Scoring goals even harder than Vancouver Canucks first imagined

Vancouver has scored two or less goals in regulation time in its last eight NHL games. The Canucks, who are two games below .500 with a 8-10-1 record, have managed just 43 goals in 19 games. Their 2.26 goals-a-game average is second worst in the league.

“It’s been a little tougher than we expected,” captain Markus Naslund said after practice Thursday.

“We are capable of scoring goals (but) right now we’re not getting the bounces, we’re not getting any luck. A lot of the players are squeezing the sticks a little too much.”

With goals being more scarce than sunny days in Vancouver, it shouldn’t be a surprise the Canucks have lost three games in a row and six of their last seven.

Over the summer Vancouver lost a combined 66 goals when Todd Bertuzzi was traded to Florida and Anson Carter and Ed Jovanovski left as free agents.

It was hoped players like Jan Bulis, Ryan Kesler, Matt Cooke, Brendan Morrison, Marc Chouinard and Taylor Pyatt would fill the gap.

Pyatt has done his part, scoring eight goals. The other five have combined for eight goals. Kesler and Cooke have one each, while Chouinard has none.

“Personally, I thought we had potentially nine guys in the room that could score at least 15 goals,” said Morrison, who is earning US$3.2 million this season. “I thought we’d be fine. Obviously that hasn’t really come to fruition.

“Now it’s a situation where you think about it so much it starts to consume you, instead of just going out and relaxing and playing, reacting instead of thinking.”

Cooke, who is a team worse -7, said the goal drought is hanging over the dressing room like the dark rain clouds on Vancouver’s North Shore mountains.

“It’s on everyone’s mind,” he said. “You can’t focus on the goals.

“You focus on the process first and everything else will come. We’ve been getting chances.”

Canuck coach Alain Vigneault reached deep into his bag of tricks looking for a way to create goals.

He’s switched up his lines and sat players out of games. At practice one day this week, he had small pieces of plywood placed in front of a net, forcing players to roof shots.

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While frustrated over the team’s record, Vigneault continues to praise the effort he’s getting.

“Everybody is going the extra mile right now, on and off the ice, to get their game where it needs to be for us to have success,” he said.

“I’m convinced all this hard work is going to pay off down the line and it’s going to pay off big time.”

Except for a 6-0 loss to Anaheim last week, the Canucks have managed to keep their games close. Seven of their regulation losses have been by one goal.

Goaltender Roberto Luongo, who came to Vancouver in the Bertuzzi trade, has been brilliant mostly, but has given up a couple of weak goals. That can be a dagger to the heart for a team that can’t score.

“Maybe mentally I’m struggling a little bit,” said Luongo, who’s 2.52 goals-against average is 11th best in the league. “I’m human like everyone else and I try to get out of it like everybody else. I’m doing my best every time I go out there.”

Luongo said he can’t worry about Vancouver’s scoring problems.

“It’s useless really to get frustrated over things like that because then it takes away from your own game and you get distracted by that,” he said.

“I am trying to work on my game right now. I know there are areas that I have to improve on and that’s what I’m trying to work on.”

The Canucks have a chance to climb back to .500 with a pair of home games this weekend. Vancouver plays St. Louis Friday and Chicago Sunday. The Blues have just one road win this season, while the Blackhawks have two.

“You look at these games and you say these are games we should win,” said Morrison. “I don’t know if this is too early to categorize this as a must win, but it’s right up there.”