VANCOUVER, B.C. — The Vancouver Canucks and Nashville Predators are far apart in the standings, but they still have something in common.
Both clubs have battled injuries to key players. The difference is that the Canucks (14-13-4) dearly miss their absent stars and the Predators (18-7-4) have done just fine without theirs.
The clubs will put their depth to the test Wednesday as the Canucks host the Predators at Rogers Arena.
Vancouver will try to end a three-game losing streak with an offense weakened by the absence of top center Bo Horvat (fractured foot) and winger Sven Baertschi (broken jaw), who are both out four to six weeks after getting hurt this week.
The Canucks are also without versatile forward Brandon Sutter (lower-body injury), who can play both center and wing, and defenseman Erik Gudbranson (wrist), and they dearly miss abrasive winger Derek Dorsett, whose career was ended recently by a neck injury. (Sutter and Gudbranson are skating on their own and could return in about a week.)
The Canucks have had to make do largely with forwards who are struggling to score, were recently in the minors or might not crack other NHL teams’ lineups.
“It’s not like we’re going to go and change our whole system and our whole structure,” Vancouver coach Travis Green told Postmedia. “We’re constantly tweaking things from game to game, and that’s not going to change. Certain things are magnified when you have injuries.”
One such thing is Vancouver’s offensive inconsistency. The Canucks have scored two goals or fewer in their last three games.
But Green, who is in his first season behind the Canucks’ bench, welcomes the pressure that his team is obviously facing.
“That’s why you play the game: You want the heat on you,” Green said. “You want to have the confidence to want the puck on your stick. I want players who want that heat.”
Veteran forward Sam Gagner, who is being used at center more as a result of Horvat’s injury, said the Canucks have to look at the injuries as opportunities for more playing time.
“Every team goes through adversity, and it can either make you stronger or break you,” he told Postmedia. “We’re trying to use it as a chance to get better and stronger.
“It’s up to other players to step up and prove they’re capable of more minutes.”
Like Green, Gagner, who is also in his first season with the Canucks, believes they should stick to their style, which emphasizes speed and attacking play.
“It’s a mindset for us,” Gagner told Postmedia. “The top players in the league have that mindset where they’re pushing and they’re aggressive, trying to create offense, no matter the circumstances.
“You have to be smart with your puck management, but you also have to have the confidence to make plays coming out of your end so you can spend more time on the other side.
“That’s what is going to make it difficult for (opponents) to create offense.”
Meanwhile, offense has not been a problem for the Predators, who have scored 13 goals in their past three games. Nashville has continued to excel despite injuries to top center Ryan Johansen (lower body) and reserve winger Scott Hartnell (undisclosed).
In the three games that Johansen has missed, the Preds have earned five of a possible six points.
“It’s good to know that if your No. 1 (center) goes out that it’s not panic mode,” Predators defenseman Yannick Weber told The Tennessean. “A lot of years in my career, if your No. 1 center goes out, it’s a little bit of a scramble.”
The Predators, who reached the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time last season, have barely missed a beat.
“You start realizing that we have more depth than we, maybe, felt that we had,” said goaltender Pekka Rinne, who is likely to rest Wednesday and play in Edmonton, where he has thrived, on Thursday.
Center Kyle Turris, acquired last month in a three-way trade from Ottawa that also involved Colorado, has filled in more than adequately for Johansen. Turris, a Vancouver-area native, has 13 points in 14 games since being traded to Nashville; he has a team-leading five points in the past three games as a first-line center.
“I think you see the value of Kyle Turris as well,” Rinne told The Tennessean. “In (Johansen’s) absence, Kyle was taking down big minutes, playing a key role and key position.”