VANCOUVER – Mental energy is as important to the Vancouver Canucks as their physical energy, which is why the return Tuesday of more players from the COVID-19 list should help maintain the emotional surge the team generated by beating the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday.
Defencemen Nate Schmidt and Olli Juolevi, and winger Jake Virtanen also returned Tuesday morning to the lineup, and winger Matthew Highmore will make his Canucks debut after completing the one-week travel quarantine that followed his acquisition last Monday from the Chicago Blackhawks.
That’s a lot of positive energy.
Winger Tyler Motte is the only Canuck who tested positive during the team’s COVID-19 outbreak who remains too sick to practise. Defenceman Madison Bowey, also acquired from Chicago at last week’s trading deadline, is in the final day of his travel quarantine. Depth forward Loui Eriksson, designated a close-contact risk during the outbreak, remains on the NHL’s COVID Protocol List.
"Every day that you get a couple guys back or a guy back, it definitely helps," Canucks coach Travis Green said after the morning skate. "But once you're playing and you're in the game and you've already played, it's a nice storyline from the outside as far as players coming back... but the guys that are in the room, they're worried about that game, they're worried about the guys that are inside the room, and playing. But as guys come back, they obviously welcome them back."
After practices Friday and Saturday followed by Sunday’s emotional comeback win against the best team in the North Division, Green gave his players Monday off.
Sunday’s game ended a 24-day layoff for the Canucks and began a torturous stretch drive of 19 games in 32 days. Energy will be vital.
"It was a no-brainer to take yesterday off and get the batteries recharged as much as we can," Green said. "I think that'll be one of the things to watch going forward, how our guys bounce back after games. We spent a lot of energy the other night, a lot of emotion. We wanted to keep the guys away from the rink yesterday. We're going to have to have that energy and that emotion again (tonight)."
Green refused to confirm his lineup, saying only that the Canucks will take the pre-game warmup with 13 forwards, seven defencemen and two goalies. If Demko doesn’t back up, third-string goalie Mike DiPietro, who hasn’t played a competitive game of any kind this season, will be on the bench supporting Holtby.
Holtby stopped 37 of 39 shots on Sunday in his most impressive performance of what has been a poor season for him and his "windmill save" against Wayne Simmonds, with the goalie’s legs spinning through the air above him, is one of the top individual highlights of the NHL season.
"I think it was probably one of the most fun wins I've had in my in my pro career – just because of the circumstances and everything we overcame to be able to play," Canucks winger Jimmy Vesey said. "Definitely looking to ride that emotion into tonight.
"We're definitely playing to win (down the stretch) and whatever happens happens. The odds might be stacked against us, but we've got to put our heads down and this is the situation we've been dealt, so we're going to make the most of it."
Claimed by the Canucks from the Maple Leafs on waivers four games before the Canucks’ COVID crisis began on March 31, Vesey is still looking for his first point in Vancouver. He skated again Tuesday morning on a line with J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser. The trio of Tanner Pearson, Bo Horvat and Nils Hoglander drove the team offensively on Sunday.
Another ex-Leaf, Travis Boyd, skated Tuesday morning between Highmore and Virtanen on a newly constructed third line.
"Obviously, for everyone and their families, it's been a tough year," Vesey said. "When it's all said and done and you'll look back on it, I think I'll be telling my kids one day... about COVID and the whole season and what I've been through, changing teams. It's a unique experience but, you know, playing hockey in the NHL is never a bad day."
• Defenceman Alex Edler, fourth on team in average ice time at 20:44, begins his two-game suspension for Sunday’s knee-on-knee hit that injured Zach Hyman and drew a major penalty and game misconduct.
"It's an unfortunate play," Edler said. "I tried to hit him and he cuts to the middle and I can't get my leg out of there, and we're having a knee-on-knee collision. Unfortunately, he gets injured on the play and I feel awful for him. I'm just hoping he recovers fast and he's back quick."
Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe announced Monday that Hyman will be out at least two weeks with a sprained knee.