ST. PAUL, Minn. - Vancouver Canuck head coach Alain Vigneault put his sagging troops through a brisk workout here Saturday afternoon, one that even included having his star players do 10 pushups every time they botched a power-play drill.
With the current state of the power play - 0-for-16 the last seven games - there were a lot of pushups.
"One hundred and sixty," captain Henrik Sedin announced with a laugh following practice. "Punishment. It's called punishment."
Henrik seemed to think it was amusing. So did Vigneault. It remains to be seen if the "punishment" works Sunday when the Canucks play the Minnesota Wild in a 5 p.m. Pacific start. Vancouver has dropped three straight and five of six.
"We feel our power play has all the attributes to be one of the really strong power plays in the NHL and today we just threw a little something at them," explained Coach Vee. "If they didn't get a certain amount of shots (in the drill) or a certain amount of puck retrievals, they had to do 10 pushups. So it turned out to be a little bit of fun."
The Sedin twins, Alex Burrows, Alex Edler and Jordan Schroeder comprised the first power-play unit while Mason Raymond, Chris Higgins, Jannik Hansen, Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison made up the second group. The remaining players were excused from dropping and giving the coach 10, including Sunday's starting goalie Cory Schneider.
"Not me, no, no, I'm not on the power play yet," quipped Schneider when asked if he was required to do pushups. "Those guys will be either really strong or really tired."
Schneider, who will make his third straight start, was a little more serious when addressing the team's three-game losing streak and whether the Canucks are playing desperate enough. Sunday's game will be the team's 24th, marking the midpoint of the lockout-shortened 48-game season.
"Urgency, I think, is maybe a better word that desperate," said Schneider. "Tomorrow is the halfway point in the season and usually the second half is the playoff push. It's one thing to be in games but I think we need to have that urgency and that instinct to separate ourselves during a game, or to put teams away, or win those close ones. Instead of kind of hanging around and being in a game, I think we need to be dominant in games at some point."
On the injury front, it appears new fourth-line winger Tom Sestito will be fine after he tweaked his hip flexor at an optional practice Friday in Columbus. He said he had surgery on the hip his third season in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization so he was a little spooked by Friday's pain.
"Every once in a while you get nervous about that kind of stuff," he added. "I felt pretty good today so I think I'm going to go tomorrow. When I felt that tweak, I just took the precaution to get off the ice and rest it."
Defenceman Keith Ballard, who has missed one game with a charley horse, made it through Saturday's full practice and will test it again Sunday morning. He is a possibility to play.
"There were times it felt better than others but that's part of getting back healthy," said Ballard. "I felt pretty decent today and I'll see how it feels in the morning and go from there."
Fellow defenceman Kevin Bieksa skated for 25 minutes on his own following the main practice but will not play against the Wild. Bieksa has missed the last three games, and five in total, with the groin problem and the Canucks have lost all five.
"I took a little peek at Kevin's skate and I don't usually stay out at the end of practice but I stayed out today," said Vigneault. "He looked good. The reaction from Mike Burnstein (trainer) and Kevin was positive. He didn't feel anything so, with him, we'll see how it is tomorrow and go from there."
The coach also explained his decision to stick with Schneider, even though the redheaded netminder is coming off consecutive losses, one by shootout and the other in overtime.
"I think Cory has played well and given us a chance to win every game," Vigneault said. "So it's my call."
ICE CHIPS: Even though they are on the road, the Canucks will receive a break from the NHL schedule-maker as the Wild are playing Saturday night in Nashville and will be a so-called 'tired' time when they step on the ice Sunday. The Wild will also lose another hour of rest as the clocks turn ahead to daylight savings time.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun