VANCOUVER – It was another October to forget for the Vancouver Canucks.
The Canucks hope flipping the calendar to a new month will help the team improve on its .500 record. Vancouver opens a six-game NHL road trip Tuesday night in Calgary and the Canucks want it to be a journey that helps them climb back up the Western Conference standings.
“We can’t be on a roller-coaster like we were in the first 11 games,” captain Henrik Sedin said after the Canucks practised at Rogers Arena Monday.
“If you win one, lose one, that’s not enough to make the playoffs.”
The Canucks defeated the Washington Capitals 7-4 Saturday night to improve their record to 5-5-1.
Heading into Monday night the Stanley Cup finalists were tied for third in the Northwest Division behind Edmonton and Colorado, two teams that didn’t make the playoffs last year.
The Canucks, who had the best record in the NHL last year, are not among the top eight teams in the Western Conference.
It’s still early days in the long NHL season, but head coach Alain Vigneault doesn’t want a fall stumble to trip up his team’s Stanley Cup ambitions.
“The switch is not going to turn on and we are going to start winning automatically in November,” he said. “We are going to have to prepare and work hard.”
The Canucks have a history of slow starts in October but usually get their skates under them in November.
Dating back to 2006 when Vigneault first took over as coach, and not counting this season, Vancouver has a record of 29-27-3 in October. During the same period the Canucks’ November record is 37-22-5.
“If I had the answer it wouldn’t be Groundhog Day every October,” shrugged defenceman Kevin Bieksa.
Forward Alex Burrows said the Canucks need a month to mesh.
“It’s just a matter of getting used to each other,” said Burrows. “There’s new players coming in, (players) leaving.
“It’s a matter of getting some chemistry going and getting comfortable with the system. You don’t want to peak too early. We are just going to take it one game at a time and try to get better until the end of the year.”
In the first 11 games of the season Vancouver has been shutout three times.
Last season the Canucks led the league by scoring 262 goals and allowing the least at 185.
After one month this year the Canucks have scored 31 goals, leaving them ranked 11th, and have allowed 33, leaving them 23rd overall.
Goaltender Roberto Luongo, a favourite whipping boy of some Canuck fans, has been taking a lashing for a 3.54 goals-against average and a .869 save percentage. He has a 3-3-1 record and has allowed 23 goals.
The Canuck power play, the best in the NHL last year, is ranked 11th at 21.2 per cent while the penalty kill is 13th at 85.1 per cent.
Another slow start has Vigneault shaking his head.
“I’m lost for words to explain, (after) the way this group prepares and the way this group puts in the time and effort during training camp, why we get off to the starts we do,” he said.
“If we could get off to better starts we’d like that. It makes us really have to focus on getting our game to where it needs to be. It really forces us to put in a lot of time both on and off the ice to get our game to where it needs to be.”
One explanation for the Canucks mediocre beginning is last year’s run to the Stanley Cup final. Battling to Game 7 resulted in a short summer to recoup.
“We adjusted our training camp,” said Vigneault.
Three of Vancouver’s losses have been by one goal, including a shootout against the NHL-leading Pittsburgh Penguins in the season opener.
The Canucks will face all Western Conference teams on their road swing.
After Calgary, Vancouver plays Minnesota on Thursday, St. Louis Friday, Chicago Sunday, then L.A. on Nov. 10 and Anaheim Nov. 11.
Vigneault isn’t looking past the Flames.
“Our next game is against a really tough Canadian opponent that we enjoy playing against,” he said. “It’s emotional, it’s physical, it’s intense.”
Vancouver’s next home game is against the New York Islanders Nov. 13.
Bieksa said the Canucks’ season has followed the same scenario as many of their games.
The Canucks have given up the first goal eight times in 11 games this year and have held the lead going into the third period only once.
“It’s much like the start of our games,” said Bieksa. “It seems like we are tentative. Once we get down we really kick into gear and staring player.
“That’s almost like it is for the season. We start off, we’re .500, then we see we are really down in the standings and we kick it up a gear. There’s no excuse for sure. Hopefully we can get on a bit of a roll here.”