Game 36: Canucks at Wild (12.17.13)
There is no hotter team in the NHL right now than the Canucks who have yet to suffer defeat in December rolling off seven straight wins since the month began but despite their recent run of success they have come nowhere near creating comfortable distance between them and the other teams fighting for a playoff position. Take, for example, tonight's opponent – the Wild – who have just four wins in their last 11 outings (4-6-1) but still come into contest only two points behind Vancouver in the tight Western Conference standings with the same number of games played.
The Canucks, who are coming off a 6-2 win over the Bruins on Saturday, will be trying to stretch their win streak to eight games for the first time since December 23, 2010 to January 7, 2011. The Wild, meanwhile, bring a three-game home win streak into this contest but this home game is an odd standalone as it comes between a three-game road trip that they just wrapped up and a four-game road trip they will embark on beginning on Thursday in Pittsburgh. Tonight will mark the first time that the Canucks will face former teammate Keith Ballard since his departure in the off-season. Roberto Luongo is expected to start for the Canucks while the Wild might opt to go back to Josh Harding after he turned in a 26-save performance on Saturday in a 2-1 win over the Avalanche.
Puck drop at 5 pm PT - Live on Sportsnet Pacific, The TEAM 1040, or online at teamradio.ca.
Keys to the Game
Avoid a letdown. It's hard to manufacture the same level of intensity in a game against a lesser rival especially coming off such an emotional win as they had on Saturday versus Boston but, given the importance of this game standings-wise, the Canucks will have to find a way to bring that same motivation to this contest.
Be prepared to grind it out. The Wild only average 2.20 goals for per game but they also only average that same number in goals against as well. Vancouver's offense has been clicking in recent outings but they can't count on an offensive outburst to carry them tonight. They'll need to work for every break they get.
Key in on Kes and company. This is the first meeting between former division rivals but the Wild can't work off old templates. In years past shutting down the Canucks meant shutting down the twins but lately its Kesler's line that has been the driving force for the offence. Incidentally, Kesler did not play in any of the four head-to-head meetings against the Wild last season.
By the Numbers
Points for Wild D-man Keith Ballard this season, twice as much as he managed in 36 games last season with VAN.
Shorthanded goals scored by the Canucks this season. They are 3-0 in games where they score a shorty.
Game active point streak for Chris Higgins (3-5-7), one shy of setting a new career-high.
Home wins for the Wild this season, tied for more among Western Conference teams.
Goal differential for the Canucks during their seven-game win streak (24 goals for; 8 goals against).
Average TOI for Minnesota's Ryan Suter this season, leading all players in the NHL.