Injuries and inexperience have plagued the Vancouver Canucks' defense this season. Seeing the player who used to anchor their blue line return in an opposing uniform for the first time also has to hurt.
Ed Jovanovski returns to Vancouver when the Phoenix Coyotes wrap up a two-game road swing at GM Place against the Canucks on Tuesday.
Jovanovski was a mainstay on the Canucks' blue line for six-plus seasons, but after injuries limited him to 44 games last season and forced him to miss the Turin Olympics, he left in July to sign a five-year, $32.5 million deal with the Coyotes.
In an interview with a Vancouver radio station, Jovanovski said it will be strange to walk into the visitor's dressing room.
"It's going to be different," the three-time All-Star said. "I'm kind of looking forward to it and not looking forward to it. It's going to be a tough day. I'm sure it will be a little emotional."
Selected first overall in 1994 by Florida and later acquired by the Canucks in a trade involving Pavel Bure, Jovanovski didn't have a point in the Coyotes' 4-0 loss to San Jose on Monday. He still is second on the team with 16 points and is one of four Phoenix (11-17-1) players with six goals.
Vancouver, meanwhile, doesn't have a defenseman with more than five goals or 14 points.
Veteran Sami Salo. the Canucks' top-scoring defenseman, has missed six games with various injuries and is expected to be out about another week with nerve damage in his shoulder. Willie Mitchell, a top free-agent signing to replace Jovanovski, missed nine games this season with a concussion, and Rory Fitzpatrick has been out since early November with a broken left foot.
That's forced the Canucks (14-15-1) during the season to use rookies Luc Bourdon, Patrick Coulombe, Alexander Edler and Nathan McIver - who have a combined 28 games experience.
Prior to Monday's defeat, Jovanovski had three goals and six assists as the Coyotes won five of eight. With veterans Owen Nolan and Mike Ricci sidelined, Phoenix had 14 losses in its first 20 games.
"We've been a totally different team of late," Jovanovski said. "We're starting to get guys back healthy. We're playing better hockey. We're playing along and we're trying to get the job done."
Instead of resigning Jovanovski, the Canucks made a trade with the Panthers for goaltender Roberto Luongo and inked him to a four-year, $27 million deal.
But the former first-rounder has struggled this season. He's alternated losses and wins in his last seven games, including Saturday when he was pulled midway through the second period after yielding four goals in a 5-3 road loss to Calgary.
Luongo has never beaten Phoenix, going 0-4-0 with a 3.53 goals-against average.
While the defense continues to struggle. the Canucks' offense finally seems to have gotten untracked by scoring seven goals - including six on the power play - in two games after finding the back of the net just five times in their previous six games.
"I think we've simplified it more," Canucks captain Markus Naslund said. "We're shooting the puck and we're getting traffic in front, rebounds and deflections. It just shows that sometimes you have to go back to the basics."