12/13/2005 8:38:14 PM
NEW YORK (AP) - Vancouver Canucks goalie Dan Cloutier will miss at least the rest of the regular season because of a knee injury that will require surgery.
Cloutier partially tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee when Anaheim forward Rob Niedermayer ran into him during the first period of a Nov. 20 game. Cloutier finished that game and even dressed as Alex Auld's backup two days later against Chicago.
Cloutier was scratched for the following seven games with the hope the knee would heal on its own. He had been trying to rehab for the last three weeks and was even back on the ice Sunday, but team doctors finally decided the ligament, which is partially attached to the bone, requires surgery.
"We felt that at this time it's something that we couldn't rely on to hold up through the entire season given that he has to go up and down on it all the time," general manager Dave Nonis said Tuesday night before the Canucks played the New York Rangers.
Cloutier will have the operation Thursday and then be sidelined at least four months.
"There is a chance he could be back for the playoffs depending on how quickly he rehabs and what kind of healer he is," Nonis said. "It's a possibility for sure. I know he'll work as hard as he possibly can to get back."
The Canucks did get some good news Tuesday.
Matt Cooke returned to the lineup after missing 17 games with a broken jaw. The forward was injured during practice Nov. 1, but was back on the ice wearing a full face shield against the Rangers.
Markus Naslund also played, despite aggravating a groin injury Friday in a win over Ottawa. Naslund, Vancouver's leading scorer, didn't practise Monday and was questionable for the game.
Auld made his ninth straight start and is in line to play again at Philadelphia on Thursday when the Canucks wrap up a brief Eastern swing. He is 10-6-1 with a 2.61 goals-against average and .907 save percentage in his first full NHL season.
The Canucks also recalled recently acquired Maxime Ouellet from the AHL on Tuesday to serve as Auld's backup. Rob McVicar had been up as the backup, but was returned to Victoria of the ECHL earlier this week.
Canucks coach Marc Crawford said Tuesday that Ouellet is more NHL ready should Vancouver need someone to spell Auld.
"We'll see how things go," Crawford said. "We haven't had a tough schedule the last little while.
"Now we play every second day until Christmas. That would be a little bit of a load if Alex had to play all of that."
Vancouver acquired Ouellet from Washington on Dec. 2 for a fifth-round pick in next year's draft. He was 2-1 in three games with Manitoba before being recalled.
Nonis said the Canucks are not necessarily in the market for a more established NHL goalie. Cloutier was placed on the long-term injury list, giving Vancouver $2.5 million US of salary cap space.
"We're not in any hurry," he said. "I think Alex has proven that he can play at this level and he can play a number of games at this level.
"If something comes along that will help us and make us a stronger team, then we'll do it. We're not going to make a change just to make it."
Nonis also dispelled rumours he has spoken to Florida GM Mike Keenan about a trade that would bring goalie Roberto Luongo to Vancouver.
"That rumour has been out there for a long time," he said. "I can tell you that there is nothing to it.
"Mike has never talked to me about his players."
Nonis said Cloutier's surgery will likely be reconstructive even though the ligament is attached to the bone. Cloutier has not been bothered by the injury recently, and if it weren't for an MRI detecting the problem, he probably would still be playing.
"Dan does feel a little uncomfortable when he gets into certain positions on the ice," Nonis said, "and if he does blow it out completely it could really do more serious damage to the knee joint."