Monday night's battle atop the Northwest Division has turned into a war of attrition.
The Canucks announced on Monday defenseman Aaron Rome will be out 3-4 weeks after breaking his thumb blocking a shot during Saturday's win in Toronto to wrap up a five-game road trip, and fellow blueliner Keith Ballard won't play against the Wild after suffering back spasms in the morning skate. Even Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault had to leave the rink early because he wasn't feeling well.
"He has had a tough time," associate coach Rick Bowness, who took Vigneault's place addressing the media, said of Rome's second broken thumb already this season. "We get him back in the lineup, he finds his game and then gets hurt again."
Ballard is expected back in time for Wednesday's game against Detroit, so Bowness said he didn't expect the Canucks, who were already carrying eight defensemen, to recall any more from the AHL -- even if injuries up front forced them to twice play a rearguard up front on the fourth line during the recently completed 3-1-1 road trip.
They shouldn't expect any sympathy from a Minnesota Wild team that led the Canucks by five points atop the Northwest Division, but limped into Vancouver with several key players nursing injuries, and a handful more called up from the AHL to fill in.
The list includes four, arguably five, of their top-six forwards, and is topped by captain Mikko Koivu, who is out with a leg injury suffered Wednesday against Chicago. They are also missing Devin Setoguchi (lower body), Guillaume Latendresse (concussion), and Casey Wellman (wrist), but Pierre-Marc Bouchard returns after missing two games with a broken nose suffered while being checked head first into the boards Tuesday in Winnipeg.
Bouchard will be counted on to replace some of the missing offense for a Minnesota team that has dropped three straight -- the last two in shootouts -- for the first time all season.
"We're missing some skill in the lineup and he brings that," coach Mike Yeo said. "And he was playing so well before he got hurt, so I'm really hoping he can come back at that level and also what he brings to the power play will be a help for us."
Koivu and Bouchard both took part in practice Sunday after missing a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Islanders the night before, and were back on the ice in Vancouver late Monday morning. While Koivu won't join Bouchard in returning against the Canucks, he did skate hard at the end of Monday's session, and still hopes to play before Christmas, perhaps Tuesday in Calgary or Thursday in Edmonton to wrap up a three-game trip.
"He looks really good out there," Yeo said of Koivu
It would be a welcome return for a team that will use its 34th different player this season when AHL call up Jed Ortmeyer makes his season debut against the Canucks. It could have been 35, but call up Chad Rau, a Minnesota native, isn't expected to play, instead watching as a healthy scratch along with defensemen Greg Zanon and Justin Falk.