A string of injuries to their defense, as well as the suspension of their top blueliner, hasn’t kept the Vancouver Canucks from climbing in the Northwest Division standings.
The Canucks look to continue their surge when they take on the lowly Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place on Tuesday.
Vancouver (10-8-1) has won five of six games since losing defensemen Kevin Bieksa (lacerated calf) and Sami Salo (broken nose) during a Nov. 1 loss to Nashville. Bieksa could miss up to two months and Salo is out indefinitely.
The latest hit to the Canucks’ defense came Sunday in the form of a four-game suspension of Mattias Ohlund.
Ohlund, who leads Vancouver defensemen with three goals and three assists as well as a 23-minute, 33-second ice-time average, isn’t eligible to return until Nov. 25 after his stick-swinging hit on Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu on Friday. Koivu was whistled for an elbowing penalty, apparently hitting Ohlund in the face. Ohlund responded by swinging his stick and slashing Koivu, cracking a bone in the forward’s left leg.
“The elbow to the face, I don’t think it was a very good play from his part, but looking back I wish I would have done something different than I did,” said Ohlund, who has the second-most penalty minutes in the league among defensemen with 46, trailing Boston’s Zdeno Chara (52).
Despite the depleted defense corps, the Canucks won for the third time in four home games and improved to 8-0-1 against the Northwest with Sunday’s 4-1 victory over Calgary. Vancouver is two points behind Colorado and three behind division leader Minnesota.
“The boys beared down,” said goaltender Roberto Luongo, 5-0-1 with a 1.47 goals-against average in his last six starts. “We lost another D-man, so guys just picked up the pace again and it was a really good effort from our group, especially in our own zone.”
Vancouver received a boost from defenseman Lukas Krajicek, who took Ohlund’s place in the lineup Sunday. Krajicek, who returned earlier than expected after missing 3 1-2 weeks with a broken ankle bone, received 18:13 of ice time and was plus-1 for the game.
Vancouver looks to maintain its momentum in the matchup with last-place Edmonton (7-12-1), which had lost seven straight to the Canucks before winning 1-0 in a shootout at GM Place on Wednesday - Vancouver’s only defeat to a Northwest team.
Mathieu Garon helped deal Vancouver its only loss in the last six games, making 29 saves through overtime and three stops in the shootout. He bested Luongo, who made 19 saves but was beaten by Ales Hemsky.
Luongo is 9-4-1 with a tie and a 2.33 GAA in 15 starts versus the Oilers. The Canucks have won four straight in Edmonton behind Luongo, their longest run at Rexall Place since winning five in a row there from Jan. 5, 2002-Dec. 20, 2003.
While Edmonton finally ended its slide against Vancouver, the Oilers have lost six of their last eight overall, and four straight and six of seven at home, including a 3-1 defeat to the Flames on Saturday. It’s Edmonton’s longest home skid since it went 0-7-1 from Feb. 27-March 21.
A lack of offense has been a major factor in the Oilers having the fewest points in the Western Conference. Their total of 44 goals is among the worst in the NHL, and they’ve been held to two goals or fewer six times in the last eight contests.
The Oilers are 0-for-12 on the power-play in the last three games, with their last man-advantage goals coming Nov. 10.
“It’s just another one of those games where we couldn’t find a way to score,” center Jarrett Stoll said after Saturday’s loss. “It’s the same old story. I hate talking about it.”
Edmonton’s power play is last in the league at 8.5 percent (7-for-82).