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Vancouver at Nashville

Venue: Sommet Center

Vancouver will take any contributions it can get from its depleted defense corps. A rookie defenseman making his NHL debut gave the Canucks a major boost the last time they faced the Nashville Predators.

The NHL-leading Canucks close out their three-game road trip with their first visit of the season to Bridgestone Arena on Thursday night.

Vancouver (37-12-9) has a nine-point lead in the Western Conference, but it would likely feel far more comfortable about its position if it had a healthy defense. Keith Ballard, Dan Hamhuis and Andrew Alberts have been injured in the last 10 days, and Kevin Bieksa joined that group when he suffered what turned out to be a broken foot when he blocked a shot Tuesday.

He returned and helped the Canucks finish a 4-1 victory over Minnesota, but Vancouver called up Evan Oberg from the AHL to take his place in Nashville. Bieksa says there's no timetable for his return.

"I kind of knew. I had a feeling," he told reporters after the Thursday morning skate. "We get hit in the foot probably thousands of times with pucks and you kind of have a feeling when there's something wrong so it didn't feel like the usual hit that hurt."

Defenseman Alex Edler is also out indefinitely following back surgery this month.

Vancouver got a key contribution from a defenseman when it last faced Nashville, as Lee Sweatt beat Pekka Rinne with 7:29 remaining in his league debut to lift the Canucks to a 2-1 victory Jan. 26.

Sweatt, however, suffered a foot fracture in practice earlier this month and hasn't played since Feb. 2.

The rash of injuries to its defense has put more pressure on the Canucks' forwards. Vancouver, which leads the league with 196 goals, managed 14 shots Tuesday and had one in the third period - an empty-net goal by Ryan Kesler.

"That takes away from a lot of your offense when your forwards are trying to stay deep and play defensively," backup goaltender Cory Schneider told the team's official website after making 28 saves.

Roberto Luongo stopped 26 shots against the Predators last month and has gone 3-1-0 with a 2.43 goals-against average in his last four starts in Nashville. He made 33 saves in the teams' last matchup at Bridgestone Arena, a 4-2 Canucks victory March 7.

Nashville, which has lost of five of six home meetings with Vancouver, is looking to rebound from a 2-1 overtime loss to San Jose on Tuesday. The Predators have dropped all five of their contests decided in OT.

"Sometimes you've got to keep it simple," coach Barry Trotz said. "... You have to get it deep, keep possession, wear them down, open up some seams and see if you can break down coverage."

Nashville has had trouble doing that this season, as it's near the bottom of the NHL with 151 goals. The lack of production is a major reason why Rinne is 8-4-6 at home despite a 1.94 GAA in those 18 games.

The Predators (30-19-8) have been far more effective defensively, allowing 135 goals - among the fewest in the league. Nashville is one of the best penalty killing teams at 86.4 percent and killed off all four short-handed situations against Vancouver on Jan. 26.

Nashville, though, faces a Canucks club that topped the NHL with a 25.3 power-play percentage going into Wednesday's games. Vancouver has gone 11 for 27 with the man advantage during its current 8-2-0 stretch.

Canucks leading scorer Daniel Sedin extended his point streak against Nashville to five games with an assist last month. He has two goals and six assists in that span.

Copyright 2016 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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Game Odds
Vancouver -125 Nashville 105
Team Standings W L OT Pts L 10
Vancouver2nd Pacific 42194-2-1
Nashville6th Central 24042-4-0

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