Canucks carry momentum into weekend
Expect winless Leafs to give them toughest game of season Saturday
For much of the young NHL season, the Vancouver Canucks have felt the Maple Leafs' pain.
More often than not, goaltender Roberto Luongo has played like Toronto counterpart Vesa Toskala. And like their Canadian rivals, the Canucks have had their share of injury woes and goal-scoring issues.
But unlike the Leafs, who kick off a five-game road trip at General Motors Place on Saturday (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET), Vancouver offered its fans a glimmer of hope this week with a strong effort in Wednesday's comeback win over the Chicago Blackhawks.
"We got a power-play goal at a very important time and we were able to make the other team pay for a turnover, which we haven't done enough so far this season," Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault told reporters Friday.
But before Canucks fans get too excited, the mood changed somewhat on Friday with news that Pavol Demitra will be out indefinitely after having his shoulder scoped. The veteran centre had two tears repaired on his rotator cuff in May.
"In the last three weeks he hit a wall and the range of motion wasn't there," said Vigneault, who is also looking for someone to step up in the absence of top-six forward Daniel Sedin, out another month with a broken left foot.
Defenceman Mathieu Schneider, also recovering from a torn rotator cuff, could return Sunday against Edmonton, while centre Rick Rypien (groin) is day-to-day. Blue-liner Sami Salo (sprained right MCL) and winger Jannik Hansen (right hand) are on injured reserve.
The new speed line of Mason Raymond, Ryan Kesler and Michael Grabner has looked good, with the latter scoring the game-tying goal in Chicago.
But Raymond has just three goals in his past 45 regular-season games and Kyle Wellwood has one assist in nine outings.
"We need some guys to have breakout seasons," Vigneault said, without naming names. "They are getting ice time, they are getting a bigger role and they need to do it for us. That is how we are going to be successful."
The Canucks are 12th in the Western Conference but could reach the .500 mark at 5-5 for the first time this season with a win.
Toronto, meanwhile, has yet to taste victory this season, going 0-6-1 to match the worst start in franchise history. In 1990, the Maple Leafs had six losses and a tie before downing Chicago.
With a week off following last Saturday's 4-1 setback to the New York Rangers, head coach Ron Wilson had his players alternate between hard and light workouts that included three-on-three play on shortened ice to emphasize badly lacking physical play. There was also a Halloween dinner.
"It's hard for people to understand when you haven't won a game that we're trying to have some fun," said the coach, who recently had his charges play dodgeball. "Letting guys relax a little and compete at the same time and get a good workout in is exactly what the doctor ordered."
Toronto, the lone NHL team without a victory, ranks last in goals against, allowing 4.57 per start, and 30th in the 30-team loop in penalty-kill efficiency, at 60.7 per cent.
The Leafs also will be forced to start their third-string goalie, Joey MacDonald, for a third consecutive game as Toskala and backup Jonas Gustavsson remain on IR with knee and groin injuries, respectively. Gustavsson, out since Oct. 6, could return as early as Monday in Anaheim.
MacDonald, though, fared well in his last duel with Luongo, winning 2-1 in a shootout last Nov. 17 as a member of the New York Islanders.
"He's starting to find his form and we've got to get traffic in front of him," said Wilson of Luongo, who sports an uncharacteristic 3.07 goals-against average and .881 save percentage this season in nine contests.
Vancouver defeated the Leafs twice last season, including a 4-2 decision at GM Place on Nov. 15.
"I think it will probably be our toughest contest of the year," said Kesler, third in Canucks scoring with three goals and eight points in nine games. "It's a [Toronto] team that is very motivated and is going to be working extremely hard."