Injuries to Defense Reaching Epic Proportions For Vancouver

Steve JohnsonContributor IFebruary 17, 2011

Kevin Bieksa
Kevin BieksaPaul Bereswill/Getty Images

Coming off an impressive but not flashy 4-1 road win in Minnesota, the Vancouver Canucks received news that has become all too familiar over the last two weeks:

Another defenceman is out with an injury.

This time it was Kevin Bieksa, in the midst of his best season both defensively and offensively, who suffered a fractured foot blocking a shot at the Excel Center. The prognosis is two to three weeks before he can return to the lineup. Bieksa becomes the fifth regular defenceman to join the injury list and the third in two weeks.

If you told most General Managers in the league that Andrew Alberts, Keith Ballard, Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis and Lee Sweatt were going to be his starting six defencemen, he'd be pretty happy.

That's a decent defense for most teams, yet that's the list of injured Canuck defencemen today.

I have been following the Canucks since the old WHL days and I cannot recall any other time when a mass of injuries piled up on the defense as fast as it has this last couple of weeks. Going into their game tonight, the Canucks will have four rookies on the blue line: Rome, Tanev, Sauve and Oberg.

Only veterans Ehrhoff and Salo are left healthy to help solidify the back end.

Imagine the trouble Vancouver would be in had GM Gillis not added the depth on the blue line in the offseason.

With a little luck Hamhuis will recover from his concussion within a few days and Ballard's knee is improving, as he will start skating next week. Bieksa's broken foot is expected to be a two-to-three-week injury and Albert's broken hand another week or so after that.

Sweatt's broken foot is more severe and Vancouver won't be seeing him soon. He was being sent down to Manitoba when the break was discovered and had to stay up with the team, so his absence is less of an impact. Alex Edler, however, underwent back surgery and it's a toss up whether he'll be ready for the playoffs.

The Canucks are in Nashville tonight, their third road game in four nights, and a tough game even if the team was healthy. It will be the first of several acid tests of a suddenly very young and inexperienced blue line. There will be some large expectations for Luongo and on backchecking forwards like Burrows, Kesler, Malholtra and Glass to pay extra special attention to their defensive game.

After the Nashville game, the Canucks have a travel-day off then open a four-game home stand starting Saturday against Dallas—a team they have literally owned in their previous three games. Count on the Stars to be gunning extra hard to keep from getting swept decisively in the season series.

The home stand carries on with games against Montreal on Tuesday and St. Louis on Thursday. The Canadiens are always a special event when they come to Rogers Arena, and the crowd will be raucous and energized. The Blues have given Vancouver all they can handle in the 3 games they've played so far, winning the last two by one goal each.

Finally, the home stand ends on Saturday with their single meeting of the year against Boston, as they face this entire stretch of games with four rookies on defence.

By the end of next week, we will see how well the team has adjusted to the loss of so many starters. If the Canucks get the kind of goaltending from Luongo and Schneider they've been getting and if the backchecking forwards keep their energy high and heads on a swivel, this team has enough speed and scoring power to weather this stretch and stay on or near the top of the league standings.

They will have solidified themselves as the favorites in the Stanley Cup playoffs and made a strong argument for Mike Gillis as G.M. of the Year.

However, if one more defenceman goes down, all bets are off.