Game Time: Tue. Feb. 28, 2012 @ 9:00pm EST
TV: SNET-P (HD), FS-A (HD)
Radio: XTRA Sports 910
Davis Harper - NHL.com Staff Writer wrote: Division leaders clash as Coyotes host Canucks
Last 10: Vancouver 7-1-2; Phoenix 9-0-1
Season Series: This is the third of four meetings, with the series wrapping up on March 14 in Vancouver. The Canucks have won both prior meetings. The first was a 5-0 dismantling in the desert on Nov. 25, but it took a shootout back on Feb. 13 for Vancouver to prevail, 2-1, at Rogers Arena.
Big Story: The NHL's hottest team welcomes the NHL's best team on Tuesday. Despite a 3-2 overtime loss to Dallas on Sunday, Vancouver still sits atop the League standings with 87 points as it wraps up a six-game road swing. Phoenix has vaulted into the Pacific Division lead on the strength of its current five-game winning streak.
Canucks: After Nashville snapped Vancouver's 13-game points streak last Tuesday, the Canucks bounced back in a big way by snapping an even bigger streak: Detroit’s NHL-record, 23-game home winning streak. They followed that with a 2-1 win in New Jersey on Friday, and then traveled to Dallas for the penultimate game of the trip on Sunday. Vancouver jumped out to a 2-0 lead after 13 minutes on goals from Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond, but Dallas would not be denied. With the game 2-1 in the final minute, Mike Ribeiro scored on a tip-in to send the game to overtime. Vancouver didn't manage a shot in the extra period, and Loui Eriksson's wrister at 3:52 gave Dallas an important two points.
"They're a desperate team," said goalie Roberto Luongo, who made 25 saves. "They're playing for their lives. They're in playoff mode right now. Got to give them credit, they battled to the end and came away with a win."
Coyotes: If there's one thing Phoenix knows well, it's overtime. Prior to its most recent game against Edmonton, Phoenix played three straight that went beyond regulation, winning each one of them off the strength of Mike Smith's goaltending and some timely overtime and shootout conversions. Indeed, the Coyotes had five straight decided by one goal -- starting with the shootout loss to Vancouver -- heading into Edmonton on Saturday. The Coyotes made no mistake against the Oilers, jumping out to an early 2-0 lead and eventually winning 3-1. Mike Smith made 21 saves for his 10th straight win. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Ray Whitney and Shane Doan all scored for the 'Yotes.
"We're happy with what we have done," Whitney said. "We've played well at times and competed hard most of the time. But we have to be careful not to get too excited or overconfident because of how things have gone."
Who's Hot: The veteran Whitney has a five-game points streak, with 2 goals and 4 assists over that span.
Injury Report: For Vancouver, Keith Ballard (concussion), Andrew Ebbett (collarbone surgery) and Aaron Volpatti (shoulder surgery) are all out indefinitely. … In Phoenix, Gilbert Brule has missed two games with a head injury and is questionable for Tuesday's game. Kyle Chipchura (wrist), Rotislav Klesla (upper body), Derek Morris (strained groin/personal) and David Schlemko (foot surgery) are all on injured reserve.
Stat Pack: Smith has been immense over his 10-game winning streak, with two shutouts and five games in which he has conceded just one goal, good for a save percentage of .947.
Puck Drop: With the loss to Dallas, Vancouver completed a grueling stretch of six games in nine days, going an impressive 4-1-1. Coach Alain Vigneault was happy with his team's fortitude, but would have preferred to end on a victory.
"Logically, six games in 8 1/2 days in six different cities, that's a lot of hockey," Vigneault said. "But that being said, we had the game where we wanted it, going into the third with a one-goal lead. Unfortunately, we lost it."
Coyotes Team Report:
The Phoenix Coyotes, left for roadkill in the NHL playoff picture just three weeks ago, moved to 10-0-1 during an incredible February run and dog-paddled past the San Jose Sharks and into the Pacific Division lead with Saturday's 3-1 win in Edmonton.
Combined with losses by both the Sharks and Blackhawks, the Coyotes passed both teams in the standings, making it seven teams they have jumped by in the last three weeks.
While the Sharks and Hawks have been grinding through the tough portion of their schedule, the Coyotes reaped the rewards of going through a murderous December and January. They have wrapped five-game winning streaks around an overtime loss in Vancouver. With Vancouver (Tuesday), Calgary and Columbus coming to town this week, they have a chance to further one of the best months in franchise history.
"We talked about making February a big month for us and it has been," said Phoenix captain Shane Doan, who iced the win over the Oilers with a third-period bomb that pushed him to the 20-goal plateau for the 11th time in the last 12 seasons. "We've taken advantage of being at home a little bit more and having some time to rest.
"We know March is going to be a tough grind. We have a long way to go to the finish, and we have to make sure we take care of business in our next little homestand."
After being outscored 5-0 in the first period of the last two games -- only to rally to win both in the shootout -- the Coyotes had a much better start this time. Goals by Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Ray Whitney gave the Coyotes a quick start and a third goal by Antoine Vermette was washed out by a quick whistle that even the NHL admitted was an unfortunate but unchangeable error.
"There are teams that are in the playoffs year after year for a reason, and (Phoenix) is one of them," said Edmonton Oilers coach Tom Renney.
Canucks Team Report:
For some, it was their last game together.
After seeing each other day in and day out for a few seasons, if not longer, they will part ways and may not encounter each other again during the rest of their careers.
Such is life at the NHL trade deadline. Players come and players go, and few know where the final stop will be before they call it quits.
For the Vancouver Canucks as-yet-unknown departees, Sunday's 3-2 overtime loss in Dallas was not a great way to go out. The Canucks gave up a 2-0 lead, with the tying goal coming in the final minute with Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen pulled for a sixth attacker.
But it could have been worse. Thanks to the quirky schedule maker, the Canucks were playing their sixth game in nine nights, but still came within a minute of winning.
The game was a confirmation that general manager Mike Gillis has few immediate needs prior to Monday's deadline. More toughness would be nice after the Canucks, notably Daniel Sedin, were manhandled by the Boston Bruins in last spring's Stanley Cup finals.
Another veteran defenseman is also necessary. The Canucks do not have the same defensive depth that they had last season when they encountered numerous injuries on the blue line but barely skipped a beat. This season, the departure of Christian Erhoff to Buffalo as a free agent has left them with a shortage of rearguards who can play in the top four.
Gillis can base his short-term decisions on long-term needs because defensemen Sami Salo and Aaron Rome are due to become free agents in the summer. Any new defenseman, or forward, will be wanted for beyond this season.
Gillis does not believe in so-called rental players that are just brought in for the playoffs. He learned his lesson from the failed Mats Sundin experiment a few seasons back.
The GM still helped his cause for a potential blockbuster as he received league approval to place injured defenseman Keith Ballard (neck/concussion) on long-term injured reserve. The move cleared up $4.6 million in salary-cap room.
Left winger Mason Raymond, who has ended a scoring drought in the past two games, is expendable. But coach Alain Vigneault has displayed confidence by playing him 15-20 minutes per game.
Raymond's role is clearly changing from a scorer to an energy-line player and penalty-killer, but Vigneault does not appear to have a problem with that, because the winger is not a defensive liability.
Raymond is due to become a restricted free agent in the summer, but the Canucks could attempt to re-sign him. He should not expect to receive the same $2.5 million per season though.
The most significant decision likely involves backup goaltender Cory Schneider, the Canuck who is in most demand. Gillis must decide whether he can get better value for him now or in the summer.
Schneider is due to become a restricted free agent and receive a large raise. The Canucks have the option of re-signing him and trading him or letting another team sign him and getting a big compensation package in return.
Either way, Gillis can't lose. The same goes for his overall position at the trade deadline.
With the Canucks poised for another run at the Stanley Cup, he does not have to act unless he wants to -- but he still has some important decisions looming.
Vancouver next faces the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday.