Canucks Watch: Playing through the pain

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No goalies, no fourth line, no home games.

It’s not easy being a Vancouver Canucks fan right now.

Vancouver’s top two netminders are hurting, the entire fourth line is in sickbay and to top it all off, the Canucks don’t seem to play in British Columbia anymore.

Roberto Luongo remains out with a groin strain and backup Curtis Sanford was forced to leave Monday’s game in Columbus – on the road, natch – with back spasms. That leaves Vancouver with a crease consisting of recent call-up rookie Cory Schneider and, perhaps, Julien Ellis, the only other goaltender signed by the Canucks to an NHL contract. Ellis hurt his ankle in training camp and has played all of one game this season – with the ECHL’s Salmon Kings, over in Victoria. Another goaltender, Karl Goehring, is signed to an American League contract with Vancouver’s top affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.

The fourth line, meanwhile, is up in the press box sharing popcorn with the goalies. Ryan Johnson (out until early January with broken bones in his foot and finger), Rick Rypien (sports hernia surgery on Oct. 30) and now Darcy Hordichuk (“slight” fracture in his foot; indefinite) are all sidelined, robbing the Canucks of toughness and tenacity – and penalty-killing prowess, too. These guys might not score much, but they create space for their more talented teammates; their presence will be missed.

Of course, if you’re a Vancouver fan, you might not have been aware of all these things, what with the Canucks in the middle of yet another road trip, this time a seven-city tour (they’ve already had a four-gamer and a six-game stretch away from home.) When the Canucks return home for a game against Florida a week from Sunday, on Dec. 14, they’ll have played 19 of their first 30 games on the road. The good news is, once the current trip is finished, the Canucks play 17 of their next 22 games at home – with games at Nashville and Atlanta on Jan. 1-2 the only two-game trip in that span.

Look at it this way: That’s about one game every three days, for two months from mid-December through mid-February, with the vast majority of those games at home. In today’s NHL, you couldn’t ask for a friendlier schedule.

And, hey, despite the wonky goalies, wiped-out fourth line and wellspring of away games, isn’t that Vancouver vying for first place in the Northwest Division?

This column also appears in the Vancouver Metro newspaper.

Sam McCaig’s From The Point column appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Have a point to make with Sam McCaig? You can reach him at smccaig@thehockeynews.com.

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