VANCOUVER - Like a neighbour away when the tornado whipped through the trailer park, Henrik Sedin has returned from injury to do what he can for the Vancouver Canucks. There isn’t much, except to help support the survivors.
The Canuck captain returned to practice Wednesday, the morning after a 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers demolished the last mobile home still standing in Vancouver’s debris-strewn National Hockey League season.
The team, which can’t be mathematically eliminated until at least Saturday’s home game against the Los Angeles Kings, will miss the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2008. With five games left, it’s possible both Henrik (46 points) and Daniel Sedin (43) will finish with fewer than 50 points for the first time since 2002-03.
Vancouver will probably fail to score 200 goals in a full season for the first time since 1998-99, which began with a new general manager and ended with a new coach.
It took the Canucks three months to ruin this season, but the most destructive two periods were the third week of January and first week of March.
In a span of four days in January, the Canucks were destroyed 9-1 by the Anaheim Ducks, lost centres Hank Sedin and Mike Santorelli to Martin (The Mauler) Hanzal in a 1-0 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, and saw coach John Tortorelli go cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs and storm the Calgary Flames’ dressing room, earning a six-game suspension as his team was tipping into the abyss.
During their last good chance to salvage their season in March, the Canucks blew a two-goal lead and lost 4-2 to the Ottawa Senators in the Heritage Classic, were apparently traumatized by the shock trade of Roberto Luongo and lost another emotionless 1-0 decision in Phoenix, then failed utterly to show up in a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars. The Coyotes and Stars are still fighting for the final playoff spot.
Henrik Sedin hasn’t been the same since Hanzal’s cross-check — Santorelli never came back at all — and Daniel Sedin’s hamstring injury against Ottawa meant he wasn’t around for hell week in March.
The reasons for the Canucks’ second-half collapse are more complex than the easy-breezy ones. Tortorella did not turn into Bill LaForge, and general manager Mike Gillis has not been cryogenically frozen since the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
But one of the obvious and unavoidable factors has been the Sedins’ scoring — the most perplexing and alarming West Coast decline since the sockeye disappeared from the Fraser River a couple of summers ago.
No team can win when its best players under-perform by 25-30 points.
Danny Sedin, whose return from injury on March 23 coincided neatly with Henrik’s recent exit from the lineup b ecause of a knee sprain, will have his poorest season since finishing with 54 points in 2003-04. He was 23 that year, never saw the first-unit power play and averaged 13:32 of ice time — 7½ minutes fewer than he averages now.
Henrik had 42 points that year and averaged 14:02 of playing time.
“We know we can produce way more,” Hank said after practising fully on Wednesday. “I mean, we’re back to the production we had when we were still playing 12-13 minutes a game. That’s not where we are as players. We know that ourselves. We’re going to finish this season off and we’ll see where it takes us, and we’re going to come back better players.”
Henrik’s promise of personal improvement echoed the vow Daniel made in an interview with The Vancouver Sun last week. The Sedins don’t think that at age 33 they’ve suddenly lost their ability to score in the NHL.
Henrik said there are reasons they’ve had the year they’ve had, but won’t divulge them until this season is finished.
He said, however, the problem is neither Tortorella’s system nor the heavy shiftload the coach gave the Sedins at an age when, ideally, they should be playing less, not more.
“I don’t like talking about this because we have five games left ... but there are reasons why we haven’t put up the points that maybe we should,” Henrik said. “It’s tough when you know you should have put up more numbers and this is why we are where we are. (But) there are things you can change.
“I want to think we are guys that prepare well for every season. When you see guys drop off, they’re not going to drop off at 33, 34. It’s going to be a few years down the road. We still feel strong out there.”
The Sedins are as smart as they are skilled, so we’ll wait eagerly for their post-season assessment.
Some of the factors, besides their health, was the abject failure of the Canucks’ power play and what Henrik earlier admitted was a change in mindset after the January injury crisis began. In an effort to play more conservatively and grind out wins, Sedin said after the Olympic break, the offensive mindset changed and everyone focused on defending.
During a nine-game stretch before and after the Olympics, the Canucks scored only nine goals and won just once. That was part of a 1-10-1 collapse that veteran Canuck forward Brad Richardson said Wednesday was the most embarrassing he has endured in the NHL.
Next week won’t be much better. The Canucks could be playing out a string of games meaningless except to players’ pride and the team’s draft position.
“Going into the season, we knew it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk,” Henrik said. “We were going to have to battle to get into the playoffs. But seeing where we were around Christmas (23-11-6 on Dec. 29), that’s why this is a little bit mind-boggling.”
Mathematically, he said, the Canucks still have a chance.
“It’s very slim,” he said. “We’re hockey players, but we’re not stupid. Or that stupid.”
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun