The Canucks are often referred to as having the deepest defense in the NHL. Good thing.
In three of their past five games the Canucks have lost a defenseman to injury.
The most recent causality, Kevin Bieksa, sat out the final two periods of last Saturday’s matchup against the Flames after taking a punch in the eye from Tom Kostopolous during a fight in the first period.
“I like getting hit in fights, it wakes you up out there, but if it takes you out of the game it’s a little disheartening,” said Bieksa.
With Bieksa out of the lineup, the remaining Canucks defensemen were forced to log heavy minutes Saturday night, with Christian Ehrhoff leading the group, registering a team high 33:08 of ice time, seven minutes above his season average.
After a couple of days off for Bieksa, the swelling has gone down, and he’ll likely play tonight.
“I feel good out there, I thought I was seeing alright and everything and I’m ready to go,” said Bieksa.
Bieksa leads the Canucks at +20 and is third in scoring among team defensemen with 17 points this season.
On Sunday the Canucks recalled defensemen Lee Sweatt from Manitoba as a precautionary measure. Sweatt won’t see any action tonight, but he’s ready to play if called upon.
“If needed I can step in and play my role, either way, I’m excited to be here,” said Sweatt.
Sweatt, 25, has 15 points (5-9) in 41 games with the Moose this season.
This is Sweatt’s first NHL call up. He signed with the Vancouver Canucks last offseason after spending the last four seasons playing in Finland, Austria and Russia.
Sergei Shirokov was sent back down to the Manitoba Moose on Sunday to make room for Sweatt. Shirokov’s demotion was more a result of salary cap issues, than lackluster play.
He was upbeat about his brief NHL experience, and hopes to return to the Canucks sooner than later.
“No I am not surprised (to be sent down), they are moving guys around right now, it’s a normal process, I just have to wait and work,” said Shirokov.
GAME NIGHT: DALLAS AT VANCOUVER
Two of the top three teams in the Western Conference will play tonight at Rogers Arena, as the Vancouver Canucks will host the streaking Dallas Stars in their second meeting of the season.
Dallas rolls into Vancouver having won seven of their last eight on the road, and five of their last six overall.
The Stars will offer unique challenges for an ailing Canucks defensive corps who will be in tough against a team that features a deep forward group, with three lines that can score.
“They have depth up front, they are one of the better teams in the NHL, they have size, skill and speed and they’re not afraid to challenge you one on one,” said Coach Alain Vigneault. “We have to be willing to battle and compete against that skill level.”
"They are a deep team, that’s one of their strengths,” said Kevin Bieksa. “We’ve had a couple short talks these last couple of days and hopefully we can get our game back on track.”
The Canucks are coming off their fifth shootout loss of the season, a 4-3 decision to the Calgary Flames on Saturday night, and their fourth loss in a row (three of them in overtime or shootout).
Vancouver beat the Stars 4-1 in their last meeting, behind a spectacular 44 save goaltending performance by Cory Schneider. The game wasn’t the Canucks best of the season, but a win is a win.
“Yeah we won the game, that’s what I remember, that’s the bottom line. It’s going to be close, we weren’t as sharp as we wanted to be down there, but we won the game,” said Henrik Sedin.
Roberto Luongo gets the start against Dallas, he is 11-4-2 against them all time with a .706 winning percentage, his best record against any team in the Western Conference.
For the Canucks, defenseman Alex Edler has been hot of late, scoring goals in four of his last five games, but is goalless in 14 career games against the Stars.
“My goals were pretty lucky (against the Flames), but I try to get shots, get pucks to the net and sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you get lucky twice,” said Edler.
A win for the Canucks tonight would put them five points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings for top spot in the Western Conference.
THOMAS GRADIN NIGHT
The Vancouver Canucks will honour their first great Swede tonight at Rogers Arena.
Thomas Gradin, one time player and current Associate Chief Amateur Scout, was one of the first three Swedish born players in Vancouver Canucks history, pioneering a legacy that has featured some of the world’s best Swedish hockey talent over the past 30 years.
For more on Gradin, check out Derek Jory’s article.
Gradin would play eight seasons for the Canucks, registering 197 goals, 353 assists for 550 points over 613 games. He currently sits sixth on the Canucks all time scoring list.
Perhaps his seminal work as a scout was the unearthing of a hidden gem, which Gradin spotted playing in a glorified beer league in Sweden.
The Canucks paid close attention to young Alexander Edler after that, eventually drafting him in the third round of the 2004 draft.
In his draft year, Edler was a virtual unknown, unranked by NHL Central Scouting Bureau.
“He is a great guy, we talked a lot before I came over to Kelowna. He has always been telling me that I am a good player, that I am better than I think I am and that has been very helpful,” Alexander Edler, on the man responsible for bringing him to Vancouver.
After his eight seasons with the Canucks, Gradin only played on more season in the NHL with the Boston Bruins, before returning home to finish his career in his home town, with AIK Solna of the Swedish Elite league.
Gradin has worked as a Canucks scout since the 1994-95 season.