Preview: Wild at Canucks

Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk ranks third in the NHL with a .946 save percentage.
Anne-Marie Sorvin/Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Spor

It was learned Monday that top rearguard Alex Edler will need surgery to repair a broken finger and be out for the next month. Edler’s injury means that Vancouver will be without him and fellow veteran Chris Tanev for an extended period, starting Tuesday as the Canucks (9-11-2) host the Minnesota Wild (11-7-3) at Rogers Arena.

“It’s tough,” Vancouver defenseman Philip Larsen told reporters after practice Monday. “That’s our first (defense) pairing. A lot of (defensemen) have to step up and do as good as we can.”

The absences of Edler and Tanev, who has been sidelined in recent weeks and shows no signs of returning soon, pose more challenges for a Vancouver defense crew that is trending younger this season. Since the start of the campaign, injuries, other health woes and inconsistency have forced coach Willie Desjardins to adjust his pairings and give more playing time to some defensemen than he would like.

Edler, 30, who usually records the most minutes per game among defensemen, if not the whole team, was injured on Saturday night while blocking a shot in the first period of a 3-2 shootout victory over the Colorado Avalanche in Denver. With Edler and Tanev now both out, Larsen, a 26-year-old offensive defenseman from Esbjerg, Denmark, who is in his first season with the Canucks, has a chance to play a more active role.

But it remains to be seen how much action Larsen will see. He resumed practicing with the team Monday after being sidelined with a virus.

“It’s been a tough couple weeks,” said Larsen, a right-side rearguard. “It’s nice to be back. It was a tough practice and it was kind of nice to get it going.”

At the outset of the season, Larsen was seen as a positive addition to Vancouver’s power play, but it has been terrible most of the season – and he has rarely been on it. He has lacked consistency after returning to the National Hockey League following two seasons in Europe’s Kontinental Hockey League. Before getting sick, he struggled to stay in the lineup.

“It was tough,” he said. “I got out of the lineup and I wanted to get back in as quick as possible. Then when I got sick on top of that, it was pretty frustrating.”

With Edler out for an extended period, rookie Troy Stecher, 22, will almost assuredly play a more prominent role. Stecher, a native of the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, B.C., began the season with Utica of the American Hockey League — and is on his second call-up — but has quickly emerged as one of the Canucks’ top blueliners.

A right-handed shot, Stecher has played on both the right and left sides while taking a regular shift and pulling duty on both specialty teams. If Larsen can return soon Stecher may soon see more action on the left side, which is Edler’s usual spot. The rookie stood out in Denver after Edler’s injury limited the Canucks to five defensemen, leading the Canucks with five shots.

Stecher is determined to make a difference in spite of his neophyte status.

“I think you have to have that mindset,” Stecher, an undrafted free agent signing out of the University of North Dakota, told The Vancouver Sun. “I think if you go into (the NHL) and kind of dip your toe in the water, that’s when you’re going to get exposed. You might as well just do a cannonball and throw everything you have into it.”

The Canucks are hoping to go on a cannonball run of sorts after finishing their worst first quarter of a season since 1997. They won two of three games on their recent road trip and are looking to keep the good times rolling against the Wild.

Meanwhile, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau would also like his team to get on a winning streak. The Wild enter Tuesday’s contest on the heels of a 4-3 shootout loss in St. Louis. The Wild squandered a 2-1 lead in the third period, rallied to force overtime, but still lost.

However, Minnesota, which will play its second contest on a five-game road trip Tuesday, has still fared well lately. The Wild went 2-0-2 in four games last week, earning six of a possible eight points.

“I think we’re playing good hockey,” Boudreau told reporters. “It’s just not winning eight in a row. I would like to be able to put something together.”