Numbers Game in Vancouver

Veteran forward Peter Schaefer’s face said it all following the Canucks 4-1 pre-season win over the Anaheim Ducks Saturday night at Rogers Arena.

With the first period winding down, the former Canuck here on a professional tryout “bit the dasher” on a check-from-behind from the Duck’s Dan Sexton and went straight to the dressing room for repairs.

Five-and-a-half minutes of showcase time lost, he thought, while getting his right eyebrow stitched up.

“As long as you can see, there’s not much that’s going to stop a hockey player from going out and proving yourself,” said Schaefer, who returned for the second and promptly notched an assist.

The problem for Schaefer is the sheer number of players the Canucks have in their stable all vying for the same third and fourth line roles, making the upcoming roster decisions that much more difficult for the Canucks coaching staff.

“I know (the Canucks) have a deep team but I’m just trying to go out and showcase myself,” said Schaefer, who spent last season training at his North Vancouver home looking to get another shot at the NHL.

Brendan Morrison, another former Canuck on a pro tryout, had yet another strong outing playing on a line with Schaefer and Jordan Schroeder, Vancouver’s 2009 first round draft pick. Morrison is doing all the little things right – winning faceoffs, killing penalties, and chipping in offensively. But with the team pressed against the salary cap, he will most likely have to sign for the league minimum if he wants to play in Vancouver.

Schroeder, who scored his first goal as a Canuck on a slick feed by Morrison, was complementary of his line-mates after the game.

“You can just see the kind of experience they have on the ice,” said Schroeder, who also hit a crossbar early in the first. And while it is expected the nineteen-year-old will get some professional seasoning in the AHL this year, he too is making a case for sticking around with the big club.

Jeff Tambellini – who signed a 1-year, $500,000 deal in the offseason – is another skill guy the team brought in for depth. Tambellini got a chance to play with the Sedins Saturday night and though he went pointless, he left an impression with at least one of the twins.

“(Tambellini) was real good,” said Daniel Sedin. “He has good speed, he understands the game, he’s solid defensively… you can’t ask for anything more.”

Blue-chip prospect Cody Hodgson, who was finally cleared to play in Sunday night’s 8-2 loss in Edmonton, is another talented forward vying for a spot on the team. It remains to be seen whether Hodgson can get caught up to speed over the remaining three pre-season games and make the opening day roster.

But for a Canucks team intending to roll out tougher and grittier third and fourth lines this season, it will take more than a little flash-and-dash to make this squad.

Raffi Torres and Manny Malholtra already have their places cemented in the lineup – meaning Vancouver still needs one of Darcy Hordichuk, Victor Oreskovich, or middleweight Rick Rypien to be available to drop the gloves. Also in the mix are forwards Jannik Hansen, Tanner Glass, and young Russian Sergei Shirokov.

With just three pre-season games left, the competition is just heating up.

CANUCKS NOTES:

New Style?? Roberto Luongo looked like he was in mid-season form against the Ducks, but did so playing a little deeper in his net than usual. Not a coincidence, he said post-game.

“I’m not being quite as aggressive,” said Luongo. “I’m a big guy and I’m trying to utilize as much of my size as I can.”

It appears new goaltending coach Roland Melanson (who worked with Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price in Montreal) is having an immediate impact on Luongo’s game.

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