FLAMES (22-25-3) at CANUCKS (20-19-12
TV: CBC, NHL.TV
VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis is excited to get back into the lineup against the Calgary Flames on Saturday after missing almost two months with multiple facial fractures, especially because the game is so important.
"It's an exciting time of year to be coming back to play hockey down the stretch," said Hamhuis, who missed 21 games after being hit in the face by a slap shot Dec. 9. "And it's been a long couple of months, especially the first month dealing with the severity of the injury and the second month getting back into playing shape."
Teammates are excited to have Hamhuis back too, not only because of how the top-four defenseman can help them on the ice, but also because they saw first hand the severity of the injury and what Hamhuis went through to get back on the ice quickly.
"He was skating with us about four weeks after it happened just to keep himself on the ice and around us, and that's the toughest injury I've seen anybody go through, so I think it's awesome he's back," said center Brandon Sutter, who returned prior to the All-Star break after missing 33 games with a sports hernia surgery. "I remember seeing him the day he got out of the hospital, I think it was about five days after, and he was in pretty rough shape. That's tough to go through, not only physically, but mentally too."
Hamhuis, who expects to wear a visor and plastic jaw protector for the rest of the season, sustained "15 to 20" fractures and needed two plates in his cheek after being hit in the face by a slap shot by New York Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle. He had his jaw wired shot for three weeks and had to use a syringe for liquefied food because there was too much damage to even suck on a straw. Hamhuis has since managed to gain back the 10 pounds he lost, and is confident he can help a team trying to stay in the Stanley Cup Playoffs race.
"Our strength and conditioning team has done a great job to get me physically where I want to be," Hamhuis said. "I feel really good, but there is only so much you can do in practice to emulate the game."
With Hamhuis and Sutter back after long absences, and captain Henrik Sedin returning for a 2-1 shootout loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday after missing four games with an upper-body injury, the Canucks are completely healthy for the first time since early November.
The returning players don't have a lot of margin for error as they try to get up to speed, however. Vancouver is four points behind the Nashville Predators for the second wild card spot in the Western Conference and five behind the streaking Anaheim Ducks for the third place in the Pacific Division. Calgary is five points behind the Canucks after the Flames lost 2-1 to the Blue Jackets on Friday.
"It's like a playoff atmosphere, we have to win games or we're to going to stay in the hunt," coach Willie Desjardins said. "These are all really must-wins."
Here are the projected lineups:
Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Jiri Hudler
Sam Bennett - Mikael Backlund - Michael Frolik
Micheal Ferland - Matt Stajan - David Jones
Lance Bouma - Josh Jooris - Joe Colborne
Mark Giordano - TJ Brodie
Kris Russell - Dougie Hamilton
Ladislav Smid - Deryk Engelland
Scratched: Brandon Bollig, Markus Granlund, Jakub Nakladal
Suspended: Dennis Wideman
Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Jannik Hansen
Sven Baertschi - Bo Horvat - Radim Vrbata
Derek Dorsett - Brandon Sutter - Jake Virtanen
Alexandre Burrows - Linden Vey - Emerson Etem
Alexander Edler - Christopher Tanev
Dan Hamhuis - Luca Sbisa
Ben Hutton - Matt Bartkowski
Scratched: Jared McCann, Adam Cracknell, Alex Biega
Status Report: To clear a roster spot for Hamhuis' return, the Canucks sent defenseman Yannick Weber, who scored 11 goals last season but had no goals in 35 games this season, to Utica of the American Hockey League on Saturday after he cleared waivers. … Only a couple of Flames skated Saturday after Calgary lost 2-1 to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday, but Ramo, who started his sixth-straight game Friday, was one of them. Hiller will start Saturday. … Granlund might also get back into the Flames lineup after being scratched the past two games, most likely in place of Jooris as the fourth-line center.
Who's Hot: Monahan has one goal and four primary assists in his past two games. … Vey has one goal and four points in his past five games as a fourth-line center who also gets time on the second power-play unit.