VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Vancouver Canucks have lost all-star goaltender Roberto Luongo for at least the next two games because of a hairline rib fracture but just how long he’ll miss depends on his stubborn streak.
Luongo played three games with the injury and said Wednesday his return depends on his pain tolerance and ensuring it doesn’t hamper his play for the rest of the NHL season.
“I am stubborn so I don’t know,” Luongo said when asked about the possibility of an early return. “Thankfully I dealt with this a couple of years ago. It’s almost the same injury and I know more or less what the timeline is and how you feel on a day-to-day basis.
“There is no definite timeline because it’s really about the amount of pain that you’ve got there. I’m definitely not playing the next two games, so we’ll see after that.”
The injury comes at a time when the injury-depleted Canucks (6-6-0) play nine games in 17 nights, starting Thursday in Los Angeles against the Kings (8-4-0), who lead the Pacific Division.
The Canucks, who have seven other regulars out of the lineup, complete their California trip Friday against the 3-6-1 Anaheim Ducks before hosting conference-leading Colorado on Sunday.
Backup Andrew Raycroft, who has allowed one goal in 52 minutes over two games when Luongo got the hook from coach Alain Vigneault, will get his first start for the Canucks on Thursday. The Canucks recalled Cory Schneider from their American Hockey League affiliate Wednesday to serve as the backup.
Luongo did not accompany the club to California and said he doesn’t plan to rush his return.
“It’s about healing and making sure you don’t have issues the rest of the year,” he said. “It’s not about sucking it up and playing.”
Raycroft, who is used to the pressure of an intense hockey market after playing in Toronto, said he was probably due for a start.
“I’ve had more than enough time,” Raycroft said of his inactivity. “We’ve basically had two months so it’ll be fun to get in there.
“Fortunately I’ve been in a few games and been able to get a feel for the pace.”
He also said starting will be easier than coming into a game cold.
“When you’re going in halfway through games … you’re sitting on the bench, your legs are rocks for three hours and then you go in and have to make saves.
“This way I’ve got a full day to prepare and do my routine and be ready to go.”
Vigneault said Raycroft played well in relief.
“The 50-some-odd minutes that we’ve used him in the regular season, he’s been real good,” Vigneault said. “He’s an experienced guy that’s used to environments that have a lot of attention.”
The Canucks were 9-12-3 last season when Luongo missed 24 games with a serious groin injury and defenceman Kevin Bieksa said he will be missed again.
“We’re pretty confident no matter who’s back there but he’s our best player,” Bieksa said. “What more can you say? We’re better off with him there but we’re still a good team without him.”
It will also mean the Canucks will have to tighten up defensively and make high-percentage plays in their own end.
“It’s going to be a blessing in disguise because it’s going to make us work on the structural stuff, position and all the small things that you need to limit your chances against,” said defenceman Willie Mitchell.
Luongo suffered the injury Saturday when a shot from the corner by Toronto forward Niklas Hagman caught him on a seam of his chest protector where there is less protection.
“It kind of hurt but the adrenaline was going so I was able to finish the game,” Luongo said.
The Canucks won 3-1 and Luongo returned the next night to blank Edmonton 2-0 and become the franchise leader with 21 career shutouts.
But Detroit was different when Vancouver gave up four third-period goals in a 5-4 loss.
“Last night during the first period it kind of aggravated itself,” Luongo said. “Not on a particular play, it just kind of got worse as the game went on.”
The Canucks are also without Daniel Sedin, their leading scorer last season with 31 goals, who has a broken foot.
“We’ve got a big challenge in front of us here,” Vigneault said.
“We’re playing a lot of games in a few nights so we’re going to have to have the mentality of one game at a time, make sure our guys stay high-percentage and put a plan together that’s going to give us the best chance to win.”
But they did get some good news. Defenceman Sami Salo who usually skates beside Mitchell on the shutdown pairing, has made remarkable progress rehabilitating strained left knee ligaments that were expected to keep him out four more weeks.
Salo had his first full practice Wednesday. He will be a game-time decision as will fourth-liner Rick Rypien who was sidelined with a groin injury.
NOTES: Ryan Johnson, who was taken to hospital for observation after a hard crash into the end boards against Detroit has been discharged. Vigneault said he is suffering from general body soreness and will also stay in Vancouver. … Daniel Sedin could be out an additional four weeks. … Forward Jannik Hansen has had pins removed from fingers broken in a pre-season game fight. … Centre Kyle Wellwood is out with a broken big toe and winger Pavol Demitra is sidelined indefinitely with a shoulder injury.