VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Vancouver Canucks will be thinner on the blue-line Wednesday when they face the Oilers in Edmonton.
While top-four defenceman Kevin Bieksa continues his rehabilitation from a serious skate cut, stay-at-home rearguard Willie Mitchell, is not on the trip.
Coach Alain Vigneault would only say that Mitchell, who usually faces the opposition’s top line, is day-to-day and has an upper body injury.
Mitchell played Saturday in a 6-2 NHL victory over Pittsburgh despite a sore back from a hit behind the net three days earlier from Minnesota Wild forward Derek Boogaard.
Late in the win over Pittsburgh that ended a three-game losing streak, Mitchell was driven head first into the end boards by Evgeni Malkin, who received a minor penalty for boarding.
Mitchell, who played all 82 games last season, got up slowly, didn’t play another shift and missed Tuesday’s practice.
“They say they watch every game so I’m sure that they’ve seen that hit,” Vigneault said when asked if the league should review the Malkin check.
“We’ll leave it up to them to decide if something needs to be done.”
Bieksa was making his way around GM Place in a walking boot after suffering his second freak injury in three seasons because of a skate cut.
He missed 46 games in 2007-08 with a lacerated calf and muscle fibre leading to his Achilles tendon when cut by the skate of Vern Fiddler, then of the Nashville Predators.
On Dec. 29, the skate of Petr Prucha of the Phoenix Coyotes severed two tendons above his left ankle, an injury that has so far caused him to miss eight games.
Bieksa spent time with his family in Grimsby, Ont., but has returned to begin his rehabilitation.
“You can only feel sorry for yourself for so long and I think I took care of that at home,” he said.
“I think I came back here with a pretty good mindset … and focus on getting healthy as soon as possible.”
There’s no time frame for his return but Bieksa said the two injuries are different. He was in a hard cast for seven weeks with the first one but walking three or four days after surgery for the second skate cut.
Bieksa, who doesn’t wear socks in his skates, said he’ll look into the protection of kevlar socks worn by some players.
“Whether it be the socks over the shin pads or under, I think we have to protect ourselves a little bit better,” he said.
The Canucks got some good news on the injury front when forwards Steve Bernier and Ryan Johnson made the trip to Edmonton. Whether they play will be a game-time decision, Vigneault said.
Bernier (groin) has missed three games while Johnson has missed 11 games with foot fractures.
This is a week when the Canucks play the Oilers (TSN, 10 p.m. ET), last in the Western Conference, and the Chicago Blackhawks, first in the conference, on Saturday.
In between are the Dallas Stars in a back-to-back test here Thursday and Vigneault said goalie Roberto Luongo will likely play both games.
Edmonton is also going through a series of injuries and is winless in its last eight games but Vigneault said he expects an intense, physical battle against a club that is 1-2 against Vancouver this season.
“Yes, their record as of late has not been real good,” he said.
“Against us, they seem to get up and they seem to play a tough brand of hockey. It just makes us get ready for it, so that’s what our guys are expecting.”
NOTES: Practice got a little testy when defenceman Shane O’Brien and forward Mason Raymond tussled briefly during a drill … Raymond grabbed O’Brien’s stick and flung it in the direction of Vigneault while O’Brien pushed Raymond, knocking his helmet off … O’Brien said later Raymond accused him of a slash which he denied.