VANCOUVER – After flying high for over a month, the Vancouver Canucks have come back to earth.
The club rode a stretch of 17 games without suffering a regulation loss but is now experiencing some turbulence with just two wins in its last seven (2-2-3).
“Our game has slipped a bit the last little while,” defenceman Kevin Bieksa said after practice Friday. “We’re not playing a complete game.
“We are giving up a lot of chances. We have to clean that up.”
Despite the recent dip, there’s no panic in the Canuck dressing room. The team has a 29-10-8 record for 66 points. Heading into Friday night’s games, Vancouver was first in the Western Conference and trailed Philadelphia by just one point for the overall league lead.
The Canucks, who host Calgary on Saturday night, remain confident the recent slump is just a blip in the schedule. There is, however, some concern over a lack of goal production.
Vancouver has been shutout or has scored only one goal in four of the last seven games. Mikael Samuelsson has gone 13 games without a goal, while Jeff Tambellini (12 games), Manny Malhotra (12 games), Mason Raymond (10 games) and Alex Burrows (five games) have also struggled to put the puck in the net.
Henrik Sedin scored Vancouver’s lone goal in Thursday’s 2-1 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks. It was his first goal in 11 games.
“If you look at the games, a lot of times we are playing good hockey for 45 or 50 minutes,” said Sedin, who leads the league with 47 assists. “But there’s 10 or 15 minutes each game when it’s not very good.
“On the offensive side, I don’t think we’re getting pucks to the net, or getting traffic in front of the net, to make us more dangerous.”
The Canucks power play is ranked second overall, but was 0-for-5 against the Sharks and has connected just three times in the last six games.
“We are entering the zone really well, we are setting up plays, we’re taking the right shots,” said Sedin. “We need traffic, we need to get the rebounds. That’s how we score goals.”
Tambellini said trying too hard to score can prolong a slump.
“If you start worrying about points, you start playing the wrong way,” he said. “I’m a believer you do the right things out there, you play well on the right side of the puck, and (scoring) takes care of itself.
“If you are out there looking for assists and points, then you are going the wrong way.”
Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault is taking the same calm approach to the sudden chill as he did when the club spent six weeks as one of the hottest teams in hockey.
“We’ve been battling,” he said. “They have all been tight games, hard fought.”
Few players go through a season without experiencing some dry spells, he added.
“In an 82-game schedule, at some point or another, different players are going to go through more challenging moments and face a little bit of adversity,” said Vigneault.
“We are seeing the work ethic there, the attitude is there. The team-first commitment is there. We are going to stick with our players and believe they will come around.”
Goaltender Roberto Luongo said even though the winning streak was fun, everyone knew it would end.
“You are not going to win every game,” said Luongo, who stopped 44 shots against San Jose, including 25 in the second period. “The main thing is you have to keep working, stay positive and stay focused.
“You have to keep the lows to a minimum and not get too high when you are playing well.”
Meanwhile, the Canucks are also dealing with some injuries. Defencemen Andrew Alberts (shoulder) and Aaron Rome (knee) are listed week-to-week. Centre Alex Bolduc is out four-to-six weeks with a shoulder injury.
The team is also waiting the return of defenceman Sami Salo who has missed the entire season recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered during the summer. Salo has been skating with the Canucks, but isn’t predicting when he might return.
“It’s going in the right direction,” he said. “I’m starting to feel a little more comfortable out there skating.
“There is still a lot of work left to do before I am in any kind of shape to start to play games.”
One problem the Canucks face is making space under the salary cap should Salo return. That could mean sending players to the minors or making a trade.
The patient manner in which the Canucks are weathering the current downturn shows the maturity of the team.
“Everyone in here wants to get better,” said Sedin. “The goal for us is not to make the playoffs. It’s to make it further.
“To do that, we have to prepare ourselves to play good for along period.”