These are somewhat dire times for the Vancouver Canucks, but it looks like some much-needed help is on the way.
Defenceman Ed Jovanovski, who has missed 25 games with a separated right shoulder, is expected be back in Vancouver's lineup Sunday when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets in the opener of a four-game homestand.
The standout blue-liner suffered a third-degree shoulder separation Jan. 25 at General Motors Place when he got tangled up with Predators forward Martin Erat and fell awkwardly onto the ice and into the end boards.
Initially, the Canucks were worried Jovanovski would be gone for the season, but once surgery was ruled out, the physical defenceman rehabbed extensively in order to return by playoff time.
Jovanovski's return is timely, to say the least, as the Canucks have just one win in their last seven games (1-3-2-1) and are starting to slip in the Western Conference standings.
Vancouver (37-23-10-5) has dropped to fifth place in the West with 89 points. The Canucks' patchy form as of late has meant they have slipped four points behind Colorado (second in the West) in the race for top spot in the Northwest Division.
The Canucks have also allowed Dallas (89) points and Calgary (86) to move within striking distance of fourth place in the conference â a spot that carries with it home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Canucks are 1-2-2-1 since Todd Bertuzzi was suspended for his attack on Colorado's Steve Moore. Nobody has missed Bertuzzi more than Markus Naslund, as the Canucks captain has no goals in the six games Bertuzzi has missed.
One way or another, the Canucks have to find a way to win without Bertuzzi, or suffer the consequences of losing out on home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
"I don't care who you are, or any team for that matter, to forget about a guy like Todd Bertuzzi, you're just kidding yourself," Canucks forward Matt Cooke said.
"I don't think it's hindering the way we play and the way we should play. Anyway you look at it, we can't bring Todd back. We have to be successful without him."
Lucky for the Canucks, then, that they are playing the lowly Blue Jackets (20-42-8-4), losers of eight straight games.
Columbus has been outscored 29-12 during an eight-game slid that equals the franchise record set during the team's inaugural season of 2000-01.
"It's tough to take, not just in the standings, but morally in the dressing room," defenseman Luke Richardson said.
"It's tough to find that energy the next day to try and build off something you did the night before when you lose every night."
with files from CP Online