VANCOUVER – Defenceman Willie Mitchell chose his words carefully but it was clear Monday he was annoyed by the public criticism directed at him by coach Alain Vigneault following the Vancouver Canucks’ loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
Some things should stay in the dressing room, Mitchell said.
“If people are unhappy with things, (as a) player you’d like to have that addressed,” he said. “You don’t like to hear about it through the media most of the time. That’s his way of motivating I guess.
“I’m a player. I just go out and play and try and do my best. If he’s not happy with what I’m doing I have to listen and dig in a little deeper and do a better job.”
Vigneault, the NHL’s coach of the year last season, was blunt in assessing the play of Mitchell and his partner Kevin Bieksa after Sunday night’s 3-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. The pair were on the ice for two of the goals and Mitchell was beaten on a two-on-one break that resulted in Detroit’s second goal with 16 seconds left in the first period.
“He got beat twice,” Vigneault said afterwards. “That’s not the Willie Mitchell we know as a defensive specialist.
“He’s having a tough time and his partner is having a tough time. We need those guys to pick up their play.”
Vigneault wasn’t backing off his comments Monday.
“It’s not about sending messages and it’s not about being critical,” he said. “If you asked me if Willie played that two-on-one the right way, I’ve got to say no he didn’t. He might have a different opinion.
“With Kevin, I think he can be better. (It’s) my job to get the most out of these guys.”
The Canucks, the Northwest Division champions last year, have stumbled to a 5-7-0 start. The loss against Detroit was their fifth in seven matches and Vancouver has won just once in six home games.
Vigneault said the problem can’t all be laid on the defence and the team needs a better offensive effort from twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
Daniel leads the team with five goals and 11 points but has scored just twice in the last seven games. Henrik leads the team with seven assists but has been held pointless in six of the last seven games.
“Teams realize they are our top offensive players,” said Vigneault. “They are getting special attention. When you get special attention you can’t become too predictable.
“They’re going through some growing pains about being the go-to guys and having the best opposition players on you all the time.”
Mitchell said losing brings criticism.
“When stuff goes wrong, sometimes people point fingers,” said the Port McNeill, B.C., native who has no goals, one assist and is minus-one on the season. “If things are going well there aren’t going to be any fingers pointed.
“Me and Kevin are big parts of the team. Do I think we are terrible out there? No. Do I think we have more to give? Absolutely. That’s part of the job.”
The Canucks got off to a slow start last year but then turned it around to go 32-8-6 after Dec. 6, breaking team records for wins and points.
The difference is, last year the Canucks were outplaying teams but losing close games on bad bounces. This year’s team has been outshot 10 times, has trouble winning faceoffs and has suffered defensive breakdowns.
“Structurally we’re not where we were last year,” said Mitchell. “We knew there was a certain style of game we needed to play to be successful and we played a tight game.”
Vigneault said it’s way too early in the season to push the panic button.
“You need to face adversity to challenge yourself and respond,” he said. “We are facing some good adversity right now. I believe we are going to get better as we handle it.
“We’ve got guys that really care about our situation, guys that really want to do well. Sometimes pressure does different things to different people. We all know we can do better and play better.”