Though they're only seven games into the season, the Vancouver Canucks are already facing some difficult challenges on the injury front.
The Canucks return home for the first time in over two weeks on Saturday, but won't have offseason acquisition Pavol Demitra in the lineup for their matchup against the Northwest Division rival Edmonton Oilers.
Vancouver (3-4-0) kicked off 2008-09 with a 6-0 home win over Calgary on Oct. 9 before embarking on a six-game road trip in which it went 2-4-0. The Canucks lost the final three contests of the trip, falling 4-2 to Columbus on Tuesday.
But they were hampered by a variety of ailments to several players during that swing with Demitra's injury being the most devastating.
The 33-year-old center underwent an MRI on Wednesday that revealed fractured rib cartilage, an injury he suffered in Sunday's 4-2 loss at Chicago and one that is expected to sideline him for three to four weeks.
The Canucks' highest-paid forward after signing a two-year, $8 million contract this summer, Demitra has two goals and an assist in six games.
Vancouver was also without forwards Darcy Hordichuk (knee) and Rick Rypien (viral illness) and defenseman Sami Salo (groin) on Tuesday.
Hordichuk practiced Thursday and could be in the lineup Saturday, while Rypien and Salo are day-to-day, according to the Canucks' official Web site.
"We're still in the process of evaluating our team," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "With that being said, there are some areas that we are going to work on here in the next couple of days."
One aspect Vigneault's club will try to correct is its special teams play. The Canucks converted two of 24 power-play chances and allowed opponents to score nine times in 30 opportunities with the man advantage during the trip.
"We're really close in my mind to being again, one of the top penalty killing teams in the league," Vigneault told the Canucks' site. "That being said about the penalty killing I feel we've got the elements to have a good power play and for whatever reasons we got away from what we were doing at the beginning."
Vancouver seeks improvement versus an Edmonton team that is 1-for-13 on power-play opportunities over its last three games. The lone goal in that stretch came from Shawn Horcoff in the second period of a 4-1 loss at Colorado on Thursday night.
Horcoff's goal is all the offense the Oilers (4-2-0) have managed through the first two contests of their three-game trip, which started with a 3-0 loss to Chicago on Wednesday.
Edmonton averaged 3.3 goals in opening with four straight victories for the first time since starting 5-0-0 in 1985-86.
"We were moving the puck, keeping our game simple," defenseman Sheldon Souray said. "That seemed to help us out at the beginning."
Souray and Ales Hemsky assisted on Horcoff's goal Thursday, and share the Oilers lead with five points apiece. But in an effort to jump-start the slumping offense, coach Craig MacTavish adjusted the lines in Friday morning's practice.
It is expected that Horcoff will center the top line with Robert Nilsson and Hemsky, while Andrew Cogliano will center the second with Dustin Penner and Sam Gagner, according to a report on the Oilers' official Web site.
Those combinations will match up against Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo, who went 4-1-2 with a 1.68 goals-against average in seven games versus the Oilers last season.