Canucks' blue-line blues

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

In Vancouver, they too are dropping like flies on the blue-line.

Heading into last night's encounter against the Edmonton Oilers, the Vancouver Canucks were short three regular defencemen.

Yet they've been able to cope with the personnel losses, having won five of their last six games coming in.

"I think our forwards are doing a great job of supporting our defence," said Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault.

"Our forecheck is still very effective as far as creating turnovers.

"We're really trying to stay above the other team's players and trying to create turnovers that are going to permit us to create turnovers.

"Our forwards have done a good job and our defencemen have kept their job simple and effective. And you could say our goaltending has been pretty good too."

The Canucks went into last night's game without Kevin Bieksa, Mattias Ohlund and Sami Salo.

BIEKSA OUT UNTIL '08

Bieksa, 26, is out until the new year after his calf was cut with a skate back on Nov. 1. Salo, 33, was hurt the same night when he took a puck in the face, shattering his nose.

Ohlund, 31, was suspended for four games after breaking a bone in Mikko Koivu's leg with a two-hander Friday against the Minnesota Wild.

However, even with the three regulars out, the only game the Canucks haven't won was the shootout loss to the Oilers a week ago.

"I think it's a combination of a bunch of things," said Canucks defenceman Willie Mitchell. "I think the regulars that are still in the lineup have elevated their game, and the young guys that have stepped in have done a tremendous job, probably better than anybody thought they would."

Alex Edler, Luke Bourdon and Mike Weaver have all taken turns filling in.

Edler, 21, and Bourdon, 20, started the year in the minors with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.

EDLER ON THE EDGE

"I knew Alex Edler would be great, because he was good last year," said Mitchell.

"We had so many defencemen this year that he just kind of got bumped. He is just biding his time. He's going to be a regular in the NHL and is going to play a big part for a long time.

"Luke Bourdon, they probably didn't think he was ready, but he's stepped in and been terrific. His game is much more patient and improved."

As a team the Canucks have only conceded three goals in their last four games. A large part of that has been the play of goalie Roberto Luongo.

But the entire club, in general, has been more responsible defensively.

"Our forwards have done a better job of playing on the defensive side of pucks," Mitchell said. "Earlier in the year I think we were a little loose and there were a lot of three-on-twos, four-on-twos and back-door plays.

"We actually have a neutral zone now. At the start of the year guys were just flying through there and now we're systematically playing well through the neutral zone and that's creating offence for us."


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