VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks have passed an adversity test as the quarter point of the lockout-shortened NHL season approaches.
Heading into Tuesday’s home game against the Minnesota Wild, the Canucks have fashioned a five-game win streak—matching their best run of a season ago—even though some questions remain unanswered.
With game No. 12 of 48 looming, Vancouver (7-2-2) has strung together wins while dealing with an ongoing saga about its goaltending situation and injuries to second-line forwards Ryan Kesler and David Booth that have forced lineup shuffles.
“Those questions were from the outside,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “From the inside, like we’ve mentioned all along, we’re focused on a game-to-game basis. We always knew that we had two good goaltenders who both have a team-first attitude and want the team to win.
“So we never thought that would be a big issue, and injuries are part of the game. We said at the beginning of the year that we were going to play with the guys that were healthy and available, and that’s what we’ve done.”
Not necessarily in convincing fashion.
The power play, ranked 20th in the league with a nine-for-56 conversion rate (16.1 per cent) has struggled, and Vigneault made tweaks to it during a practice Monday at Rogers Arena. Vancouver’s penalty-killing, also ranked 20th (77.8 per cent kill rate) has not been outstanding either.
But the Canucks have caught a strong goaltending wave. Roberto Luongo, who will start against Minnesota, sits second in the league with a 1.53 goals-against average, .940 save percentage and 3-0-2 record.
Cory Schneider, who has drawn the backup assignment after posting wins over Calgary and Minnesota, also sports impressive numbers with one shutout, a 2.36 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.
“The good thing about (the streak) is we’re finding different ways to win,” said Luongo.
The Canucks, he added, are “rounding into form” by playing their systems really well. After getting burned for seven goals in a season-opening loss to Anaheim, the Canucks have allowed two goals or less in nine of their past 10 games.
“We take pride in that, not only the goalies but as a team,” said Luongo. “It’s important to play well defensively. We all know, at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to make us go far.
“We have the offence, but we’re not going to score three or four goals every game. As long as we’re playing well defensively, we’ll keep ourselves in the game.”
Luongo has also been able to keep his head in the game despite trying circumstances. He continues to excel while appearing calm and comfortable despite the uncertainty of a pending trade after he was displaced as the starter by Schneider in last spring’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
“You don’t want to be just moping around and bringing negative energy into the dressing room,” said Luongo. “That would a huge distraction for the boys and for myself. It doesn’t really do any good. So you just try to make the most out of it, enjoy your time.”
Meanwhile, Henrik Sedin is also enjoying this moment in time. The Canucks captain is on the verge of becoming the franchise’s all-time points leader.
He needs just one point to tie, and a pair to break, Markus Naslund’s club record of 756. The pending honour holds special meaning for Henrik Sedin and twin brother Daniel because Naslund hails from their hometown of Ornskoldsvik, Sweden.
Henrik Sedin and his brother also credit former all-time club points leaders Stan Smyl (now a Canucks executive) and Trevor Linden with helping them adjust to life in the NHL. But Henrik Sedin is not focusing much attention on making history.
“I’m trying to focus on getting better,” he said. “That’s really my mindset.”
He and his brother, both former NHL scoring champions, started slowly but have excelled lately to help the Canucks keep their streak alive. Henrik Sedin has four points in as many games, including two in Saturday’s win over Calgary, while Daniel Sedin has four points in the last three outings.
But Henrik Sedin said he and his twin can still do more offensively.
“Our power play is still not clicking,” said Henrik Sedin. “That’s the main thing. If you’re clicking on the power play, you feel that you’re making plays and getting chances.”
But the Vancouver captain likes the way the team has played considering the goaltending and second-line uncertainty.
“To be able to win playing a good team game five on five, that says a lot about this group,” he said.
NOTES: Centre Manny Malhotra missed practice due to what Vigneault called a “personal day.” Malhotra’s status for the game against the Wild will be announced Tuesday. … Vigneault made no mention of a coin flip—usual reason for his goaltending choice. “I’m not getting into specifics for why Louie’s playing,” said Vigneault. Luongo has struggled against the Wild during his career, posting a 16-14-5 record. … Booth spoke to reporters for the first time since suffering a groin injury during physical testing in training camp, but does not know when he will return. “You can’t use your legs for two and a half weeks, you’re starting from zero,” said Booth, who resumed skating with the team on the weekend. … Vigneault said he is waiting for the team’s medical staff to advise him on when Booth and Kesler (shoulder, wrist) can play.