The Vancouver Canucks, at the end of a grinding road trip, will be without Kevin Bieksa, and possibly David Booth, as the team takes on the struggling and injury-plagued Detroit Red Wings Sunday evening.
And, in net, Roberto Luongo gets his second consecutive start, standing at the best goaltender in the league in several statistical categories including goals-against-average. He shutout Nashville on Friday, his second of the season, and is 5-0-3. It is his ninth start of the year, which matches Luongo with Cory Schneider, who is 5-3-1 in his nine starts.
Bieksa "tweaked" his groin in the second period in Nashville and was last seen on the official National Hockey League play-by-play taking a hit from Predators defenceman Hal Gill early in the second period. He didn't skate with his teammates on Sunday morning in Detroit and coach Alain Vigneault said Bieksa was "day-to-day," adding, "We'll see how he's doing tomorrow."
Booth, meanwhile, is waylaid by illness, one that had also whipsawed goaltending coach Rollie Melanson and assistant coach, for video, Darryl Williams. Vigneault said he would reassess later in the day if Booth would be ready for the 5 p.m. ET game, after Booth did not skate in the morning.
The small battering the Canucks are taking is nothing compared with the Redwings, who have lost players to injuries totalling more than 100 games this year, the most in the NHL. Detroit – facing the possibility of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1990 – had lost five in a row before snapping the skid at home on Saturday night with a 4-0 win over Nashville. The Wings are 8-7-3 and in ninth place in the West.
So as Vancouver plays its sixth game in 10 days, and fourth in six days on the road, Detroit comes into the Sunday game on a back-to-back, where the Wings haven't played especially well. Vancouver had a day off in Detroit on Saturday. The Canucks, at 10-3-4, have lost just one game in regulation in their past 10 games, which puts Vancouver in a club that includes only two teams, those ahead in the Western Conference, Anaheim, with one loss in the past 10, and Chicago, no losses in regulation at all this season, a record start.
Starting in place of Bieksa is Andrew Alberts, a 31-year-old who played about half the games last season and the season before for Vancouver – but none this year. The Canucks six defenceman have been, each game, Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, Alex Edler, Jason Garrison, and Chris Tanev. Cam Barker, a No. 3 overall draft pick in 2004, also has not played. Vigneault said he was "amazed" that the Canucks have had no injuries among their defence. "We've been very fortunate," the coach said after practice on Sunday.
Alberts was cheered and needled by his teammates in the locker room Sunday as a small group of reporters descended on him after practice, as just as the Canucks cheered Dale Weise after he scored Friday's only goal and reporters gravitated to him post-game.
Alberts felt he arrived at training camp in the best shape of his professional career, but with the rise of Tanev, and the arrival of Garrison, there was no room for him in the roster.
"Obviously it's hard," said Alberts. "It's frustrating sitting out. ... Everyone wants to play and everyone's competing for a job."