 04 2014.
Vancouver Canucks #33 Henrik Sedin ( L ) and Edmonton Oiler #14 Jordan Eberle (R ) chase after the puck in the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game at Rogers Arena, Vancouver October 04 2014.
Vancouver Canucks #27 Shawn Matthias skates during the pre game skate prior to playing the Edmonton Oilers in a preseason NHL hockey game at Rogers Arena, Vancouver October 04 2014.
Vancouver Canucks #51 Derek Dorsett skates during the pre game skate prior to playing the Edmonton Oilers in a preseason NHL hockey game at Rogers Arena, Vancouver October 04 2014.
Vancouver Canucks #9 Zack Kassian ( R ) smiles during a conversation #17 Radim Vrbata ( L ) during the pre game skate prior to playing the Edmonton Oilers in a preseason NHL hockey game at Rogers Arena, Vancouver October 04 2014.
Vancouver Canucks #13 Nick Bonino skates during the pre game skate prior to playing the Edmonton Oilers in a preseason NHL hockey game at Rogers Arena, Vancouver October 04 2014.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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