Iain MacIntyre: Desjardins says Canucks will stay the course

 

 
 
 
 
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derek leung/getty images

Photograph by: Derek Leung, Getty Images

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CALGARY – What you are about to read may be upsetting for some audiences, especially Vancouver Canucks coach Willie Desjardins if he is viewing The Vancouver Sun online, which we doubt, but only because he’s rather busy with the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Also, we pre-emptively acknowledge that the poorest coach in the National Hockey League knows more about hockey than the smartest reporter and, furthermore, no one involved in this column comes close to fitting either description.

But Willie Desjardins is wrong about the ice time he is allotting Daniel and Henrik Sedin. He is wrong that it’s merely the continuation of the twins’ regular-season playing times and wrong that it’s not an issue to anyone on the Canucks. Because it certainly is an issue to the Sedins.

The Canucks’ best and highest-paid players watched mostly from the bench in the third period Sunday as their team was beaten 4-2 by the Calgary Flames in Game 3 of the first-round playoff series.

Unless the Sedins play more, chances are they will soon watch the end of the Canucks’ season from the same vantage point.

The Flames can push the Canucks to the brink of elimination with a win in Game 4 here Tuesday night.

“We’ve played the whole year and (rolling four lines) has been one of the strengths to our game,” Desjardins said after Monday’s practice. “And now it’s like everybody wants us to change and be something else. That’s who we are and that’s how we play. In the regular season, (the Sedins’) minutes varied probably from 20 to 16, and that’s what they’ll vary in this series.

“It’s everybody on the outside that’s really concerned about that. There’s nobody in our dressing room that’s concerned about it.”

But the Sedins are concerned enough that they spoke with Desjardins after seeing below-normal ice times in Vancouver’s 2-1 loss last Wednesday in Game 1.

On Sunday, Danny played only 15:05 — his fifth-lowest time on ice in 85 games since training camp and more than three minutes below his regular-season average of 18:21. Through three playoff games, neither Sedin has hit 18 minutes, let alone the 20 at the upper end of Desjardins’ scale. Daniel’s playoff TOI average is 16:26. Henrik, who averaged 18:36 in the regular season, is getting just 16:51 so far in the playoffs.

The Sedins are playing LESS in the playoffs by nearly two minutes than they did in the regular season.

“I didn’t think it was going to be less,” Henrik conceded.

None of this would matter if the Canucks were up 3-0 or even 2-1 in the series. Even the Sedins wouldn’t much care as long as their team won. But when Vancouver was desperate for goals on Wednesday and Sunday, the Canucks’ leading scorers — in the regular season and all-time — sat on the bench more than normal and watched their team lose.

“We always notice it,” Henrik said of the diminished ice time. “You can feel it after the game; you know how much you played. We’ve always said we want to play as much as we can, and it doesn’t matter if we’re up a goal or down a goal. But if you lose a game, it’s something you think about after the game that maybe you would have made a difference.

“They have a plan and they’re going to follow it. It’s the way it’s been all year.”

When asked about communicating with Desjardins, Daniel said: “We talk back and forth for sure. We have a good dialogue, so that’s not an issue. It’s just the way he coaches and the way we run our team.”

The return from injury of gritty fourth-line centre Brad Richardson has allowed Desjardins to make ice times even more balanced than they were in the regular season. But, really, if you trail by a goal like the Canucks did throughout the second period on Sunday or by two goals as they did for most of the third, do you have a better chance to score with your fourth line or your first? Danny had 76 points in the regular season and Hank 73, and both were among the top 15 scorers in the NHL.

Desjardins noted Monday that the Sedins actually led Canuck forwards in shifts in Game 3, “so it’s not how much we’re putting them out there, it’s how long they’re staying.” The experienced Sedins keep their shifts short to stay fresh and have energy to play more late in games.

All season, Desjardins preached the importance of managing ice time to keep the Sedins fresh. But we never asked: “Fresh for what?” We always assumed it was for the playoffs.

“We are fresh,” Henrik said. “We feel great.”

imacintyre@vancouversun.comTwitter.com/imacvansun

 
 
 
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Photograph by: Derek Leung, Getty Images

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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