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Ebner: Canucks’ injury situation exposes the team’s lack of depth

Vancouver Canucks centre Henrik Sedin (33) lays on the ice after receiving a crosscheck from Minnesota Wild defenceman Ryan Suter (20) during first period NHL hockey action at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, March,18, 2013.


For a decade, Henrik Sedin didn't miss a single hockey game – until this past January, when he was sidelined with injured ribs. That snapped his remarkable iron-man streak of 679 games, and he had to sit out the Winter Olympics to convalesce.

Now, the Vancouver Canucks captain is out again after hurting his left knee on Sunday night while delivering a hit.

Sedin won't join his teammates on a two-game road trip, crucial back-to-back games against the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday and Colorado Avalanche on Thursday. The flailing Canucks have a fractional chance at a playoff berth, but they'll need to win both road games.

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Henrik Sedin exited as his brother, Daniel, returned on Sunday after missing three weeks with an injured leg. The infirmary in Vancouver feels as though it's been full for a long time, and injuries have been cited in recent weeks as a big reason for the team's struggles, though they are not being used as an excuse.

"Yeah, it changes the complexion of what you think you can do as a club," said coach John Tortorella on Tuesday before flying to Minneapolis. "The lineup – when we're healthy, I think we're a different team."

Vancouver has dealt with significant injuries, but it is far from the worst off.

Missing the likes of Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, both Sedins, Alex Edler and Mike Santorelli for various periods of time has hurt – but measured against the whole league, Vancouver ranks No. 10 in terms of player-time lost to injury, measured by the salary cap hit of those who are hurt.

In figures compiled by the blog Springing Malik, the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins have suffered the most, with the Wings at $14.4-million (U.S.) of players lost, and the Pens nearing $13-million, compared with $7-million for the Canucks. Yet the Penguins are the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, and the Wings are hanging on to a wild-card playoff spot.

A number of other teams that have been hit harder by injuries than Vancouver are faring better, including Tampa Bay, Anaheim, Boston and San Jose.

So while it might seem the Canucks are a star-crossed team, the injury situation is hardly severe and simply has exposed a lack of depth.

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"Teams get hurt and good teams find a way to win," said winger Zack Kassian.

A question that lingers, and one that is hard to answer, is about Tortorella's player deployment. Strength and conditioning experts know that injuries are more likely to occur when players are worn down – though it is not an easy idea to measure. Tortorella waved the notion away when someone asked about the jump in Shawn Matthias's playing time. "You guys think about ice time a hell of a lot more than I do," he said.

The Sedins, rarely injured previously, have been played harder under Tortorella than ever before in their careers.

The twins, who are 33, were among the leading forwards in ice time for much of the year, and the additional two minutes per game in Henrik Sedin's 65 games played is the equivalent of six games. His production – 10 goals and 46 points – has plummeted while he's playing a rough-and-tumble Tortorella style, with a career-high 43 hits, 25 per cent more than ever before.

The last hit, Sunday night, led to the injury, when Henrik Sedin took on Buffalo's Tyler Ennis and Ennis landed on him after hitting the boards.

Maybe it's coincidence. Coincidence has been cited before, starting in the first game of the season, when Burrows hurt himself blocking a shot, a core of Tortorella's ethos. Burrows missed almost all of October. The Canucks are No. 6 in the league in blocked shots, up from the bottom of the league under former coach Alain Vigneault.

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"We're just trying to make the best of the guys we have in the lineup," said rookie goalie Eddie Lack ahead of the key road games. "Try and do the best with what we've got."

The returned Sedin, Daniel, tried to be sanguine about a season unravelled. "We've been dealing with this for quite a while now," he said, and pointed to the generally improved play of the team of late as a positive. "I like the way we play now. I don't think it matters as much who we have in the lineup."

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