Instead, Vrbata was a late scratch because of an illness and struggling second-line center Nick Bonino thinks he knows why.
"When he found out he was on our line, I think he decided he would be sick," Bonino joked. "It's tough not to have him like that."
Defenseman Ryan Stanton scored his first goal in 84 games, Bonino scored his second in 24 games and rookie right wing Linden Vey ended a 12-game drought to lead the Canucks to a 3-2 win against the Islanders.
"Every team that's good in this League has some secondary scoring," Stanton said. "Bonino got out of a slump, Vey got one and probably the least likely guy to get one, me, got one. It was nice and it felt so much better in a win."
Mikhail Grabovski scored his first goal in 11 games with 5:27 left to close the gap for the Islanders, but Eddie Lack made 21 saves in his first start since Dec. 17 and the Canucks improved to 5-1-1 since ending a five-game losing streak.
"The execution just wasn't really where it needed to be," said Islanders captain John Tavares, who wasn't credited with any shot attempts. "We competed hard but just have to be smarter with the puck and it cost us at times and it slowed us down."
Turnovers led to all three Canucks goals, including Vey's breakaway that made it 3-1 with 2:24 left in the second period.
"To me, we played a pretty good hockey game but you can't manage the puck like that and expect to win," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "Turnovers led to the outcome of the game."
Martin opened the scoring midway through the first period, driving the net to redirect Travis Hamonic's centering pass after the Islanders defenseman made a nice rush around Stanton. But Stanton tied it two-and-a-half minutes later with his first goal since Oct. 17, 2013.
Islanders center Brock Nelson tried to make a back pass behind his own net, but it went right to Canucks center Brad Richardson, who walked out front for a shot that went off the shaft of Halak's stick along the ice and right to an open Stanton on the backdoor.
"Obviously I'm not a huge goal scorer, but when you go 80 some games without scoring a goal it definitely starts to creep in the back of your mind," Stanton said.
Especially when the drought includes recreational hockey.
"The inside joke with my buddies back home is that I hadn't scored a goal in organized hockey in 2014," he said. "They were giving it to me after I played some beer league games and it continued 30 some games into this season."
Bonino ended a slump of his own to put the Canucks up 2-1 eight minutes into the second period. New York defenseman Thomas Hickey threw the puck to Canucks counterpart Kevin Bieksa at the right point. His shot bounced off Halak to Bonino, who pulled the puck to his forehand and around the right pad before tucking it in for his first goal in nine games.
"It hasn't been fun," Bonino said of a slump that has seen him score one goal and one assist since late November. "I feel like I'm playing good hockey, the puck just wouldn't go in. There have been chances every night. Tonight one went in. Hopefully it continues."
Vey wasn't supposed to play, but was inserted into the lineup when Vrbata, who has 16 goals, became ill. He took Vrbata's new spot on a second line with Bonino and Chris Higgins, who had combined for two goals in 14 games.
"I got here at 4:30, found out I was playing. You've always got to be ready," said Vey, who took advantage of another Hickey turnover.
After intercepting the drop pass, Derek Dorsett chipped the puck up to Vey, who caught up to it inside the right faceoff circle in the Islanders end before slipping a quick shot through the legs of a retreating Halak.
"I was thinking about coming out, but he would have got it before me so I got caught a little bit in between," Halak said. "Just couldn't do anything after. Tried to stop it, but I couldn't."
Vey was happy to contribute after sitting out Vancouver's 4-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.
"It's always nice to capitalize on an opportunity," Vey said. "You need guys to step up. Obviously [Bonino] has been snake bitten for a while and he's had lots of chances. It's good to see him find one. And obviously you get a goal from Stanton, who has struggled in the goal department this year, but it's good to see him get one."
The only thing left was for Lack to shut the door, no small feat after he gave up six goals in the third period of a 7-4 loss to the Islanders last March. He called it his "worst game as a professional," but only needed to stop 7 of 8 in the third period this time around.
"I was kind of thinking of it a little before the third period, but once we started playing I was feeling normal again," Lack said.
It helped that the Islanders had two shots 11 minutes into the third, but Lack robbed Martin from the slot with nine minutes left, throwing out the right pad after a nice pass from Tavares behind the net.
Lack, who turned 27 on Monday, made a sliding save on Frans Nielsen on a shorthanded 2-on-1 before Grabovski scored after a Bieksa giveaway created another 2-on-1 down low. Kyle Okposo passed across to Grabovski, who one-timed it from the right hash mark past Lack's glove at 14:33 for his second goal in 22 games.
"It took me five, 10 minutes to get into the groove," Lack said.
New York was without forward Josh Bailey, who sustained an upper-body injury in a 5-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday, but speedy left wing Michael Grabner returned to play his sixth game of the season. Grabner, who had hernia surgery prior to the start of the season, started on the top line with Tavares and Okposo. But the Islanders, who played the fourth of seven straight road games, didn't generate a lot of offense and were undone by turnovers.
"The last couple games, even three games, we haven't been ourselves, haven't had that same pop," Okposo said. "It's not time to panic, but we just need to be better."
The Canucks lost Richardson, their third-line center, after he blocked a shot with his foot midway through the second period. Defenseman Yannick Weber left with 6:52 remaining in the third period after colliding with Grabner, but returned for one more shift late.
Richardson left the arena with only a slight limp and Canucks coach Willie Desjardins didn't think the injury was serious.