VANCOUVER - M
ike Santorelli scored, but then when doesn’t he? And Vancouver Canuck penalty killing is still perfect.
But the Canucks as a team looked more imperfect Thursday against the San Jose Sharks than it had so far this National Hockey League season.
After getting thumped in San Jose in the season-opener one week earlier, the Canucks had the chance to prepare for what they knew was coming, fix some mistakes, play at home and build on the momentum from a couple of overtime wins, and show everyone their new-and-improved selves. Then the Sharks beat them again, and even if the score was the same, 4-1, the Canucks’ performance was more disappointing.
Except for a couple of late, two-goal comebacks and at least one overtime bounce, the Canucks could easily be 1-4 in the standings. Instead they’re 3-2, which certainly must be viewed positively in these newborn days of the John Tortorella era in Vancouver.
But the Sharks, with their third wave of terrific players already in the San Jose lineup to support the first two, are so profoundly superior to the Canucks right now it’s hard to believe the teams finished only two points apart last season. They’re in the same division now, but aren’t likely to be mentioned again in the same sentence for a while.
The Sharks look like a team that can win the Stanley Cup.
The Canucks look like a team with a demanding new coach, a challenging new system, and not enough players to satisfy either.
“I don’t think we had many guys going,” coach Tortorella said. “I’m not going to sit here and pick it apart, whether it was competing. I need to look at the tape. But we certainly didn’t have enough players going to make a difference.
“I’m not sure why we ... were out-quicked. That was the biggest thing that stuck out to me: every 50/50 puck they stick-checked us and were going the other way.”
Canuck captain Henrik Sedin said: “It was a good feeling in here (in the dressing room) going out for the game. But once we got out there, we turned the puck over. Maybe we were feeling too confident against a great team. They don’t give up a lot of chances. So against them, it is a battle. Those one-on-one battles, you have to win them. We didn’t do enough of that.”
These struggles were to be expected, of course. No one seamlessly transitions to a hyper-aggressive game plan after spending years playing a more cautious, restrained system.
What was shocking, however, was the lack of drive, emotion and inspiration displayed by a team that had to be roused to victory the last two games and had a chance Thursday to prove something against a Western Conference titan that bounced them from the playoffs last season and slapped them across the face at the start of this one.
With a more compact, deep-zone system in the defensive end and a go-go-go mentality everywhere else, Tortorella’s system requires, among other things, miles and miles of skating. He has been trying to do it with a short bench, rarely playing his fourth line and piling extra minutes on a handful of players.
His team looked almost without energy against the Sharks. The Canucks have played five games. The Montreal Canadiens visit on Saturday and then the Canucks’ schedule gets more challenging with a seven-game road trip.
“We’re only five games in and this is a team that prides itself on its physical conditioning so I don’t think (fatigue) is an issue,” Canuck winger Chris Higgins said. “Definitely it was an unacceptable start. We talked about it before the game. I thought we were building, but this game was probably a step down the ladder.”
Even Rogers Arena was flat. On the night the Canucks honoured the 25 millionth fan through the turnstiles and players gave their jerseys to fans, the atmosphere was as lifeless as the team.
Sharks Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski had scoring chances in the first minute and Tyler Kennedy nearly scored 3½ minutes in. The Canucks had so little going, fans who weren’t asleep or just simply absent, cheered Daniel Sedin’s shot block.
Tortorella burned his timeout before the five-minute mark, but his sermon at the bench failed to inspire. The biggest surprise was that it took San Jose more than 12 minutes to finally take the lead.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Matt Pelech and Marleau eventually beat Canuck goalie Roberto Luongo, the latter goal coming just 95 seconds after Santorelli’s redirect had cut the Sharks’ lead to 2-1 at 10:20 of the middle period. Brent Burns scored into an empty net after Tortorella pulled Luongo with more than three minutes remaining.
“I thought the most important goal was their third,” Tortorella said. “No matter what happened or where we struggled, we crawl back into it and it’s 2-1. We need to at least play with that for a little bit and not get scored on so quickly. And, really, that (third goal) was a gimme. We were just too slow. We turn it over when we didn’t need to, and then we don’t react defensively. We just didn’t react. Our reactions were slow tonight.”
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