30 in 15: Canucks get used to life under Tortorella

Saturday, 09.28.2013 / 3:00 AM
Mike Battaglino  - NHL.com Staff Writer

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

John Tortorella tried to breathe new life into the Vancouver Canucks by leaving them out of breath.

The players survived the grueling start to Camp Tortorella, which was as physically demanding as they heard and expected it to be. And to that they say: so what.

"Nobody's going to remember after the season how many bench presses you did," Daniel Sedin said.

These Canucks will ultimately be measured by the weight of what they accomplish in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which they have visited for all of nine games the past two seasons, winning one.

To those who say this year will be no different, Ryan Kesler says, well, uh …

"To be honest, I don't listen to that [stuff]," the forward expletively told the Vancouver Province. "That's what it is. It's [stuff]. We believe in ourselves in the dressing room. All those negative comments we're not even going to … To be honest, I shouldn't have even answered that question. It's [stuff]."

It seems Kesler is intent on providing the bite Tortorella seeks, starting with an inquisitive reporter. The new coach wants the Canucks to be tougher to play against, to forecheck hard, to keep possession of the puck along the wall, and, yes, to block some darn shots.

"Blocking shots develops a culture," Tortorella said. "And when you have a Sedin blocking a shot, watch what the bench does. It's 10 feet tall. All those little things help in developing who you are as a team, as a group."

Here is what that group will look like in 2013-14:

FORWARDS

Tortorella said he's asking for more from everyone on the roster, starting at the top with captain Henrik Sedin and twin brother Daniel. Under Alain Vigneault, the Art Ross-winning Swedes were deployed to maximize their offensive opportunities. Now they'll be killing penalties.

"We always wanted to kill penalties and do all those kind of things," Daniel said. "So it will be interesting to see what happens, but we're open to anything. We want to help this team win, and whatever he wants us to do, we'll do."

What Daniel wants to do is score more goals; his per-game average has fallen from 0.50 to 0.42 to 0.26 the past three seasons.

"It has been a disappointment the last two years in that department, and I think I need to score," Daniel told the Vancouver Sun. "Especially on our line, I am the goal-scorer. It's up to me to get better."

That line was being arranged to include Zack Kassian, getting another try after playing there at the start of last season. But the big wing is suspended for the first five games of the regular season after a high-stick against Sam Gagner of the Edmonton Oilers in a preseason game.

"I want to give him every opportunity to be a huge part of this team," Tortorella said.

The success of the second line will depend on the health of Kesler and David Booth, who could be joined by Alexandre Burrows. Booth was sidelined again after reinjuring his groin in the morning skate prior to his preseason debut.

Kesler, like Daniel Sedin, scored 41 goals in 2010-11.

"I'm confident I can do that and more," Kesler said. "I think every player goes into a season thinking that it's going to be another career year, and you're going to play your best. But sometimes injuries happen and you just don't play your best. I'm not making that as an excuse, but I know this year I'm thinking it's going to be a career year …"

Events of the preseason have changed the makeup of this group, at least to start the regular season. With Kassian and Dale Weise (three games) suspended, and Booth, Jordan Schroeder and prospect Nicklas Jensen injured, young players Brendan Gaunce, Bo Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk are getting the chance general manager Mike Gillis said they would.

"We want young players to have an opportunity to make this hockey team," Gillis said before five forwards were sidelined. "... We're determined to try and give some younger players an opportunity to fight for a spot on this team and not have it predetermined."

Veterans Benn Ferriero, Jannik Hansen, Chris Higgins, Brad Richardson, Tom Sestito and Mike Santorelli are competing to fill out the bottom two lines.

Whoever the final six turn out to be, they eventually might not play all that much. While coach of the New York Rangers, Tortorella would shorten his bench and roll out his best players over and over again. Though he is aware of the more arduous travel demands of the Western Conference, don't expect Tortorella to change his ways.

"I believe there's other ways to recover than reducing ice time in a particular game," Tortorella said.

DEFENSEMEN

This unit does not have the openings there are up front. Kevin Bieksa, Alexander Edler, Jason Garrison, Dan Hamhuis and Christopher Tanev are locked in, leaving one spot in the regular lineup.

Though the offense fell from fifth in the League to 19th last season, the defense dropped only from fourth to 10th.

"We haven't been too happy with our last two seasons," Hamhuis said. "I think everyone is very motivated to come back this season and put a better season that we have the last couple. ... I think we're starting out on a road here to great things."

Garrison in particular could ease that path. Signed as a free agent prior to last season (six years, $27.6 million), a slow start bumped him from the first pairing and power play. A groin injury had something to do with that, but a switch to the right side helped him finish with eight goals, eight assists and a plus-18 rating.

"No recurring problems at all," Garrison said of his groin problems. "It's been good. I'm healthy. I'm really looking forward to this season and starting off healthy."

Bieksa mentioned a lack of communication at times under Vigneault. They do not expect that under Tortorella, good or bad.

"We can't get down on ourselves and be upset in a way that it's going to negatively affect our play," Hamhuis said. "I think we have to understand that he wants the best for us, and he's not trying to put us down as individuals, he wants to build us up."

Prospect Frankie Corrado has played more Stanley Cup Playoff games than regular-season games (4-3) and will compete for minutes with Yannick Weber.

GOALIES

After all that Roberto Luongo has been through the past two-plus seasons, he now must adapt to the shot-blocking defensive system Tortorella swears by.

"You better block it, because if you don't, I won't see it," Luongo told the Province after a four-goals-in-two-periods start to the preseason. "A couple of times guys were trying to block shots but they weren't sure if they should or not and they didn't end up blocking them.

"It goes along with the territory. There will be a learning curve. In the past, we've worked on trying to box guys out before they get to the front of the net. If ever the other player is in front, I'd front him or stay behind him to try and not create a double screen. … Sometimes that worked. Sometimes it didn't.

"But if you're a good team at blocking shots, that's going to cut down on a lot of chances too. If it makes our group better, I'm all for it."

Luongo was last year's backup to Cory Schneider and has 727 games of NHL experience. This year's backup, either Eddie Lack or Joacim Eriksson, will have zero.

CANUCKS PROJECTED LINEUP

FORWARDS

Daniel SedinHenrik SedinAlexandre Burrows

Chris HigginsRyan KeslerJannik Hansen

Hunter ShinkarukMike SantorelliDavid Booth

Dale WeiseBo HorvatBrad Richardson

Tom Sestito

*C Jordan Schroeder

**RW Zack Kassian

DEFENSEMEN

Dan HamhuisJason Garrison

Alexander Edler
 – Kevin Bieksa

Andrew AlbertsChristopher Tanev

Yannick Weber

GOALIES

Roberto Luongo

Eddie Lack

ONES TO WATCH

Frank Corrado, D

Joacim Eriksson, G

Bo Horvat, C

Hunter Shinkaruk, LW

*Injured

**suspended

IN: D Yannick Weber (free agent, Canadiens), C Brad Richardson (free agent, Kings), C Mike Santorelli (free agent, Jets), LW Hunter Shinkaruk (draft), C Bo Horvat (draft)

OUT: G Cory Schneider (trade, Devils), LW Mason Raymond (free agent, Maple Leafs), C Derek Roy (free agent, Blues), C Maxim Lapierre (free agent, Blues), C Andrew Ebbett (free agent, Penguins), D Keith Ballard (free agent, Wild), D Cam Barker (free agent), C Manny Malhotra (free agent), RW Andrew Gordon (free agent, Jets)

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