Canucks-Hurricanes Preview

The Associated Press

The Vancouver Canucks have been on a torrid pace lately that's helped them overcome their early struggles.

It doesn't appear things will get any better for the Carolina Hurricanes in the near future.

After receiving more bad news regarding its leading scorer and top defenseman, Carolina heads into Thursday night's matchup with visiting Vancouver hoping to get out of its funk.

The Hurricanes (9-18-5) are 1-7-2 over their last 10 games, including a 1-4-2 mark under new coach Kirk Muller. They fell 2-1 in overtime at Toronto on Tuesday, allowing the winning goal less than a minute into the extra session.

Carolina was dealt a bigger blow Wednesday when it found out Jeff Skinner and Joni Pitkanen will be out indefinitely because of concussions. The 19-year-old Skinner leads the team with 12 goals and 24 points despite not playing since scoring Dec. 7 versus Edmonton - the Hurricanes' only victory this month.

Pitkanen hasn't played since Dec. 6 against Calgary.

"We're not naive on the situation as far as how important it is to get these guys healthy before they get back,'' Muller said. "Whatever that time frame is, we've got to monitor it each day. But (they're) not going to step back into the lineup until (they're) ready to go for sure.''

Alexei Ponikarovsky scored the only goal Tuesday for Carolina, which is still adjusting to Muller's system.

"We've kind of jumped right in, and I think it's more like trial and error, as far as we kind of learn in the games rather than practices,'' Muller said. "(Tuesday) probably (was) our best overall game, that we (had) the most overall consistently for 60 minutes.

"I think they're understanding the identity of what we're looking for, and what we're trying to preach here as a staff.''

The Hurricanes will need an improved effort against the Canucks (18-10-2), who have earned at least a point in 10 of their last 11 games.

Vancouver has gone 12-3-1 over its last 16 games since starting the season 6-7-1.

The Canucks, though, fell 2-1 in a shootout to league-worst Columbus on Tuesday. It marked the first time they were held to fewer than two goals since a 5-1 loss to Chicago on Nov. 16.

"You can say it many times, but there are no easy games in this league," coach Alain Vigneault said. "There might be a perception that we're going to step on the ice and win it very easily. You don't win games easily in this league. (Tuesday) was another example.''

Roberto Luongo had another solid night in net, making 28 saves. After backup Cory Schneider shined while the Vezina Trophy finalist was dealing with an upper-body injury for the latter half of November, Luongo has gone 4-0-1 with a 1.32 goals-against average in five starts since returning.

Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward has gone 1-2-1 with a 4.59 GAA in five December starts, and he's 1-2-1 with a 3.47 GAA in four starts lifetime against Vancouver.

Reigning Art Ross Trophy winner Daniel Sedin has one assist in his last three games, though he's earned one point in seven of nine career games versus the Hurricanes.

Henrik Sedin, who had his five-game point streak snapped Tuesday, has eight assists in nine meetings against Carolina.

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