The Canucks begin defense of their Western Conference title without the services of Ryan Kesler who’s recovering from off-season hip surgery. And the Pens will once again be minus Sidney Crosby – the face of the game and the best player on the planet - who’s now into a ninth month of his on-going battle with post-concussion syndrome.
But, as they say, the show must go on and so it will with a sparkling opening night match-up between two teams with legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations. And rather than dwelling on who won’t be playing in the season-opener, hockey fans are better served to look at who will be on the ice.
Take Henrik Sedin, for example. The Canucks captain will be playing because, well, he always does.
When the lights come on and the game begins Thursday, Henrik will be suiting up in his 500th consecutive regular season NHL game. Factor the playoffs into the mix, and Henrik has been in the line-up the last 565 times the Vancouver Canucks have taken to the ice.
And with the likes of Crosby and Kesler on the shelf to start a new season, it reinforces the astounding durability Henrik Sedin has shown throughout a career that is about to start its 11th season.
In that time – with 810 regular season games under his belt - the 31-year-old has missed just 10 games due to injury. He has suited up for every Canucks game in each of the six seasons since the lockout and has been in the Vancouver line-up every night since March 21, 2004 when he returned to action after missing six games with sore ribs.
During the streak, Henrik has amassed 115 goals and 407 assists giving him 522 points in those 499 straight contests. So not only has he played – he’s played at better than a point a game clip. Talk about bringing it every night.
In fact, it’s been so long since Henrik was forced to be a spectator for a game the whole notion of upper and lower body injuries hadn’t been introduced to the hockey lexicon.
“It’s been a while,” Henrik says with an aw-shucks smile that downplays the significance of the second-longest active streak ironman streak in the NHL (Calgary’s Jay Bouwmeester has played 506 consecutive games).
“When you look back, it’s been a few years. It’s one of those things when you play game 45 of the season, maybe you want to take a night off but once you get out on the ice, it’s a great game and I’m having a lot of fun every time I come to the rink. There is no question I’ve been lucky.”
Without a doubt there is an element of luck to staying healthy playing a starring role in a contact sport like hockey the way Henrik Sedin does. When you consider the number and variety of things that have sidelined Sami Salo over the years or the freak skate cuts that have severely injured Kevin Bieksa on two occasions, there is a randomness to injuries that hasn’t been able to catch Henrik in its grasp in years.
Not the flu or a foot problem, not a hamstring or a hairline fracture – nothing has been able to knock Henrik Sedin out of the line-up. Night after night, season after season and through the added grind of two Olympics, a World Cup and one appearance at the World Championship, Henrik has found a way to fight through whatever is bothering him. Although he concedes there have been some nights along the way when he wasn’t completely healthy.
“Every player goes through things where they’re not feeling a hundred percent, and there are nights when you have to fight through things.” he says. “And I’m proud of that, but more so we’ve been working hard in the summer times so that we don’t get injured and that’s where we put in a lot of hours.”
The ‘we’ he refers to is, of course, brother Daniel who has been nearly as durable as Henrik over their careers. But Henrik saw firsthand two years ago that injuries can strike anybody at any time when Daniel was sidelined for six weeks with a broken bone in his foot after he was hit by a friendly-fire slapshot off the stick of teammate Alexander Edler in a win over Montreal.
Daniel’s been around long enough to realize that injuries are a part of the game. And that’s why he’s as impressed as anyone at the way his brother has been able to face the rigours of more than six straight seasons of NHL action without missing a night of action.
“It’s remarkable,” he says. “Henrik takes a beating out there. People say he’s not that physical, but he takes a beating. It’s great. I think he’s proud of that streak and I’m sure he’s going to try to keep it going.”
The streak will continue with game number 500 on opening night. Beyond that, it’s out of Henrik’s control. Sidney Crosby and Ryan Kesler aren’t able to suit up for Thursday’s season-starter, but Henrik Sedin will be there because, as has been the case for the past six and a half years, the schedule says he’s got a game to play.
And by now, it’s almost hard to imagine the Vancouver Canucks playing without number 33 in the line-up.