MONTREAL – It took only two weeks for the Vancouver Canucks to find their groove and now they hope to show it off in Eastern Canada.
After a 2-3-2 start to the season, the Canucks were on a six-game winning streak when they launched a five-stop road trip Tuesday in Montreal. They’re in Ottawa on Thursday, Toronto on Saturday and Buffalo on Monday, followed two days later by a visit to Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It’s nice to come on this Eastern Canada trip early (in the season), where maybe we a can create a bigger bond than we already have,” goaltender Roberto Luongo said hours before suiting up to play the Canadiens in his hometown. “It’s always exciting to play in these buildings where there’s a lot of history.”
The Canucks went 13-5 against NHL Eastern Conference clubs in 2009-10 and won their first three meetings with the East this season.
Of late, clubs in both conferences have had headaches trying to stop Vancouver’s balanced attack, which is led by a league-best power play that has scored on 29.4 per cent of its chances.
Forward Ryan Kesler said a key to their power play success was the addition of assistant coach Newell Brown, whose speciality is play with the man advantage.
“We’re taking a lot of pride in it,” said Kesler. “We’re going into the dirty areas to score, we’re getting those second and third opportunities.
“I think the unit with me, Hank and Danny (Sedin) is starting to jell and find a groove where we’re having success. And it definitely helps when you have the Art Ross and Hart Trophy winner on your team.”
That would be Henrik Sedin, who along with twin brother Daniel leads the team in scoring. Henrik returned the compliment to Kesler, who plants himself in front of the opposition net.
“We’re reading off each other better now than earlier on,” said Sedin. “It’s good having him there.
“He’s a guy who wants the puck and me and Danny want to puck as well. He does a great job in front. He screens the goalie really well and he opens up and gets his shots when he needs to, so it’s getting a lot better.”
They’re also getting goals from many sources, including a power play and a short-handed goal from Manny Malhotra in a 6-4 win over Detroit on Saturday night.
The Canucks made major changes in the off-season that they hope has made them a Stanley Cup contender, including the signing of free agent forwards Malhotra and Raffi Torres and the acquisition of defencemen Dan Hamhuis, Keith Ballard and Ryan Parent.
Malhotra and Torres fit right in and are among the team’s scoring leaders, giving them a productive third line to go with the Sedins-Alexandre Burrows and the Kesler-Mikael Samuelsson-Mason Raymond units.
“We have a lot of new guys and it takes some time for them to get to know the system, but they’ve done a great job of coming in and playing good hockey,” said Henrik Sedin. “We know we have a good team but we have to keep going.
“It’s a lot of different guys chipping in each night. It’s not one guy scoring. We’ve got three lines going and that’s huge.”
Most surprising is that they’ve been winning and keeping their goals-against sixth lowest in the league despite a rash of injuries on defence.
Hamhuis, who signed a US$27 million six-year free agent contract this summer, played only five games before missing eight with a foot injury.
The former Nashville Predators blue-liner’s return Tuesday bumped aside Ballard, who has also struggled and missed four games with a concussion. Parent has also been injured, and veteran Sammy Salo has yet to play this season.
“We’ve made some additions and so far we’ve done a solid job back there,” said Luongo, who also seems more relaxed since giving up the captaincy to Henrik Sedin. “I like our whole team.
“Everyone’s starting to feel comfortable together. Once you win a few games you get that swagger and confidence going and right now that’s what we’re all about. We’re finding different ways to win games. It’s not always high-scoring or low-scoring. We have a chance to win every night.”