Recharging For The Road
"We have to focus on Minnesota, they haven't lost a game at home and they're a divisional team. We're in a really strong division and we got to play it to your best. Every night we have the possibility of getting points and that's our challenge tomorrow."
- Alain Vigneault on the challenges in Minnesota.
Starting off the good news: Willie Mitchell's back, sort of. He's been out with a concussion since the October 21st game in Nashville when Jason Arnott ran him into the boards. He's showing signs of recovery after 10 days away from the rink.
"I still have a few lingering effects but basically it's starting to get a lot better," he said.
"I don't think anytime you come back from any injury that you're absolutely 100% normal but there comes a point in time when things are kind of stagnant for a while and you step up and do a little more. We're going to do that to see how I respond."
Though he didn't skate with the team, he worked out on the bike for the first time since the injury. The trainers say Mitchell will begin full off ice workouts if he's symptom free for a full 24 hours.
Mitchell will stay behind on the mini two-game road trip.
"The day I wanted to be back is the game against Minnesota, obviously, to play against my old team, but you've got to be careful not to get another one [injury] right after."
KESLER OFF ICE
Mitchell wasn't the only one missing at 8-Rinks. Ryan Kesler strained his hip flexor in Tuesday's game against the Predators. He said he couldn't extend his leg and was having troubles with it last night.
"It was one of his spin-o-rama shifts there," said Vigneault. "It was a little bit after that so we're going to work on keeping the spin-o-rama away from him."
Trainers will reassess tomorrow.
"Berny [Mike Burnstein] seems to think that if we warm him up properly, he'll be able to go, but he wouldn't have been able to go today," Vigneault said. "We'll have to see how he's doing."
LUONGO'S HEAVY LIFTING
Dany Sabourin, who's started once in Edmonton, will have to wait it out a little longer for the next one. Coach Vigneault plans to have Roberto Luongo minding for the next stretch.
"Right now the schedule is permitting us. We don't' have any back-to-back games and we have a good home schedule, so Luongo's the guy."
Luongo's given up two or fewer goals in seven of his starts this season, and has been tagged for more than three goals only once in 12 games.
Though Luongo has just one win against Northwest opponents and suffered his only shootout loss of the year Oct. 10th in Minnesota.
"You obviously look at the standings, but at the same time you want to look at one game at a time," he said. "You can't look ahead and think about what's going to happen a month from now or May or April."
"Right now we have a big game tomorrow night against Minnesota and they sit in first place so it's pretty tough for us to try to beat them."
Markus Naslund's proved a formidable foe in more ways than one. Last night he instigated a shoving match with Nashville Vernon Fiddler, and scrapped his way to the slot to tie the game midway through the third.
He's tied for the team lead in goals, but his defence is generating all the buzz.
"I firmly believe they were looking for direction to be successful," said Vigneualt, "and that's working hard at both ends of the ice. That's crucial to success. When Markus is back checking and blocking a shot or blocking a lane, it's pretty tough for Burrows or somebody else not to do it."
Naslund is a plus-4 through 13 games after finishing last season a ghastly minus-19.
"I'd want to get better in a lot of areas of the game and that's one of them," he said. "I wasn't happy with last year in a lot of ways - especially the defensive part of the game."
The Canucks have rallied from behind three times this season and boast the fourth-best goals against in the league at 2.17. Naslund's leadership, along with Vigneault's never-say-die attitude, is a big reason the Canucks have shaved nearly a full goal per game off last year's 3.10 average.
ON THIS DAY
Kirk McLean was named NHL Player-Of-The-Month for October 1991 after posting a 9-2-1 record and 2.37 GAA. He was the first Canuck to receive the honour.