Something remarkable happened Monday at Rogers Arena: the entire Canucks starting lineup was on the ice for practice. It may not sound like a big deal to some, but it’s a great sign for a team struggling to find the magic it had just six months ago, which is coincidentally the last time Mason Raymond played a game. The news that Raymond would be paired up with Kesler and Booth for practice – he’s so far spent most practices back on defense – was met with a resounding chorus of stick taps from his teammates and applause during the media scrum, showing us all just how much he’s been missed. For Mason, he’s just happy to be inching closer to game shape.
“Definitely felt good to get into some line rushes, and the feel of more of a game like situation… It’s another step towards getting back to where I want to be, and back on the team helping out.”
Though there is no set timetable for his return, having number 21 back in blue will bring a smile to the faces of Canucks fans after his horrific accident suffered during Game 6 of the Finals, where he fractured his vertebrae and spent the summer in a backbrace. It’s also a sign that perhaps the battle fatigue Vancouver suffered during the playoffs may be finally nearing its end. If nothing else, though, Rayzer’s return to the lineup will be a moral boost to a beleaguered squad looking to rebound from a mediocre start and keep pace in the always tight Western Conference race.
Some of this season’s walking wounded are also on the comeback trail. Keith Ballard (out with back spasms) returned to practice, much to the amazement of Coach Vigneault.
“I was as surprised as anybody to see him on the ice today. Yesterday, my medical staff was telling me he didn’t have a good day; the stiffness and the spasms were still there. Got here this morning and I guess he felt a lot better. He went on the ice, tried it on his own, and kept going so I was very pleasantly surprised at that”
Ballard, who has missed two games thus far, was joined by goaltender Roberto Luongo, who was just starting to return to form before injuring himself against the Islanders last week. According to Luongo, he expects to be “at least dressed” for Wednesday’s game against Colorado, with some speculating he’ll be back between the pipes as late as Saturday when the Canucks face the Sharks.
In the grand scheme of things, Vancouver has been lucky so far this year concerning injury when you compare their plight to the likes of Buffalo (who’ve lost Ryan Miller and recently Tyler Myers indefinitely) or Toronto (James Reimer and their entire second line are all M.I.A.), but that’s not to say the injury bug hasn’t bitten Vancouver in its own way. Ryan Kesler is still struggling to find his rhythm after hip surgery, Alex Burrows and Alex Edler are battling back problems of their own, and Manny Malhotra continues to deal with the after effects of his devastating eye injury. If last year’s campaign was about proving themselves as one of the elite teams in the league, this year’s theme in Vancouver seems to be overcoming the adversity and after effects of going to war for the Stanley Cup.