The return of Raymond, Luongo & Ballard?
By Derek Jory
At Monday’s Canucks practice, Mason Raymond made it clear he’s been cleared for contact.
Aaron Rome will tell you first hand.
During the 60-minute skate at Rogers Arena, Raymond skated on Vancouver’s second line in a game-like situation with actual line rushes. When Rome was digging for a puck in the corner, Raymond, again trying his best to prepare his body for the rigours of returning to action, put a shoulder into Rome and the pair went down in a tangled mess.
While coach Alain Vigneault shouted his encouragement of the hit, the two were slow to get up before both returned to action. Rome visitied the locker room briefly, but it was for an unrelated issue.
“It was a rough shift for him, I think he cut his lip on a puck there too,” smirked Raymond post-practice.
“For me, I need to start getting bumped, that’s what I need to start feeling more comfortable. I think that looked a lot worse that it really was.”
Whether that’s true or not, Raymond continues taking steps towards a return to the line-up.
“I have no timetable, today was just another good day and another step forward,” he said, adding that he doesn’t feel comfortable enough to play as of yet, so he needs to keep improving.
Coach Vigneault said “he’s close,” but that more practice is needed. While the Canucks considered sending Raymond to the Chicago Wolves for some game-action, they believe easing him in with the Canucks is a better option at this time.
“I haven’t talked to his possible return date, but I do think that health-wise and condition-wise, he’s fine. It’s just a matter of him feeling ready after a couple of good practices.”
Keith Ballard and Roberto Luongo are also a couple of good practices away from returning to the line-up and both skated Monday with the Canucks.
Luongo, who will not reveal the nature of his “upper-body injury,” believes he’s progressed well over the last three days and he feels like normal.
“My goal it to be at least in uniform for Wednesday’s game, whether I’m starting or not is AV’s decision, but I’ll be ready to go,” said Luongo.
“I’m feeling good and obviously at this time of year you want to make sure that you’re a little bit cautious and not set yourself back any further. I took a couple of extra days, but right now I’m back ready.”
Ballard didn’t suit up for the Canucks Sunday night so it was a shock to Vigneault when the blueliner stepped onto the ice Monday for practice.
It was a surprise to Ballard as well, who has progressed more than he anticipated since jarring his back on November 16th against the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I felt a lot better than I thought I would,” said Ballard after a full practice that included a glorious shootout goal on Luongo that raised a few eyebrows.
The Canucks held a shootout contest to close out Monday’s skate and Ballard, Alex Edler and Maxim Lapierre were the only three snipers to score.
Are those Vancouver’s next three shootout weapons with a game on the line?
“I’m not quite sure, we’ll have to think about that one,” Vigneault chuckled.
Ballard doesn’t need convincing, he’s ready to be slotted into the No. 2 slot right away.
“I’m glad you guys saw that,” smiled Ballard. “How many guys scored in the shootout? (Three) Yep, that’s pretty good then.”
“So there’s three shooters in the shootouts in games, right? And three of us scored today. You guys can figure it out but I’d like to go second to make sure I go. If you’re the third guy then sometimes you don’t go and that’s a waste.”
You heard it here first, Ballard for the next shootout game-winner.