VANCOUVER, B.C. – Winger Pavol Demitra is the only Vancouver Canucks player remaining on the injury list and he’s swimming to rehabilitate a damaged shoulder.
As for his teammates, it’s time to stop treading water as they enter a critical portion of their schedule, playing 18 games in 36 nights.
“We all know we have a tough schedule around the Olympics and we’ve got to realize it’s going to get a lot tougher,” said winger Daniel Sedin who returned Sunday after missing 18 games with a broken foot.
The Canucks have an eight-game road trip before the Winter Games and play six more away from GM Place when they’re over.
“We need to play well in those games because we could be in big trouble later on,” forward Steve Bernier said of a schedule with three more home games in November and eight in December.
Sedin, who led Vancouver with 31 goals last season but has none in five games this year, expects a healthy lineup will mean familiar line combinations and more chemistry on the ice.
“When you’re playing more consistently, you’re going to get better efforts,” Sedin said after Wednesday’s practice in preparation for Thursday’s game against the visiting Los Angeles Kings.
“If you play once a week it’s going to be tougher for sure. It shouldn’t be different when you’ve had a three or four-day break, but it always seems like it’s tough to get going.”
The Canucks have lost more than 100 man-games to injury battling through a schedule that has seen them play nine games over two weeks then get breaks of four and five days.
Even minor-league call-ups have been on the shelf.
Meanwhile, Vancouver is a pedestrian 12-11-0, seven points behind Northwest Division-leading Colorado and three out of a playoff position entering Wednesday night’s play.
Winger Alex Burrows, with only four goals but finally healthy after playing through a groin injury, is looking forward to playing with Daniel and Henrik Sedin on the Canucks’ top line where he had a breakout 28-goal 2008-09 campaign.
“That’s always a big thing, finding some chemistry,” said Burrows who has profited by heading to the net while the Sedins work their intricate give-and-go plays. “It’s a huge part of the game.
“I’m a firm believer that once you get chemistry and you know where guys are, it’s easier to make plays and it’s easier to read the game out there.”
Bernier said the abrasive Burrows adds another dimension to a Canucks attack that had a Jekyll-and-Hyde look over the last six games with 13 goals in two wins and only three in four losses.
“Hopefully it’s just the start of him getting better,” Bernier said. “We need him on the first line and we need him to score goals and he’s able to do it.”
While Burrows hasn’t missed a game, Demitra hasn’t played all season.
Goalie Roberto Luongo missed six games with a hairline rib fracture, defenceman Sami Salo sat out seven with an injured knee, Jannik Hansen missed 19 with fractured fingers and forward Ryan Johnson missed four starts with a concussion.
Kyle Wellwood’s broken toe that cost him four games is the least of his worries. He has yet to score after collecting 18 goals last season.
As for the replacements, Michael Grabner has missed nine games since breaking an ankle in a pre-game soccer kick-around and Alex Bolduc is practising after losing 10 games to a shoulder injury.
“Since the beginning of the year I don’t think we’ve played with the same lineup one game in a row,” said Bernier.
“There was always line changes so now everything’s going to be a little more settled, you’re going to get used to play with your linemates and it will be easier to know where they’re going to be.”
A bright spot has been the play of forward Mikael Samuelsson, a free agent who played for Detroit last year, and defenceman Christian Ehrhoff, obtained in a trade from San Jose.
Samuelsson is fourth on the club with nine goals and 18 points while Ehrhoff is a club-leading plus-11 at even strength and fifth in scoring with five goals and 15 points.
Coach Alain Vigneault, who no longer has to think about patching a lineup together, said it’s time to get into hockey mode.
“Right up until Christmas we almost play every other day … so we’re going to be in hockey mode here,” Vigneault said.
“Obviously it has been a little bit strange at the beginning of the season but we’ve dealt with it the best we can. We’re ready to make a push here.”