Canucks-Predators Preview

Vancouver will take any contributions it can get from its

depleted defense corps. A rookie defenseman making his NHL debut

gave the Canucks a major boost the last time they faced the

Nashville Predators.

The NHL-leading Canucks close out their three-game road trip

with their first visit of the season to Bridgestone Arena on

Thursday night.

Vancouver (37-12-9) has a nine-point lead in the Western

Conference, but it would likely feel far more comfortable about its

position if it had a healthy defense. Keith Ballard, Dan Hamhuis

and Andrew Alberts have been injured in the last 10 days, and Kevin

Bieksa joined that group when he suffered what turned out to be a

broken foot when he blocked a shot Tuesday.

He returned and helped the Canucks finish a 4-1 victory over

Minnesota, but Vancouver called up Evan Oberg from the AHL to take

his place in Nashville. Bieksa says there’s no timetable for his

return.

“I kind of knew. I had a feeling,” he told reporters after the

Thursday morning skate. ”We get hit in the foot probably thousands

of times with pucks and you kind of have a feeling when there’s

something wrong so it didn’t feel like the usual hit that

hurt.”

Defenseman Alex Edler is also out indefinitely following back

surgery this month.

Vancouver got a key contribution from a defenseman when it last

faced Nashville, as Lee Sweatt beat Pekka Rinne with 7:29 remaining

in his league debut to lift the Canucks to a 2-1 victory Jan.

26.

Sweatt, however, suffered a foot fracture in practice earlier

this month and hasn’t played since Feb. 2.

The rash of injuries to its defense has put more pressure on the

Canucks’ forwards. Vancouver, which leads the league with 196

goals, managed 14 shots Tuesday and had one in the third period –

an empty-net goal by Ryan Kesler.

“That takes away from a lot of your offense when your forwards

are trying to stay deep and play defensively,” backup goaltender

Cory Schneider told the team’s official website after making 28

saves.

Roberto Luongo stopped 26 shots against the Predators last month

and has gone 3-1-0 with a 2.43 goals-against average in his last

four starts in Nashville. He made 33 saves in the teams’ last

matchup at Bridgestone Arena, a 4-2 Canucks victory March 7.

Nashville, which has lost of five of six home meetings with

Vancouver, is looking to rebound from a 2-1 overtime loss to San

Jose on Tuesday. The Predators have dropped all five of their

contests decided in OT.

“Sometimes you’ve got to keep it simple,” coach Barry Trotz

said. “… You have to get it deep, keep possession, wear them

down, open up some seams and see if you can break down

coverage.”

Nashville has had trouble doing that this season, as it’s near

the bottom of the NHL with 151 goals. The lack of production is a

major reason why Rinne is 8-4-6 at home despite a 1.94 GAA in those

18 games.

The Predators (30-19-8) have been far more effective

defensively, allowing 135 goals – among the fewest in the league.

Nashville is one of the best penalty killing teams at 86.4 percent

and killed off all four short-handed situations against Vancouver

on Jan. 26.

Nashville, though, faces a Canucks club that topped the NHL with

a 25.3 power-play percentage going into Wednesday’s games.

Vancouver has gone 11 for 27 with the man advantage during its

current 8-2-0 stretch.

Canucks leading scorer Daniel Sedin extended his point streak

against Nashville to five games with an assist last month. He has

two goals and six assists in that span.