VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Canucks prepared Monday to play without their coach and captain for the foreseeable future.
Coach John Tortorella was suspended 15 days on Monday, a span that will include six games starting with Tuesday night's game in Edmonton. He missed practice to attend a disciplinary hearing in New York with NHL officials. Tortorella got in trouble for entering the Calgary dressing room area, in an apparent attempt to get at Flames coach Bob Hartley, after the first period of a game marred by a line brawl following the opening face-off.
Meanwhile, assistant coach Mike Sullivan, who ran practice and will take the reins from Tortorella against the Oilers, confirmed that captain Henrik Sedin will miss the game due to an undisclosed injury. Sedin's absence will bring his consecutive-games-played streak — the second-longest among active NHLers — to an end following 679 straight games.
"His status is day to day, but he will not play in Edmonton," said Sullivan.
While NHL officials did not appreciate Tortorella's actions, which were aired on "Hockey Night in Canada," the players did.
"I think it shows how passionate he is and how much he cares about his team," said defenceman Kevin Bieksa, who was at the centre of the brawl. "The other guy (Flames coach Bob Hartley), I don't know what he was thinking. But I think you respect a coach more when you see that he'll watch your back and you see how much he cares.
"We're not just pawns out there."
Bieksa was among the eight players — four from each team — who were ejected two seconds into the contest that featured 10 fighting majors and a total of 152 penalty minutes after both coaches put out their fourth lines first. The punches started flying when Bieksa moved from his defence position to take the opening draw after he saw Kevin Westgarth, usually a penalty-prone winger, preparing to take the opening draw against Kellan Lain, a rookie whose NHL debut lasted only two seconds before he was ejected for fighting.
"I kind of put two and two together," said Bieksa. "We heard their starting lineup. We definitely knew what was going to happen and we were told to defuse the situation if we could. I saw Westgarth line up at centre and evened that match."
Bieksa said Tortorella's between-period actions occurred because the coach was upset that Lain, whose parents travelled from Oakville, Ont., to watch him play, had to fight on his first shift, and the other bouts that occurred. Zack Kassian, who has been in and out of Tortorella's doghouse because of inconsistency, undisciplined play and penalties, also praised him.
"No matter who you talk to in this (dressing) room, everyone knows (Tortorella) is changing the culture of this team," said Kassian, who was on the bench during the brawl.
Tortorella indicated after the game that he put out his fourth line instead of his first forward unit because he was wary of potential injury to Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who do not usually fight. Winger Dale Weise, who was among the players ejected, said Tortorella did not tell the fourth liners to drop their gloves.
"I agree with putting that line out just in case something happened there," said Weise. "I totally agree with (Tortorella) 100 per cent. You can't take a chance with a guy like that, Westgarth, and how tough he is."
"(Tortorella) is always preaching that he's always got our back," added winger Tom Sestito, Vancouver's resident heavyweight. "He was just showing up. That's great. I think the guys rallied around him. I thought it was pretty good."
Sullivan said the Canucks would accept Tortorella's punishment. The assistant felt Tortorella's actions near the Flames' dressing room to the "heat of the moment" and declined to discuss them.
"As far as the starting lineup, we talked about it as a (coaching) staff before he decided who he was going to put on the ice, and I know Torts' motivation was to protect his players and his team," said Sullivan.
Replacing Tortorella at the helm, he will try to get the Canucks back on a consistent track. Vancouver has only one win in its past four games and is 2-3-2 in its last 10.
Bieksa said a switch to Sullivan, a former head coach with the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, would be a change behind the bench, but not in how the team plays.
"Sully's been a head coach in the NHL before and he knows what it's like to be the big cheese behind the bench," said Bieksa.
However, Henrik Sedin's absence will prompt a change on the top line, where Ryan Kesler played centre in practice between Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows. Henrik Sedin had ranked second in consecutive games played among active NHL players to St. Louis Blues defenceman Jay Bouwmeester.
"I just think it's a testament to how tough he is," said Sullivan.
Henrik Sedin, who according to multiple media reports was playing with a splint on an injured finger and sore ribs, left Saturday's the game following the second period after Tortorella told him to take his equipment off. Burrows indicated it will take a while to get used to playing without Sedin, who has 40 points in 50 games and last missed a contest in March 2004.
"Since I've been here, he's played every game, and that's an amazing feat," said Burrows. "He's such a big part of this team. … We'll try to win without him, but we'll have to wait and see."
Notes: Injured defenceman Ryan Stanton (ankle) and centre Jordan Schroeder (foot), who practised Monday, are close to returning to the lineup following extended layoffs and travelled with the team to Edmonton. … The Canucks have returned goaltender Joacim Eriksson now that starter Roberto Luongo has returned to the lineup. … Lane praised Bieksa for showing leadership by replacing him in the opening face-off Saturday.
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