Pittsburgh vs. Vancouver Preview
Friday, 01.15.2010 / 9:30 PM / Features
By Jason Seidling
Pittsburgh Penguins (30-18-1-61) vs. Vancouver Canucks (27-18-2-56)Where: General Motors Place
When: Saturday, January 16, 10 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.
Season Series: This will be the only meeting in 2009-10 between the Penguins and the Canucks. Vancouver skated away from Mellon Arena with a 3-1 victory over the Penguins on Nov. 22, 2008 in the most recent matchup between the two teams. Pavol Demitra scored twice that day to lead the way for the Canucks.
|PENGUINS PROJECTED LINES||RELATED CONTENT|
Last Meeting: Nov. 22, 2008
VAN 3 - PIT 1
|KEY TO VICTORY|
|Power Play: Since making a change to the power play prior to the Calgary game the Penguins have picked up clutch man-advantage goals in each of their past two games. Bill Guerin deflected home the game-winner against Calgary on Wednesday and Matt Cooke tied the game, 2-2, at Edmonton on Thursday. The Penguins have had great success moving the puck with their new configuration and they should get plenty of work against Vancouver, which takes the fourth-most penalty minutes in the NHL (16.4 per game).
Keep Driving the Net: Pittsburgh has picked up back-to-back wins because they have simplified their game and the forwards are going to the prime place to pick up goals – the front of the net. Of the six goals the Penguins scored against the Flames and Oilers, the only one which didn’t occur from just outside the blue paint was Tyler Kennedy’s wrist shot from the right circle against Edmonton.
LOWDOWN ON THE CANUCKS
|Since the National Hockey League returned from the lockout for the beginning of the 2005-06 season the Vancouver Canucks have taken residence in both the penthouse and the outhouse. They captured Northwest Division titles both last season and in ’06-07, but bowed out of the postseason in Round 2 on both occasions. The other two post-lockout seasons have produced a last-place showing in ’07-08 and a next-to-last finish in the Northwest in ’05-06. This season the Canucks have been locked into a three-way battle with the Calgary Flames and the Colorado Avalanche for the top spot in the division. They enter Saturday’s game against the Penguins having gone 0-2-1 over their past three games, with two of those losses coming at home.
Head coach Alain Vigneault is in his fourth season after replacing former coach Marc Crawford prior to the ’06-07 campaign. Vigneault has led the Canucks to two division crowns in three seasons. His next chore will be to get his squad over the second-round hurdle they haven’t been able to leap across since appearing in the Stanley Cup Final against the New York Rangers in 1994. Vancouver is the second head coaching stop in Vigneault’s career as he spent three-plus seasons with the Montreal Canadiens from 1997-98 until midway through ’00-01.
|In their quest to make a deep run through the Western Conference playoff field the Canucks ventured into free agency and brought aboard Mikael Samuelsson – a two-way winger who helped the Detroit Red Wings make back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances. Samuelsson, 33, spent four seasons in Detroit and registered 40-plus points on three occasions, including last season when he picked up 19 goals and 21 assists in 81 contests. Although he is not a prolific goal scorer, Samuelsson is a perfect fit on a second line because he is one of those guys who can play defense just as well as offense and has mastered the puck-possession game from his days in Detroit. Samuelsson spent 22 games with the Penguins at the end of the 2002-03 season and notched two goals.
Long-time Canuck Mattias Ohlund departed to Tampa Bay but the Canucks offset his loss by acquiring Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich in a trade from the San Jose Sharks and by signing veteran Mathieu Schneider in late August. The acquisition of Ehrhoff has been the only one of the three to work out thus far as he has bounced back nicely in Vancouver after a down season last year to rank second on the team among defensemen with 23 points (9G-14A) through 47 games. He has used his booming shot from the point to rank fifth among all blueliners with his nine goals. Lukowich, whose forte lies clearing the puck from his own zone, spent the beginning of this season with Texas of the American Hockey League before being recalled at the beginning of January. He has posted an even rating in three games with the Canucks.
Schneider, 40, missed the first 10 games of the season following offseason shoulder surgery and struggled upon his return. The veteran defenseman, who has 739 career points (223G-516A) on his resume registered only five points (2G-3A) in 17 games with the Canucks and was a frequent healthy scratch. He was sent to the Manitoba Moose of the AHL on Jan. 2 when Lukowich was recalled.
|When Daniel Sedin suffered a broken foot which would end up keeping him sidelined for 18 games, many feared the Canucks offense would head right up to the press box with him. Maybe in years past that would have been the case, but twin brother Henrik was not about to let that happen as he has blossomed into the NHL scoring leader heading into Friday’s games. Once regarded as just the willing playmaker to Daniel’s high-scoring act, Henrik is now scoring goals at a career-high pace. With 20 goals in his first 47 contests, Henrik is just two goals shy of the career-best 22 he posted last season. What’s most impressive about Henrik, beyond playing some of his best hockey without Daniel, is he has picked up 47 of his 64 points at even strength – which is six more points than the next-closest challenger in the NHL, the Penguins Sidney Crosby (41).
Daniel hasn’t been too shabby himself since returning from his foot injury. He ranks fourth on the team with 37 points (12G-25A) in only 29 games, as his 1.28 points per game pace is third-best in the league behind Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin and brother Henrik. Daniel led the Canucks in goals a season ago with 31, while tying Henrik for the team-lead with 82 points.
Vancouver’s offense is more than just the Sedins. Ryan Kesler, a United States Olympian, probably ranks as one of the best two-way goal scorers in the entire NHL. At age 25, Kesler continues to get better every year. A Selke Trophy finalist last season, Kesler set career highs across the board in goals (26), assists (33) and points (59). Never one to shy away from physical contact, Kesler has been even better this season, picking up 41 points (12G-29A) in 47 games to rank second on the Canucks. Another youngster making his mark is Mason Raymond. The 24-year-old winger has already surpassed his career-best totals in every offensive category and ranks fifth on the team with 32 points (17G-15A) in 47 games. He is tied with Crosby, among others, for seventh in the NHL with eight power-play goals.
Vancouver will get a boost against the Penguins with the return of Pavol Demitra to the lineup. He had been sidelined all season with a shoulder injury. Last season, his first with the Canucks, Demitra picked up 53 points (20G-33A) in 69 games to rank fourth on the team.
|Matthias Ohlund might have taken off for the sunshine of Tampa Bay but talented Swede, Alexander Edler, has stepped up and assumed the chores as the Canucks No. 1 defenseman. The smooth-skating Edler has followed up last season’s breakout campaign with a team-leading 24 points (2G-22A) from the blue line in 41 games. Last season the 23-year-old took a major leap forward with 37 points (10G-27A) and a plus-11 rating in 80 games.
Sami Salo, who will represent Finland in the Olympics next month, continues to provide a two-way presence defensively. Salo has one of the better shots in the NHL and he has used it in the past to twice reach double-digits in goals. This season he has picked up 12 points (4G-8A) and a plus-16 rating in 39 contests. Perhaps because Willie Mitchell, an alternate captain with Vancouver, has spent his past four seasons playing with Vancouver in the Pacific Northwest after spending five seasons with the defensive-minded Minnesota Wild, fans do not appreciate how solid the 32-year-old is defensively. He led the Canucks with a plus-29 rating last year as he plays a solid, no frills defensive game. Another defensive defender, Shane O’Brien, has a plus-9 rating in 38 games. The Penguins have to be aware when O’Brien is on the ice because he is not afraid to step up and lay an open-ice hit.
|Vancouver has some talented performers up front and they get solid production from their defense but the No. 1 reason they are in the race for back-to-back Northwest Division titles is netminder Roberto Luongo. The only goaltender in the league to be named captain of his team, Luongo has posted a 23-14-2 record, 2.30 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage.
The left-handed catching Luongo is closing in on his fifth-consecutive 30-win season after picking up 33 wins last season despite playing in only 54 games due to an ankle injury suffered against the Penguins at Mellon Arena on Nov. 22, 2008. Luongo, one of the taller netminders in the game at 6-foot-3, will team with the Penguins Marc-Andre Fleury and Martin Brodeur of New Jersey to patrol the crease for Team Canada at the 2010 Olympic Games.
Vancouver brought Andrew Raycroft in over the summer to serve as the backup to Luongo. The former Calder Trophy winner with the Boston Bruins in ’03-04 has made 10 appearances with the Canucks and has a 4-3 record, 2.39 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: ALEXANDRE BURROWS
|Vancouver has had trouble at times over the past 10 years finding the perfect complement to the Sedin twins. Alexandre Burrows’ success the in that role the past two seasons has ended that problem. His abrasiveness in the corners and around the front of the net meshes well with the finesse style of the Sedins.
Burrows, 28, has followed up a career season in ’08-09 with a spectacular start to this campaign. He is tied with Henrik Sedin for the team lead with 20 goals while his 38 points are third-most. Burrows also ranks among the team leaders with a plus-19 rating and 72 penalty minutes – both numbers a testament to his solid all-around game. He was named “NHL First Star” for the week ending Jan. 10 after posting back-to-back hat tricks.
|Vancouver has been able to challenge for the Northwest Division lead despite having to deal with injuries all season – including a rash of ailments on the blue line.
- Injuries on the back end have forced the Canucks to use 10 defensemen thus far. Kevin Bieksa’s potential season-ending injury after severing tendons in his ankle on Dec. 29 has been the most severe.
- Defenseman Aaron Rome has missed three games in a row following a concussion last week. He could be back against the Penguins on Saturday.
- Hulking winger Steve Bernier is day-to-day with a groin injury.
- Checking forward Ryan Johnson has missed the past three weeks with hairline fractures in his foot.
- Center Alexandre Buldoc re-aggravated a prior shoulder separation on Wednesday night during a fight against the Minnesota Wild.
|"THEY SAID IT"|
|“It was really exciting, I remember Sid (Sidney Crosby) with the penalty shot at the end there and it was a great game and the fans were into it. I think that’s what makes it even better is the intensity in the building and you can feel the crowd hanging on by every moment there.”
– Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo talking to the Canucks official team website about what it’s like facing Sidney Crosby and the save he made on Crosby during a penalty shot in overtime during the Penguins 2-1 shootout win in Vancouver on Dec. 8, 2007.
|POINT OF INTEREST
|7: Henrik Sedin, the NHL’s leading scorer entering Friday, saw his seven-game assist streak snapped in a 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday. Sedin’s streak ran from Dec. 29-Jan. 11 and he picked up 14 points (2G-12A) during the stretch. It was his second seven-game assist streak of the season.
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Look for "YinzCam Penguins" in iTunes.
Author: Jason Seidling