The Vancouver Canucks have been sliding in the standings ever since the injury to their starting goaltender. They hope their latest trade can keep them from falling any further.
Newly acquired Jason LaBarbera is expected to make his Canucks debut on New Year’s Day when Vancouver visits the struggling Nashville Predators, who are hoping to turn things around when they open a five-game homestand.
With No. 1 goalie Roberto Luongo still nursing a groin injury that is expected to keep him out until the All-Star break, Vancouver (20-15-3) added some netminder insurance by acquiring LaBarbera from Los Angeles on Tuesday for a seventh-round pick in the 2009 draft.
The Canucks were 13-6-2 and had a five-point lead atop the Northwest Division at the time of Luongo’s injury, but have gone 7-9-1 since, dropping into second place.
Tuesday’s trade announcement was made minutes after backup goalie Curtis Sanford left Vancouver’s 3-2 loss to Philadelphia - the Canucks’ fourth defeat in six games - after the first period because of a pulled groin. Sanford was placed on the injured list after the game, and is considered week-to-week.
In 18 games with the Kings this season, the 28-year-old LaBarbera went 5-8-4 with a 2.83 goals-against average, an .893 save percentage and two shutouts.
“He’s an NHL goaltender that is going to get an opportunity to play,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said.
LaBarbera didn’t have much luck in his only start of the season against the Predators on Oct. 25, as he stopped just 12-of-15 shots before being pulled in the first period of the Kings’ 5-4 loss. Since Dec. 22 of last season, LaBarbera is 0-2-0 with a 7.65 GAA in three starts against Nashville (17-16-3).
While LaBarbera hasn’t had any success against the Predators lately, Vancouver has won five straight games over them. The Canucks have won the first two meetings of this season, defeating the Predators 4-0 at home on Nov. 4, and winning 3-1 at Nashville Dec. 9.
Canucks left wing Daniel Sedin has three goals and five assists during Vancouver’s winning streak over the Predators, while twin brother Henrik has five assists in those games.
Nashville lost to Colorado 5-1 on Monday one day after falling at Edmonton 5-2. The Predators have lost seven of their last 10 games, scoring two goals or less in seven of those contests.
In Monday’s loss, Nashville outshot the Avalanche 15-6 in the second period, but were outscored 2-1 in that frame.
“We had our chances, missing an empty net or two in the second period when we could have scored five or six goals,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said.
Despite its recent struggles, Nashville has been playing well at the Sommet Center. The Predators, who won’t play a road game until Jan. 11 in Chicago, have won five of their last six games at home, where they are 10-4-1 for the season.
Goalie Dan Ellis was given the day off Monday, and might sit again Thursday. Ellis, who has started each game against the Canucks this season, has posted a 4.24 GAA in losing his last four starts to Vancouver.
Backup Pekka Rinne, who stopped just 16 shots Monday, has never faced the Predators.