Alain Vigneault couldn't fake it.
The Vancouver Canucks head coach was asked yesterday if his injury-decimated team had only one route to victory these days, and if they had to engage in low-scoring, low-shot contests to have any chance at victory.
"Yes," Vigneault said after a short pause to contemplate his answer. "I think right now, with our situation up front, it wouldn't be realistic to think we can go offence versus offence and strength versus strength. We've got to play a smart game.
"That being said, though, our system hasn't changed much with what we're doing, but the skill level up front has changed. When the skill level changes, and when you get into one-on-one situations with the puck, going from Danny Sedin to somebody else, the outcome will be different."
The Canucks had won two of three games minus injured goaltender Roberto Luongo (fractured rib), heading into a home contest against the New York Rangers last night. Today, they embark on a five-game road trip through three time zones, and the swing is one of two extended sojourns this season that drew Vigneault's concern in training camp.
But the coach never expected that it would begin without his franchise goalie or six forwards, and he never expected to be dressing the sort of lineups he has employed over the last week.
Luongo took some light shots from an assistant coach yesterday and is nearing a return and will accompany the team on its trip, with the hopes of returning at some point. Forward Jannik Hansen, who broke three fingers in a preseason fight, will also make the trip and anticipates returning to practice before the Canucks fly home on Nov. 14.
Centres Ryan Johnson (concussion) and Alex Bolduc (shoulder) may also travel with the club. Johnson skated yesterday, while Bolduc will undergo a magnetic resonance imaging scan before the team decides whether he will be left behind.
Daniel Sedin (foot) and Pavol Demitra (shoulder) - the team's top two left wingers - will remain at home, as will rookie winger Michael Grabner, who broke an ankle on Sunday while warming playing soccer before a 3-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche. Grabner will miss six weeks.
There is no flu shot for what the Canucks are going through right now - although the players will receive H1N1 vaccinations at "the appropriate time," according to a team spokesman - but Vigneault's plan includes opponent-specific game plans, tailored to a defence-first approach.
"That's the situation we're in right now, and that's how we're going to deal with it," Vigneault said. "We're being challenged right now and I think our guys are putting their best foot forward."
Vigneault has dressed seven defencemen and just 11 forwards on three occasions, and has even used a lineup of eight defencemen, albeit unsuccessfully. Defencemen Aaron Rome and Mathieu Schneider may continue to see time up front, while NHL veteran Matt Pettinger was signed this week for depth. It's Pettinger's second stint with the team after he was cut in camp last year.
"As long as we keep playing good defensively and a good system, we'll win hockey games," right winger Alex Burrows said. "When you're losing a lot of key guys, you have to tighten up your system and keep pucks out of your net."