Canucks try to keep streak going against Coyotes

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The Vancouver Canucks will try to avoid getting caught in a trap game again Wednesday night.

The suddenly surging Canucks (18-18-3) have a chance to achieve their longest win streak of the season — five games – when they host the struggling Arizona Coyotes (11-21-5) at Rogers Arena.

The Coyotes have lost seven straight games and, on that basis, display the potential to trap the Canucks, who have developed a habit over the years of playing down to the level of their opposition.

In other words, the Canucks have been victimized in trap games — contests in which clear underdogs pull off upsets when the favored team is looking ahead to games against a tougher opponent.

But the Canucks avoided getting caught in the Colorado Avalanche’s trap Monday, as they posted their fourth straight win — something they had not done since the opening games of the season.

It is clear that, with a chance to move above the playoff bar imminent, Vancouver players are not worried about getting trapped by any team right now.

“The Christmas break was huge for us to get refocused and ready to go and get guys back in the lineup,” said center Bo Horvat, who has five points in as many games. “Having (Alex) Edler back on the back end is huge for us. I think having that little break gave us some time to think and some confidence going into these last four games.”

The win over Colorado was not a masterpiece by any stretch. But the Canucks again demonstrated that they can be resilient when necessary.

The Canucks are also benefiting from an improved power play and strong goaltending.

“It’s good to get some chances, get some momentum,” said winger Daniel Sedin of the improved power play. “It feels good. We’re a lot more confident stepping on the ice when (we’re) scoring and creating chances.”

According to Sedin, the Canucks have been playing with a different attitude since returning from the Christmas break.

“We talked about each guy being 5 percent better,” he said. “That’s the difference in this league from winning and losing. I think guys are really buying in right now and doing extra things for your line to be successful and for your team to be successful. It’s great to see.”

For coaches and fans, it is also great to see players other than Daniel Sedin and his twin brother Henrik lead the way offensively. While they have provided timely goals and assists during the streak, the Canucks have also been getting key contributions from some of their up-and-coming players.

Like Horvat, winger Sven Baertschi has been on a tear lately. Baertschi scored two goals, including the winner, against Colorado and now has six goals and five assists in the past 10 games. The production resulted after he was a healthy scratch against Washington on Dec. 11.

“I think he had something to prove,” said Horvat. “He was playing well before that, too. Maybe (he had) a few rough games here and there. After he got sat out, he came back and he’s been playing some of his best hockey I’ve seen him play.”

Baertschi said the club’s success has helped him personally.

“I’ve just been trying to feed off that and am obviously playing with some confidence right now,” said Baertschi.

Meanwhile, the Coyotes do not have much to feel confident about. In addition to inconsistency, they have also been battling injuries during their skid. The biggest loss may be center Brad Richardson, who suffered a broken leg when the Coyotes visited the Canucks in mid-November.

Richardson’s absence has magnified Arizona’s lack of skill, experience and expertise at the critical center spot. Coach Dave Tippett has been experimenting with different center options, including Jordan Martinook, who is usually a winger.

But Tippett has not been satisfied with the results of his experiments.

“The center position, with Richardson’s injury, has been sort of a sore spot,” Tippett told The Arizona Republic. “Martinook has played very well there, but I’d like to get him back to the wing if we could. I think that’s where he has the most impact on the game.”

Alexander Burmistrov could provide more strength down the middle after being claimed on waivers Monday from Winnipeg, where he had fallen out of favor with Jets coach Paul Maurice.

However, Burmistrov may not be a candidate as an offensive catalyst since he had only two assists in 23 games with Winnipeg.

His work ethic and attitude have also been questioned. At any rate, he will not get a chance to help the Coyotes in Vancouver. Although he is expected to take part in Wednesday’s morning skate and, possibly, the pregame warmup, the Coyotes have announced that he will not play before the weekend.

A player who could help is defenseman Kevin Connauton, a one-time Canucks prospect who played his junior hockey with the Vancouver Giants and should be pumped to put on a good show for old friends and ex-teammates. Connauton rejoined the Coyotes after being demoted to their Tucson-based farm team for a two-game conditioning stint at his own request.

He showed signs of his former offensive prowess, recording three points in the two games.

“It was a lot of fun,” Connauton told the Coyotes’ website regarding his time with Tucson. “I was excited to get down there and play. If you ask anyone, everyone just wants to play. Now, it’s just about building off that and keep moving forward.”

But as a team, the Coyotes have had trouble going forward lately — and they appear unlikely to trap the Canucks.