Posted January 18, 2013 on AP on Fox
The NHL season has not begun yet, but Alain Vigneault's plans are already in danger of being tested, tweaked and, possibly, scrapped. Heading into the lockout-shortened campaign, which begins for his team Saturday night against the visiting Anaheim Ducks, the Vancouver Canucks coach wants to keep his players fresh by monitoring their ice time closely. But the absences of injured center Ryan Kesler (shoulder, wrist) and winger David Booth (groin) have created two holes on the club's second line that could dictate otherwise. "We're going to have to do a good job, especially at the beginning, of spreading the ice time around and making sure that the minutes our players are giving us are quality minutes," Vigneault said. Vigneault plans to stick with what he knows - a veteran lineup - and make adjustments going forward as the Canucks attempt to win a third straight Presidents' Trophy as the top regular-season team and get back to the Stanley Cup finals after losing to Boston in 2011. "I'm going to, obviously, start with things that have worked in the past," Vigneault said. "But I firmly believe that talent has no age. If anybody can step in and contribute to this team, they will be here." Journeyman Andrew Ebbett and Jordan Schroeder, Vancouver's first-round draft choice in 2009, are vying to fill Kesler's spot. Second-year pro Zack Kassian, acquired from Buffalo in the controversial Cody Hodgson trade last February, appears to have the inside track on replacing Booth. Vancouver's other three lines remain largely intact. The most significant long-term change is in goal with Cory Schneider tabbed to become the starter after displacing Roberto Luongo in last year's playoffs. Luongo, who is notorious for slow starts to the season, has looked sharp in workouts after honing his game with Quebec goaltending guru Francois Allaire during the lockout. Luongo will provide goaltending insurance until his long-expected trade is finally completed and the club acquires a veteran backup. With much of the attention on Luongo's future and the second line, Vancouver's major offseason signing - defenseman Jason Garrison - has begun his tenure with little fanfare. But there's no doubt Garrison, who signed with his hometown club after playing his first three NHL seasons in Florida, will play a prominent role. He will replace departed free agent Sami Salo alongside Alex Edler and see action on the power play. Vancouver's success will rest largely in the scoring hands of Henrik and Daniel Sedin. The twins, who won the NHL scoring title in 2010 and 2011, respectively, saw their production decline in 2011-12. Henrik notched 81 points while playing all 82 games, while Daniel had 67 points in a season limited to 72 games because of a concussion and another injury. The twins usually play less than other teams' stars and, even in a compressed season with games meaning something from the start, Vigneault does not want to risk playing them too much. Vigneault said he has "turned the page" from last season's disappointing first-round playoff loss to eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles, but it seems to be motivating Daniel Sedin. "Every time you lose that last game of the season, it still hurts," he said. "We're a team that should be competing for the Stanley Cup. That's where we want to get to this year." Coach Bruce Boudreau can't imagine any NHL team is more eager to get back to work than his Ducks. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are playing for new contracts, with both eligible to be unrestricted free agents after the season. Teemu Selanne knows he's running out of time at 42. And Boudreau simply detests sitting still, making the four-month lockout particularly painful for a hockey lifer who believes he's on the verge of getting his struggling club back into playoff contention. "I love it. I've got six months bottled into me," Boudreau said. "It's what we do. This is my 38th year (in pro hockey), and to miss the first part of it was killing me. I can't wait for the games to get on." The Ducks returned to work with uncommon eagerness to rebound from last season's awful start, which kept them out of the playoffs for the second time in three years despite a big second-half surge. Anaheim bolstered its defense with hulking blueliners Sheldon Souray and Bryan Allen, but largely kept intact the star-studded roster that hasn't done much of anything in the postseason since Anaheim won its only Stanley Cup in 2007. After taking over for Randy Carlyle early last season, Boudreau thinks his first full season will be the first time Anaheim finally plays up to its talent in recent years. Getzlaf, Perry, Selanne and dependable goal-scorer Bobby Ryan all thrived during his energizing tenure behind the bench, when the Ducks rallied from 20 points out of a playoff spot to within four points before fading down the stretch. Slow starts have become the norm in Anaheim, leaving the club spending much of the season playing catch-up in recent years. Getzlaf knows another early stumble could be insurmountable in a shortened season. "My first order of business is to get a couple of wins early as a group," said Getzlaf, who managed only 57 points and a career-low 11 goals last season. "That's got to be our mindset, to get on that first road trip and at least get a split." The Ducks visit Calgary on Monday. They lost 15 of their first 17 road games last season, although they later took three points from their two visits to Vancouver.
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