For the Vancouver Canucks, it was a December to remember. The team finished just one win short of their best total for the month (10-1-2) and find themselves rather comfortably in the top eight in the West. What makes it even better, is that they’ve accomplished all of that without some pretty major pieces of their lineup.
Forwards Alex Burrows and Jordan Schroeder, Defensemen Alex Edler, Andrew Alberts and Ryan Stanton and starting goaltender Roberto Luongo have all spent time on the shelf this month. While it’s forced coach John Tortorella to mix and match his lineup even more than usual, clearly the team hasn’t missed a beat and things are about to get much easier for him as these players slowly return to the line-up.
Both Edler and Luongo were skating at practice recently, while Burrows, Schroeder and Stanton won’t be far behind. It’s possible they all could be back in the lineup before Janurary. For a team that started out slow and has just recently found it’s footing, that would be a huge boon as they prepare for the playoff stretch.
For Burrows, it must be one of the most frustrating seasons of his career. In the first game of the year he severely bruised his foot while blocking a shot (which instantly stoked the fires of criticism against Tortorella’s shot blocking system) and was forced to miss the next 12 games waiting for it to heal. Upon his return, he never seemed to find his rhythm, even when playing with frequent line mates Daniel and Henrik Sedin, before a broken jaw (very similar to Sidney Crosby‘s injury last season) put him back on the shelf.
He’s only managed 17 games this season, with zero goals and just three assists. Needless to say a return to both health and form in the near future would be a big boost for this club. The time table for his return has still not been defined by the club, but if Crosby’s return from this type of injury is any indication, Burrows shouldn’t be more than a couple weeks away.
Things have been little better for Edler this year. Since signing a huge, six year-30 million dollar deal back in January, Edler has been suspended twice by the NHL and missed most of December with a lower body injury. He’d been showing flashes of his potential as a top pairing defenseman when he went down, but overall he was again inconsistent this season (only nine points in 27 games and an awful -12 rating).
It speaks volumes about the depth of the blueline in Vancouver that players like Christopher Tanev, Yannick Weber and, most recently, Frankie Corrado have been able to capably step in and fill the void. Still, having Edler, a natural left-side defenseman, gives much-needed balance to the D corps and he looks like he could be back in the line-up soon.
The absence of Luongo however, is much more worrisome. To say that Luongo was in the midst of a renaissance season isn’t a stretch. To this point in the year he’s posted some of the best numbers of his career, including a 2.24 goals against average and a .920 save percentage.
His loss affects not only the Vancouver Canucks, but also Team Canada. Luongo is both the incumbent starter for Canada at the Olympics, but also a strong contender to take the role again in Sochi a month from now. His injury appears to be minor (as evidenced by his skating in practice shortly after the injury), however his dream of back-to-back Olympics gold medals could be in jeopardy. Luckily for both clubs, there are other men capable of taking the reigns.
For the Canucks, it’s rookie goalie Eddie Lack, who is having a simply outstanding campaign. His numbers (1.84 goals against average, .929 save percentage) speak for themselves, however it’s his ability to handle tough minutes against quality competition as a rookie netminder that puts Vancouver fans at ease.
For years, before the emergence of Cory Schneider, Canucks fans lived in fear of the calamity that would befall the team should Luongo go down to injury. With Schneider now gone, many wondered if Lack would be able to do the job of taking over for the number one. So far, with a 2-0-1 record and just four goals against since Luongo’s injury, he’s proven more than capable.
While some teams are able to excel through adversity (Pittsburgh) and others falter badly (Detroit) when it comes to injuries, it’s comforting to Vancouver fans that the organization has been able to weather this storm of injuries to some of it’s most crucial players. Luckily for them, the clouds seem to be parting.
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