Plenty of reasons to be inspired
Rallying Points: Pair of brawl-filled games, an injured captain, a suspended coach
Kevin Bieksa took full inventory on the last eight days in the life of the Vancouver Canucks and pronounced, yes, now that you mention it, the team should be inspired to play its best hockey.
"You can look at the L.A., game," Bieksa said, referring to a brawl-filled 1-0 loss that started the Canucks' wild ride.
"The Anaheim (9-1) loss (two nights later) could be a rallying point. There was the last game (against the Flames, head coach John Tortorella's) suspension and now Henrik's gone.
"There are a lot of things going on. Pick whatever one you want. Pick whatever's convenient to your story. But we're a mentally tough team. We can handle things like this."
Which is something we're about to find out.
Games in Edmonton in late January aren't supposed to be eventful, but for the Canucks, Tuesday night's encounter with the Oilers marked a confluence of events that will go a long way toward revealing this team's makeup.
Suddenly there's no Torts. Suddenly, there's no Henrik Sedin, whose iron man streak ended at a mindboggling 679 games on Tuesday. There is, however, the cold, hard reality of a 2-5-3 stretch and the perception this is a struggling team. The party line is the Canucks, a veteran ensemble, have been through many battles together and will not be fazed by their current circumstances. Canucks fans hope that's the case.
"I think it's important our team maintains the necessary focus it takes to win a hockey game in this league," said acting head coach Mike Sullivan.
"We've got a veteran group in there and they've been in the league for a long time. They're good pros. I think they understand how important it is to move forward."
Even if it means moving forward without their head coach and captain.
The implications of Tortorella's actions against the Flames and subsequent suspension have been beaten to death over the last few days and scarcely need further commentary here. Both Sullivan, who'll handle the forwards, and assistant coach Glen Gulutzan, who'll deal with the blue line, have head coaching experience in the NHL. Sullivan has been with Tortorella for six years and his philosophy is an extension of Tortorella's.
True, his voice isn't quite as loud as the head coach, but the message will be exactly the same.
"Our routine will be the same," Sullivan said of the Canucks' meeting and practice schedule.
"I think our players have a pretty good idea of what our team identity is and how we want to play."
But for the first time in a decade they'll be playing without Henrik Sedin. And, if the captain is out for any length of time, his loss will be more impactful than Tortorella's.
To put Henrik's streak into perspective, consider his brother Daniel is the only current member of the Canucks to see him miss a game. That occurred back in March of 2004, and since then, the captain has been as constant as the rising of the sun.
"I think he was a healthy scratch," Daniel said, referring to the last game his brother missed.
Actually it was an abdominal strain, but good one, Daniel.
"I've never walked down the hallway without having Hank directly in front of me," said Bieksa, who's played 511 career games in nine seasons with the Canucks.
"Kes (Ryan Kesler 628 games) hasn't. Burr (Alex Burrows 587 games) hasn't. Danny's the only one.
"I try to go one season without missing a game. It's amazing how long it's lasted. People don't give him credit for how tough he is. I don't know how many times we come in after a game and they have ice bags all over them from the cross-checks, hacks and slashes. He plays through everything."
Now it's the Canucks' turn to play through this.
The immediate fallout from Sedin's injury isn't known. Before the Oilers game, Sullivan wouldn't commit to line combinations. As for the severity of the injury, that too is a guessing game. Henrik already had a finger in a splint before he suffered an apparent rib injury against Phoenix on Thursday night. He started against the Flames but didn't play after the second period.
"I look it at it as a good test," said Daniel. "Other guys have to step up and I'm one of those guys."
"Danny's ready for the full spotlight," Bieksa said, laughing. "He's been sharing the spotlight and he's tired of sharing it. He wants it all to himself and he'll get it."
They can laugh now. If they're still laughing in a week, so much the better.
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