VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks spent the pre-season learning new head coach John Tortorella’s system.
Now that the games count in the standings, they’re taking part in some on-the-job training.
Tortorella has implemented a more aggressive, puck-pressure style with Vancouver and he watched the Canucks succeed at it for stretches in Thursday’s season-opening 4-1 loss to the Sharks in San Jose.
“Our goal as coaches is that you want (the system) to be instinctive eventually. That will take some time,” Tortorella said after Friday’s brief practice at Rogers Arena. “(Against San Jose) I think we had some good minutes of how we wanted to play. So I think (the players) know how to play.
“It’s just a matter of doing it consistently.”
Canucks centre Ryan Kesler said the team needs to get a grasp on the system quickly, beginning with Saturday’s home opener against the Edmonton Oilers, if it’s going to compete in the realigned and more competitive Pacific Division.
“We have to learn fast. We’ve got to get these points. These points are going to be important for us and the end of the year,” Kesler said. “I thought we did a good job for a large part of the (San Jose) game.”
He added it’s not simply understanding the system, but believing in it.
“I think we’ve got to trust each other, that’s the big thing. We’ve got to trust each other that we’re going to work hard,” Kesler said. “We can only be aggressive if that happens.
“As a group we have (the system) locked down, it’s just a game of mistakes. Sometimes you make the wrong read and it’s an outnumbered rush. Things like that are going to happen.”
Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa said no one in the locker-room expected the change to Tortorella’s style from that of former coach Alain Vigneault to be seamless.
“You can’t think that it’s going to be perfected in the first game of the season. It’ll take some time but we showed some good strides there,” Bieksa said. “We’re happy with how we played at times (against San Jose). Other times we’d like to maybe play a little different.”
Bieksa said there’s going to be instances early in the season where the system breaks down, especially at the end of shifts or when players are hurt.
“When you’re not thinking clearly you kind of revert back to old habits,” he said. “I think that’s going to take a little bit of time to set in where it’s just second nature, but right now I think everybody has a good grasp of how (Tortorella) wants us to play.”
Among the positives from the San Jose loss was goaltender Roberto Luongo, who is back as the undisputed No. 1 after Cory Schneider’s off-season trade to the New Jersey Devils.
Luongo finished with 31 saves on the night, including a stellar first period that saw him stop all 16 shots he faced.
The penalty killing unit also had a good night, holding the Sharks’ power play scoreless on eight chances.
“I think we did a lot of good things,” Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said. “I think we showed that if we play the right way for 60 minutes we’re a tough team.”
The Canucks know the young Oilers will be hungry on Saturday after a 5-4 loss to the Winnipeg Jets in their opener Tuesday.
“It’s team that we’ve obviously developed a little bit of a rivalry with. They usually play us very tough at the beginning of the season,” Bieksa said. “We know they’ll be fast, they’ll be skilled and we’ll be looking to play in their face.”
Note: Canucks right-winger Alexandre Burrows missed practice with an undisclosed injury suffered against the Sharks. Tortorella said the forward is “banged up” but added he expects him to play against Edmonton.