Vancouver Canucks defenceman Keith Ballard is back, ready after an extended and arduous convalescence from concussion.
Star scorer Daniel Sedin is not back. Earlier this week, it looked like concussed Sedin was near ready. Now, he could be out of action for an extended period. At the very least, he is out for Game 2 of Vancouver's first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings, and is now a glaring question mark for Game 3 on Sunday. He did not practice with his team on Friday morning ahead of Game 2. The team won't say if he will travel with the team Saturday to L.A.
(One plus, it turns out for Vancouver, is the lengthy middle of this series, Game 4 on Wednesday, and Game 5 next Sunday, nine days away.) "If he doesn't play, it's certainly to our advantage," said L.A.'s Rob Scuderi on Friday, Scuderi being a key for the Kings, a wearer of a Stanley Cup ring (Pittsburgh 2009) and the shutdown defenceman who was effective against the Canucks' top line on Wednesday.
The puck for Game 2 drops Friday night in Vancouver a bit after 7 p.m. PT, with the Canucks down 1-0, playing from behind in a playoff series for the first time in five years.
"We can't afford to lose tonight," said Canucks captain Henrik Sedin after a game-day skate at Rogers Arena Friday morning. "If we do that we've dug ourselves a big hole. It's tough to be down 2-0."
And, hey, Henrik, any comment on your twin brother: "Nope."
Key to game
Beyond the obvious of scoring more goals, both teams aim to take fewer penalties.
When the Kings do get dinged, the Canucks especially are looking to find some sort of spark in their pretty-much-comatose power play. It's stunk since January and did again in Game 1. How bad? Two power plays in the first period produced one shot. Sedin (Henrik) said a power play doesn't necessarily have to score to inspire a team and the near-20,000 fans (home-ice is supposed to be an advantage). A bunch of shots (missing in Game 1) and pounding the net will produce energy that can extended for five, 10 minutes of even-strength play, Sedin said.
"If you're on the bench, and your power play goes on the ice, and you see that they're getting shots, they're getting chances, the crowd gets into the game, and all of a sudden the bench gets energized," said Sedin, who noted the opposite deflates a team.
The Canucks on Friday kept their line combinations a secret, giving no hint during the game-day skate or afterwards. The power-play combination will be shaken up. Alex Edler is probably off the first unit, and maybe someone like Keith Ballard is a surprise addition.
Welcome back, Mr. Ballard. He was concussed in early February. When last Ballard was playing, he wasn't all that great, with seven points in 47 games this season, compared with an average of about 30 points in a full slate of 82 games in both 2008-09 and 09-10 with the Florida Panthers.
"I've done everything I could, off the ice, on the ice, physically, mentally, to prepare. So that's all I can go by," said Ballard Friday morning. "I know it's going to be fast, I know it's going to be intense. I'm ready."
Ballard - not as yet officially - will probably replace Aaron Rome. Also new for Vancouver is Andrew Ebbett, replacing the suspended Byron Bitz, the Canucks choosing offensive spark over thuggery (Dale Weise).
L.A. is doing the same to replace tough-guy Kyle Clifford, felled by Bitz's boarding in Game 1. Twenty-one-year-old Russian Andrei Loktionov (a rookie forward with seven points in 39 games) will play his first NHL playoff game.
For L.A.'s Darryl Sutter, it was the standard not much. "Both teams want more 5-on-5 hockey," Sutter said, as the squads try to avoid the box. On one element of strategy: "Our forecheck has to be very careful, so they do not over forecheck." That's actually quite interesting, because that forecheck produced big chances in Game 1. In one instance, midway through the first, two L.A. forwards pressured Canucks young d-man Chris Tanev behind Vancouver's net, who then turned over the puck on a bad pass, and the Kings nearly scored. (It was a relatively rare miscue for the mostly strong Tanev.)
Two thoughts from one Alain Vigneault.
On the NHL's concussion protocol: "You should ask a medical person, I'm not the one who understands the whole dynamics, and then I don't think I've ever read the protocol itself."
On Daniel Sedin, Game 2 marking his 11th game off the ice, now more than double the five served by Chicago's Duncan Keith: "You know, I'm going to measure my words very carefully. There's nothing we can do. He's not here, and we've got to deal with that situation. The culprit in that incident got five games from the National Hockey League. I remember Aaron Rome getting four games last year [against Boston, concussing Nathan Horton in the cup final]for a hit that was maybe 0.2 seconds late, clean hit, the guy had the puck. In Danny's case, there was no puck around. So I'm going to leave it at that."
I am sorry. Sincerely.
Vancouver backup goaltender Cory Schneider caused a small kerfuffle when on Thursday he was asked about the chatter about the Canucks being disliked (hated???) outside Vancouver/B.C./etc. He said some non-memorable things and then added: "Nobody cares about Edmonton so nobody hates them. It's that simple."
The 11 words were taken by some as a nasty slag of Edmonton, the city, the people, the hockey team.
Schneider was quick on Friday with an apology, asked in the locker room just after he had his jersey off after the game-day skate, still wearing all his equipment, his face sweaty.
"I felt bad about it," said the 26-year-old. "I didn't mean to say that about them. I was frustrated about having to constantly defend my teammates, and let it get the better of me. ... They've got a great hockey city, and a great tradition. Their fans obviously care a heck of a whole lot, along with a lot of other people. I feel stupid and ignorant about saying that, and I really regret it, and truly feel bad."