VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Canucks have endured a challenging week but they finally received some good news Friday as defenceman Kevin Bieksa returned to practice.
Bieksa, who has five goals, one assist and is plus-six in 17 games this season, suffered a groin injury during the 1-0 win in Nashville last week. The Canucks dropped games to Detroit and Phoenix while he was out of the lineup.
On Friday, Bieksa appeared on the ice with his teammates at Rogers Arena for the first time since that setback and skated alongside Alex Edler on the first power-play unit.
Bieksa would not say if he would be ready to suit up against the Los Angeles Kings (10-6-2) in Vancouver on Saturday night.
“(It was my) first skate with the guys, it was OK,”the 31-year-old veteran said.“It’s getting better but I don't have anything too interesting to tell you other than we'll see how it feels (Saturday).
“It felt good though, I was happy with the way I felt today.”
The Canucks (10-5-4) have dropped their last three games at Rogers Arena and given up three or more goals in six of their last seven games.
Bieksa has the bigger picture in mind, with Vancouver scheduled to play 16 games this month.
“We have a lot of games coming up in a short time here,”he said.“So I don't want to come back and have to leave again and leave my team short-handed.
“So I'd like to make sure that I’m ready.”
Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault said he was encouraged by Bieksa’s play at practice and is hopeful he will return soon.
“He’s playing well and he was definitely a strong push from our back end so if he’s healthy and our medical staff think that he can play, then he’s obviously going to play,”he said.
In addition to the two losses this week, the Canucks lost centre Ryan Kesler to a broken foot. Kesler, who just recently returned from shoulder and wrist problems, could be out for six weeks.
Left-winger Mason Raymond practised as the second-line centre on Friday.
“I played a little bit (of centre) in the past and I look forward to the opportunity,”Raymond said.“It’s a good opportunity. It’s going to be fun so we’ll see how long it carries on for.”
Meanwhile, goaltender Cory Schneider will get the chance to bounce back following a 4-2 loss to the Coyotes on Tuesday night.
“I’m excited to play again and (what’s happened in the) last few games, happens,”he said.“It’s part of the season when things don't always go exactly the way you want.
“It’s not as if I’m way off, it’s (about making that) one save a game and it’s very doable and I’m very confident I can make that extra save a game.”
The Kings—the defending Stanley Cup champions—have looked stronger of late due in large part to the impressive output from forwards Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter.
But Vigneault won't be emphasizing the need to focus on that dangerous pair.
“(Carter and Kopitar have) been very good but their whole group, they’re not giving up a whole lot of chances against,”he said.“And their forward lines all have an edge to them so it’s more than just Kopitar and Carter–they are playing a real solid game right now.”
Notes: After fourth-line grinder Aaron Volpatti was claimed off of waivers by the Washington Capitals this week, Canucks general manager Mike Gillis snapped up six-foot-five, 228-pound winger Tom Sestito off waivers from Philadelphia. Sestito, 25, appeared in seven games for the Flyers this season. He scored two goals and had 12 penalty minutes.