Preview: Wild at Canucks
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The Vancouver Canucks could use an offensive savior about now — and winger Jannik Hansen has a chance to be one.
Hansen is slated to return to Vancouver’s lineup on Saturday as the Canucks (23-22-6) host the Minnesota Wild (33-12-5) at Rogers Arena.
The game has a chance to be quite meaningful in the Canucks’ quest to get above the Western Conference playoff bar, because it is the last one at home — where they often excel — before six games on the road, where usually lose.
“I think there are some different options,” Canucks coach Willie Desjardins said.
In other words, Hansen, who has been out since Dec. 22 with a knee injury, has a chance to bolster a forward crew that is offensively challenged. Five forwards tend to do most of Vancouver’s scoring while the rest produce little.
The most obvious option is to put Hansen back on the top line with Henrik and Daniel Sedin. His presence could kick-start the twins and give the line more speed as well as more of a physical edge than Loui Eriksson usually provides.
In turn, Eriksson’s shift to another forward unit, likely the second, could have a ripple effect as other talented forwards, such as Markus Granlund and Alex Burrows, move down a line or two. In the last 10 games, the Sedins have only produced 10 points combined, and Eriksson has one goal and one assist during that span.
“I need the Sedin line to be the way they play,” Desjardins said. “I think they’ve been good down this stretch.”
The Canucks are 9-4-3 since Christmas, but they lost 4-1 to the San Jose Sharks in the first game after the All-Star break and they were blanked 3-0 by the lowly Arizona Coyotes in the game just before it.
Granted, the sub-par effort against San Jose could be attributed to rust afterthe break, and fatigue was a factor in the loss in Arizona, because the Canucks were playing the second of back-to-back road games.
However, the current dearth of scoring has been a prevalent theme for most of the season — and the Canucks need to score more consistently if they want to make a playoff run.
It would help if Daniel Sedin, a former NHL scoring champion who has been on a extended goals drought, can turn the red light on more frequently.
Daniel Sedin said the goals will come sooner or later for the Canucks.
“It’s about playing the same way and playing the right way,” he said. “We played a good enough game (against San Jose) to get some points, but we have to be a little bit better.”
Hansen, known as a consummate team player, is anxious to contribute to the cause. He has been limited to 18 games this season because of the knee problem an earlier rib injury suffered in a collision with Toronto’s Morgan Rielly in early November.
“It’s frustrating to have this year shortened so far by injuries to what it has been,” Hansen, who has only five goals this season after netting a career-high 22 in 2015-16, told The Vancouver Sun earlier this week.
“But there’s still a third of a season left, which is lots of hockey and enough time to turn this around. And if we squeeze into the playoffs, then it’s all worth it.”
Meanwhile, the Wild will use Saturday’s game to strength their hold on first place overall in the Western Conference.
Minnesota has gained points in 14 of its past 15 games and, for the first time in franchise history, has 71 points after 50 games.
The Wild has traditionally had to fight for a lower playoff rung as coach Bruce Boudreau thrives in his first season in the Twin Cities with the next chapter on his playoffs struggles yet to unfold.
But Boudreau is less than pleased with the Wild after they dropped a 5-1 loss to the Flames in Calgary on Wednesday night to end the points streak, which was also a team record. He put the club through a hard workout in wake of the loss and is also expected to tinker with his forward combinations Saturday.
Based on what happened in practice, veteran Charlie Coyle is expected to be bumped off the top power-play unit against the Canucks. Nino Niederreiter will take his place on the first power-play unit.
Coyle and the coach also had a chat about the situation.
“I told him what I thought he had to do and I told him I think he was a great player, and I want him to get back to being a great player,” Boudreau told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Coyle sounded eager to take the Boudreau’s advice to heart.
“We had a good talk,” he told the Star Tribune. “Bottom line: I’ve got to produce and play my game and get back to the way I know how to play, and that’s being physical at the start and just being a big body out there.”
Coyle will be dropped way down to the fourth line in even-strength situations. While Coyle tries to get out of the coach’s doghouse, Alex Tuch has a chance to make his NHL debut in the veteran’s former spot on the first line with Niederreiter and Eric Staal.
Tuch, who stands 6 feet 4 and weighs about 220 points, was Minnesota’s top draft choice in 2014. He was promoted earlier in the week from Iowa of the AHL, where he has produced 11 goals and 11 assists in 34 games this season.