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Vancouver Canucks want to play well, stay healthy in pre-season finale

10/03/2014 06:37 EDT | Updated 12/03/2014 05:59 EST
VANCOUVER - Radim Vrbata has two goals for the Vancouver Canucks' final pre-season game: do well and stay healthy.

"You want both. I think you want to play as close as you to can to how you're going to play the first game of the season," said the veteran winger. "You want to be close to the top of your play as a team and as individuals.

"Everybody's gearing up to that first game."

The Canucks wrap up their exhibition schedule Saturday night at home against the Edmonton Oilers before the regular season gets underway Wednesday in Calgary against the Flames.

"Players and coaches probably look at (the pre-season finale) a little different," Vancouver head coach Willie Desjardins said after Friday's practice at Rogers Arena. "I want to see it as 'This is how we're going to play.' The players probably see it as 'I want to get out of this healthy.'

"I want to push us and I want us to have a good game."

Saturday will mark a final tuneup for some players, while for others it will be a last chance to make an impression with Vancouver's decision makers.

"I'm looking to ramp it right up," said Canucks forward Zack Kassian, who has missed time with a lower-body injury. "It's one more until the real deal starts, so there's no sitting back. There's no feeling it out."

Linden Vey has bounced between centre and the wing during pre-season — as well as playing on the first power-play unit — and looks to have cemented a job with the Canucks after being acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings.

"It's the last one so you want to make sure to bring your best effort. This is what everybody's been gearing up for all summer," said Vey. "We're looking forward to it. This is the time of year you want to be playing. This is the last chance to get everything ready to go for the start of the year."

Canucks goalie Miller, who like Vrbata signed with the team in the off-season, said he's still getting comfortable in the crease and is learning the tendencies of his teammates — especially the defencemen.

"I think we're moving in the right direction and I just want to keep doing my part," said Miller. "There's always more to do. It's never finished, so it's always going to be a process but it's feeling good — just getting things underway here has been exciting.

"Trying to have good intensity, good focus, get things moving and get your mind right for the regular season."

On the other side is Nicklas Jensen, who is still with the big club but remains in a tenuous position. He and fellow forward Bo Horvat — who suffered a shoulder contusion on Thursday in Edmonton that isn't considered serious — are battling for a spot up front.

And with Horvat on the shelf for a few days, Jensen has one more chance to impress.

"I'm happy with how I've played," said the 21-year-old Dane. "There's some stuff I know I could have done a little bit better and I wanted to change, but there's also some stuff I'm very happy about. The fact that I've been consistent over all the games has been good."

Desjardins said he has been impressed with how all the youngsters have competed.

"(Jensen) has been pretty good all year. He skates well, he's opened up ice well," said the rookie coach. "He hasn't looked out of place, but I think you could say the same with Bo Horvat. He hasn't looked out of place either.

"Our lineup should be hard to crack. It should be tough for guys to get in. The good thing is these guys are pushing hard and they're making the choices harder."

One of those choices was to send Hunter Shinkaruk down to the AHL's Utica Comets on Friday. A former first-round pick like both Jensen and Horvat, the Canucks felt the 19-year-old forward needed more time to develop.

"He's got to get a more all-around game," said Desjardins. "I thought he was good offensively. I thought there were times that he showed real well and that's what we want out of him. We want him to be a guy that loves to score, a guy that's quick on the attack, and I think he showed those things. But he needs more experience at the pro level.

"To get his game to the best it can be he needs a little more time."

Like a lot of young players, Desjardins said the defensive side of the game is something Shinkaruk needs to work on, and that the demotion should be a positive for his development in the long run.

"What you want as a young player is when you get (to the NHL) you want to be able to stay," said Desjardins. "You don't want to come up and then lose your confidence and then get sent down because that could really hurt your career. I think he'll get more confidence the next time he's up by playing down in the American Hockey League."

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