The Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers both expect key veterans back on the blue line Tuesday night.
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault confirmed after practice Monday that Sami Salo will return to the lineup after missing six games and 17 days as the result of a concussion suffered after a low hit from Boston's Brad Marchand on Jan. 7.
Most Oilers didn't skate in Vancouver on Tuesday morning after a shootout win over San Jose on home ice the night before, but Ryan Whitney did, and said afterward he would return after missing 13 games since Christmas because of lingering tendonitis from an ankle surgery more than a year earlier.
What they are getting back, however, could be very different.
Salo doesn't think it will take long to get back up to speed, which means the Canucks get back a steadying influence on the back end at even strength and on the penalty kill, as well as a powerful point shot for a power play that has struggled in his absence.
There are more questions surrounding Whitney's return, both short- and long-term.
Is it the Whitney who had 27 points and a plus-13 rating in 35 games while playing a team-high 25 minutes a night before the ankle surgery? Or the one that didn't return until five games into this season, missed another 13 with a knee injury, has just 3 assists in 17 games, is minus-6, and averaged just 18:38 of ice time while trying to find his game and health? Whitney sure didn't sound convinced his ankle was back to normal.
"It feels OK, it's kind of one of those things now where we're going to have to figure it out hopefully at the end of the year," Whitney said. "Everyone telling me wait until you are 100 percent, while I don't know if it will ever be 100 percent again, so you gotta just try playing at some point. It feels better than it did a month ago, I've tried taping it a little different and just got to give it a go at some point."
It hasn't been easy for a player counted on to lead the Oilers out of their own end and contribute offensively at the other end.
"It's frustrating, but days like this, when you are playing, I really try not to think about it," he said. "You have to change your game a little bit, but I'm just happy to be playing again. I can't really get frustrated that it hasn't healed as i hoped. It's in the back of my mind, just not on days I am playing."
Even with Whitney back, the banged-up Oilers are still missing two top-four defenders, with Tom Gilbert out since the new year with a knee injury and Cam Barker missing his 34th game since mid-November because of an ankle injury of his own.