VANCOUVER - They were a group of seven Vancouver Canucks, give or take the odd interloper, skating and working out at UBC during the lockout under the leadership of Manny Malhotra.
Manny booked the ice time and Manny led many of the drills when Thunderbird head coach Milan Dragicevic was otherwise occupied with his own team, or on the road.
The Sedin twins, Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa, Chris Higgins, Malhotra and goalie Cory Schneider were the mainstays until Schneider headed to Switzerland in early December. He managed to get some game action overseas – not that it helped him Saturday night – while the others were reduced to the Bieksa Buddies charity game in mid-October.
After the two weekend losses, Malhotra could offer nothing more than a shrug when asked if there were any regrets about how they trained, and whether not playing somewhere made a difference to the outcomes. The Sedins were pretty good against Anaheim and Edmonton but Hamhuis was on the ice for six goals against, Bieksa five and Malhotra four. Higgins didn't pick up a point, had four shots and two hits in the two games.
Malhotra was solid in the faceoff circle, winning 15 of 24 draws, although he did lose three straight Saturday to wily Ducks vet Teemu Selanne that led directly to a Sheldon Souray power-play goal.
“We did everything we could to be ready,” said Malhotra. “It was a tough situation to be in, not knowing when we were going to get back so we didn't want to burn ourselves out. We did what we needed to stay in as close to game shape as possible. But as I've said numerous times, there is no substitute for playing in games.”
Most of the Canuck core players did not appear in anything other than charity affairs. Jannik Hansen, with 20, and Dale Weise, with 19, saw the most game action overseas, followed by Schneider, who played in 10. Mason Raymond managed to squeeze in a pair in Sweden before the lockout ended.
Not surprisingly, Hansen and Weise were among the better Canuck skaters on the weekend. Zack Kassian, who played half a season with the American League's Chicago Wolves, was the best Canuck on Sunday.
“Obviously it would have helped playing games but talking to the guys who were in Europe, it's completely different over there,” Higgins noted. “So even the positioning would have probably been off a little bit. I think that's usually the first thing you lose in summer hockey. We played a lot better positionally against Edmonton than we did Saturday. It's still going to take a couple of games to feel really comfortable but I think the instincts are going to take over.”
WAIVE GOODBYE: Defenceman Jim Vandermeer's stay as a Canuck was even shorter than Marco Sturm's. He signed Jan. 14, was a healthy scratch for both weekend games and then placed on waivers Monday. Assuming he clears, he will be dispatched to the Wolves and available for recall. Re-entry waivers have been abolished in the new CBA so at least that won't be an issue.
Vandermeer, 32, signed a two-way contract for $600,000 at the NHL level and $275,000 in the minors. He was already behind returnee Andrew Alberts and newcomer Cam Barker on the blueline depth chart so the decision to waive him could not have been a surprise.
His waivers expire at 9 a.m. Tuesday and his departure will open up a spot on the Canucks' 23-man roster, perhaps for diminutive centre Jordan Schroder. Veteran Andrew Ebbett did little on the weekend to enhance his chances of remaining in the lineup as he had no shots on goal, no hits, lost 14 of 25 faceoffs and took a bad offensive-zone penalty Sunday that led to Ales Hemsky's tying power-play goal late in the third period.
DAYS AWAY: Canuck head coach Alain Vigneault gave his players Monday off, after giving them last Friday off, but it had nothing to do with the new CBA that mandates four days off per month, two at home and two on the road. That provision doesn't take effect until February, the first full month of play. Coach Vee admitted following Sunday’s loss to Edmonton that he wasn't aware of the new ‘days off’ rule.
“I'm not sure, I haven't read the CBA,” he responded. “But this is my CBA, so you know.”
Now we all know, coach. The Canucks return to practice Tuesday and face the Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena on Wednesday.
P.K. WOES: In Montreal, the Canadiens are attempting to sign restricted free agent P.K. Subban but in Vancouver, the only P.K. of concern is the penalty kill. The Canucks allowed four goals on seven opposition chances on the weekend.
All four goals, however, were stoppable as Souray shot one through an unscreened Schneider, Corey Perry slipped another unscreened between Schneider's wickets, Selanne scored unscreened on Roberto Loungo's five-hole and then Hemsky beat an unscreened Luongo farside off the rush. Perhaps that's why coaches so often cite goaltending as their best penalty killer.
“The Souray and Perry ones were right off the draw and that's something that is easily fixed,” Higgins said. “The Hemsky goal was just that little bit of positioning. You give the guy a lot of speed coming down the wall and it's tough to stop. So I think that's something this is easily fixed as well through video. I'm not too concerned about that.”
QUOTABLE: “It's the only league I can really play in so I did what I had to do off-ice but obviously practising is way different than playing. I felt better in the second game.” – Canuck centre Max Lapierre on whether he was second-guessing his lockout routine.
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