Ryan Kesler medically cleared to play, because his timing is impeccable

Canucks fans got both good and bad news today, both revolving around the team’s centres. The bad news came first, and it was devastating: Manny Malhotra was placed on Injured Reserve, with the announcement that he’s expected to miss the rest of the season. Malhotra has long been one of my favourite players on the Canucks, taking on the thankless job of enabling the Canucks’ offence by starting predominantly in the defensive zone, winning faceoffs, clearing the puck, and getting off the ice.

His two-way ability was clearly diminished after his devastating eye injury, but he was still effective in the faceoff circle and was among the league leaders, winning 65.3% of his draws. Losing him from the lineup significantly impacts the Canucks’ depth at centre.

Fortunately, there was some good news to soften the blow. After practice, Ryan Kesler was coy with the media about how close he was to returning to action. Alain Vigneault, on the other hand, didn’t beat around the bush, saying, “He’s been medically cleared to play and all indications are he’s ready to go.”

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Malhotra to miss remainder of season; retirement imminent?

When Manny Malhotra missed the Canucks’ game against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday for “personal reasons,” eyebrows were raised as to what those reasons might be. It turned out to be more serious than anyone thought, as the Canucks announced that Malhotra has been placed on Injured Reserve and will miss the remainder of the 2012-13 season.

It’s now quite clear why Mike Gillis was confident that there would still be a spot for Jordan Schroeder once Ryan Kesler returned. With Malhotra gone for the rest of the season, the Canucks’ have a hole at centre ice that needs to be filled. It’s possible that Kesler will return as early as Friday’s game against the Dallas Stars, at which point Schroeder would likely move to the third line, with Maxim Lapierre centring the fourth line and taking the bulk of the defensive zone faceoffs.

The real question now is, what does this mean for Malhotra’s future? The speculation is that his eye injury from 2011 has deteriorated his vision to the point that he will have to retire, but will stay with the team in some capacity.

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Lapierre might want to start mouthing off again; looking at the Canucks’ penalty plus/minus

Prior to the start of this season, Maxim Lapierre suggested that he was going to be chirping opponents a lot less when he was on the ice. For the most part, it seems like he’s followed through so far. He’s been avoiding most of the scrums and has only gotten yappy a few times at the bench.

It’s been important for Lapierre to stay focussed on his play: with Ryan Kesler out of the lineup and the announcement that Manny Malhotra is done for the season, Lapierre has been relied upon more at centre than ever before. He’s had to take a lot of faceoffs, particularly in the defensive zone. He’s currently second on the Canucks in total faceoffs, behind Henrik Sedin.

Shutting his mouth has seemed to have an unintended negative consequence: he’s not drawing anywhere near as many penalties. Unfortunately, he’s still taking his share of penalties so, overall, is putting the Canucks on the penalty kill more often than he’s putting them on the powerplay.

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