Another Big One

Thursday, 01.02.2007 / 12:00 AM / News
Vancouver Canucks
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Another Big One

MAKING MOVES

Willie Mitchell is back. The big defender participated in the morning skate, and yes, he's been skating for the past week.

"He's one of the best in the league and having him back against a team like Edmonton helps," said Kevin Bieksa.

And while his teammates are happy to have him, nobody's as eager to get back as Mitchell.

"I'm looking forward to getting out there and helping the guys out with the next three games against divisional opponents."

With Mitchell's return, Yannick Tremblay has been re-assigned to the Moose. More

Tommi Santala, who's been skating with the team this week, will also make the trip to Manitoba, where he'll play six games. He's expected to return to the Canucks on February 14th. More


CRASHING THE PIPES

Roberto Luongo's faced 491 shots in the past 14 games, including 11 games with 30 plus shots. That's an average of 35 shots a night, or a three full pails of rubber.

Despite the heavy workload, the pucks aren't a problem - it's the 210-pound forwards.

Luongo's been playing like an all-star and everyone knows it. Opposing teams know there's one sure-fire way to get pucks through and that's by running the goalie.

"This is not a new tactic, all teams tell their players to go to the net, to go stop in front," said Alain Vigneault. "Edmonton has Ryan Smyth, who's always standing in front of the net - he's not crashing the goaltender but he stands in front of the net - just like we have Taylor Pyatt standing in front of the net."

There comes a point where it's just too much and teammates can only do so much to protect their goalie.

"I think it comes down to the refereeing," said Markus Naslund. "I think they have to look after that part, he's obviously one of the best goaltenders in the league and you want to protect your stars."

Morrison agrees.

"Well I know there's been a lot of talk about that lately and I think teams are trying to get traffic to the net," says Brendan Morrison. "You know you have to be smart about it, but definitely he's the backbone of this team and we want to do everything we can to protect him."

And as goalie what can you do?

"I'm assuming their pre-game is to probably crash the net as much as they can and get as much traffic. I know that when we play other teams, no matter who's playing you, that's what we're trying to do. So I'm assuming that's the same thing for everyone else."


CRUCIAL FOUR

It's been almost a month since the Canucks have faced off against Edmonton and just over three weeks since meeting a divisional opponent.

"It comes at a good time," said Morrison. "After the break there we had a couple games that were fairly average - we played better in that Columbus game than that L.A. game - but today the level's going to be raised up and it's going to be a physical battle."

It wasn't long ago that a single point separated first and last in the Northwest? The gap is now six points, which is a little more comforting for the Canucks who are currently tied for first - but hardly time to flick on the cruise control.

"It's real good chance for us to create some distance on these guys," said Morrison. "They're playing well the last couple games, they've got the momentum and they'll be a big test tonight."

"I don't think it matters if you're tired or not," said Naslund. "These are four point games and it's a crucial game for both teams and we want to take advantage of the roll we're on and hope we beat them here."

"These points are going to be big at the end of the year - we know that and I'm sure they do too - so it's going to be a good game."

The Canucks narrowly missed the playoffs by three points last season so they know exactly how important these points are, especially in an ultra-tight Northwest.

SHINING STAR

Luongo was named the third star by the NHL for the month of January.

He posted a 8-12 record with a 1.86 GAA, .945 save percentage and one shutout in 11 games.

He now holds the second most wins in the league with 28.

Dany Heatley and Sidney Crosby, both of the Eastern Conference, were named the first and second stars, respectively.