Under the National Hockey League’s new collective bargaining agreement, players must be given four days off a month, two at home and two on the road.
Sometimes the schedule makes that decision for you, which is why the Vancouver Canucks were off Sunday rather than at the rink practising, watching video, gazing at their navels and, in general, prepping for Monday’s crucial Northwest Division game against the visiting Minnesota Wild.
You’d like to think Canuck head coach Alain Vigneault was tempted to bring his beleaguered troops in for an hour, if only to make them watch the power play flailing about. It was 0-for-6 in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, including a pivotal 5-on-3 for 1:21 in the third period that might have made a difference.
The power play hasn’t scored in 34 straight opportunities — that’s 34(!) with an exclamation mark — despite having two Art Ross Trophy winners on its first unit. The power play goes through Daniel and Henrik Sedin and they haven’t been able to get the job done even though they can’t pass to the departed Christian Ehrhoff and Sami Salo, or the injured Ryan Kesler, integral members of the NHL’s best power play in 2010-11.
“Obviously it’s not working and that would be an understatement,” Vigneault grunted following the loss to Detroit. “And those are our top players.”
The Canucks also lost another player to injury Saturday as the unlucky David Booth suffered what appeared to be something major to his left ankle on a late first-period puck battle with Red Wing defenceman Brendan Smith. Booth fell awkwardly and could put no weight on his leg as he glided off the ice.
He was seen leaving Rogers Arena on crutches and wearing a moon boot and Vigneault admitted he expected Booth would be out “for a while.” Booth is scheduled to have an MRI on Monday.
“Losing David is huge,” said fellow winger Alex Burrows. “I think he was starting to play well for us and really bringing a lot of energy and some grit. To see him go down is tough. I hope he’ll get good results and that we’ll see him soon.”
Booth had one goal, an empty-netter, in 12 outings. He’s already missed 15 games, 14 because of a training camp groin injury and another to illness. This is Booth’s third significant injury since he joined the Canucks from Florida in a trade early last season.
Compounding matters, right-winger Zack Kassian was unable to play against the Wings because of a sore back.
“As you all remember, he came to camp with his back tweaked and it seems to be flaring up again,” Vigneault explained. “So we’re going to try and nip this in the bud.”
Kassian is considered day-to-day but if he’s out even a week, he could miss a half dozen games because of Vancouver’s heavy schedule. Following Monday’s date with the Wild, the Canucks entertain St. Louis on Tuesday, then play Thursday in Phoenix, Saturday in Los Angeles and Sunday in Colorado.
A forward, possibly 2011 first-round pick Nicklas Jensen, will almost certainly be called up from the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves.
The Wolves were at home Sunday against the Rockford IceHogs and lost 2-1. Jensen was in the lineup, had no points and was plus-1. He has two goals in five appearances with the Wolves since joining them last weekend from AIK Stockholm of the Swedish League.
The Canucks could also recall centre Jordan Schroeder and move Chris Higgins back to the wing. Schroeder was sent down last Monday after a 22-game stint with the big club. In three games since his demotion, Schroeder has responded with a goal and three assists.
Saturday’s events sucked all the feel-good from the Canucks’ tribute to the Vancouver Millionaires and 100 years of hockey in B.C. The Canucks wore replica uniforms and, at the six-second mark, Burrows set a franchise record for the fastest goal to start a game. Trevor Linden held the previous mark at 0:09, set Jan. 16, 1994 against Anaheim.
“Personal stats don’t mean anything to me right now,” said Burrows, who snapped a 10-game goal drought. “I just want to make sure we win games.”
Beating the Wild would be a nice start. Although the teams are tied in points at 32, Minnesota is awarded the division lead based on the league’s tiebreaking formula of most regulation and overtime victories. The Wild have 12 and the Canucks 10. Vancouver thus drops to seventh in the Western Conference and will start play Monday just two points above the playoff bar.
“It’s a tough league, man, and there are a lot of good teams,” said Roberto Luongo, who had another wretched night against the Wings, allowing five goals on 26 shots. “There is not much difference between winning and losing on a nightly basis. I thought we were taking it to Detroit for the first half of the game and then things kind of fell apart in the third. I have to put myself in the forefront of that. I have to make some big saves to keep it a one-goal game.”
In two starts against the Wings this season, Luongo has been ventilated for 13 goals on 54 shots, a save percentage of just .759. Put money on Cory Schneider starting against the Wild even though Schneider is winless in his last three starts, including a 4-2 loss in Minnesota on March 10.
ICE CHIPS: Red Wing centre Pavel Datsyuk was the undisputed star of Saturday’s game with three assists, four shots on goal, eight shots directed at the net, one hit, one blocked shot, numerous take-aways, 15-for-24 on faceoffs and plus-2.
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