COLUMBUS, Ohio — When you’re cold, you’re cold.
The reeling Vancouver Canucks couldn’t even make it through an optional practice here Friday without suffering an injury.
New fourth-liner winger Tom Sestito hurt a hip flexor when, according to assistant coach Rick Bowness, he caught his skate in a rut at the Columbus Blue Jackets’ practice rink. Sestito tested it a few times and finally left the ice scowling. He did not talk to reporters but his facial expression said enough.
The Canucks, losers of five of their last six, don’t play again until Sunday night in Minnesota (5 p.m., Sportsnet Pacific, Team 1040). They are only carrying 12 forwards so if Sestito can’t go, the team might have to summon someone from the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves.
“He’s day-to-day,” explained Bowness. “He was just doing a little shooting drill, caught a rut going for a pass and just felt something tweak. So might as well get off the ice and take it easy. It was just an optional. He’ll probably skate tomorrow.”
Keith Ballard (charley horse) lasted the entire optional Friday while Kevin Bieksa (groin) didn’t skate. The plan is for Ballard to take full practice Saturday in Minnesota and for Bieksa to skate on his own.
“It wasn’t 100 per cent but I hadn’t skated since Tuesday so it was just to get it moving again,” Ballard said. “From the time it happened, we didn’t know if it was going to be two days or eight days or whatever. We didn’t know last night if I could skate today and I don’t know how it’s going to feel after using it. Hopefully tomorrow it feels good.”
Bieksa, meanwhile, has missed five games and the Canucks have lost all five. Bowness acknowledged they miss the right-side blueliner but pointed out his absence has not been the sole reason the team has been unable to win. The Canucks’ latest setback was a 2-1 overtime loss Thursday to the CBJ.
“It’s not just one guy,” Bowness noted. “We had a breakaway last night (Jannik Hansen) and we had a couple of other great chances and we’re not capitalizing on them. So the chances to score more than one goal and get us a win have been there. Kevin is a huge part of our hockey club and do we miss him? Absolutely. Could we have won games without him? Yeah, we could have.”
BY THE NUMBERS: Want to know what ails the Canucks? Well, just about everything. Based on Friday’s NHL stats, they stood 17th in team offence, 18th on the penalty kill, 20th on the power play and 22nd in faceoffs. Only team defence, at 10th, was anywhere near the top third of the league.
If you want to break it down to Western Conference only since there is no inter-locking play, the Canucks were eighth out of 15 in team offence, 10th on the power play, 10th on the penalty kill and 11th on faceoffs. Team defence, their lone salvation, was sixth.
JD ON THE JOB: Former goalie and broadcaster John Davidson spent six years helping to rebuild the St. Louis Blues both on the ice and at the box office. Now he is starting over again in Columbus. He was named president of Blue Jackets hockey operations last Oct. 24.
At least the task is familiar to him.
“There are so many similarities it’s almost eery,” Davidson said Friday. “In St. Louis, the Cardinals are No. 1 and here it’s the Ohio State Buckeyes. In St. Louis, we lost first-round pick Erik Johnson for a year with a knee injury. Here we lost first-round pick Ryan Murray with a shoulder injury. Crowds here aren’t what you want, like it was in St. Louis, but it’s our job to build all that up. They are begging for a good hockey club in Columbus.
“It took almost six years to rebuild the situation in St. Louis. You hope to expedite that here because of the experience you picked up in St. Louis but sometimes it is what it is. You don’t just sprinkle fairy dust.”
The Blue Jackets have been in the NHL since 2000-01 and have made the playoffs just once, in 2009. They were promptly swept four straight by Detroit.