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Vancouver Canucks dealing with decimated defence corps again

VANCOUVER - The only thing certain about the health of the Vancouver Canucks' battered blue-liners is the uncertainty.

So far this season, Vancouver's defencemen have missed 138 man-games and counting. That has made things tough on a club that is fighting to stay in the NHL's Western Conference playoff picture.

"That's hockey," said Willie Mitchell, the only veteran Canuck defenceman who's still standing. "It's going to happen and it's part of the game."

Take Friday for instance.

Aaron Miller missed practice to go to the hospital for shoulder X-rays after taking a hit along the boards from Jordin Tootoo late in Vancouver's 6-2 victory over Nashville on Thursday.

Mattias Ohlund rode the bike a bit but he's got bone chips in his left knee and is out indefinitely. The Canucks hope the swelling goes down in a few days, otherwise it could be season-ending surgery.

Kevin Bieksa, seven games back from a four-month, 46-game layoff to recover from a severely lacerated calf muscle, was also getting X-rayed. He hurt his wrist Thursday trading punches with Nashville's Greg de Vries.

Then there's Sami Salo. He was excused from Friday's practice because of the flu.

And Lukas Krajicek has already missed 16 games after season-ending shoulder surgery.

Oh, and defensive forward Ryan Kesler was also being X-rayed Friday after blocking a shot Thursday night with his foot.

For those of you scoring at home, Salo is expected to play Saturday against the St. Louis Blues. Kesler and Bieksa will be game-day decisions. Ohlund and Miller are out.

Mitchell, who returned to the lineup Feb. 10 after missing 10 games with a back injury, said the remaining members of the blue-line corps will have to pick up the slack but the club has enough depth to survive.

"When Mattias goes down, he logs a lot of minutes," Mitchell said. "Everyone's minutes are going to get bumped up a little bit."

"We have a lot of depth back there and we'll adjust. We have all year. I don't foresee any major problems. Millsie's shoulder's sore but I'm sure he'll be back soon."

The Canucks lost Bieksa (calf) and Salo (eight games, broken nose) in the same contest on Nov. 1. Bieksa led Vancouver defencemen with 30 assists and 42 points last season and was second to Ohlund in ice time.

But the resilient Canucks proceeded to win 11 of their next 15 games.

"We've been through it before and we've got guys in here that can play the role," said goalie Roberto Luongo, who may see an emergency call-up from AHL Manitoba playing in front of him on Saturday. "It's not an issue."

Coach Alain Vigneault's glass was half full after giving the injury report.

"It seems when we're going down on bodies we seem to regroup a little bit better and tighten up the ship," he said.

He wasn't going to worry about the X-ray results.

"We've always worked since Day 1 with the guys that are here and that are healthy," Vigneault said. "We've never made a case ... we've always worked with the guys who are healthy and available."

Tootoo received a major penalty for boarding and a cross-checking minor for his collision with Miller but Vigneault said he thought the hit was fair.

"That being said, the game is 6-2 and what's the point of taking a 100-foot drive to hit somebody on the boards when the game's over and both teams want to get it over with. But some players play like that and what comes around, comes around."

Two players likely to see more ice time are rookies Luc Bourdon, who has played 17 games with the Canucks this season and Alex Edler, who is playing a full season this year after 22 games last season.

"It's not fun that we have injuries but I like ice time," said Edler who scored his eighth goal of the season on Thursday.

"I think I play better when I get more ice time. I like more responsibility, being in more important situations."


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