VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks have some extra baggage to carry as they head out on a five-game road trip.
The club still has the best record in the NHL, but a recent win-one, lose-one stretch combined with a lack of scoring has raised some concerns with the playoffs approaching.
“Playing .500 right now is not going to get you too far,” defenceman Dan Hamhuis said Friday after the team practised at Rogers Arena. “You need to be quite a bit better than that from top to bottom.
“We have higher expectations for ourselves than .500 hockey.”
The Canucks are 6-6 in their last 12 games. During that streak Vancouver has scored two or less goals six times, including Thursday’s 3-0 loss to the Nashville Predators.
Vancouver hasn’t won back-to-back contests since a six-game win streak ended about a month ago. In the last seven games the Canucks power play has gone a paltry 3-for-22.
Individually, Mason Raymond has one goal in 13 games while Ryan Kesler has scored once in the last 10. Heading into Friday night’s games Daniel Sedin continued to lead the league scoring race despite not having a goal or an assist in three games.
The players are not happy with the recent trend, but don’t seem to be feeling any extra pressure. Friday’s practice was spirited but there were plenty of laughs and some clowning around.
Captain Henrik Sedin shook his head when asked if any sense of panic has crept into the Canuck dressing room.
“Urgency I think it is, not panic,” he said. “We know the things we are not doing well.
“There might be talk outside this room when we are playing .500 hockey. But we have played far from our best hockey and we are still a .500 team.”
The road trip begins with Vancouver facing the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday, before visiting the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday. The Canucks are in Phoenix on Wednesday, San Jose on Thursday before the trip ends next Saturday in Calgary.
Daniel Sedin says it’s an important to have a strong swing through the Western Conference because all the teams are potential playoff opponents.
“We want to show ourselves we can play in those buildings, we can win in those buildings,” said the Swedish twin, who has 32 goals and 47 assists for 79 points, one more than Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Many teams would gladly be in Vancouver’s situation.
The Canucks lead the NHL with a 40-16-9 record for 89 points. Vancouver’s power play and penalty kill are both ranked second in the league and heading into Friday, the Canucks have scored the second most goals (210) and allowed the third least (154).
One suggestion is the Canucks are complacent and lacking motivation during the dog days of the season.
Defenceman Mike Ballard, who was traded to Vancouver last spring from Florida, says that isn’t the problem.
“We’re in first place,” he said. “The dog days are when you are in 15th and know you are out of the playoffs and are wondering what you are playing for.
“I’ve seen the dog days. This is not it.”
A better explanation is the Canucks are facing teams that are either battling for playoff spots or trying to secure a higher seed in the post-season.
Coach Alain Vigneault says the games have been a playoff preview with tight checking and few scoring chances.
“There seems to be an expectation we are going to step on the ice and blow out the opposition,” said Vigneault. “That’s not true.
“We have to bust a gut to get a point. You have to bust two guts to get two points. It’s how competitive the league is night in and night out.”
Vancouver is also missing some key players on defence.
Alex Edler isn’t expected to return until the playoffs after back surgery. Kevin Bieksa has been out since Feb. 17 with a broken foot, while Andrew Alberts has been sidelined since Feb. 15 with a broken wrist.
Vigneault said losing Bieksa and Edler has hurt Vancouver offensively.
“The transition from defence to offence is probably not as quick right now, it’s not as sharp,” said Vigneault. “And getting our shots through from the point probably has not been as affective as we have been.
“I am confident with the personnel we do have, we should be able to do a better job than what we have been doing lately.”
Bieksa and Chris Higgins, who Vancouver acquired in a trade from Florida but is out with a broken thumb, are expected to join the team in Phoenix and begin practising.
Henrik Sedin raised some eyebrows Thursday night when he said the Canucks played their best game in three or four weeks in the shutout loss to Nashville.
Vigneault partially agreed with his captain.
“That might be Swedish days,” the coach said laughing. “I do think it was our best game in the last seven to 10 days.”
Henrik Sedin maintains there’s a lot more right with the Canucks than there’s wrong. He wants a focus on defence during the stretch run to the playoffs.
“If we play our game we should be able to win more games than we have,” he said. “We have gotten away from a few things.
“When we play our best hockey, won games 5-1, 6-1, that was because we played great defensively. We worked hard and played tight defensively.”