--D Sami Salo's play has clearly started to fall off a little this season, with both his playing time and production down. The declining numbers are not, however, an indication of Salo's importance to the Canucks, which is why they so eagerly anticipated his return for Monday night's game against Nashville. Salo missed Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to rival Calgary because his eye was still swollen shut after taking a high stick from defensive partner Willie Mitchell in the previous game, and the results were telling.
With journeyman defender Aaron Rome also still out with an injury suffered in Thursday's game, Vancouver was forced to dress first-year pro Evan Oberg for his first NHL game Saturday and veteran Brad Lukowich for his first game with the Canucks after spending all season in the American Hockey League. The Flames took advantage of the defensive shakeup by spending most of the night in Vancouver's end, outshooting the Canucks 40-21 through the end of overtime, and forcing turnovers and odd-man rushes with pressure on the forecheck.
"It's huge because Sami is obviously a big part of our shutdown pair with Willie," goalie Roberto Luongo said. "They play well together and play a big role for us when they are the ice against the other team's top line, so it will be nice to have him back."
With Kevin Bieksa already out for several months with severed tendons and veteran free agent Mathieu Schneider in the minors after a dispute over ice time, Vancouver was forced to overplay its remaining defenders Saturday. Some, like Christian Ehrhoff (32:20), Alexander Edler (32:16) and Willie Mitchell (27:13), handled it pretty well, even though both Ehrhoff and Edler played more than 10 minutes above their season average. But Shane O'Brien (17:13), who has played so admirable since being re-inserted regularly in December, struggled after being moved into the top four, getting beat cleanly on one goal and taking a couple of penalties. Things were back to normal Monday.
--LW Steve Bernier, who has 10 goals despite a limited role this season but hasn't recorded a point in seven games, tweaked his groin trying to outrace a Calgary defender on a partial breakaway in Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Flames. He didn't play Monday against Nashville. Bernier is listed as day-to-day, which may also describe the tenuous roster status of his replacement against the Predators, Jannik Hansen. The speedy second-year winger was a healthy scratch for six straight before Bernier's injury, and in danger of being the odd-man out once Pavol Demitra makes his season debut after two shoulder surgeries, possibly later this month.
Hansen, who is on a two-way contract, had a great preseason to make the team but started the year on the injured list after breaking his hand in a rare fight during the exhibition finale. He returned in mid-November, showed signs of the earlier scoring touch with three goals in a four-game stretch in early December, but recorded only one assist in the next 10 games before being relegated to the press box.
Bernier's absence also allowed Alex Burrows to play a few rare shifts on the top power-play unit, and he responded with his second goal of a 3-2 loss to Nashville.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"He comes into the game and knows he's going to make a call against me to give Nashville an advantage, and I don't think that's fair for my teammates and for the fans. I told him it's stupid he takes it personal against guys and he shouldn't be doing that." -- LW Alex Burrows, ripping into referee Stephane Auger after getting three penalties and a 10-minute misconduct, all of which Burrows said came after Auger pledged before the game to get back at him for embellishing a call in Nashville back on Dec. 8.
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