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Canucks look for help in the circle without Malhotra

by Brian Hedger
DETROIT -- When it comes to dealing with injuries, there aren't many NHL teams better at it than the Vancouver Canucks.

They've lost a number of key contributors and still remain solidly atop the ultra-competitive Western Conference standings with 103 points -- 11 ahead of the second-place Detroit Red Wings, whom the Canucks will face at Joe Louis Arena Wednesday night in a good test for both teams ahead of the postseason.

Still, losing Manny Malhotra for the rest of the season to a serious eye injury presents quite a hurdle for a team that likes to control the puck as much as Vancouver. Among many things he brought to the team, Malhotra's success rate in the faceoff circle might be the biggest gap he leaves behind.

He's one of the best in the League at winning faceoffs and led the Canucks with a 61.7 percent success rate in the circle -- where he took 1,261 draws. That was second only to 1,351 taken by Ryan Kesler and just ahead of the 1,250 taken by Henrik Sedin.

"Obviously, he was real good on faceoffs, and that's an element that helped us in different facets of the game," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. "But, you know, we're going to have to find a way to find somebody else to contribute -- and hopefully he'll be just as good."

Otherwise, the Canucks' penchant for controlling the puck -- something the Red Wings like to do, as well -- could be diminished.

Vigneault didn't say what his plan was to compensate or who would be tabbed to take the draws Malhotra would take. Most think center Maxim Lapierre -- acquired at the trade deadline from Anaheim -- could get the bulk of chances after Kesler and Sedin.
In 10 games since joining the Canucks, Lapierre has taken 68 faceoffs and won 44.1 percent of them.

"You want to start with the puck, and there's no doubt that Manny was one of the best faceoff men in the league," said goalie Roberto Luongo. "That being said, we have other guys who are pretty good in the faceoff circle as well, and I'm sure (Lapierre) is not too bad."

Alexandre Bolduc is another option, winning 48 percent of the 75 draws he's taken in 19 games.

The good news is that Vancouver has found ways to overcome key injuries before. This time, the plan to get through it is no different.

"We're going to do what we've done with every player that's been injured," Vigneault said. "Obviously we feel right now for Manny and his family in his situation, but like all injuries we've had throughout the season, we've had different guys jump on the opportunity (and) assume the ice time that is there. We've been able to do it time and time again with a team that's used the most players in the NHL. We've obviously been up there in the injury department, and we've just kept on winning -- and that's what we intend to do."

In the meantime, they're also keeping the gravity of Malhotra's injury in their thoughts. Malhotra was hit in the eye on March 16 by a shot from Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson.

He required surgery and continued treatment, and some reports have said there is concern about potential permanent vision loss. Malhotra met with teammates this past Saturday at practice while wearing a large bandage over his face.

Just seeing their teammate and talking with him was therapeutic for the Canucks.

"We're a big family in here, so it was hard," Kesler said on Tuesday afternoon, after the Canucks practiced at Joe Louis Arena. "But it was good to see him. It answered a lot of questions for us, and as a group we grew closer together because of that. With Manny, it's not even about hockey. It's really about his health and his family and hoping everything's all right. Hockey comes second when it comes to stuff like that."

As for the Canucks getting through the loss on the ice?

"We're going to manage here," Kesler said. "We've dealt with adversity all year and we've got to keep going."

Bieksa may return: Vancouver defenseman Kevin Bieksa said he's ready to get back on the ice for games, starting with Wednesday's tilt against Detroit -- but Vigneault said he'll wait to talk with Bieksa on Wednesday morning before making the final call.
Bieksa has missed 15 games with a foot fracture after blocking a shot on Feb. 15 against the Minnesota Wild. He went through Vancouver's full practice on Tuesday with no apprent issues.

"It's been a long time," Bieksa said. "It feels like it's been a long time. I'm excited to get back and be on the road with the guys."

Sedin to play, Samuelsson to sit:
After being with his wife for the birth of their daughter, Canucks forward Daniel Sedin was scheduled to arrive in Detroit early Tuesday evening and play against the Red Wings on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, forward Mikael Samuelsson will be scratched with an undisclosed lower-body injury that needs a few days to heal. Replacing Samuelsson will be Victor Oreskovich, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound center who was called up from Manitoba of the American Hockey League.

In 10 games with the Canucks this season, Oreskovich has 1 assist and minus-1 rating.
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