It’s not often you find hockey players complaining about practice, at least when they have microphones and cameras in front of them. Practices don’t usually make headlines, unless of course somebody misses one (examples being Iverson or Shane O’Brien).
Arguably the Canucks most complete performance of the season came Friday, October 22nd when Vancouver was full value for a 5-1 win over the Minnesota Wild. Pretty impressive in itself when you consider it came at the tail end of a playing a span of four games in six nights. Among the positives on the night:
• 11 players hit the score sheet, including goalie Cory Schneider
•Schneider playing near-perfect, earning his 2nd win at home in as many starts.
•Going 4-for-4 on the penalty kill, against the top power play team in the NHL.
•Christian Ehrhoff going a career-best plus-5.
Following their 4-3 overtime win over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, the Canucks sport a record of 4-3-2. They won’t play again until November 1st when the New Jersey Devils visit Rogers Arena. That’s the longest stretch all season the Canucks will have in between games.
“When you do get one of these occasions,” said coach Alain Vigneault, “our first eight or nine games tell us what we need to work on.”
And there never seems to be a shortage of things to work on, be-it drills that focus on special teams, break-outs, battles in front of the net or winning faceoffs.
“That’s really the basis of winning is getting to know systems by heart,” said assistant captain Ryan Kesler. “I think this is going to be a good time to do that.”
“Right now I think we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves”, added fellow assistant Daniel Sedin. “We need to stay in sharp in practices and go into those practices like they’re games.”
Daniel has every right to be feeling good about himself. He leads the team in scoring with seven goals and five assists and is the only player on the Vancouver roster to have collected a point in each game this year.
“I’ve had a few games where I haven’t played that good, but I’ve been able to score some goals,” said Daniel. “I just have to be a little bit sharper out there. Our power play can get a little bit better and that will help out too.”
One thing fans should not lose sight of, even with the season well under way, is there are still many players trying to establish a role on this team. In addition, getting time to find chemistry on a club is vital before the schedule really gets hectic.
“We’ve got nine new players on this team. It takes a while to adjust to the environment, the coaching, and the new way of doing things,” said Vigneault. “I think this time is going to give everybody a chance to get to know one another better on the ice and off the ice, which should benefit us moving forward.”
One thing that will definitely become more common at practice for the reigning Northwest Division champs is the opportunity to work on shootouts. Vancouver has gone winless in their two shootout attempts this year. Last season they went 4-and-4 in the showdown. Lifetime as a franchise, the Canucks are 22-30 in games that need to be decided by the skills contest.
“It’s not something we’ve typically practiced a lot since I’ve been here,” said Roberto Luongo. “I think it’s important, not only for myself, but as a player to learn to have a few moves in your back pocket.”
Luongo has not had an ideal career record for his efforts in shootouts, going 20-24. His two outings have been ones to forget so far this season, losing both games to Los Angeles and Chicago, which saw him fail to stop all five shots he faced.
“It’s an important part of the game right now,” added Luongo. “There’s maybe ten to twelve games that to go a shoot-out each year. If you can win seven or eight of those, it makes a big difference at the end of the year in the standings.”
And that’s not lost on the bench boss, who knows it’s a special area to manage.
“We all need to get better and I need to get better as far as making sure that I find the right time to work on that,” said Vigneault. “I’m going to try and incorporate it a little bit more, whether it be before practice or after practice, in a more formal matter.”