The Canucks played their seventh game of a stretch of eight in eight different cities Thursday night against San Jose (seven road games and one home game), and for the first time during the trip, it looked like it was really taking its toll.
The first indication that the travels might be getting to the team happened even before the puck dropped. Ryan Kesler
skated for part of the warm up, but decided it wouldn’t be wise to play with his flu-like symptoms and had to sit this one out. As one of the Canucks’ most consistent players, and a great defensive checker who would have been welcome to play against the likes of Joe Thornton, it wasn’t good news for the Canucks.
That caused coach Alain Vigneault to replace him with Trevor Linden, who played with Alex Burrows and Matt Cooke. The fourth line was also a new combo due to injuries to regulars Brendan Morrison, Brad Isbister, and Jeff Cowan. Mike Brown and Byron Ritche played with Mike Weaver – who’s usually a defenseman. Oh, and some Luongo guy wasn’t available, either.
But while the Canucks had to reach deeper into their depth chart than usual, if they played well, they certainly had a good chance of stealing the game from the Sharks – they already proved that Wednesday night when they beat the Anaheim Ducks with big help from rookies Mason Raymond
and Jason Jaffray.
Unfortunately, on the seventh game in the seventh city in a span of twelve days, the Canucks just didn’t have enough gas in the tank.
The Sharks played a sound defensive game, clogging up the neutral zone and refusing the Canucks entrance to their zone. The Canucks seemed content to play into that strategy for the first two periods, and it put them down by a score of 3-0. The Canucks had just 10 shots over the first 40 minutes, and finding just one scoring chance in there was a challenge.
It was only after Vigneault juggled his lines in the third period when the Canucks were able to pressure the Sharks and get their first real chances of the game. Hank Sedin and Trevor Linden each scored to pull the Canucks within a goal, but the momentum was short lived as a pair of defensive miscues led to a pair of Shark goals, and they were quickly back where they started: down three goals, this time at a score of 5-2.
The offense may have lacked intensity, and some of the goals could have been prevented by an energized defense, but no one can blame the Canucks for this loss. It’s tough to play on the road, and the last road trip that was as epic as this starred Tom Green. So if the Canucks aren’t 100 percent right now, it’s nothing to worry about.
Since they started the trip on Dec. 2 (with one home game sandwiched among them), they’re 3-3-1, a very respectable record for playing so many games with so much travel time in such a short period of time. Especially after playing the previous night in Anaheim, any NHL team would be running on empty if they were in Vancouver’s position in the schedule.
The Canucks now get a day of rest before heading to Edmonton to cap off the road trip. A win would be a great way to finish it off, but whatever the outcome, the Canucks should be pleased to have battled through injuries and fatigue and still sit atop their division.