VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The first time Michael Grabner came back, just over a month ago, everything seemed fine. He knew he had to shake off the rust from not playing the first 24 games following hernia surgery in October, but he figured his stamina would slowly and surely increase as he found his game shape.
Instead, after five games, he was zapped.
"I felt fine in the weight room, I felt fine in the practices, I felt fine the first couple games," Grabner said. "Maybe I just wasn't ready for the longer stretch of time."
So Grabner went back on injured reserve and missed nine more games, redoing much of the rehab work and on-ice conditioning he'd done during the first stint on IR.
On Tuesday, he got to see what the reboot did for him after he came off IR and jumped back into the lineup for the game against the Canucks, beginning the night on the top line with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo.
"It's a little easier to get back in with those two guys," Grabner said.
Grabner had reported feeling well enough to return to action a week ago, at the start of this Western Canada swing in Winnipeg, but Jack Capuano wasn't ready to shuffle his lineup.
After Sunday's ugly 5-2 loss to the Oilers in Edmonton, plus a few bumps and bruises that needed more serious consideration, Capuano relented. Grabner subbed in for Josh Bailey, who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Grabner took the roster spot of defenseman Lubo Visnovsky, who is also out with an upper-body injury and is now on IR retroactive to Sunday.
"Hopefully Grabs brings that speed and a little deception to his game," Capuano said.
It was a funny coincidence at the Rogers Centre yesterday morning, where three teams were gathered: The Canucks and Isles, as well as the Panthers, who traveled up early to get adjusted to the Pacific time zone ahead of their game here Thursday.
Florida being in the house meant that all the focus was on Roberto Luongo making his return to Vancouver, where he played eight seasons before being dealt back to the Panthers last March. Luongo was an Isles first-round pick, so all three of his teams were in the building.
The same was true for Grabner, a 2006 Canucks first-round pick who spent the 2010 training camp with the Panthers before being scooped up on waivers by the Islanders, where Grabner scored 34 goals as a rookie.
The problem for Grabner has been diminishing returns since that magical 2010-11 season: He had 20 goals the next season, then 16 and then 12 last season, a disappointing year that ended here on March 10 when Grabner suffered a concussion in the second period of the Isles' 7-4 win.
Grabner has felt the effects of playing only five games in 10 months.
"It wasn't the wrong move to come back [last month], but it's been a while since I played," Grabner said. "That's a lot of missed time. I did all the testing again, all the rehab, all the work, so hopefully I'm ready."