VANCOUVER – Henrik Sedin is about to play his 1,000th NHL game—but he’s not in the mood to celebrate the occasion.
The Vancouver Canucks captain will reach the milestone as the Canucks visit the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night. But Sedin is more intent on finding a way for his struggling team to shed a millstone that’s dragging it down the Western Conference standings.
The Canucks (29-28-10) and Jets (30-28-8) both have 68 points and are below the playoff bar. Sedin and his teammates are looking to recover after suffering a humiliating 7-4 home loss to the lowly New York Islanders on Monday night, when the hosts allowed seven goals in the third period after building a 3-0 lead.
“Right now, it’s tough to think about it as a celebration, looking at where we are in the standings and looking at what we’re going through,” he said.
“Maybe after the season or maybe further down the line. It’s a different kind of feeling than it would have been (if we were) winning (consistently) or going into the final stretch knowing you were going to be in the playoffs.”
Two seasons after coming within one game of winning the Stanley Cup, the Canucks (29-28-10) have lost 12 of their past 14 games. Many are starting to question the futures of general manager Mike Gillis and coach John Tortorella.
Gillis did not speak to reporters at the NHL general managers meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., on Tuesday.
Approached as he was leaving the area of the meetings following a long chat with commissioner Gary Bettman, Gillis said he couldn’t talk because he had to make a phone call, but did not return as promised after reporters waited an hour for him.
Considering the club’s past success, Sedin is finding it increasingly difficult to stand up in front of the media’s cameras and microphones. For him, the club’s current plight is more trying than the rookie season in which he and his injured twin brother Daniel faced intense criticism as teenagers.
“The pressure on this team, the expectation on this team, is way higher than it’s ever been on any (other Vancouver) team,” said Sedin. “And that’s part of it, too. If this would have been 10 years ago and we were battling for a playoff spot, (the difficulties) wouldn’t be talked about like this. But, now, people are expecting us to win every year, and we expect that ourselves – because we’ve been there. That makes it tougher.”
Although he is having trouble staying positive, Sedin said the Canucks must find a way to stay in a good frame of mind. He hopes his bittersweet accomplishment will have some sort of beneficial effect.
“It means a lot,” said Sedin. “You see guys around our league and, the 1,000, it’s a big thing. But they’ve usually been around to different teams. We’ve been very fortunate to play on the same team in the same city for a long time.”
This season is proving to be much more unusual than many—which is saying a lot considering that the Canucks had to deal with such factors as an ongoing goaltender controversy for much of the recently concluded Roberto Luongo era, the Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore incident which has come up for more discussion following its 10th anniversary and upcoming court battle, and a finger-biting incident involving Alex Burrows.
Even with the departure of Luongo, who will face his old teammates in the third game of the trip when the Canucks visit the Florida Panthers, and Cory Schneider, who was traded to New Jersey at the 2013 NHL draft, goaltending questions linger as rookie Eddie Lack gets the nod as the starter.
Lack, who was in goal for six goals before a New York empty-netter Monday, will start against the Jets.
“I’m just going to do my best and get back at it,” said Lack.
Sedin said veterans are helping Lack adjust to the new No. 1 role, but suggested his Swedish compatriot, who missed most of last season with a hip injury suffered while playing in the minors, can handle the extreme pressure.
“He’s saved us on so many occasions.…He has done way more than we ever expected of him this year,” said Sedin.
Meanwhile, Tortorella, who has come under increasing criticism lately, addressed his players for several minutes in one corner of the ice at the end of practice in a bid to get them to play for each other more rather than worry about wins and losses. The coach took the blame for the club’s nosedive, which began around the time he took a six-game suspension for storming the Calgary Flames dressing room in January.
“I’m only the coach,” said Tortorella. “(The players) are the ones that are doing the work. They’re the ones that are taking the instruction. It’s harder for them.
“But as a coach, this is my responsibility. It’s on my watch, what’s going on here, and I know the area. I know the owners and I know my general manager. They’re not sitting well with this. But that falls to me.”
Tortorella expressed loyalty to Lack, adding he has “earned the right to be No. 1” over newly-acquired netminder Jacob Markstrom, who arrived from Florida in the Luongo trade.
“(Lack) is going right back in that net and trying to find his way,” said Tortorella.
The coach has been criticized for his suspension, not starting Luongo in a loss to Ottawa in the Heritage Classic, not pulling Lack as the Islanders rallied and then not calling a timeout until the outcome was decided.
Tortorella said he wanted Lack and the team to “play through their difficulties.”
Known for his temperamental ways while coaching the New York Rangers, he has tried “a number of different approaches” rather than “peeling the paint off the wall” and “kicking and scratching.” He called for the club to be “even tighter now” and learn to handle momentum changes.
“When (an opposing) team smells blood in the water, it’s a dangerous thing,” he said.
Notes—Daniel Sedin remains out indefinitely with an undisclosed injury suffered in the Heritage Classic and did not travel with the team.
With files from Stephen Whyno in Boca Raton, Fla.