Steve Bernier scored for the Vancouver Canucks early in the third period Wednesday night, it was a rare and significant occurrence. It meant that the Canucks had gotten a goal from a player who is not one of the regulars on the top two lines.When
Unfortunately for the Canucks, it didn't equate to a victory. Vancouver suffered a 3-2 loss to Anaheim.
The Canucks have some of the ingredients of a top team. They've got the Sedin twins, a good group of defensemen, and some talented, young forwards. They also have one of the game's best goalies in Roberto Luongo.
What they haven't had, however, is a lot of offensive depth. Four of the team's top 11 point-getters thus far are defensemen, and Daniel Sedin is among the team's scoring leaders even though he's missed more than half of the season due to injury.
One of the big disappointments has been center Kyle Wellwood, who put up good numbers last season after the Canucks rescued him from the waiver scrap heap. Lately, though, he's been spending a lot of time in the press box.
"We need more from (the third and fourth lines)," coach Alain Vigneault told the Vancouver Province. "Secondary scoring from the third and fourth lines ... is one thing we need more consistently. If we get that, it will let us win on a more consistent basis.
"Those are two lines that are supposed to bring a physical aspect, but they have to find a way to contribute not just physically but on the score sheet."
Late arrival -- With Marek Svatos and Milan Hejduk ailing, 22-year-old center Ryan Stoa played his first two NHL games in the past week for the Avalanche. He was minus-3 in two appearances (one a win, the other a loss) and played a total of 22 minutes.
Stoa is 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, a Minnesota native selected by the Avalanche in the second round of the 2005 draft. To put this last bit of data in perspective, the Avalanche chose him 10 picks before Paul Stastny, who has played more than 200 games in the NHL and is Colorado's captain.
Stoa, meanwhile, played four years at the University of Minnesota before becoming a professional this season. He battled for a roster spot during training camp, but ultimately was sent to the AHL, where he scored 7 goals in 25 games.
"As a player, you're always disappointed to get sent down," Stoa told the Denver Post. "You have to take it as a learning experience. If you're depressed about it, you're going to be down there forever. I tried to get better every day.
"I kind of got my feet under me and got used to the speed and stuff like that. It's kind of been a mediocre year for everyone down there (at Lake Erie) because we're really struggling, but I'm having fun, at least."
The Avalanche didn't have much fun in Stoa's most recent game, falling 6-1 to Alex Ovechkin and the Capitols. Stoa was minus-2, though he did have three shots on goal.
Pushing hard -- If the Flames thought they would get a break when Brent Sutter replaced Mike Keenan as coach, forget about it.
Of course, it probably shouldn't come as a surprise that the new coach would be pushing the team hard. After all, he is a Sutter, which pretty much provides all the description you need. Whether his team was battling for the division lead or trying to climb out of the cellar, you'd expect him to be cracking the whip.
As it stands, the Flames are fighting for the Northwest lead and have the look at times not only of a division champion, but a possible contender for the Stanley Cup.
That's why it seems to drive Sutter crazy when the Flames struggle for a few games, as even the best teams tend to do at times during the course of a long, tough season.
Heading into Thursday's game against the increasingly tough Kings, the Flames had lost three-consecutive games and four out of five. And Sutter wasn't happy.
After a loss at St. Louis Tuesday night, you almost got the feeling he wished his team could stay on the road for a while rather than spending almost all of the holiday season on home ice – where there is the potential for the distracting household activities that are part of this time of the year.
"We can't have distractions," Sutter told the Calgary Herald. "We can't have a situation where complacency sets in. We need points, we need to win games and that has to come first and foremost ahead of anything else that's going on outside.
"It's a tough time of year with Christmas and stuff and you can get distracted, especially when you're at home, but we have to make sure our focus is where it needs to be because it's very important.
"We have a lot of home games here and that's the responsibility of the individuals to make sure they are focused and play up to our standards and up to our capabilities."
Sutter has reason to be concerned. At one point this season, the Flames were 11-2-3 on the road. But they've lost their last three games away from home.
Furthermore, the power play has been struggling, going 2-for-28 in a seven-game span heading into Thursday. The offense in general has been having a tough time putting the puck in the net. In the same seven-game span, the Flames scored a total of only 13 goals, and six of those came in two games.
Flames defenseman Roby Regehr said it's best that the team listen to Sutter and try to nip its recent slide in the bud. The Flames also need to start playing better at home. Calgary won only eight of its first 14 home games.
"It's been us slipping into some old habits and bad habits and that has to end," Regehr told the Herald. "For us, we have to get back to being better at home now and have to start winning games consistently at home."
Coming of age? -- The Oilers' celebration of their five-game road winning streak was short-lived. They returned home Tuesday and promptly lost to the Kings.
Aside from the wins themselves, the best news on the road trip may have been the improved play of 24-year-old center Robert Nilsson. After acquiring him from the New York Islanders nearly three years ago, the Oilers have been waiting for quite some time for the former first-round draft pick to develop.
It's not exactly time to hand him the Hart Trophy. Not even close. Still, it was encouraging that Nilsson picked up a point in every game on the trip, the only Oiler to do so. Included was a highlight-reel goal at Detroit.
Some of Nilsson's woes early this season were beyond his control. Early in the year, he was thrown off stride by post-concussion syndrome.
"Ever since I've come back from my injury, I've been feeling really comfortable out there," Nilsson told the Edmonton Sun. "I'm more relaxed now and I'm just playing my game. That's what I have to do to play better."
Coach Pat Quinn said, "He was a pretty sick young man for a while. It seemed to hit him hard. ... But he's bounced back well, he's physically fit, his attitude is a lot better and he's competing a lot harder than he did earlier in the season and that's a big part of what he has to do.
"He's a skillful player, but in order to be effective he has to compete hard and that's what he's been able to do in the last little while."
Nilsson's continued production would help fill the void created by the injuries and illnesses of several other forwards.
"What I have to do is be relaxed out there and be comfortable," Nilsson told the Sun. "I feel like my positioning is a lot better right now and when I do get the chances I have a lot more energy, so that helps a lot too."
It's not pleasant for the Oilers to ponder where they would be had it not been for the five-game winning streak. They are still looking up at a playoff berth nearly halfway through the season and must not squander their upcoming stretch of home games.
Nilsson did not produce a point in Tuesday's 3-2 loss to L.A.