DAVID HUTCHINSON 778-839-5442 DAVID.HUTCHINSON@CENTURY21.CA
NASHVILLE — The Vancouver Canucks have enjoyed the good fortune of having the same six defencemen play every game this season.
That may change Sunday afternoon in Detroit, when the Canucks complete a four-game road trip against the Red Wings.
Kevin Bieksa left Friday night’s game in Nashville early in the second period with what coach Alain Vigneault described as a groin injury.
“Kevin tweaked a groin a little bit,” Vigneault said after Vancouver’s 1-0 win over the Predators. “We’ll know more (Saturday) but at first it doesn’t seem to be that serious. But we’ll see how it reacts tonight to ice and treatment and we’ll have a better idea (Saturday).”
Bieksa left the game about four minutes into the second period shortly after taking a hit on the side boards from Nashville defenceman Hal Gill. It was not clear whether he suffered the injury on that play.
“I talked quickly to Bernie (trainer Mike Burnstein), and I think it was when he did go and hit somebody and I don’t know who it was,” Vigneault said. “He felt something there.”
Bieksa’s absence meant the Canucks, who were plying their third road game in four nights, had to play the rest of the night with just five defencemen.
“Some games you have to grind it, you have to find ways, and tonight was an example of that,” Vigneault said. “Those five guys did a tremendous job, all four lines did a really solid job of playing high percentage and smart hockey against a team that is a very intelligent team on the ice.”
Defenceman Keith Ballard said the key was keeping shifts short.
“I didn’t think it was bad at all,” he said. “We had real short shifts. We were 20, 30 seconds and changing and everyone is kind of in the flow and in the game so you didn’t really notice it.
“You’d come back to the bench and sometimes you are up in 30 seconds and you grab a drink of water and go back out there.”
Dan Hamhuis led Canuck defencemen with 26:10 of ice time.
If Bieksa can’t go on Sunday, Vigneault said Andrew Alberts will take his place in the lineup. Bieksa’s absence would leave the Canucks’ defence with just one right-handed shot in Chris Tanev.
LEAGUE LEADER: Roberto Luongo’s numbers got even better thanks to his 23-save shutout Friday night.
Luongo’s goals-against average dropped to a league-best 1.45. His save percentage of .941 is second among goalies who have played at least five games this season.
He continues to credit his strong start this season to the work he did during the off-season and lockout with Francois Allaire.
“I got a chance to work on some aspects of my game I wasn’t happy with and right now I feel big in the net, I feel like I am seeing the puck well and I’m not making any desperation saves and stuff like that,” Luongo said. “I am always trying to be in good position and it’s working out well.”
Luongo concentrated much of his off-season work on improving his reaction time and positioning on rebounds.
Vigneault would not say who will start Sunday in Detroit, but it is hard to imagine he won’t come back with Luongo after a shutout. That shutout was Luongo’s 62nd of his NHL career.
OPPORTUNITY LOST: Nashville coach Barry Trotz was lamenting his team’s missed opportunities in the first period, when the Predators had a 13-3 edge in shots.
“The first period we came, but weren’t able to convert,” Trotz said. “We pretty much controlled the whole first period. One thing we always worry about is having a good first period, but not being able to convert.
“If we are not able to convert, then we worry about them hanging around. In the second period, they were able to establish a forecheck and we weren’t efficient on the walls. We also turned over pucks and ended up with long shifts, causing the momentum to go their way.