Willes: Canucks have plenty of reasons to be inspired
You’ve got a couple of brawl-filled games, an injured captain, a suspended coach ...
EDMONTON — Kevin Bieksa took full inventory of the past eight days 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 last week. “The Anaheim loss (two nights later) could be a rallying point. There was the last game (against the Flames on Saturday night, 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.”
You’d expect nothing less of the Boxing Hobos.
The Canucks will need every one of those rallying points as they face a stretch of games that will reveal much about their makeup. They’ve lost their head coach for the next two weeks and, Tuesday night, their best player Henrik Sedin missed his first game in 10 years.
I mean, games in Edmonton in late January aren’t supposed to be this eventful but, for the Canucks, Tuesday’s night’s 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers marked a confluence of events which could define their season. Suddenly there’s no Torts. Suddenly, there’s no Henrik, who’s iron-man streak ended at a mind-boggling 679 games. But there is the cold, hard reality of a 2-5-3 stretch before Tuesday night and the perception this is a struggling team.
Did the victory over the rancid Oilers change that perception? Hard to say. But considering the circumstances, there were enough positives to take out of this one without looking back. Sterner tests, doubtlessly await, but at least the Canucks passed the first one.
“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, who stepped behind the bench for Tortorella. “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.
Against the Oilers, the Canucks were mostly good for the first 50 minutes and mostly shaky for the final 10 minutes but they had enough Roberto Luongo, enough resolve and enough veteran moxie to dispatch the floundering Oil. True, it helped that feel-good rookie Kellan Lain scored his first NHL goal on his second shift of the game — assisted by Tom Sestito and Dale Weise no less — and Zack Kassian potted his 10th of season in the second period.
But look up and down the scoresheet and you see the real architects of this Canucks win.
There was Luongo stopping 28 of 29 shots. There was Dan Hamhuis with 26:59 of ice time and Ryan Kesler, Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows all with over 20. Kesler and Sedin also did the spade work on Kassian’s critical second goal.
“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.”
Good one, Kevin. But Daniel is also the only Canuck to see a game in which his brother didn’t play. Think about that one for a minute, then think about the vacuum created by the captain’s absence.
“”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.”
It was therefore encouraging to see the Canucks’ veterans step up in Henrik’s absence. The newly configured first line of Kesler, Daniel and Burrows dominated, producing eight shots on net and just missing a couple of times. The blue line was also solid, until those final 10 minutes at least when the young Oilers took over. But the man of the match was clearly Luongo. who authored his second straight superb outing since returning from an ankle injury against the Flames.
“I think we all have to step up,” said Luongo. “That’s what good teams do when there are guys out of the lineup. Tonight we played a great game.”
Well, under the circumstances, good enough.
“Our veteran guys are the key guys,” said Sullivan. “When we’re a little banged up and going through some adversity, those are the guys you have to rely on to get you through. I thought they stepped up tonight.”
There will be more nights ahead. If Sullivan is saying the same things in two weeks, so much the better.
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