The biggest news out of Vancouver tonight isn't the Canucks' suffering just their fourth regulation loss on home ice. It's potentially the loss of Dan Hamhuis to a concussion on a team that's looking to finish strong down the stretch with an already battered blueline. This rash of injuries to the Canucks' defensemen is something I've never, ever seen before. It seems as though once one defenseman comes back, another gets hurt. They're just dropping like flies. It's not like the Islanders losing Rick DiPietro, Nathan Lawson, and Kevin Poulin in succession. It's happening to a team that already had tons of depth on the blueline and needs a strong six-man defensive group to win games. Let's digest what's happened the past week or so.
First, the injury to Keith Ballard. It was a slewfoot. Was it intentional? It's hard to tell, but given the outcry by the Vancouver media on that play you'd think Milan Michalek was the next coming of Bryan Marchment or Darius Kasparaitis. It's pretty one-sided journalism in a hockey-mad city, but here's what Michalek said according to the Toronto Sun: "He went to hit me and we kind of collided together... I was falling down and I grabbed him... I didn't want to hurt him, I didn't want to do anything." This is something a Jordin Tootoo, Matt Cooke, or Steve Ott would never say, and it's not like Michalek's a dirty player either. Keep in mind Ballard gives up about 3 inches and 20 pounds in that match-up. It wasn't an obvious slewfoot. Compared to
<img src="http://i64.photobucket.com/albums/h164/jchockey/getzhammer.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">And then tonight the Canucks lost another key piece in Hamhuis on a http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9DhHejqQcg. To all those who think Getzlaf should be suspended, don't be silly. For those thinking it was a head shot, it clearly wasn't. I've watched the clip numerous times and Getzlaf didn't leave his feet or stick out an elbow to hit Hamhuis. John Garrett (let's face it, he's a Canucks homer) is clearly wrong because Getzlaf left his feet after contact. This isn't http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=322zqTkL0-c. However, it was a bad hit and it should've been a boarding call at the very least. But Hamhuis did see Getzlaf coming around the net, which is why he played the puck up the boards and not around the net, and turned his back to a 6'4", 220 lbs. player who isn't afraid to shy away from the hitting aspect of the game. What really did the damage was Hamhuis' head hitting the boards. Seeing how Hamhuis reacted, I'm pretty sure he has a concussion, even if Alain Vigneault says he "seems fine." Concussions are tricky and as I've said in previous posts, the big picture is the playoffs, which means that even if Hamhuis feels the slightest discomfort he should be held out of Saturday night's tilt against Calgary.
That's two veteran defensemen down for a month while Alex Edler is recovering from back surgery. That leaves Kevin Bieksa and Christian Ehrhoff as our top two, who will most likely be separated to even out the pairings, and Alberts and Rome rounding out the top four. Sami Salo is set to come back on Saturday, but I can't imagine him logging 20+ minutes in his first game back, despite lighting it up in the AHL on his conditioning stint. But Calgary may force Vigneault's hand if Chris Tanev, expected to be the sixth defenseman, isn't having a strong game (even though he's been good) or the Canucks are down and a powerplay opportunity presents itself. Ehrhoff and Samuelsson are expected to remain on the top powerplay unit while the second unit may feature two righties with Bieksa and Salo, perhaps with Tanev taking a shift or two.
What appeared to be the Canucks' biggest strength heading into the season, strong defensive depth, has quickly become depleted, even if the farmhands have been performing admirably. With Lee Sweatt out with a broken foot, the Canucks can't afford another injury to their blueline. Ryan Parent, acquired from Nashville for Shane O'Brien, has struggled all season and in my opinion has completely lost his confidence, having just one point in 24 games with the Moose. Evan Oberg has eight goals in the AHL and appeared in two NHL games last year, both of them decidedly average, but may have been leapfrogged by Kevin Connauton, who excelled with the Vancouver Giants with 73 points in 69 games after transferring from Western Michigan and has 10 goals with the Moose. Are the Canucks at their breaking point?
The Canucks have got some really nice bounces this year, but that's not taking anything away from the Sedins, Edler, Ryan Kesler, and Roberto Luongo, all of whom have been spectacular. But sitting 9 points ahead of second place Detroit in the West and first in the league puts the Canucks in an interesting position. In years past, the Red Wings have often been the measuring stick for teams seeking playoff spots, and in those games the opposition very often ratchets up the intensity. The Canucks are clearly the team to beat this year and the ultimate litmus test. With 27 games to go this final stretch will be very interesting to watch and we may find out what this team is really made of. This will be the Canucks' toughest test.