VANCOUVER – Alain Vigneault must wonder what it’s like to have a healthy defence.
The Vancouver Canucks head coach will have to wait at least until the playoffs for that to happen, but he had cause for optimism Tuesday as two veterans got closer to a return.
Sami Salo, who was held out of practice leaving Monday’s 4-2 victory over Minnesota, could play in Wednesday against Colorado, while Kevin Bieksa participated in his first full practice since suffering a fractured foot Feb. 15.
“(Salo is) day-to-day,” Vigneault said. “His elbow’s a little numb from that shot that he took (Monday). He’s feeling much better today and he’ll be a game-time decision (Wednesday).”
Salo, who has a history of freak injuries, was hurt in the final minute of the first period Monday when he blocked a Kyle Brodziak slapshot. He was playing only his 16th game of the season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon while playing a form of floor hockey in his native Finland in July.
He has recorded three goals and three assists since his return, with his booming slapshot helping the Canucks defence supply some offence while the third- and fourth-line forwards struggled to score.
“Anybody that knows Sami Salo as a person knows that he’s a great individual,” Vigneault said. “Obviously, it’s unfortunate that he’s gone through some challenging times as a far as a hockey player, but he’s a great person, he’s a great player and when he’s healthy we’re real happy to have him on our team.”
Bieksa was back at practice after some questions arose about is ankle’s durability.
“It was encouraging that I could stay out the whole time,” Bieksa said. “It was nice to be back.”
Bieksa, who was also hurt blocking a shot, says he won’t play against the Avalanche and doesn’t know his status for Friday’s home game against the Phoenix Coyotes.
“There’s a dull ache still there, and when I turn suddenly, but it’s coming,” said Bieksa.
Added Vignault: “Just by watching him skate today, he’s still not quite ready, and it wouldn’t make any sense, because today was his first practice with the team. We’ll have to give him a little more time.”
Vigneault must continue to fill two key absences on the blue-line. Alex Edler is not expected to return until the playoffs after undergoing back surgery in January and Andrew Alberts remains out with a wrist injury.
Rookie Chris Tanev, still in the NHL following a January call-up from Manitoba of the AHL, and journeyman Aaron Rome have been playing regularly as a result of the latest health woes.
All of Vancouver’s veteran defencemen have missed games to injury and illness this season. But the league-leading Canucks (46-16-9) continue to excel while shuffling in young defencemen like Tanev, Lee Sweatt (out with an ankle injury) and Yann Sauve, who was recalled from Manitoba on Tuesday.
Vancouver has won six straight games—including five on the road—and has allowed a modest 167 goals against this season while often rotating defensive partners.
“Credit has to be given to the guys coming in, but also to the players that have been here all the time and making those guys understand how we play—how we need to play to have success,” Vigneault said. “Our core group, our veteran group has really helped us with the guys that have come in and helped us out.”
Centre Ryan Kesler says the club’s ability to keep winning while dealing with the defensive decimation shows the organization’s depth.
“It’s been going on since I’ve been here for some reason,” said Kesler.
And it will go on a few weeks longer. In the meantime, Vigneault waits until he can learn what it’s like again to make a difficult lineup decision based on a defenceman’s play rather than his health.
“I’m hoping to find that out at some point.”
Notes: Winger Tanner Glass remains out with an undisclosed upper-body injury suffered in practice March 9.