From a coach that likes to know what he’s consistently getting from his players individually and as a group, a stiffer test couldn’t be found by heading to California to face off against two teams that are winless to date in Anaheim and Los Angeles.
A quick overview of the two games versus a hard-working Flames team shows that the Canucks elder statesmen, Henrik and Daniel, and goalie Ryan Miller, are ready and prepared for the early goings of October hockey, and the newbies like Ben Hutton and Jared McCann are not intimidated by the uptick in speed and strength of NHL players, enough so that they have already made their mark offensively.
The bigger question though is how will the group as a whole respond after the exciting atmosphere of season opening and home opening games have passed and the reality of a stiff October schedule begins to play out. The one thing the coaching staff appreciates in its players is their ability to stay even-keeled and not lose their focus when things aren’t going their way. In reference to the opening sentence with regards to Coach Willie Desjardins, the sooner he knows what to expect from his group, the faster he can adapt his game plan to the strength of the team. Will this be a fast, relentlessly fore-checking Canucks team that tires out the oppositions defence by coming in waves shift after shift, period after period? Or is it a team that instead forces bad plays by the opposition in the neutral zone to rely on a quick counter? Maybe it’s a club that looks to sit back and clog things up at their own blue line to force a dump-in and hope the new look Canucks defencemen can use their speed to get to pucks and get it moved out of danger in a hurry. Every team needs a calling card, a style of play that defines them, and at the moment the coaching staff is still evaluating what exactly that is for this year’s roster.
Here is what they are striving for. They want a team that can push the pace of every hockey game to the point that the other team is either under enough pressure that they throw the puck away, or are under enough duress in their own zone that they take a penalty. That of course opens the door for the Sedin power play which ranked in the top ten last year. They also want a team that can identify when their game is “off” and then simplify their play to iron out the rough patches without it costing them a goal against. The belief is that the younger players ushered into this year’s group have enough speed and hockey sense to play as described above, and that with the guidance of the veterans, can play above their pro experience level and be a part of the solution and not the problem.
The Canucks were a bit of a mixed bag in their matches against Calgary. The good was evident in the game in Calgary with some goals off the rush, so there’s the straight ahead speed the team can show. Then there were lulls in the Saturday night return where the Canucks couldn’t figure out their play in the neutral zone, and that allowed the Flames to overtake the latter stages of the game. Against two tougher opponents, literally and figuratively, in Anaheim and Los Angeles, regardless of the outcome the coaches should have a better read on their group, and should be able to pinpoint the team’s identity and adjust future game plans accordingly.