VANCOUVER – A potential good news day turned bad Tuesday for the Vancouver Canucks. They hope their mostly positive October doesn’t follow the same trend.
The National Hockey League team announced winger Brock Boeser is out day-to-day with a groin injury. And although rookie centre Elias Pettersson participated in a full practice for the first time since suffering a concussion on Oct. 13, he did so as a part-timer on the fourth line.
That means the Canucks almost certainly will be without their leading scorer from last season and this one when they open back-to-back road games Wednesday in Las Vegas. Playing a murderer’s-row lineup of Stanley Cup contenders, the Canucks were already slowing from their surprisingly good start when coach Travis Green confirmed Boeser’s injury.
"We’re going to have to work to score," Green said before the Canucks took a pre-game flight for the seventh time in eight contests. "You just don’t turn 10-goal scorers into 30-goal scorers; it’s not that easy. It’s a tough league, a good league."
The Canucks have scored eight goals in four games, two of them in overtime, since Pettersson was injured by Florida Panthers defenceman Mike Matheson’s body slam. Boeser scored one of the OT winners and set up the other.
In the five games Pettersson played – he had at least a point in all of them, matching a 46-year-old Canucks record for the start of an NHL career – Vancouver scored 19 goals. The Swedish teenager had five of them and assisted on three others.
"We’ve missed him," Green said. "Our offence has dropped off. When your leading scorer isn’t in the lineup, you’re going to miss his offence."
Green said Pettersson will travel to Las Vegas and Phoenix to skate with the team but couldn’t say when the 19-year-old would play.
Pettersson will take the morning skate in Vegas and could play Thursday night against the Arizona Coyotes. But a more likely return target for the 19-year-old is Saturday’s home game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"It’s been very boring," Pettersson said of working through the NHL’s concussion protocol. "I’d like to not do it again in my career. Just take it day by day, work out slow, and then try to do more and more each and every day. I’ve felt good each and every day."
Clearly, he doesn’t feel good about Matheson’s takedown, offering a rare "no comment" when asked about the fairness of the hit. The league suspended the Panther for two games.
"He sent me a text and apologized, so that was a very good move by him," Pettersson said. "I respect it.
"I was trying to make a play. I was standing still and he came in with speed. I knew I was going to get hit. I was standing still and he came in with speed."
Remarkably, Pettersson, who said this is his first concussion in hockey, still leads the Canucks and all NHL rookies in scoring despite not playing in 10 days.
It’s also indicative of how much he means to the franchise already, let alone the titanic impact he could make in the future, that the mere possibility of him playing this week trumped news of the likelihood that Boeser will not.
Boeser led the Canucks with 29 goals last season and tied for the points lead with 55 despite missing the final month of the season due to a broken bone in his lower back. He also required a medical procedure on an injured wrist and was unable to start off-season training until July.
Green said Boeser has been playing through his groin injury since the Canucks’ 4-1 loss in Winnipeg last Thursday. But the 21-year-old’s skating has been laboured at times throughout October, which is not surprising given his lack of training time in the summer.
Boeser also appeared to be hurt by teammate Erik Gudbranson’s slapshot on Monday, which struck the winger on the back of the leg late in the Canucks’ 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals.
When the Canucks play the Golden Knights on Wednesday, they’ll complete a full set of games against the four conference finalists from last season. Including games against Pittsburgh and Boston, the Canucks will have played over a span of two weeks the top six teams from last season.
They are 3-2 so far in these games and 5-4 for the month, which is better than anyone expected from last year’s 73-point team.
"It’s a bit of a baseline on where you’re at, I think," Green said. "You can’t hide from that. It’s forcing your team to be ready to play. We’re tired, you travel – every team goes through it. These are tough games; these are really good hockey teams. It’s a good challenge and you learn a lot about your players as you go."
Former Golden Knight Brendan Leipsic, a healthy scratch the last six games, replaces Boeser on the first line beside Bo Horvat. Darren Archibald was recalled from the Utica Comets to provide roster depth.