PENGUINS (30-18-1) at CANUCKS (27-18-2)
Last 10 -- Pittsburgh 4-6-0; Vancouver 6-2-2
Season series -- One night only for the Penguins in Vancouver, the final stopover of the Sidney Crosby Circus. Their last meeting was in Pittsburgh on Nov. 22, 2008 -- a good memory for the Canucks for the 3-1 win, not so good because goalie Roberto Luongo went down with a groin injury five minutes into the game, sidelining him nearly two months.
The more memorable game to Canucks fans, however, was the one at GM Place on Dec. 8, 2007 in which Luongo stopped Crosby on a penalty shot in overtime but the Penguins still won in a shootout, 2-1. It's the only win they have against the Canucks in their last seven meetings.
Big story -- The Penguins are on the verge of duplicating their feat of two seasons ago, when they swept their way through Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver amid a rock-star reception for Crosby and triggered a second-half run that ended in the Stanley Cup Final. This time they're visiting as the defending Cup champions, but are looking for no less a boost en route to a potential repeat.
The Canucks just saw a string of seven wins in eight games turn quickly into a three-game losing streak against playoff contenders Calgary and Nashville, plus the aspiring and always-tough Wild at home. The pride of Western Canada is all well and good, but preventing a long slide might be an even higher priority right now.
Penguins -- Late Friday it was announced that Marc-Andre Fleury had fractured his left ring finger during the Edmonton game. He finished out the game but could not practice Friday. He said he hopes to be ready Saturday night.
"It doesn’t happen very often, it just kind of squeezed between my gloves and my pads and got me in a bad spot," Fleury said.
Fleury has been the difference on the trip, turning in 38- and 35-save performances the last two games. The much-maligned power play (29th out of 30 NHL teams) saw some improvement in Calgary after some personnel moves were made. It went 1-for-5 on a Bill Guerin score, but everyone agreed it was an upgrade. In fact, all three or the Penguins' wins on the trip have featured a power-play goal.
Canucks -- The message from Luongo to his teammates as Crosby and company take the ice is not to get caught up in the hype.
"As a team obviously we're worried about winning the game and not about all the other stuff that comes along with it," Luongo said.
As the Pittsburgh power play has had some life injected into it, the Canucks' man-up, best in the League at home at 26.0 percent, will be expected to pull its weight.
Who's hot -- One of the lessons of the offseason for the Canucks was a need for a defenseman who can get involved with the offense, and Christian Ehrhoff has been doing the job with 9 goals and 14 assists in 47 games. More importantly, he's a plus-19, tied for the team lead with Alexandre Burrows, who hasn't exactly cooled off with 10 goals in his last 6 games.
Injury report -- Should Fleury not be available, options get sketchy. Regular backup Brent Johnson is listed as day-to-day but has not been skating with an undisclosed injury. That would make John Curry the first choice in nets Saturday night.
On the Canucks' side of the ledger, Pavol Demitra is eager to make his season debut after shoulder surgery kept him out for the first 47 games. Aaron Rome returned to practice Friday for the first time since receiving a gash on the cheek from a Taylor Pyatt hit Jan. 7. Ryan Johnson practiced but is still a week away from returning.
Both Steve Bernier and Willie Mitchell left practice early. Bernier has missed the last two games with a sore groin and Mitchell's back is still hurting after taking a hit from Minnesota's Derek Boogaard.
Stat pack -- Henrik Sedin, the NHL points leader, had 20 points during a 10-game points streak that was snapped in Minnesota. Daniel Sedin also had his six-game points streak stopped. Shutting both Sedin brothers down is no mean trick. Nobody had done it since Dec. 20. Luongo is 6-3-1 with a 1.90 goals-against average at home since Dec. 14.
Puck drop -- For Crosby, Saturday will be more than simply the second time he's ever played in GM Place. It will be an opportunity to scope out the venue that will host the Olympic hockey tournament, something he's already thinking about.
"It's hard not to, you see the countdown everywhere," Crosby said. "You see everything being built and things like that so it's pretty hard not to think about it a bit. But once you get into a game day it's pretty easy, but it's nice and it's exciting to see all that stuff coming up."