The Vancouver Canucks have had nearly four months to move on from their crushing Stanley Cup finals loss.
The recovery for Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, however, remains ongoing.
The Canucks and Penguins each will be missing key players when they open their seasons Thursday night in Vancouver.
After taking a 2-0 series lead against Boston in the finals, Vancouver was outscored 21-4 over the next five games and was handed a 4-0 home loss in Game 7 to end another season in disappointment. The Canucks (54-19-9) won the Presidents’ Trophy while setting franchise records for victories, points and road wins (27).
“I think we have the major pieces all back,” defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. “We are all better because of last year. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be better this year.”
Ryan Kesler scored a career-high 41 goals and won the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward, but he’ll sit out for an undetermined amount of time while recovering from offseason hip surgery.
While his absence is sure to affect the Canucks, lasting concussion symptoms continue to leave the Penguins without arguably the game’s best player.
Crosby was placed on the injured list Monday and won’t be eligible to make his debut until Oct. 13. He had 32 goals and 34 assists in 41 games but two concussions in four days in January ended his season, and the lasting effects have made his return uncertain.
“It’s really out of our control,” center Jordan Staal said. “There’s not much you can do. You can focus on what you need to do and what this team needs to do to get ready with or without Sid.
“Obviously we’d love to have him back, but he needs to take his time and he’ll do the right thing when he’s ready to play.”
Despite Crosby’s concussions and a knee injury which limited Evgeni Malkin to 43 games, the Penguins (49-25-8) finished with their most points since 1992-93. They fell in seven games to Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs.
Malkin, who didn’t play after Feb. 4, says he’s fully recovered and ready to help lead Pittsburgh into the start of the season.
“I think I’m stronger every game,” Malkin said. “I know I’m coming back after a long time (off), but every game I feel better and my knee is pretty strong now, and I hope every game it gets better and better.”
While both Pittsburgh and Vancouver have health issues, the Canucks can count on Henrik Sedin taking the ice Thursday to play in his 500th consecutive regular-season game – the second-longest active streak to Calgary defenseman Jay Bouwmeester’s 506.
Sedin led the NHL with 75 assists in 2010-11, with some helping set up his twin brother’s 41 goals. Daniel Sedin won the Art Ross Trophy as the league leader in points with 104, and the Canucks led the NHL with 258 goals.
“Can we win the Stanley Cup without scoring that many goals? Of course we can,” Daniel Sedin said. “We were a good team last year. We are a good team this year.”
Vancouver also allowed a league-low 180 goals, though its defense took a hit with the departure of Christian Ehrhoff via free agency. It may not matter much with Roberto Luongo in net, however.
Luongo is coming off one of his best seasons, going 38-15-7 with a career-best 2.11 goals-against average.
However, the Vezina Trophy finalist melted down at times in the postseason and took plenty of blame for the Canucks nearly blowing a 3-0 series lead against Chicago in the first round. With Vancouver on the brink of winning its first Stanley Cup in Game 6 of the finals, Luongo allowed three goals on eight shots and was pulled. He gave up three more goals on 20 shots in Game 7.
Luongo insists he’s focused on the upcoming season, not about the past or another trip to the playoffs.
“That’s a long way ahead of us to be thinking that far,” Luongo said.”`We all saw what it took to get (to the finals). It’s hard and it’s long. There is a lot of work to be done to get back to where we were last year. At this point, it’s pointless to be thinking that far ahead.”
Crosby scored and Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves in Pittsburgh’s 3-1 home victory over the Canucks on Nov. 17 in the teams’ only meeting last season.