VANCOUVER — Somehow you knew the Vancouver Canucks had to hit something of a physical wall at some point after the schedule they've been through, and given the combination of a hungry Red Wings team meeting a tapered crew that's played all the hockey they have recently, it resulted in Wednesday night's 'splat' at Rogers Arena.
When the Canucks have been playing as well as they have, and then all of a sudden they have a game where they have just nine shots 12 minutes into the second period, it would seem something is up. The question is whether this is the resulting effect of the top players logging as many minutes as they have been — or if this one was simply a one-off to be remedied Saturday night in the presence of Pavel Bure, whose jersey will be sent to the rafters.
And it would seem the right team to force an answer to that question is in town in the form of the dreaded Toronto Maple Leafs, the team everyone comprising Canucks nation wants to see thoroughly humbled. But this Leafs team can skate and, if you can actually get your head around it, it can score goals, something very few teams seem capable of these days in this NHL era of high-end talent being in short supply.
There's an excellent chance the twins and Ryan Kesler fell into their beds and will need a forklift to get themselves out on Friday morning after the much needed day off Thursday; the ice time these guys are putting in given their age and west coast location is quite possibly a first in league history.
And if there is one thing that is clear, coach John Tortorella isn't going to stop this act until the guys in question either get hurt or literally have their tongues dragging on the ice. Heavens, even Mike Santorelli, who is younger and in tremendous shape, is entering into uncharted territory, logging over 22 minutes for the first time in his NHL career. Such is the forward use that only four had shots on goal and just seven hit the net for the entire team.
The coach would be able to back off a shade from this savage workload he's inflicting if he could possibly manufacture some production out of his power play, but here the fatigue of the Sedins and Kesler clearly comes into play. While they at least had a bevy of scoring chances against Washington Monday night, this was certainly not the case in the three opportunities they were afforded Wednesday.
The coaching staff's ongoing obsession with keeping Dan Hamhuis on the left point instead of a potential 50-point defenceman in Alex Edler is a mystery to almost everyone watching the first unit sputter like a generator which has been dredged up from an underwater cave.
The idea is to outwork the other team with the man advantage — but that approach runs counter to reality as forwards playing in the 24-to-26 minute range, as the big three did again Wednesday, just naturally begin to pace themselves as the ordeal drones on. It's only natural to look at a power play as a chance to perhaps take a small break, as much as the mind might rage against the concept. But not surprisingly, there are denials all around.
“I think the only way we're going to be successful is to be outworking the other team, and when you have the extra man you can't be taking a breather,” said Ryan Kesler, who had a great chance in the last 10 seconds. “Those are the shifts where you've got to dig deep, and if you are tired, you've got to find that energy to muster up something.”
There wasn't a whole lot of mustering going on in this one, however.
“We've got the guys to do it, it's a matter of figuring it out,” said Daniel Sedin, when asked if it's worth giving Edler back his old job on the left point on the first unit — and knowing he was getting into controversial territory should he express his opinion.
“We were lethargic tonight, we just lacked energy for some reason,” said Tortorella, who wasn't in the mood to talk after such a weird game, but made sure to underline how well he thought Roberto Luongo played despite the one McSofty he gave up for the winner.
“He made some good saves, gave us a chance to win.”
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