Thrashers-Canucks Preview

BY foxsports • December 16, 2009

The Vancouver Canucks' lackluster finish to a four-game road trip prompted Alain Vigneault to implore his team to be mindful of the standings before it's too late.

An season-high eight-game homestand could provide a good opportunity to move up those standings.

Returning home to stay through Dec. 27, the Canucks try to begin that stretch with a victory Thursday night against the improving Atlanta Thrashers.

Vancouver (16-14-0) went 2-3 on a five-game road trip that began Nov. 5, returned home Nov. 20 for a 3-2 homestand, and took off on the road again for a four-game trip Dec. 2, starting with wins in New Jersey and Philadelphia.

The Canucks stumbled before returning to western Canada, however, losing 5-3 in Carolina on Saturday and 4-2 at Nashville on Tuesday to fall to 6-10-0 on the road and into 10th place in the Western Conference.

"Right now, we have guys that can play a lot better, that have to play a lot better,'' Vigneault said. "We need to start watching the standings here a little bit more and the importance of these games right now that we're finding ways to lose.''

Playing eight in a row at GM Place - where the Canucks are 10-4-0 - is of particular importance now. The Canucks won't play at home from Jan. 30-March 10 - a span that includes 14 consecutive road games wrapped around the Olympic break.

"It'll be nice to be home," forward Tanner Glass told the Canucks' official Web site. "We know what the schedule is like this year with a lot of extended road trips so we've got to make some hay on these homestands and it'll be nice to be home for a while."

Perhaps the player who should be most looking forward to the homestand is center Ryan Kesler. Second on the team with 26 points behind Henrik Sedin, Kesler has produced five of his six goals and 14 of his 20 assists at home.

Atlanta (15-10-3) is 9-4-1 on the road, a striking turnaround for a team that finished 17-20-4 away from home in 2008-09. However, the Thrashers need a win to break even on their current four-game trip and avoid a third consecutive loss.

The Thrashers began the trip Saturday with a 2-1 shootout win over Florida, but gave up five second-period goals in a 5-2 loss at Toronto on Monday as goaltender Ondrej Pavelec was chased.

Johan Hedberg was back in net Wednesday at Calgary, bringing with him a 6-1-0 record and a 1.88 goals-against average since Nov. 8. He made 29 saves, but Atlanta couldn't muster much offense in a 3-1 defeat.

"We're just one of those teams that likes to make the perfect play, and sometimes it's not there,'' coach John Anderson said.

The Thrashers are 8-2-1 when Ilya Kovalchuk scores, but they've also come to rely on rookie left wing Evander Kane for offensive production.

Kane has eight goals and five assists, and Atlanta is 7-1-2 when he has at least one point. Kane - held without a point in his last five games - was under the weather Wednesday and sat out the loss to the Flames, but the Vancouver native hopes to play Thursday in front of 80 friends and relatives.

Kovalchuk had a goal and an assist in Atlanta's 4-3 home shootout win over the Canucks on Jan. 2. The Thrashers have one win, two losses and a tie in four visits to Vancouver all-time.

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