Olympic break allows Canucks to lick their many wounds

The slumping Canucks hope some time off during the Olympics will stop the bleeding, literally and figuratively.

By Brian O’Neill

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…well, it’s definitely been the worst of times lately for the Vancouver Canucks.

After a five-game road trip from the depths of hell, the Canucks limped into the two-week Olympic break beaten, bruised and having lost seven straight. Since Jan. 1, the Canucks have gone 4-13-2, only picking up 10 points.

If there was a moment that summed up the way things have gone for the Canucks lately, it was Maple Leaf’s left winger James van Riemsdyk’s goal Feb. 8 that iced a 3-1 loss to Toronto. After a Phil Kessel wrist shot missed wide, van Riemsdyk picked up a loose puck and banked it off Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler’s chest and over a sprawled Roberto Luongo. The Olympic break almost seemed like a blessing for Vancouver.

“We’re in a spiral,” said Canucks coach John Tortorella. “It couldn’t come at a better time mentally.”

Watching Tortorella post-game, even he was feeling the effects of this slump. Tortorella is no stranger to speaking his mind and giving an honest take on how his team played, but he seemed subdued, almost defeated as the break approached, saying the blame lay with the coaching staff.

He said he hasn’t done a strong enough job teaching situational play, like holding a third-period lead. That has been a source of trouble for the Canucks this season, as they have a .739 winning percentage when they have the lead after two periods, which ranks 25th in the NHL. It happened again Feb. 8 and it was even more disheartening since it was their first lead in six games.

“It’s the way it’s going,” Tortorella said, “we can’t be in that situation, we can’t let the momentum change in that third period the way it did. That’s details. I need to take full responsibility for that. Obviously we have not taught it well enough because we continue to make the same mistakes in crucial times of the game.”

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But it hasn’t been all doom and gloom. As bad as January has been for the Canucks, they have turned in two really solid months of play. The Canucks ended October 9-5-1, and tore through December posting a 10-1-2 record, winning seven in a row from Dec.1 to 14. They aren’t dead yet. They have 63 points, one behind the Dallas Stars for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference.

“Thank God we won in December,” said left winger Daniel Sedin. “We have to realize where we are. There are 22 games left. We’ve got a good schedule, 13 at home I think. We have to take care of business after the break.”

Rogers Arena has been kind to Vancouver, as it has a 14-9-5 home record. Having more than half their remaining games at home will bode well for the Canucks down the stretch as they look to make the playoffs for a sixth straight season.

A healthy team helps as well. While the Olympics provide a good mental break for the Canucks, it also provides them time to physically heal. Vancouver has lost 193 man games due to injury, the fifth-most in the League. It has six players hurt, including captain Henrik Sedin (ribs) and defenseman and alternate captain Kevin Bieksa (bruised foot). Five Canucks have gone down since Jan. 16.

Turning things around doesn’t happen overnight, but with 18 days between the loss to the Leafs and the Canucks’ next game against St. Louis, that time could be all that’s needed to forget about the last six weeks.

“It’s going to be a fresh start for everyone and we’ve started to turn the corner the last few games and that’s a good sign,” Sedin said. “We’re feeling better about ourselves and it’s going to be a good break for everyone to come back refreshed. It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to be playoff hockey.”