PHILADELPHIA — Kevin Bieksa knows how to pack for the road. Good suits, smart shirts and one suitcase. Not a lot of baggage.
If only that was the case on the ice.
The Vancouver Canucks have often looked like a loose-fitting suit as they try to shape their new game with a new coach. Obviously easier said than done, the optics have been as disturbing as a dress pants crease going the wrong way.
Once regarded as one of the NHL’s best shutdown pairings, Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis have been aligned with new partners in an attempt to rid themselves of old habits in the John Tortorella regime.
The next test comes Tuesday against the 1-5-0 Philadelphia Flyers.
It’s not just that bizarre own-goal Saturday — when Hamhuis and Roberto Luongo looked like they were trying to put the pin back in a grenade before it exploded.
Puck handling, coverage and exiting the zone have become more tedious than instinctive, and that’s why Bieksa has a team-high six give-aways and why Hamhuis is a shocking minus-4. Then again, Bieksa leads the team in hits (12) and is second in blocked shots (11) to Chris Tanev (15).
Tortorella promised the learning curve will be steep and long, but already being sixth in the seven-team Pacific Division makes this seven-game trip vital to create some needed chemistry and cohesion.
“It’s good to have one of these trips early and kind of find our game,” said Bieksa. “We understand the system, it’s a matter of applying it every time — even when you’re tired and not thinking clearly. We know what we’re doing and we’re going to get better. Sometimes, you revert back to old habits and we’re chasing a little bit.
“We want to stay a little bit closer to our net in those critical areas. There are a few goals we’ve let in from the slot that are going through two guys. That shouldn’t happen.
“We should be real tight in our end and making them shoot from the outside. We’re giving up point-blank shots.”
Hamhuis didn’t want to replay the faux-pas goal against the Montreal Canadiens, but for a blueliner who is on the Team Canada radar for the 2014 Winter Olympics, he’s looking more like a long shot than a roster depth consideration.
“It’s definitely not perfect,” said Hamhuis “There’s more thinking going on out there and you want to be playing on instinct. The (own) goal was just a lucky chance and bad break. It’s not like you can look at tape and try to do something different. I haven’t thought about it. I made a few mistakes coverage-wise and want to be better in those areas, and I know we can get better.”
It’s not just in the defensive zone. The 3-3-0 Canucks were ranked 26th on the power play heading into league play Monday with just two goals on 19 chances. They were also third on the penalty kill — after an 18-for-18 run to start the season — and are now 19-for-21 in efficiency. And the offence has slipped from first to 13th, which could spark a Jordan Schroeder sighting this week.
Recovered from a preseason foot fracture and practising Monday for the first time, the diminutive centre could get the call at some point on this trip.
“He practised well today and I haven’t talked to Burnie (athletic therapist Mike Burnstein) yet and we’ll see how he feels (Tuesday) and see if we can push him more,” said Tortorella. “But he practised very well.”
Schroeder has missed nine games since doing what the coach wants — blocking a shot during a preseason game in Edmonton on Sept. 21. That setback came following offseason shoulder surgery to correct a lingering labrum problem that caused his shoulder to keep popping out.
“A couple of bad injuries — but that’s part of it,” shrugged Schroeder, who now wears shot-blockers on his skates. “I kind of had a feeling with the foot when you can’t move your leg and it’s numb for a bit. It’s a little bit more than a stinger, but that’s part of a team game. You’ve got to sacrifice your body and it’s feeling better every day.”
That’s why Tortorella has his eye on a speed element in Schroeder that may help spark more offensive flow.
“You’re always concerned when you’re scoring one goal,” he said of back-to-back 4-1 losses. “We had 18 scoring chances the last game, but we don’t want to get to counting your scoring chances and saying it’s OK.”
OF NOTE: Practice lines Monday were D.Sedin-H.Sedin-Santorelli/Higgins-Kesler-Hansen/Booth-Richardson-Kassian/Sestito-Dalpe-Weise.
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