GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Vancouver Canucks are running short of bodies and will likely have to use a defenceman as their 12th forward when they meet the Phoenix Coyotes tonight (7 p.m., Sportsnet Pacific, Team 1040).
Winger Chris Higgins tweaked his back and likely will not be able to play tonight in the first stop of a three-game road trip for the Canucks. Vancouver will also be without winger Steve Pinizzotto (illness) and Zack Kassian (back), who were both left behind in Vancouver on Wednesday.
Vancouver recalled forward Andrew Gordon from the Chicago Wolves and he will play his first game with the Canucks tonight.
But with only 11 healthy forwards, coach Alain Vigneault indicated he’ll likely use a defenceman up front tonight.
“Right now it looks like that is going to be the case,” Vigneault said after today’s game-day skate at Jobing.com Arena. “I am going to try and figure that out this afternoon. This all just happened in a short span so we have a couple of hours to figure out what we are going to do.”
Higgins was on the ice for the start of this morning’s skate, but left soon afterward.
“He tweaked his back so at this time I don’t think he’s going to play,” Vigneault said of Higgins. “He just walked out, took two shots and walked off.”
The Canucks tonight face an opponent that, like themselves, has feasted on Northwest Division opponents in recent years.
The Coyotes are an impressive 44-17-7 vs. Northwest Division teams since the start of the 2009-10 season. They are also 7-4-2 vs. Vancouver under head coach Dave Tippett.
“I look at their lineup and I see a team whose Ds jump up into the rush, I look at the depth of their centremen right now, they have got guys that can battle at each position,” Vigneault said of the Coyotes. “They are a good team and they have got one of the best goaltenders (Mike Smith) in the league so it’s going to be a real tough game.”
The Coyotes are winless in the last four games, but Tippett saw some things that he liked in Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss in Los Angeles to the Kings.
“We played well enough to win,” he told the Arizona Republic. “I think that’s a level if we play at the rest of the games this year, we’ll find a way to get some wins.”
Cory Schneider, whose strong play was one of the big reasons why the Canucks beat the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night, gets his second straight start tonight.
“Every time we play them it’s always a tough game and it’s never easy,” Schneider said of the Coyotes. “They play with a lot of structure and a lot of energy. And they have a lot of depth. They might not have that big line or a couple of big guys, but they have three or four lines that seem to always contribute.”
Gordon, who was acquired by the Canucks from the Anaheim Ducks last February in a trade for minor league defenceman Sebastien Erixon, has 16 goals and 26 points in 47 games with the Wolves this season.
“He is a character kid, he has provided a lot of leadership down there in Chicago,” said Canucks assistant general manager Lorne Henning. “He has exceptional speed and is a good penalty killer. He plays right wing and centre.”
Gordon has 49 NHL games on his resume with three goals and four assists. Most of those games came last season when he logged 37 games with the Ducks.
Gordon was drafted in the seventh round (197th overall) by the Washington Capitals in 2004.
This will be the second meeting of the season between the Canucks and Coyotes. Phoenix got two goals from Kyle Chipchura and beat the Canucks 4-2 in Vancouver on Feb. 26.
• PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Coyotes: Forward Shane Doan had 11 shots and 13 hits in 18:59 of ice time against the Kings on Tuesday night. He is the only NHL player in the past eight seasons to record nine-plus shots and 11-plus hits in a game.
Canucks: Centre Jordan Schroeder has looked good in the two games he’s played since being recalled from Chicago. With all the injuries, he’ll be thrust into an offensive role again tonight.
The Coyotes are missing defenceman Zbynek Michalek (foot) and winger David Moss (lower body).
The Canucks are without centre Ryan Kesler (foot) and wingers David Booth (ankle), Zack Kassian (back) Chris Higgins (back) and Steve Pinizzotto (illness).
ICE CHIPS: Defenceman Kevin Bieksa did not skate this morning, but will play tonight … The Coyotes are tied for second in the NHL with 52 goals on home ice this season … The Canucks will travel post-game to Los Angeles, where they meet the Kings on Saturday afternoon.