Canucks hope to find their identity on long road trip
Team will play seven games in 11 nights beginning Tuesday in Philadelphia
PHILADELPHIA -- The Vancouver Canucks don’t exactly have an identity crisis, but they have yet to really forge one under new coach John Tortorella.
You half expected Tortorella might have his players run those famous Rocky Steps here in the City of Brotherly Love following Monday’s noon-hour practice at the University of Pennsylvania.
After all, Rocky Balboa was all about guts and determination, a couple of traits Tortorella is trying to hammer into his hockey team.
The Canucks have run hot and cold during their first six regular-season games under Tortorella, who figures to learn a lot about his players as they embark on a seven-games-in-11-nights odyssey that begins Tuesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center.
Tortorella and the players think the trip, their longest of the season, comes at a particularly good time.
“I think you find out about one another when you are with each other in these types of situations,” Tortorella said after Monday’s practice. “You play a lot of games, a lot of different situations happen in games, in-between periods, all the things that go with it. So I do think it’s important that I have them understand me and me understand them.”
Tortorella is on record as wanting his team to be tougher to play against, to battle harder for the puck and be aggressive in the pursuit of it. And he wants shots. Lots and lots of shots. He has seen that kind of play only in flashes and agreed that the Canucks have not yet created that new identity.
“I think it’s there at times,” he said. “But you can’t really say that you have a team identity if you are not consistently there and consistently doing the things you need to do. We’re up and down.”
And that goes a long way toward explaining why the Canucks begin this trip as a .500 team (3-3-0).
“It’s good to get on the road and have one of these trips early in the season to kind of get everyone together and a little bit of team-bonding, some dinners out, and kind of find our game,” said defenceman Kevin Bieksa.
“We have to establish our identity,” added centre Ryan Kesler. “We have to find out who we are as a team and it’s a good road trip for us.”
Tortorella thinks the trip will help both the players and coaches get used to one another.
“You are with one another, you begin to understand one another, and you need to get to know one another,” he said. “That’s what I hope happens on this trip.”
And maybe a few wins.
After stringing together three straight victories, the Canucks have dropped two straight games by identical 4-1 scores.
Tortorella agreed that a lack of secondary scoring is a concern. The Canucks have not been getting much contribution from their bottom three lines.
“You are always concerned when you are scoring one goal,” he said. “We developed 18 scoring chances the last game (against Montreal). I thought we had a number of chances, but we don’t want to get into the situation where you are counting your scoring chances. . .you still need to score goals. Hopefully, we’ll break out of that and stay consistent.”
In addition to their recent scoring woes, the Canucks also remain a work in progress at the defensive end. Bieksa said as a group the Canucks’ defence has spent too much time chasing the puck in its own end.
“I think we want to stay a little closer to the net and protect those critical areas,” he said. “There are a couple of goals we have let in the last two games right in the slot there and going through two guys. That shouldn’t happen. We need to be really tight in our own end and make them shoot from outside. That’s why we have a goalie to save those shots from the outside, but we are giving up these point-blank shots. That’s not what we want.”
This trip, which also makes stops in Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Long Island, New Jersey and St. Louis, gives the Canucks their first taste of the NHL’s new balanced schedule which sees teams play home-and-away series with each team outside its division.
The players say they are all for it.
“I really like it,” said winger Chris Higgins. “It gets a little bit monotonous playing the same teams over and over again. I know the NHL is trying to create rivalries, but playing in everyone’s building and playing every team twice, I think it’s great.”
The Canucks last played in Philadelphia two years ago. It has been three years since they played in Buffalo.
“I like playing every team,” Bieksa said. “To play every team home and home throughout the league, I think that’s great. It’s great for the game, it’s nice to be able to visit every building and every city throughout the course of the season. I don’t think it really affects travel that much more for us. So I think it’s a huge positive.”
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun