In the first period of the Vancouver Canucks' 4-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators Monday, defenceman Keith Ballard got tangled up with Milan Michalek.
Ballard's knee was twisted under him in a nasty-looking injury. He didn't return for the rest of the game and now awaits an MRI to see how bad the damage is.
For the Canucks, the loss of another defenceman is concerning.
After being ousted by Chicago in last year's playoffs, the Canucks concentrated on building up their depth on the blue line. The Blackhawks exposed a weakness in an otherwise solid club, and it was obvious that more defence was needed.
In the offseason veteran Sami Salo hurt himself playing ball hockey, and the need for more defencemen intensified.
They brought in Dan Hamhuis from Nashville, traded for Keith Ballard, decided to hang on to Kevin Bieksa and were comfortable going into the season with Christian Erhoff in his last contract year. Those players, along with up-and-coming star Alex Edler, gave the Canucks as good a defence as there is.
As this season has progressed, the Canucks have stormed to the top of the league standings, and that beefed-up defence has them third in the NHL in goals allowed. It seems that GM Mike Gillis pulled all the right strings this offseason.
Two weeks ago Canuck fans were fretting over what to do when Sami Salo returned, as his salary would put them over the cap and another productive player would have to go.
However, in the past two weeks they have lost Edler, for at least another two months, to a back injury, and now may have lost Ballard for the season. Their depth is now being strained.
The Canucks are now welcoming back Salo and hope that he is healthy enough to pick up the slack come playoff time. So far in his rehabilitation stint in Manitoba he has scored two goals and is minus-one. The Canucks hope to have him back in the next week or so.
Other players like Aaron Rome, Andrew Alberts and young Christopher Tanev are going to be asked to step in and play more minutes. The Canucks hope that these three guys will provide needed stability until they can get Edler back.
If Edler can come back healthy, and if Salo is able to play near his pre-injury levels, the Canucks will be in great shape. The worry is that those players aren't able to come back at 100 percent, which might lead to another early playoff exit.
As the trade deadline approaches, it will be interesting to see what moves the Canucks make, if any. If the team goes after a defenceman, especially a high-end one, it might be telling as to what Gillis thinks of Salo and Edler's chances for a return.
One thing is for sure: The Canucks cannot have another defenceman go down.
The old adage in sports is that defence wins championships. In Vancouver the Canucks nation holds its collective breath, hoping they have enough horses at the back end to see the Cup in B.C.
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